West Highland White Terrier Club of America

WHWTCA Spotlight on Performance - Fall 2006

High Flying Westies Nancy Sankus

I met my first Westie in my late teens as I arrived at a local airport for a flying lesson. I saw a scruffy white mop make the rounds of the bushes, the cars, anything upright (that’s why his name was Wee Doggie). As usual, he was there to co-pilot his biped on a jaunt in a single engine plane. This was my first inkling that Westies were up for anything. I said “I want one…um…What is it?” This was the dark ages before home computers so by word of mouth research, my sister spotted a faded “Westie” sign in a yard which led me to a local breeder who welcomed me in, showed me her Westies, explained about the breed and invited me to a show she was entered in the next weekend. She later told me that, due to the start of a snowstorm, she had just decided not to go when she saw me trudging up her driveway. So, she packed a bag of sandwiches, her dogs, her 3 kids and me and we headed off to the show where she was entered in Obedience.

This was my introduction to the full spectrum of Westies by breeder, handler, instructor, competitor, and mentor Nancy Gauthier (See Spotlight on Performance Winter 2001). I purchased a puppy from Nancy and she tucked me under her wing and guided me through this exciting new world. Little Bip was a cobby 10” bitch who quickly won my family over. My 6’ 1” ex-Marine Dad would walk the neighborhood nearly dragged by “the little engine that could.” I began learning hand stripping and obedience. 

One of my first obedience trials with Bippie was on the New Hampshire circuit. In Novice, just as the Judge said “Forward!” and I said “Heel!” and stepped off, the ten handlers in the adjacent ring said “STAY!” and left their dogs for their long down stay exercise. Bip took one uncertain step and decided the majority ruled. She watched as I did the entire heeling pattern by myself. [NOTE: I now know there is a second heel command available in Novice and I treasure it.]
I bred Bip to CH. Loch Ness MacTavish who’s owner, Rita MacDonald, was another Westie obedience competitor. Westie Obedience competitors were NOT common in the early 70s! Out of several litters, I showed a daughter to her Championship and a granddaughter to her Championship with a Group 4 placement. However, my first love was and is the “fun” things. Moreover, I have found that my greatest enjoyment and fondest memories are the times that things did NOT go perfectly. It still amazes me the amount of laughter being involved with Westies has added to my life.

Bip earned her CD, in spite of my handling. In addition, we tried our paws at AWTA Den Trials. These were the only terrier hunting trials available back then. Safaris to far grassy fields, the two-holer outhouse, chasing the rats through the tall grass after one dog ripped the cage open…yes, this is my idea of fun! So were the camping trips, backpacking and canoeing with a waggle of Westies.
I lost both Bip and her daughter Laurie at 13 years of age and was down to one Westie, the granddaughter Rickie. For a number of years, I pursued a different sport, Orienteering, with some international competitions. Then tragedy struck and my Rickie died suddenly when she choked on some scarfed down garbage. She had somehow managed to open a cabinet door. Now, the garbage is collected in a ceramic container on top of the counter. 
I knew I needed a Westie in my life! How do people manage to come home to an empty apartment with no one ecstatic to see them and so eager to snuggle and kiss away the stress of the day? When presented with a choice of two bitches, I had to make a decision. Did I want to get back into breed showing or just performance? I know they are not necessarily mutually exclusive; but I made my decision, scooped up the bitch with the little crook at the tip of her tail, and took home that “special love” that often comes only once in our lives. My Krison’s Kipper CDX OA OAJ OAP OJP ME was so like Little Bip, another cobby 10” bitch. Once again, I became active in all things Westie, including the New England Westie Club and the West Highland White Terrier Club of America.
Kip was a natural at Earthdog (AKC terrier hunt tests). She quickly and easily earned her Junior Earthdog (JE) and Senior Earthdog (SE) titles. I had not aspired to Master Earthdog (ME), but Kip was relentless. Her working bark was as steady as a metronome and she just never quit. 

Kip’s “no quit” attitude carried over to other sports too! Agility was a favorite and her enthusiasm carried us through the various levels, until a controversial measurement with the new measuring device put her over ten inches which forced her to jump 12 inches instead of 8”. Even with this 50% increase in her jump height, my girl gave it her all. However, the challenge the spread jumps posed at the increased jump height caused her to crash into the triple too often. I decided this was too dangerous to continue until the new Preferred class allowed her to jump 8” again. Unfortunately, the delay meant that she was working towards Excellent Preferred title at 13. Even with all of her enthusiasm and heart, the 8” triple became too much for her. 
During this time, we continued Obedience and our rapport warmed my heart. Kip was so willing to try anything and gave her best when doing whatever I asked. I feel the CDX title was our greatest accomplishment because it was such a team effort. 

When Kip was four, my job went overseas and I thought, “What a great time to raise a puppy!” When I brought Chien D’Ours Katie (CD RAE AX AXJ AXP MJP JE) home, Kip thought I brought her the best present in the world. Kate started her first Agility class when she was too small to jump over the tire jump when it butted on the ground but what a great way to socialize a puppy and start confidence in exploring their world. Kate began agility as a wild woman, Yee Ha’ing around the ring, but learned control as she matured. On our good days, I could almost stand in the middle of the ring and direct her out and over the obstacles. On our bad days, I just could not catch up to her. 
Kate and I also worked on obedience and struggled for years in Earthdog. Kate was a natural hunter and though she always zipped right through to the end of the tunnels, she would never say a word to the rats through the bars. However, we persevered and, thanks to some innovative training sessions with Nancy Gauthier, she broke through and, at 10 years of age, Kate got her Junior Earthdog title.

When I suddenly realized that my “puppy” was 9, I mentioned on a Wednesday that I needed to rotate in a new pup. On Friday, after setting up at an Earthdog Trial, I checked a litter in the next town by a stud dog I know and drove off with Rivendel’s Bea-Dazzled (RN, CGC, 2/3 RA, & ½ Junior Earthdog). Kip did the honors of welcoming Beatrice into the family and, after a week of really, really wishing the pup would disappear, Kate became her wrestling buddy and friend. 
I had heard of a Sheltie who pulled a little cart full of toys in a children’s ward and thought, “Hmmm…I wonder…” I trash-picked a baby carriage for wheels, made a little training cart and off we went to a Bernese Mountain Dog Carting Clinic. There were 25 Berners and my 2 Westies! The girls did well with the harness and dragging the sacrificial tree. Though Kate wasn’t quite thrilled with the cart hitched up, Beatrice was a natural. She stepped right out, doing advanced turns all on her own.

Last year, we all embraced the new sport of Rally Obedience. What great fun to be able to talk to and interact with your dog in the ring! Kate became the first Westie to achieve the top title of Rally Advanced Excellent (RAE). This also earned her the WHWTCA Versatile Dog Excellent Award (VDX).
More than the titles, it is the “journey”. Titles are merely the “symbols” of the training: the trialing, the wins, the NQ’s, and the accomplishments. But, it is the journey and the quest that builds, deepens, and enriches our relationship and rapport with our Westies. It all enhances the quality of the lives we share, whether at a trial or when providing them a lap in the recliner while relaxing with a cup of tea. Performance…it gives our Westies something to do, and something for us to do together. As for us, well, I have borrowed a Tracking harness and line…and we are off to the early morning misty fields!