West Highland White Terrier

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west highland white terrier portrait
Meet the West Highland White Terrier – the fluffy, fearless, and fabulous breed that's capturing hearts with their irresistible charm! With their iconic snowy white coats, spunky personalities, and an attitude that says 'let's have a blast,' these pint-sized adventurers are ready to make every day a Westie wonderland!

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The West Highland White Terrier, with their compact size and zest for life, is a perfect companion for active individuals or families who love outdoor adventures. Their spirited nature makes them great playmates for older children. Plus, their independent streak suits those who appreciate a pet with a bit of personality!

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEWest Highland White Terrier
OTHER NAMESWestie, Poltalloch Terrier, Roseneath Terrier
ORIGINScotland
BREED GROUPTerrier Group
BREED SIZESmall
HEIGHT10-11 inches
WEIGHT15-20 lbs
LIFESPAN13-15 years
LIVING SPACESmall
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERModerate
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERModerate
GROOMING NEEDSHigh
EXERCISE NEEDSHigh
TRAINABILITYModerate
BARKING TENDENCYModerate
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELModerate
POPULARITY RANK45th
west highland white terrier sitting near a lake
Photo: Salima Senyavskaya/Getty Images

Appearance

West Highland White Terriers are small but mighty, typically weighing between 15 to 20 pounds and standing about 10 to 11 inches tall at the shoulder. But don’t let their size fool you. These dogs pack a lot of personality into a compact frame.

Starting from the top, Westies have a distinctive head that’s in proportion to their body, giving off a round appearance when viewed from the front. Their blunt muzzles are slightly shorter than their skulls, adding to their unique charm. A pair of bright, deep-set eyes, almond-shaped and dark in color, offer a lively and intelligent expression that is hard to resist.

Their ears deserve a special mention. Pointed and erect, they stand at attention, always ready to pick up on any interesting sounds. It’s this alertness, coupled with their curiosity, that often makes them the center of attention.

Moving on to their bodies, Westies are robust and well-balanced. Their backs are level and their tails, carried jauntily, add to their joyful demeanor. Despite their small stature, these dogs are sturdy and strong, built for agility and endurance.

But what really sets Westies apart is their beautiful coat. They sport a dazzling white double coat that’s perfect for those who appreciate the finer things in life. The outer layer is coarse and helps protect these little adventurers from the elements, while the undercoat is soft, providing warmth and comfort.

west highland white terrier in a park
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Temperament

If you’re looking for a dog with a big personality in a small package, look no further than the West Highland White Terrier. These little dogs are brimming with spirit and spunk. But what exactly makes their temperament so irresistible?

Westies are known for their independent streak. They’re not your typical lap dogs, even though they love a good cuddle from time to time. These dogs have minds of their own and aren’t afraid to show it.

They’ll happily trot off on their own adventures, sniffing out new trails and exploring their surroundings with gusto. This independence, however, is balanced by a deep loyalty to their human families. Once a Westie bonds with you, you’ve got a friend for life.

One of the most endearing traits of Westies is their cheerful disposition. These dogs are full of joy and love to share it with those around them. Their playful antics and enthusiastic approach to life can bring a smile to anyone’s face. Whether they’re chasing their favorite toy or romping around in the yard, Westies know how to have fun.

Despite their size, Westies are surprisingly brave. They were originally bred as hunting dogs in Scotland and that heritage still shines through today. They’re fearless and tenacious, ready to stand their ground if needed. They won’t back down from a challenge, making them excellent watchdogs. Their alertness and curiosity keep them on their toes, always ready to investigate any suspicious sounds or movements.

But don’t mistake their bravery for aggression. Westies are generally friendly and get along well with others. They’re sociable creatures, eager to make friends with humans and dogs alike. However, their strong prey drive might make them less suitable for homes with smaller pets like hamsters or birds.

Westies are also known for their intelligence. These dogs are quick learners and can pick up new commands or tricks with relative ease. But their smartness comes with a touch of stubbornness.

They like doing things their own way, which can sometimes make them seem a bit headstrong. But with patience and positive reinforcement, their stubbornness can be channeled into a charming quirk rather than a challenge.

At the end of the day, Westies are affectionate and loving companions. They enjoy spending time with their families, whether it’s playing a game of fetch or curling up on the couch for a movie night.

west highland white terrier on the beach on a sunny day
Photo: Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

Ideal Environment

West Highland White Terriers can thrive in various environments, whether it’s a bustling city apartment or a spacious country home. But what is the ideal setting for these charming pets?

Ideal Owner

Firstly, Westies are social creatures who love being part of an active family. They do well with pet parents who can devote time to their care, providing them with plenty of interaction and mental stimulation.

They’re great companions for adults and older children who understand how to treat pets respectfully. Their playful nature combined with their sturdy build makes them perfect playmates.

Other Pets

When it comes to other pets, Westies generally get along well with dogs of similar size. However, their strong hunting instincts might make them a less than ideal companion for smaller pets like hamsters, rabbits, or birds. They’re better suited to homes where they can be the smallest pet, or at least, not surrounded by potential ‘prey’.

Physical Environment

In terms of physical environment, Westies are quite adaptable. They’re just as happy living in an apartment as they are in a house with a backyard, as long as they get enough exercise and mental stimulation. They do, however, appreciate having some outdoor space where they can explore and play.

Westies are energetic and curious dogs. An environment that offers them new experiences and challenges will keep them happy and engaged. Whether it’s new toys, interactive games, or socializing with other dogs, keeping their sharp minds and active bodies busy is crucial.

Climate Adaptability

Climate-wise, Westies can handle a range of temperatures. Their thick double coat protects them from the cold, making them well-suited to cooler climates.

That said, they also do okay in warmer weather, but precautions should be taken during extreme heat to prevent overheating. Always ensure they have access to shade and fresh water, and avoid vigorous exercise during the hottest parts of the day.

three west highland white terriers sitting together
Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Grooming

When it comes to grooming, the West Highland White Terrier requires a bit more attention. Their dazzling white coats are part of their charm, but keeping them looking their best takes some effort. Let’s explore the grooming needs of these delightful dogs.

Coat Care

First up is their beautiful double coat. The outer layer is coarse and provides protection from the elements, while the undercoat is soft and fluffy, providing warmth. To keep this coat in top condition, regular brushing is crucial.

Aim for at least once a week, although more frequent brushing can help reduce shedding. A slicker brush or a pin brush is ideal for this task, helping to remove loose hair and prevent matting.

Bathing your Westie is another important aspect of grooming. While these dogs aren’t particularly smelly, they do enjoy a good romp outdoors, which can lead to a dirty coat. Aim to give them a bath every month or so, or whenever they get particularly dirty. Always use a dog-friendly shampoo to maintain the health and shine of their coat.

Now, let’s talk about trimming. Westies have a unique ‘skirted’ look, with longer hair around their belly and legs. To maintain this appearance, regular trimming is necessary. You can do this at home with a good pair of dog grooming scissors, or take your Westie to a professional groomer. Remember, it’s not just about looks – trimming also helps prevent matting and keeps your dog comfortable.

Dental Care

Next, we have dental care. Like all dogs, Westies can suffer from dental problems if their teeth aren’t properly cared for. Regular brushing with dog-specific toothpaste can help keep their teeth clean and their breath fresh. Dental chews and toys can also assist in maintaining good oral health.

Nail Trimming

Don’t forget about their nails! Westies are active dogs and if they’re regularly walking on hard surfaces, their nails might naturally wear down. However, if you hear them clicking on the floor, it’s time for a trim. You can use a dog nail clipper or grinder for this, but be careful not to cut into the quick, as it can cause pain and bleeding.

Ears & Eyes

Lastly, pay attention to your Westie’s ears and eyes. Clean them regularly with a soft cloth to remove any dirt or debris. If you notice redness, swelling, or a bad smell, it could be a sign of infection and a trip to the vet might be needed.

west highland white terrier relaxing in a park
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Exercise

If you’re considering a West Highland White Terrier, prepare for a life filled with activity and adventure! These spirited dogs are packed with energy and require regular exercise to keep them happy and healthy. But what does that look like in practice?

Exercise Amount & Types

Firstly, expect to spend around an hour each day exercising your Westie. This might seem like a lot for such a small dog, but remember, these are terriers – bred for hunting and full of natural energy. They love being on the move and will happily join you for walks, runs, or a game of fetch in the park.

Speaking of walks, aim for two to three per day. This will not only help burn off energy but also provide mental stimulation as they get to explore new scents and sights. Remember, Westies are curious by nature and love investigating their surroundings. So, vary your routes and let them sniff around – it’s like reading the news for them!

In addition to walks, Westies also enjoy playtime. Games like fetch or tug-of-war can be great fun and a good way to engage their natural prey drive in a controlled manner. Interactive toys can also provide both physical and mental exercise when you’re not available to play.

But exercise isn’t just about physical activity. Mental stimulation is equally important. Training sessions, puzzle toys, or scent games can help keep their sharp minds busy. Plus, Westies are intelligent and quick learners, making them excellent candidates for dog competitions like agility or obedience trials.

Exercise Precautions

Finally, remember that while Westies are energetic, they also need time to rest and recharge. Always monitor your dog during exercise to ensure they’re not overexerting themselves and provide plenty of fresh water to keep them hydrated.

west highland white terrier playing on the beach
Photo: everydoghasastory

Training

Training a West Highland White Terrier is an experience filled with rewards, challenges, and more than a few laughs. These intelligent and spirited dogs are capable learners, but their independent nature means they sometimes have their own ideas about how things should be done!

First off, let’s talk about their trainability. Westies are smart dogs with a knack for problem-solving. This makes them capable of learning a wide range of commands and tricks.

However, their intelligence is paired with a streak of stubbornness. They’re not always inclined to do what you want just because you ask them to. This can make training a bit of a challenge, but also a lot of fun.

To train a Westie effectively, patience and consistency are key. Start with basic obedience commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘come’. Use positive reinforcement methods such as treats, praise, and play to reward them for correct behavior. Westies respond well to this type of training and it helps build a strong bond between you and your pet.

Socialization is another important aspect of training. Introducing your Westie to a variety of people, animals, and environments from a young age can help them grow into well-rounded, confident dogs. Remember, Westies are naturally curious, so use this to your advantage during socialization sessions.

When it comes to potty training, Westies can sometimes be a bit stubborn. Consistency is key here. Establish a routine, take them out regularly, and reward them when they do their business in the right spot. With time and patience, they’ll get the hang of it.

Lastly, don’t forget about mental stimulation. Training sessions, puzzle toys, or scent games can help keep their sharp minds busy. Plus, Westies are quick learners, making them excellent candidates for dog competitions like agility or obedience trials.

west highland white terrier in the sea
Photo: slovegrove/Getty Images

Diet & Nutrition 

Feeding a West Highland White Terrier is about more than just filling their food bowl. These small but active dogs have specific dietary needs to keep them healthy and energized. So, what’s on the menu for a Westie?

What to Feed & How Much

When choosing food for your Westie, quality is key. Look for high-quality dry, wet, or raw food that follows the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines. This ensures that the food meets the nutritional standards necessary for your dog’s health. The food should contain a good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, along with essential vitamins and minerals.

How much should you feed your Westie? Well, this depends on their age, size, and activity level. On average, an adult Westie requires around one cup of food per day, divided into two meals. However, puppies need smaller, more frequent meals, while older dogs may need less food if their activity level decreases.

Remember, these are just guidelines. Every dog is unique, so it’s important to monitor your Westie’s weight and adjust their food intake as needed. If you’re unsure, your vet can provide personalized advice based on your dog’s individual needs.

Treats

Treats are a great training tool and a way to show your Westie some love, but remember to use them sparingly. Treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake to prevent weight gain and other health issues.

Water

Don’t forget about water! Westies, like all dogs, need access to fresh water at all times. This is especially important during hot weather or after exercise to prevent dehydration.

west highland white terrier lying on green grass
Photo: IanDikhtiar/Getty Images

Health

Welcoming a West Highland White Terrier into your life is a joyous occasion. These lively and affectionate dogs can bring so much happiness. And while they’re generally a healthy breed with a life expectancy of 13-15 years, there are some health considerations to keep in mind.

Here are common health issues associated with Westies:

Skin Conditions: Westies are prone to various skin issues, including allergies and Atopic Dermatitis. Regular grooming and vet checks can help spot any problems early.

Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: This condition affects the hip joint and can cause lameness in young dogs. It’s treatable with surgery and physical therapy.

Craniomandibular Osteopathy (CMO): This is a bone disorder that affects the jaw and skull bones in puppies. While painful, it usually resolves itself as the dog matures.

Pulmonary Fibrosis: Known as ‘Westie lung disease’, this progressive condition causes scarring of the lung tissue and can impact the dog’s breathing. Early detection is key to managing this disease.

Patellar Luxation: This is a common issue where the kneecap dislocates or moves out of its normal position. It can range from mild to severe and may require surgery.

While this list might seem daunting, don’t panic! Many Westies live long, healthy lives without experiencing any of these issues. The key is regular veterinary care. Annual check-ups and vaccinations can help catch potential problems early and keep your Westie in the best possible health.

A balanced diet also plays a crucial role in your dog’s overall health. Feeding your Westie high-quality, nutritious food can boost their immune system and help ward off illness. Remember to adjust their diet according to their age, size, and activity level.

three west highland white terriers sitting in a meadow
Photo: Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

History

The Westie’s story begins in Scotland, before the 20th century. The breed is descended from several breeding programs of white terriers in Scotland, making them cousins to the Cairn Terrier. Their primary job? Hunting foxes, badgers, and vermin, thanks to their strong prey drive and sturdy build.

The breed probably originated at Poltalloch, in the former county of Argyll, Scotland, where it was bred for many years by the Malcolm family. The breed was once known by a few different names including the Poltalloch Terrier and the Roseneath Terrier, before finally settling on the West Highland White Terrier.

Legend has it that Colonel Malcolm of Poltalloch, a key figure in establishing the breed, decided to breed only white dogs after mistaking his reddish terrier for a fox and shooting it. From that point forward, he vowed to have dogs that couldn’t be confused with foxes, leading to the distinctive white coat we associate with Westies today.

The breed was officially recognized as the West Highland White Terrier in 1907 at the Crufts dog show in England. Fast forward to the 20th century, and the Westie made its way across the pond to the United States. The American Kennel Club (AKC) first registered the breed in 1908. As of now, the Westie ranks 45th on the AKC’s list of Most Popular Dog Breeds, a testament to its enduring appeal.

In popular culture, the Westie has certainly made a mark. From appearances in TV shows and movies to being the face of well-known brands, these dogs have shown they’re not just great companions, but also have star quality.

Perhaps the most famous Westie in advertising is the one featured in the logo for Black & White Scotch Whisky. In the world of literature, the Westie has been immortalized in the form of McDuff in Rosemary Wells’ series of children’s books.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the West Highland White Terrier breed in the United States is the West Highland White Terrier Club of America (WHWTCA). The WHWTCA is dedicated to the promotion and protection of the breed and provides a wealth of resources for Westie owners and admirers alike. To learn more about the WHWTCA, you can visit their website.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. 

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

Check out the West Highland White Terrier’s breed standard as set by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

two west highland white terriers in a park
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Acquiring

Planning to welcome a West Highland White Terrier into your home? That’s wonderful news! First, prepare your home for this lively breed. You’ll need essentials like food and water bowls, a comfortable bed, toys, grooming supplies, and of course, lots of love.

If you choose to buy a Westie, always opt for reputable breeders. These breeders prioritize the health and wellbeing of their dogs and can provide you with important information about the puppy’s lineage and health history.

However, why not consider rescue instead? There are many lovely Westies in shelters waiting for their forever homes. The American Kennel Club and the West Highland White Terrier Club of America can help you find rescue organizations.

Adopting a rescue dog not only gives them a second chance at a happy life but also brings immense joy to yours. Remember, the best things in life are rescued!

FAQs

Do West Highland White Terriers have a strong bite?

Yes, like most terriers, Westies do have a strong bite. This is due to their historical role as hunting dogs. However, with proper training and socialization, they can learn to control their biting instinct.

Is the West Highland White Terrier a good family dog?

Absolutely! Westies are known for their friendly and sociable nature. They get along well with adults and children, making them wonderful family pets. However, due to their small size, they should be supervised around very young kids to prevent accidental injury.

Are West Highland White Terriers always white?

Yes, one of the defining characteristics of the Westie is its distinctive white coat. This sets them apart from their terrier cousins and was bred specifically to differentiate them from the wildlife they hunted.

Can West Highland White Terriers be left alone?

While Westies are quite independent, they’re also social animals and enjoy the company of their human family. They can tolerate being alone for a few hours, but shouldn’t be left alone for long periods regularly as it can lead to separation anxiety.

How much exercise does a West Highland White Terrier need?

Despite their small size, Westies are active and energetic dogs. They require around an hour of daily exercise, including walks and playtime. Regular mental stimulation through training or puzzle toys is also beneficial.

Are West Highland White Terriers hypoallergenic?

Westies are considered a good choice for people with allergies because they have a double coat that sheds less dander than other breeds. However, no breed is truly hypoallergenic, so spend time with a Westie before bringing one home if allergies are a concern.

Do West Highland White Terriers bark a lot?

Westies can be quite vocal, especially when they’re bored or seeking attention. However, excessive barking can usually be managed with proper training and by ensuring they have plenty of physical and mental stimulation.

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