My regular readers will know that I love dogs. In fact, our whole family and everyone at my marketing agency is a “dog-person”. My husband and I have three dogs who we always treat equally, so since I told you about our Labradoodle earlier this year, I thought it is time to introduce you to our West Highland Terrier – aka ‘Westie’ – Dexter.
A year after we moved to the USA, I began to really want a small dog. When we emigrated in 2009, we had transported our three big British dogs – two Labradors and a Bearded Collie – across the pond to our new life in Coastal Georgia. The problem was that the Labradors were getting on in years, and the collie sadly was diagnosed with Addison’s disease. To paraphrase an English saying – they each had three paws in the grave and one on a banana skin!
I had grown up with large dogs and my husband and I had always chosen larger dogs for our “pack”. So, I had some persuading to do when I heard about a litter of West Highland Terriers with puppies available from a family in Richmond Hill. My husband’s main objection was that he liked what he calls “real” dogs – large, robust dogs that loved water, woods, and wrestling. He did not want a “purse size dog” and didn’t want a fourth dog. In fact, when I did close the deal on our new male Westie puppy, he wanted to name him “Extra”. Dexter rhymes with extra, so this is how he got his name. I didn’t realize at the time that it was the name of the serial killer in a popular TV show!
While I was immediately besotted (a word popular in England which means infatuated) with my “dog in miniature”, it was quite the challenge to understand and train this 18-pound Westie. West Highland Terriers are one of the short-legged terriers of Scotland which also include the Scottish, Skye, Cairn and Dandie Dinmont breeds. At that time, after leaving the UK for good just a year earlier, the link with Scotland appealed. History tells us that British farmers bred terriers (also known as earthdogs) to hunt the rats that raided their stores of grain. It is believed that the Scottish terriers all came from the same family tree in the 1700s. Legend has it that the Malcolm clan in Scotland bred Westies for their white coat when a red colored terrier was shot when mistaken for a fox. By 1907 the breed was officially recognized in England and then in America in 1909.
Dexter is pretty much the breed standard. He is completely white, small but solid, exceedingly independent in nature, never gives up, never gives in, and never seem to get tired, despite taking four steps for every one of our bigger dogs. Only his ears are a bit out of whack to the breed standard. He seems to have large white rabbit ears that fold back flat on his head when he runs to make him more aerodynamic. In my opinion there is nothing cuter than when he races to see me when I get home from work.
When researching Westies, I read on the AKC website that “thanks to their faithfulness and keen intelligence, Westies will train nicely with time and patience”. With time and patience? Wow, what an understatement! To say Dexter was stubborn is putting it mildly. He assumes he is a giant of a dog and did not see the need to do anything he didn’t want to do. As a puppy, he also didn’t worry too much about where he went “potty” since he quickly figured out, I would clean up if it happened to be indoors. We got there in the end, but it was much harder than training a big dog. Dexter is only 18 pounds fully grown but, in his mind, he is the size of a Great Dane and the grand leader of our three-dog pack. Our large retriever and labradoodle girls just let him believe that and good naturedly ignore his ‘Napoleon’ tendencies.
Having said that, he is so gentle with our grandchildren and loving towards us that having a small dog who will snuggle on my lap every evening is a great joy. I really think that Dexter does not realize how comparatively small he is or accept that his age (nearly 11) should slow him down. My husband says that these characteristics remind him of me.
Our three dogs – Dexter, Georgie Girl the Flat-Coat Retriever and Coco the crazy Australian Labradoodle – are a happy pack and make our family complete. There is more information on these breeds at www.akc.org
I say goodbye this week with a quote which really resonates with me, from Pulitzer prize winner and 20th century author, Edith Wharton. “My little dog – a heartbeat at my feet”.
God Bless America and all the dogs we love!
– ENDS –