CHAPTER XXXIX. THE WEST HIGHLAND WHITE TERRIER

Man, being a hunting animal, kills the otter for his skin, and the badger also; the fox he kills because the animal likes lamb and game to eat. Man, being unable to deal in the course of a morning with the rocks under and between which his quarry harbours, makes use of the small dog which will go underground, to which the French name terrier has been attached.

Towards the end of the reign of James the First of England and Sixth of Scotland, we find him writing to Edinburgh to have half a dozen “earth dogges or terrieres” sent carefully to France as a present, and he directs that they be got from Argyll, and sent over in two or more ships lest they should get harm by the way. That was roughly three hundred years ago, and the King most probably would not have so highly valued a newly-invented strain as he evidently did value the “terrieres” from Argyll. We may take it then that in 1600 the Argyllshire terriers were considered to be the best in Scotland, and likely enough too, seeing the almost boundless opportunities the county gives for the work of the “earth dogges.”

But men kept their dogs in the evil pre-show days for work and not for points, and mighty indifferent were they whether an ear cocked up or lay flat to the cheek, whether the tail was exactly of fancy length, or how high to a hair's breadth it stood. These things are sine qua non on the modern show bench, but were not thought of in the cruel, hard fighting days of old.

In those days two things—and two things only—were imperatively necessary: pluck and capacity to get at the quarry. This entailed that the body in which the pluck was enshrined must be small and most active, to get at the innermost recesses of the lair, and that the body must be protected by the best possible teeth and jaws for fighting, on a strong and rather long neck and directed by a most capable brain. It is held that feet turned out a little are better for scrambling up rocks than perfectly straight Fox-terrier like feet. In addition, it was useful to have your dog of a colour easy to see when in motion, though no great weight was laid upon that point, as in the days before newspapers and trains men's eyes were good, as a rule. Still, the quantity of white in the existing terriers all through the west coast of Scotland shows that it must have been rather a favoured colour.

White West Highland Terriers were kept at Poltalloch sixty years ago, and so they were first shown as Poltalloch Terriers. Yet although they were kept in their purest strain in Argyllshire, they are still to be found all along the west coast of Scotland, good specimens belonging to Ross-shire, to Skye, and at Ballachulish on Loch Leven, so that it is a breed with a long pedigree and not an invented breed of the present day. Emphatically, they are not simply white coloured Scottish Terriers, and it is an error to judge them on Scottish Terrier lines. They are smaller than the average Scottie, more “foxy” in general conformation—straight limbed, rather long, rather low, and active in body, with a broad forehead, light muzzle and underjaw, and a bright, small intelligent eye. Colonel Malcolm, of Poltalloch, who is recognised as the great authority on the breed, lays stress upon the quality of the coat. “The outer coat,” he says, “should be very soft on the forehead and get gradually harder towards the haunches, but the harsh coat beloved of the show bench is all nonsense, and is the easiest thing in the world to 'fake,' as anyone can try who will dip his own hair into the now fashionable 'anturic' baths. The outer coat should be distinctly long, but not long in the 'fancy' or show sense. Still, it should be long enough to hang as a thatch over the soft, woolly real coat of the animal and keep it dry so that a good shake or two will throw off most of the water; while the under coat should be so thick and naturally oily that the dog can swim through a fair-sized river and not get wet, or be able to sit out through a drenching rain guarding something of his master's and be none the worse. This under coat I, at least, have never seen a judge look for, but for the working terrier it is most important. The size of the dog is perhaps best indicated by weight. The dog should not weigh more than 18 lb., nor the bitch more than 16 lb.

“There is among judges, I find—with all respect I say it—an undue regard for weight and what is called strength, also for grooming, which means brushing or plucking out all the long hair to gratify the judge. One might as well judge of Sandow's strength, not by his performances, but by the kind of wax he puts on his moustache!