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
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
Eyes 7 ˝
Ears 7 ˝
Legs & Feet 10
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:
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)