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Is the West Highland terrier falling in popularity?
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Is the West Highland terrier falling in popularity?

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The West Highland terrier is the 41st most popular dog breed in the UK, and these small, lively and personable little dogs have great personalities and a lot of versatile traits that make them a good match for a wide range of different types of owners.

The Westie has always been one of the UK’s most popular breeds – and is also a native British breed too – but they have do seem to have been going through something of a gradual decline in recent years, slipping a few spots each year in terms of their numbers and demand among puppy buyers.

In this article we will chart the change in popularity of the West Highland terrier over the course of the last decade, taking into account the facts and figures as well as how preferences and the ways in which people look for and find dogs offered for sale have changed.

Read on to find out if the West Highland terrier is falling in popularity – and why.

Determining the popularity of a dog breed

We have examined two independent data sets to get the facts on West Highland terrier numbers in the UK over the last decade, to return a complete picture of the reality of the situation.

The Kennel Club publishes annual tables of the number of new puppies of every pedigree dog breed registered year on year, and this is the first data set that we are working with. However, Kennel Club registration figures only reflect the numbers of newly registered pedigree puppies – not non-pedigrees and unregistered dogs of the West Highland terrier breed.

We also use user search and advert data collated by Pets4Homes – and as the UK’s biggest and best pet classifieds website, this allows us to build up a more accurate image of the situation across the UK as a whole, without excluding unregistered dogs.

West Highland terrier facts and figures

At the time of writing in June 2018, the West Highland terrier is the UK’s 41st most popular dog breed out of a total of 241 different dog breeds and types. However, in 2017, the breed ranking came in at 38th place, reflecting a drop of three places over the course of just a year.

In terms of Kennel Club registration figures, we’re looking at data collated every year for the decade between 2008 and 2017.

During this time, the Westie’s annual registration figures have fallen hugely – from 7,330 in 2008 to 2,143 in 2017, or a drop of over two thirds. The breed’s popularity has fallen incrementally year on year since 2008 – with the steepest drop in numbers occurring between 2008-2009, when the breed fell from 7,330 new registered pups to 5,890.

However, this particular fall in numbers in 2009 was one that was reflected across the vast majority of all of the other registered dog breeds too, for which 2009 saw lots of breeds fall in terms of registered numbers.

The most likely reason for this is the knock-on impact of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the so-called Great Recession, and the government’s austerity programme that followed.

Many dog breeds began to recover their numbers from the following year onwards, but others continued to decline – and the West Highland terrier was one of them.

Is the West Highland terrier falling in popularity?

Looking at the figures, it is fair to say that the West Highland terrier breed as a whole is one that is indeed falling in popularity, with registrations and puppy adverts falling somewhat year on year.

However, the breed as a whole still ranks high in terms of overall popularity in the UK – within the top 20% - and so they are not uncommon nor at risk of disappearing altogether any time soon.

Additionally, a West Highland terrier won the prestigious Best in Show award at Crufts dog show in 2016, which tends to result in an uptick in interest in winning breeds over the course of the following five years or so, and so we might see the Westie’s numbers begin to slowly rise again before this time period ends too.

Why is the West Highland terrier becoming less popular?

When assessing the popularity of any dog breed and how it is rising or falling, it is important to take into account a range of factors. These include not only how many dogs of the breed are bred or registered each year, but how other breeds compare too – and if specific other breeds are increasing in popularity themselves.

Just because other breeds become more popular, does not necessarily result in a drop in popularity of others – for instance, if a specific dog breed appeals to people to such an extent that is causes people who might otherwise not have got a dog at all to choose one. This is potentially the case with the French bulldog – a breed that is growing in popularity at an unprecedented rate, and which is both taking the spotlight off other competing small breeds and bringing newcomers into first-time dog ownership that may not otherwise get a dog.

Ultimately, the fall in Westie numbers combined with the increase in ownership of other breeds reflects the nation’s changing tastes when it comes to dogs and dog breeds, as well as the changing nature of how people learn about and identify prospective dog breeds to buy in this internet-savvy age.

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