West Highland White Terrier Club of America

WHWTCA Spotlight on Performance - Winter 2004

Finishline Westies & Sue Ammerman

"Westie’s have forever changed my life. My bond with my Westies is greater because of the Performance activities we pursue."

When I purchased my first Westie, Ray, as a pet I had no idea how he would change my life. My husband, Denny, and I were avid bicyclists and skiers. We inherited mixed breeds so the concept of picking a breed was an intriguing option. We did a lot of research and spent a lot of time trying to find the “perfect” breed for us. Westies kept coming to the top of the list. Ray came to our home at twelve weeks. He terrorized our old mixed breed, Tigger, who for weeks would not come near him. It was clear he had a lot of energy and needed something to do. He liked to dig so we decided to drive to New Jersey to see what Earthdog was all about. By the second day, our new Westie friends had talked us into entering him in “Intro to Quarry”. I remember thinking that I had lost my mind when the judge told us to release our dogs with a single command. But Ray went in the tunnel on my command and barked at the rats and our performance career had begun.

Performance activities require teamwork and a bond with your dog that is unique to each dog you own. Training, proofing and competition all come into play and each level enhances your skills and deepens the bond you share with your dog. I want my dogs to be WHWTCA Versatile Westies participating in multiple activities throughout their lifetime. Each activity teaches different skills to the dog. Our teamwork and relationship is enhanced as we undertake new levels of each activity. In addition, each dog I train enhances my skills as a trainer.

Westies can participate and excel at tracking, earthdog, obedience and agility. I enjoy the variety and like each activity for different reasons.


Tracking is teaching a dog to follow human scent. I train dogs using food and since dogs love to use their nose what sport could be better than one where a dog uses his nose and finds food along the way. Most other titles we attain with our dogs are for us but tracking titles are for the dog. All dogs that live in my house learn to track. I like to start puppies as early as 6 weeks of age. Sessions are kept short and fun.

Tracking is the purest form of dog training. Training a dog to do something that a human is not capable of doing is both challenging and rewarding. It requires patience to understand and interpret training difficulties. It requires trust that your dog understands the job it has been asked to do.

But the greatest thing it does is it opens the human’s world to scent and for the brief time you are on a track you can enter into the dog’s world and its abilities. Each track you do with your dog becomes an adventure and as the dog grows in its ability to follow the track your understanding of the sport grows and your amazement at your dog’s ability and dedication increases. Teamwork is essential and a true bond of trust must exist between the handler and the dog. Of all the titles I have attained, the tracking titles have been the most special.


You can easily appreciate natural instincts in a dog watching a puppy meet a rat for the first time. Puppies start with a general curiosity which quickly grows into an intense drive without any intervention by the human.

Earthdog is a true test of the dog’s natural instinct. It is fun to follow a dog driving and hunting through a field to find a den of rats. Watching a dog charge into a tunnel to get the rats is unlike any other activity you can do with your dog Most dogs are able to

participate in earthdog with a minimal mount of training.


Many potential puppy owners ask me if Westies can actually be obedient. My answer, of course, is yes. But…obedience and Westies requires fun. Obedience training has historically been rigid and was filled with corrections for mistakes. I trained Ray using this method and he excelled being ranked Nationally in 1999 in Front and Finish. But, I also learned that it really wasn’t much fun. Newer training methods have increased the amount of play improving the mental attitude of both the dog and the handler. I now make obedience a game with my dogs and I find that I have much happier working dogs.


There is no greater feeling than to run a clean agility course with your dog. It is thrilling and when you come off the course and your heart is racing and your dog is smiling you know the meaning of success. Agility also requires teamwork with the dog and handler running as a connected unit.

Agility requires training by both the handler and the dog. The handler needs to learn how to guide the dog throughout the course successfully. The dog needs to learn how to follow the handler and how to execute the obstacles along the way. Agility requires a considerable amount of training.

No matter which performance activity you choose to undertake it is important to remember that above all else it must be fun! It must be fun for both you and your dog. The time you spend in the pursuit of a title can be considerable. It is important that the journey is enjoyed as much as the title at the end.

For the owner new to performance, it is important to find good training either in the form of a training class or in the form of a performance mentor. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by good friends and knowledgable trainers. Without them my successes would not have been so great so to them I say thanks!! I enjoy the time I spend training my dogs and enjoy the thrills when we are successful.

Let me introduce you to my dogs …

U-CD Bella Vista’s You The Man, VCD2 TDX JE NA CG CGC (Ray)

Bought as a pet, I knew I set the bar high when I gave such a little dog such a big name but Ray has not disappointed me. He has made me the trainer I am today. He has excelled at tracking and obedience. His passion is tracking. He has taught me more about tracking then I have taught him. He attained his TD and TDX on his first attempt. He currently is testing in VST and hopes to be the second terrier to earn the Champion Tracker title. I recently became an AKC tracking judge and I have Ray to thank for that. He is shown here after winning the Oriole Award for highest scoring first-time dog and handler. The trophy was bigger than Ray!! He needs one more leg to complete his Excellent A Standard agility title.

At age 8, Ray has earned the following titles and awards:

Tracking: TD, TDX
Obedience: CD, CDX, U-CD, CGC, Front and Finish #1 Ranking for 1999
Agility: NA, NAP, NJP, OAP, OJP
Earthdog: JE, CG
AKC Versatile Dog: VCD1, VCD2
WHWTCA Versatile Dog and Versatile Dog Excellent
1999 Winner Oriole Dog Training Club Oriole Award

Ch. Kirkton’s Silver Lined Cloud, ME TD OAP OJP NAJ CG (Ariel)

Ariel loves life. Her happy go lucky spirit has been both an attribute and a detriment in her versatility training and career. Ariel has taught me how to deal with speed and exuberance. She and my husband, Denny, have a special bond. Her passion is doing earthdog with her father. She attained her Master Earthdog title with ease and has attained 8 additional Master legs towards her Level D Earthdog title. Denny also attained her TD and NAJ titles.

She currently is working on her Excellent agility titles and working towards her TDX and CD.

At age 5, she has earned the following titles:

Tracking: TD
Agility: NAJ, NAP, NJP, OAP, OJP
Earthdog: JE, SE, ME, CG
Confirmation: CH
WHWTCA Versatile Dog and Versatile Dog Excellent

Ch. Kirkton’s Kinetic Energy, SE (Zippy)

Zippy joined our household when she was age 3. She had a minimal amount of performance training and found out that doing stuff was fun. She quickly was initiated into tracking, obedience and agility. She loves to roll over. This became particularly challenging while running a track and I quickly learned how much was too much. She has taught me that every dog has its limits and has also taught me to laugh at myself and my dog!

She needs one more leg to finish her Master Earthdog title. She loves to run agility but we found that jumping 8 inches was too much so I had her re-measured in agility and now is able to run at 4 inches. She has two Novice Jumpers legs and hopes to have her first agility title early in 2004. If you are ever lucky enough to meet Zippy, you will never forget her.

At age 8, she has earned the following titles:

Earthdog: JE, SE
Conformation: CH

Ch. Finishline’s Rolling Start, JE CGC (Bristol)

Bristol is Zippy’s daughter and has Zippy’s love for life but her daddy Sam’s intelligence. She started tracking when she was 6 weeks old and is ready to be certified. She exhibited an early talent for earthdog earning her JE in just four trials. She started in agility earlier this year and already has her first leg. Her passion is life. She loves to run and bark. She has taught me how to become one with your dog. She recently finished her Championship exclusively from the Bred By Exhibitor class and won a Bred By Exhibitor Best In Show at the Baltimore County Kennel Club show in April 2003.

At age 2, she has earned the following titles:

Obedience: CGC
Earthdog: JE
Conformation: CH

Finishline’s Crank It Up (Luke)

Luke is Ariel’s son. He is smart and sensible. At age five months, he already retrieves a dumbbell and tracks. I look at this young pup and know he has knowledge within him that I am yet to learn and I look forward to the journey.

In conclusion ... no matter what you do with your Westies…the time they spend with you is short. Their accomplishments and triumphs will stay with you for your entire life. So enjoy it and have fun!!