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WHWT - Part 3 - breed characteristics, balance & size, by Joan Graber


Like all its near relations, the West Highland was bred to be an earth dog.

Its conformation and temperament were intended to facilitate this purpose.

The Westie needs to be of a size "to go to ground" yet have enough

substance to persevere in its subterranean battleground against whatever

vermin it was there to dispatch. "Exhibiting in marked degree a great

combination of strength and activity" says what an earth dog needs to be

effective. It should be built for work and the standard was written to

emphasize those characteristics that allowed the Westie to do its job

effectively. The opening section(s) of all three standards (AKC, KC, FCI)

admirably describes the Westie in body and mind. Its general make and

shape to be that of a working terrier - game, balanced, hardy-looking,

small and compact with a level back and powerful rear end. As Barbara Hand

states: "It should not resemble the more elegant long- legged terriers in

any way"

In my discussion of judging the Westie it is the AKC standard to which I

will be referring since it is the one with which I'm most familiar.

However, before starting this discussion, I'm going to list the scale of

points from the Standard as adopted in 1909 when the Westie was recognized

by AKC. I think it helps to show where these early proponents of the breed

placed emphasis.

Skull 5

Muzzle 5

Eyes 7 ˝

Ears 7 ˝

Neck 5

Chest 5

Body 10

Legs & Feet 10

Tail 5

Coat 12 ˝

Color 12 ˝

Gen App 15

John Marvin, in his classic books and all his articles on the breed,

described what he considered characteristics essential to Westie type. He

felt they were required for a proper working Westie and should be of the

utmost importance. He listed these characteristics as:

Proper size

Strong teeth in powerful jaws

Strong moderately short back and adequate hindquarters

Good legs and feet with strong paws

Proper coat, especially texture


Regarding proper size, type and balance John said ". . .always look for

type, character and balance first and then specific structure factors." I

feel you won't go too far wrong if you use these same characteristics John

defined in judging Westies today, and will be explaining them in more

detail as I progress.

For those judges used to standards which give a lot of specific

measurements, the AKC Westie standard has only three, but they do help

define the overall outline of the breed:

- ". . .height from elbow to withers should be approximately the same

as from elbow to ground. . .". Thus the Westie should be a dog that stands

off the ground but does not look like a Fox Terrier or Lakeland.(pictures

#14 & 15) If you put your fist on the table between the front legs of the

Westie, its keel should not touch your fist, the way a Scottie's should.

- ". . .distance from withers to root of tail is slightly less than

from withers to ground. . .". On measuring several dogs, this turned out

to be about 10" on a 11" tall dog (picture #16). A correctly built Westie

should never give the impression of being square nor of starting to

resemble the Scottie, where a 10" tall dog should be about 11" from withers

to set on of tail. With a good definite ‘body overhang' in front and the

‘butt behind the rear' the total body of the Westie should definitely be

longer than it is tall.

- "When erect, the tail is never extended above the top of the skull."

(picture #17) In a correct sized Westie the tail usually measures about

5-6", which is what the English and FCI standards call for. All pictures

referenced above can be found at:


With regards to John Marvin's "Proper size", when looking at Westies

remember the first descriptive word in the standard is small. You should

be aware that the ideal 11" dog, or 10" bitch, who is well boned and

properly coated may appear larger than the lighter boned, short coated dog.

Because the standard states " . . .much over, or under, is to be

severely penalized. . ." without defining what is meant by "much over, or

under", each judge needs to determine what that means to them. Derek

Tattersall (Olac), an English breeder/judge suggests the maximum deviation

be no more than 1/2" either side of the stipulated size. As a breeder and

judge, I've defined ‘much' as about 1 inch, so for me that means a 12" dog

is getting too big, and if a bitch is approaching 11 1/2" she is definitely

too big. To keep the correct balance and proportions, the back on a 12"

dog would need to be about 11". If the dog has the correct rib spring

and bone to be balanced, I question whether this dog could get into a 9"

hole, much less back out! Also, at 12" the Westie is at the lower height

range for the Schnauzer, an entirely different type of terrier. Other

aspects of size to remember are that the wrong size, either way, is as

serious as any other fault. Also, that a Westie too small in all areas

(size, bone, etc.) looks weedy and if a male, not masculine, while a Westie

too big in all areas usually approaches being coarse. After saying the

above, I'm also going to add that while height limits are important,

quality is essential and a proper sized dog without quality should never go

over a quality dog that is not substantially over or under size. Remember

not to get fooled by showmanship and grooming into thinking the dog is

larger or smaller than it actually is, I'll discuss this more later. If I

suspect a Westie of being over size, as I'm examining it I do one further

check. While going over the front assembly I use my spread hand (which I

know is about 8"), one finger on the table, with the hand measuring up the

front leg, and estimate if there is about 3" or more from my thumb tip to

the top of the withers, thus taking a rough measurement.


(to be continued)


part 4