West Highland White Terrier

Fast Facts

Country of Origin:Scotland
AKC Group:Terrier Group
UKC Group:Terrier
Use today:Earthdog
Life Span:12 to 14 years.
Coat:Hard outercoat, 2 inches long.
Grooming:Brush twice a week. Hand strip every three months.
Size:Small Dog Breed
Height:10 to 11 inches at the withers
Weight:Proportionate to height

The West Highland White Terrier originated in Scotland as hardy hunters of small game. Never a pampered pet, the Westie combines Highland boldness, tenacity and loyalty in its small, hardy body. It's a cunning, intelligent member of the terrier family once known collectively as the Terriers of Scotland, and it is close kin to the Cairn Terrier.

Because these terriers worked among rocks and in the earth in pursuit of fox and badger, some breeders favored white dogs for their visibility. Thus, in various areas of Scotland some breeders specialized in these white dogs, which came to be known according to the region where they were bred. Legend tells of the Westie being bred exclusively white after Scottish breeder Col. E.S. Malcolm of Poltalloch’s one reddish terrier was accidentally mistaken by a hunter for a fox and shot. Malcolm, who is credited with developing the modern Westie, first introduced the breed at a dog show held in 1900, under the name Poltalloch Terrier.

Westies today retain their instinctive chasing drive, so they need a fenced yard, and should be leashed while walking. Confident, energetic, and capable, Westies can excel in therapy, agility or obedience, but owners do well to fortify themselves with a long nap before training sessions; Westies are independent thinkers who have minds of their own. The Westie makes a fine watchdog and family pet suitable for town or country. It has a high activity level, but a good walk and playtime every day should meet its exercise needs.

Young children aren’t ideal playmates for a Westie, but the breed can thrive with older, active and respectful children. While the Westie barks to announce company, they’ll then probably jump into play mode. Socialized Westies can do fairly well with other dogs. Bossy male Westies, however, won’t enjoy other bossy Westies of the same sex.

The West Highland White Terrier

Remarkably white, remarkably bright
Terrier boldness incarnate
Bursting with energy
Should I get a West Highland White Terrier?

Terrific for a person who:

Wants a lively, surprisingly sturdy little dog. 
Appreciates stubbornness going paw to paw with spunk.
Has a big fenced yard and far too many squirrels.
Think twice if you’re a person who:

Expects a dog to be infinitely patient with children’s antics.
Wants a cuddly lapdog that wouldn’t hurt a flea (or a rabbit….).
Instantly backs down from authoritarian terriers.
Care and Maintenance of the Westie

Low shedding with fairly minimal brushing needs, the Westie does require clipping (or stripping) a couple of times a year.

West Highland White Terrier Standard Look

This is a compact breed measuring up to 11 inches at the shoulder. The coat is straight, wiry, double and always white. Eyes are dark; eye rims, nose, skin, lips and toenails should be black. A little time spent each day with a brush and comb should keep the coat in peak condition, but for show dogs, considerable hand work is needed to maintain the coat and achieve the correct body outline.

Possible Westie Health Concerns

Atopic dermatitis, luxating patella, inflamatory bowel disease, lymphoma

West Highland White Terrier

Audrey Pavia


Wet Highland White TerrierWhen Ann Holmes' five West Highland White Terriers charge through her home, she knows to get out of their way. Sarah, Casper, Ryker, Max, and MacDuff propel themselves around a table, down the hall, around a corner, and under the bed. In an instant, the furry freight train is chugging in the opposite direction, now with a different Westie in the lead.

"I don't know how they know who's 'it,' but they all take turns," says Holmes, the Pryor, Okla., woman who picks up the phone when someone calls National Westie Rescue. "Westies like to make up games, and they all love to play tag."

West Highland White Terriers are high-energy dogs, says Pat Roark, a breeder in Ham Lake, Minn. "They are not the sort to sit in the corner of the kitchen waiting for you to look their way," Roark says. "West Highland White Terriers are much more likely to jump right in your lap as you read the newspaper. The best owner for a Westie is a person who feels at ease with an energetic dog."

To keep West Highland White Terriers from becoming bored and destructive dogs, owners must give at least an hour of exercise daily: a brisk walk, a game of catch. Westies will readily share in most any outdoor activity with their owner. "Westies are great companions for young and old alike," says Anne Sweeney, a breeder in Avondale, Ariz. "They are small, hardy dogs that seem to adapt well to most environments."

Obedience competition, agility, flyball, tracking, and earthdog trials also provide outlets for Westie energy. "I find West Highland White Terriers delightful to train and find that they are fast learners," Sweeney says. "The key is to respect their intelligence and follow through consistently with any command. Westies respect and respond to authority."

White Soldiers

Earthdog trials, which showcase the ability to hunt burrowing game, particularly suit the Westie's Terrier heritage.

"A West Highland White Terrier is not a Toy," says Becky Clyde, a breeder in Moscow, Idaho. "It's not meant to be a lapdog. People need to see past the cute little faces and know that they're hunters."

On a winter day, Roark was walking her 14-year-old Westie, Jenny, when the dog spotted a squirrel across the road. "Heedless of the three feet of snow between her and her prey, Jenny jumped into the nearest snow bank and instantly was up to her neck in snow," Roark says. "She couldn't move a muscle, but that didn't stop her determination to get that varmint." Jenny kept on trying to no avail to get the elusive rodent.
The breed comes from the same stock as the Dandie Dinmont, Skye, Cairn, and Scottish Terriers and proved itself hunting fox, badger, and vermin. In the 19th century, Col. E.D. Malcolm selectively bred short-legged, white dogs in Poltalloch, Scotland, and they became known as Poltalloch Terriers. The American Kennel Club began registering the breed in 1908 as the Roseneath Terrier, after the Duke of Argyll's estate in Dumbartonshire, Scotland. West Highland White Terrier became the breed's official name in 1909.

In general, Westies are hardy little dogs that rarely get sick. However, several genetic diseases can crop up. The Westie's eyes can be affected by juvenile cataracts or kerato -- conjunctivitis sicca (KCS). Skin problems include atopic dermatitis, epidermal dysplasia, and seborrhea. Hip dysplasia, Legg-Calve-Perthes, and dislocated kneec aps have occurred in this dog breed, as have copper toxicosis (CT), globoid cell leukodystrophy (GCL), and White Shaker syndrome. Discuss these and other genetically linked illnesses with breeders before obtaining a West Highland White Terrier.

Overall, the fun-loving Westie makes a great friend and companion. "Westies are cheerful dogs," Roark says. "Very little gets them down. In fact, you can actually see them smile."

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