West Highland Terrier

Looking for information on the West Highland White Terrier? Learn all about their personality, history, exercise needs, and more!

West highland terrier resting on grass

Westie Characteristics:
Height:
Male 11 inches, female 10 inches
Weight: 7-9 kilos
Lifespan: 13-15 years
Pedigree? (registered with the KC?): Yes, this breed is registered with the Kennel Club.

Positives and Negatives

Find out the pros and cons of the West Highland Terrier below:

Pros:

  • Hypoallergenic, ideal for allergy sufferers
  • Minimal shedding and low drooling
  • Family-friendly pet
  • Easy to train and housebreak

Cons:

  • Prone to weight gain
  • Doesn’t like to be left alone, could develop separation anxiety
  • Stubborn, not ideal for first-time owners
  • High grooming maintenance

Overview

The West Highland Terrier is well known for its small stature, striking white coat, and adorable little face! Hailing from Scotland, these dogs have assisted both nobility and the working class with their vermin killing skills. Although cute, this breed still belongs to the Terrier family and ideally, requires an experienced owner.

Courageous and brave, this pooch may be small but they certainly aren’t quiet. They’ll let you know exactly how they feel through their barking. Westies are deeply affectionate towards their owners and could develop separation anxiety if left alone for long periods. Yet despite this, the breed does appreciate their own space every once in a while.

Side view of a West Highland White Terrier panting

Tough and resilient, Westies were raised in the Scottish Highlands and have the stamina to work all day. Due to this, the Westie does have high exercise needs. As a result, an active owner will be required. Westies excel in dog sports such as agility, earth dog trials, flyball, and rally. These sports will mentally stimulate a dog.

Westies are an adaptable breed that can happily move home to a new location. All that matters is that they’re by their owner’s side! This breed can live contently in both rural, city, and suburban environments. A Westie puppy may need some getting used to around loud sounds in a city environment.

Related: Don’t miss our guide to Scotland’s most famous dog breeds next.

History

The West Highland White Terrier originates from Scotland and were used as ratters, killing any vermin in sight. White Terriers have existed in Scotland since the reign of James VI (1565-1625). During this period, the Westie was found in a variety of coat colors, not just white.

The 16th Laird of Pollatoch, Edward Malcolm, is linked to the development of the modern Westie we know today. These dogs were accidentally killed by their owners as they were mistaken for foxes. This is why Westies were developed to have the noticeable white coat color.

Originally, this breed was known as the ‘Pollatoch Terrier’. They were then renamed the West Highland White Terrier in 1903. A year later the first Westie breed club was created. Not long after in 1907, the Kennel Club gave their recognition to the breed. It was at this same time they were imported into the United States.

Westies share a similar genetic background with the Cairn Terrier, Scottish Terrier, Dandie Dinmont, and the Skye Terrier. The popular Westipoo, also known as a ‘Designer Dog’ is created by cross-breeding the West Highland Terrier and the Poodle.

Over the last decade, Westie registrations through the Kennel Club have dropped. Nowadays they are mostly seen as companions and competitors in dog shows. In 2016, a Westie won Best in Show at the world-renowned Crufts Dog Show. It was the first time in 26 years since a Westie has won this title.

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Personality

Westie Temperament:

Westies belong to the Terrier family so of course, they’ll display typical signs of Terrier behavior! They’re fearless, independent, stubborn, playful, and affectionate. Training is deeply important to prevent any bad habits from forming. Barking, digging, and chasing are behaviors this Terrier will show.

These canines are small yet robust. They have a unique personality that will intrigue any owner. Westies are affectionate, caring, loyal and are always found close to their owner’s side. Outdoors is where their independence really shows. They won’t cause problems with others but a Westie won’t back down if challenged to a fight.

Are West Highland Terriers Good With Strangers?

A Westie Terrier is a fantastic watchdog. They’ll alert their owners to any strangers entering their territory. Westies will be wary of those they don’t know but should settle down with reassurance from their owner. Despite their Terrier background, the breed is rather social.

Four West Highland Terrier puppies

Are West Highland Terriers Good With Children?

Yes! Westie dogs are energetic and love to play games with children. They adore the extra attention and have the stamina to keep up. The Westie size is ideal to have around smaller children however, they don’t like their personal space being consistently invaded. For this reason, Westies are better in homes with older children that respect this.

Are West Highland Terriers Ok With Other Dogs?

Yes, Westies get along well with dogs compared to others in the Terrier family. Whilst they may display aggression or dominant behavior with dogs of the same sex, socialization can prevent this. The Westie dog can live alongside other canines and cats but avoid smaller pets such as hamsters or rats!

Exercise

Size means nothing when it comes to energy and energy is something the Westie has a lot of! They will need up to one hour of exercise each day, but don’t be surprised if they expect more. A West Highland Terrier puppy is more outgoing and if given a garden, will spend most of their time exploring.

West highland white terrier sitting on the couch

As a ratter in the past, the West Highland Terrier has a strong prey drive. Due to this, they shouldn’t be allowed off a leash unless in an enclosed space. Long walks are things this pooch loves. Try a retractable lead to practice giving them more of a distance.

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Health

Check out the breed-related health conditions of the West Highland Terrier below:

  • Luxating Patellas- Often seen in small dogs, this condition causes the kneecap to temporarily dislocate out of place before falling back into position.
  • Legg Perthes Disease- Blood supply to the ball of the hip joint becomes poor, thus causing the bone to deteriorate. Symptoms include pain and lameness leading to arthritis.
  • Atopy- A lifelong skin disease causing itchiness and redness. This health issue must be managed as the allergic reactions can’t be cured.
  • Dry eye- The affected dog produces a small amount or stops producing tears. This causes the eye to become dry causing pain. It is a chronic inflammatory condition.
  • Westie Lung- Also known as Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, this health issue is a deadly lung disease commonly seen in the Westie. It is incurable.

Intelligence & Training

Like most Terriers, training needs to be catered to them! If it isn’t interesting enough you won’t grab their attention! Westies need positive reinforcement. Any harsh methods will see them lose complete focus. Food and praise are the best way to do this but keep watch as the Westie is prone to weight gain.

Ideally, a training session should last between 10-15 minutes. Due to their stubborn streak, the Westie isn’t recommended for first-time owners. However, if you feel confident you’re able to meet this breed’s needs then having the Westie as a first-time pet won’t be an issue. Source an experienced Terrier dog trainer for extra help and advice.

The Westie will need a firm leader that can overcome their stubbornness. Respect training is important and so is consistency. If household rules aren’t kept, the Westie will run rings around their supposed leader. Once their owner’s leadership has been established, make a start on obedience training.

Housebreaking a Westie doesn’t have to be difficult. Some use crate training, allowing their dog to walk freely around the house. Another popular method is routine. Allow them access outdoors every couple of hours and every 15 minutes after eating. Reward them every time they use the toilet correctly.

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Grooming

Westies don’t shed much and are hypoallergenic making them an ideal choice for allergy sufferers. Due to this, frequent brushing will be needed to remove dead hairs. Matts and tangles can form quickly if this isn’t kept up with. Wide toothed combs, slicker brushes, and deshedding rakes are the best tools to use on a Westies coat.

When brushing through the coat keep a pair of scissors to hand. Any overgrown fur surrounding the face can be quickly trimmed. The fur is often shaped to curve around the head. Frequent trimming around the anus will also be needed for hygiene reasons.

Portrait of a West Highland White Terrier

Westies should take a bath every 4-6 weeks. As the Westie is known to be prone to skin allergies, use special shampoo designed for sensitive skin. A blow dryer can be used on their soft curly fur. Westies will need weekly cleaning underneath their eyes to prevent tear stains.

Other general grooming maintenance includes ear cleaning. These will need to be cleaned every week to prevent the build-up of debris. Ideally, nails should be filed every 10 days if this hasn’t been done so naturally. Vets recommend teeth are brushed daily so aim to do this at least twice a week. Dental hygiene can cause a dog serious issues.

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