The West Highland White Terrier, affectionately called the Westie, is proof that big things can come in small packages. This dog may be little, but they have no shortage of playfulness and confidence. Westies bring joy with them everywhere they go, and it’s not hard to see why. Their silhouette and white coat are simply iconic and adorable. Their huge personalities command attention no matter where they are.
If you’re looking for a Westie to share your home with, you’ll be glad to know they make excellent family companions. They are highly affectionate and love spending time with members of their pack. It can be a little difficult to reign in their spunky nature. As true Terriers, Westies are quite curious as well, so be sure you can accommodate that curiosity on your walks out in the neighborhood.
If you’re looking to bring home your very own West Highland White Terrier, then you’ll need to equip yourself with the knowledge necessary for properly raising one in your home. In this article, we’ve detailed all the basics you’ll need to know about this incredibly unique dog breed. We’ll talk about their history, how they look and behave, plus information on the most important areas of their care. Let’s take a dive right into what makes the Westie such a lovable canine companion.
As we can tell from the breed name, Westies are members of the Terrier family. They are considered a branch of the Terriers of Scotland, along with the Scottish, Skye, Cairn, and Dandie Dinmont Terriers. The word Terrier means “earth dog,” attributing to their immense hunting and vermin-killing ability.
West Highland White Terriers come from the Scottish West Highlands, probably originating in Poltalloch, formerly the county of Argyll, Scotland. In the past, these pups were considered offspring of the Scottish and Cairn Terriers, but they now have their own recognizable breed standard.
These little white dogs have had a well-established history spanning well over 100 years, though some sources present the Scottish white Terriers having existed as early as the 16th Century. James VI of Scotland wished to present the Kingdom of France with white Terriers from Argyll; he wrote to Edinburgh to procure six dogs. Their history is largely unclear, as it wasn’t until the 1800s that the Westie breed began to take its modern shape.
The breed was once known as the Poltalloch Terrier, sometimes known also as the Roseneath Terrier. These names came about from the estates the Westies were bred on. Looking into Westie lore, there is a legend that says Colonel Edward Malcolm of Poltalloch was out hunting with his beloved wheat-colored Cairn Terriers sometime in the late 1800s. On the trail of their game, the Colonel saw what he thought was either a rabbit or a fox in the brush. He quickly shot at it, only to find he had shot one of his Cairns by mistake.
He was so devastated by the death of his canine companion that he swore to breed only white dogs, which were easy to spot and hard to mistake for wild game. Thus, breeding efforts intensified. The Campbell Clan of Roseneath had also begun breeding white Terriers at around the same time. These two dogs were combined to create the Westie breed as we know it today.
It was in 1896 when the Westie was shown at Scottish dog shows. They then grew in popularity enough for them to be brought elsewhere in the world. At the 1907 Crufts dog show in England, the breed was officially recognized as the West Highland White Terrier. They were exported to America and were recognized by the AKC in 1908 under the Westie name. They’ve since remained an incredibly important dog in American culture.
You may have seen Westies employed in modeling work. Many Westies have been used to sell products, which is no surprise given how adorable they are. You’ll likely recognize the cute, wide-eyed Westie from dog food brand, Cesar. Amazingly, Westies have modeled for large brands selling merchandise for us humans. Check out these ads from Juicy Couture, and Black & White Scotch Whisky.
It’s easy to underestimate the Westie’s small size, but don’t be fooled. They are a true Terrier, with a personality a bit too large for their body that simply comes with the Terrier-tory. They are bold, self-assured, and tireless; this can be a bit much for many people.
Still, they are among the easiest Terrier breeds to handle. Westies are famously friendly and affectionate dogs. They are happy to put their egos aside if it means a few more belly rubs. Their bright disposition brings sunshine into the home and will make them a great companion for families who could use the cheer.
Westies are wonderfully outgoing dogs and easily charm anyone they meet. They love entertaining and will clown around just to get a laugh; these dogs thrive on praise. Given the Westie’s friendliness, you’ll be happy to know that they suit homes with children and other pets.
It’s important to socialize them still, especially with smaller animals. Westies will retain their high prey drive from their hunting days and go out of their way to chase creatures smaller than they are. This can get them into a lot of trouble.
Inside The Home
Even though the Westie is both affectionate and intelligent, they’re not very prone to separation anxiety. This means you can leave them alone for long periods without them being too upset, provided their needs are met. They cling to their owners and crave constant affection.
Setting good boundaries with your dog can help them become more secure, and reduce destructive behavior. Their high intelligence means they will still need a lot of mental and physical stimulation, so take care to work on this whenever you are home with them.
The breed’s small size prevents them from being an adequate guard dog, this much is certain. However, their keen senses, developed from generations on the hunt, make them great watchdogs. Westies are highly curious and alert and will let you know when visitors arrive, welcome or otherwise.
They’re not particularly yappy dogs, so you don’t need to worry about excess noise. Their high intelligence is evident in their desire to assist. Westies know when you need help and are happy to offer their presence in tough times. Their sparkling personality makes them a great choice for a therapy dog.
Size & Appearance
West Highland White Terriers are small dogs with huge personalities evident in every wag of their spunky tails. They don’t grow to be very large, regardless of sex, but they’re not toy dogs either. Males stand ideally at 11 inches at the shoulder, while females stand at around 10 inches. They typically weigh anywhere between 15 to 20 pounds. They are compact dogs with bodies sturdy enough for hunting excursions. The AKC describes them as, “small, game, well-balanced, and hardy.”
Westies’ heads are rounded, usually from their haircuts, and well-proportioned to their bodies. They have medium-sized, deep-set, almond-shaped eyes that are set wide apart to give an inquisitive expression. These eyes should be dark brown, with black rims around the eyes. Small, full, or light-colored eyes are considered faults by the AKC.
A Westie’s ears are also set wide apart; they are small, pointy, and carried high on the head. Their muzzles are slightly shorter than their skulls, with level and strong jaws. Their noses are always large and black, and their lips are black as well.
Having a broad and sturdy body, these dogs are muscular and well-built. Their necks are strong and transition into relaxed shoulders. Their backs are level even when they are in motion. They have deep chests that reach down to around their elbows, giving an adorably stocky appearance.
The Westie’s tail is carrot-shaped and relatively short; it is straight and carried with cheer. Westies’ legs have good muscles, allowing them to run at top speeds when giving chase to their prey. These end in round, thickly padded feet.
Coat & Colors
The AKC has a lot of requirements for the breed standard coat; they note that the Westie coat is “seldom seen to perfection.” Therefore, your mileage may vary when observing your own dog’s coat. It’s a must for them to have a double coat, though. Something curious about this is that despite the double coat, Westies do not shed very much. As such, they are considered hypoallergenic, a great option for allergy sufferers.
The AKC breed standard requires the Westie’s coat to be hard and straight, with the outer coat being around 2 inches long. Fluffiness or even gentle curls are considered faults, so you will not see those traits often in show dogs. Single coats and shorter fur are also faults. The standard requires the Westie’s hair to be groomed to a round appearance.
You may have guessed the coat color of the West Highland White Terrier. The AKC accepts no other color but white, though sometimes they will allow wheaten tips on hard fur texture.
Owning this breed can be challenging because of their high energy needs. Like all Terriers, Westies have near-boundless energy. You will tire out far quicker than they ever will. For this reason, it can be difficult to keep up with your snowy canine companion.
Thankfully, being quite small, they don’t really need more than one hour of exercise every day. However, you must ensure they have a varied routine that keeps them on their toes, both figuratively and literally. Westies require much mental stimulation.
Since these dogs are so smart, you will need to think of many intellectually stimulating activities to do, both together and apart. Walks around the neighborhood are always fun, provided you can keep your dog reigned in on their leash.
Westies love investigating sights, sounds, and smells. Try to strike a balance between keeping them on track and allowing them to satisfy their curiosity. Given their playfulness, games are a great option for Westies. Playing fetch, frisbee, or flyball will always make a Westie happy, especially if they can play with other furry friends at the dog park.
Westies should always have toys available to use when they are indoors. These should be good to play with either with their family or by themselves. Giving them toys to play with help keep their brains busy and staves off any destructive behavior. Westies should have a fenced-in yard they can play in, though take care that it is well-secured lest they escape.
West Highland White Terriers will be fine living in smaller homes, such as apartments, as long as they are well-exercised. However, it will probably be best to keep breakable objects away from them in case they get the zoomies.
This dog is fine living in most places provided the weather isn’t too hot or cold. Their undercoats allow them to tolerate the cold better than the heat, but it’s still important to keep them warm in the winter. In the summer months, take care to keep them in a cool area with access to plenty of water.
Westies are quick-witted dogs and will take to training very easily, as long as it is done early enough in their lives. Puppies are much more eager to listen to you than older dogs are. The stubbornness of a Westie can really come through, which can be frustrating. Begin their training as soon as they first come home with you. Immediately establishing your role as their pack leader will allow them to more readily listen and obey your commands.
You should be careful to never be mean to your Westie, especially when you are training them. It’s easy for these dogs to develop resentment towards their superiors if they’re not treated well. Instead of giving in to frustration, be firm and reinforce that they must listen.
Positive reinforcement in the form of pets, treats, and praise will also bring you much farther than you might think. Consistent positive reinforcement is essential in successfully training your Westie. It may be difficult to prevent this breed from thinking for themselves and doing their own thing, but it certainly isn’t impossible.
Socialization is incredibly important for this breed. Westies are often highly extroverted dogs, but it’s important they are confident and non-aggressive and know how to play nicely with others. Exposing them gently to new people, animals, places, and situations will help them become well-rounded pups. The AKC recommends puppy kindergarten classes to help teach your dog to behave around other dogs. We think this is a great option, especially for Westies who are going to live in multi-dog households.
Being a smaller dog, these pups can live around 12 to 16 years. Generally, purchasing from a responsible breeder can ensure better health for your dog. Even then, like all dogs, Westies have a few illnesses they are predisposed to.
Good breeders will let you know about the potential health conditions your dog can develop. While not all Westies will develop these conditions, understanding how to spot these conditions is essential to developing a good treatment plan with your veterinarian. Be sure to schedule regular checkups with your vet to preserve your Westie’s health and quality of life.
Westie Armadillo Syndrome
Westies are unfortunately predisposed to various skin diseases that can manifest at any time in their life. In particular, there is one illness that plagues the Westie breed. This is called epidermal dysplasia, otherwise known as Westie Armadillo Syndrome. This is a painful condition that can make your dog’s belly, head, and feet very itchy. This usually begins anywhere between 3 to 12 months old, causing hair loss and yeast infections all over your dog’s body.
This condition is unfortunately lifelong and cannot be cured, though the symptoms can be managed. Management Is usually done by using steroids or other traditional medication. Adjusting your dog’s diet according to your veterinarian’s recommendations can also ease some of the discomfort. Ask your vet about options for treatment plans to help preserve your Westie’s coat and comfort.
Bone and Joint Problems
Westies are prone to orthopedic problems, one of which is patellar luxation or loosened kneecap. This is a condition commonly seen in smaller dogs, the Westie included. Patellar luxation occurs when the kneecap comes loose from its regular place in the groove of your Westie’s thigh bone. This condition is often difficult to spot unless it has progressed to giving your dog discomfort.
Hind leg lameness is common or seeing your Westie trying to “pop” their kneecap back into place. If not immediately addressed, this condition can progress to degenerative arthritis. Your vet will have a good idea about a treatment plan; surgery is often recommended in more extreme cases.
Hip and elbow dysplasia are also conditions this breed can develop. Good breeders often screen for this in the parent dogs so they do not pass the conditions on to their litter. These conditions occur when the bones do not meet the joint’s socket correctly.
White Shaker Dog Syndrome
White dogs like the Westie can also suffer from a condition called White Shaker Dog Syndrome. This is an inherited nervous system disorder that causes tremors, typically manifesting at around six months to three years old. Symptoms present most severely during voluntary activity; when the dog is at rest, symptoms disappear. This can be tough for your very active Westie.
If your Westie experiences tremors, a dog neurologist will try to determine whether this is WSDS, or caused by something else entirely. This is often managed with benzodiazepine drugs such as alprazolam, or corticosteroids. While medication will usually alleviate all the symptoms, some dogs will require a low dosage to manage their symptoms throughout their life. Ask your veterinarian for the best options for your Westie in case they exhibit tremors while engaged in an activity.
Proper nutrition is one of the most important aspects of your dog’s quality of life. Feeding your West Highland White Terrier a diet that is complete and balanced in nutrients ensures they stay as healthy as possible. The best food to feed your Westie is high-quality, dry kibble; not only is this the simplest food to give them, but it’s also more well-rounded than other diets.
When choosing a kibble, select brands that do not use artificial colors and flavors, as these do not add any nutritional value and may even be detrimental to your dog’s health. You must feed your Westie food appropriate for their life stage. Small Breed Puppies will need more nutritionally dense dog food than adults, adults will need larger servings, and seniors eat less food than adults.
Figuring out portion sizes can be challenging, as this will depend on your Westie’s age, size, and activity level. Still, Westies eat more than most breeds their size. Being a high-energy dog, Westies require more food simply because they burn more energy than many other breeds. This is especially true when taking a more athletic Westie into account.
As calorie and nutrient needs change throughout your dog’s life, they need to be eating food appropriate for where they’re at in life. This is especially if they have allergies or the aforementioned epidermal dysplasia. Your veterinarian will be able to help you figure out precisely what your dog needs as they undergo the many life changes.
Your Westie mustn’t eat too much either, as this can lead to obesity. Canine obesity opens the door to a host of preventable diseases. It can even greatly shorten your dog’s lifespan. The average Westie needs somewhere around 550 calories; active dogs need more, and inactive dogs need less.
While it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a professional groomer, grooming your Westie yourself need not be a difficult task. It’s important to start them out as young as possible to get them used to the process. Your Westie may resist, but gently coaxing them into behaving can help them relax. Grooming then becomes a fun bonding activity for both of you. Let’s look at what goes into grooming your Westie.
You should Brush your Westie several times a week, if not daily. This helps remove excess fur from their coat as they shed it. Depending on how fine or coarse your Westie’s fur is, you may need to experiment with different kinds of brushes. You can also use a special grooming mitt to help strip the coat of old fur.
How often you bathe your Westie depends entirely on how dirty they get. When you strip them of their old fur, you also help shed dirt that gets trapped in their short and coarse hairs. However, like all dogs, Westies love to have fun in the dirt. How much they play outdoors is proportionate to how dirty they get.
When bathing your Westie, use warm water and a mild soap or shampoo so as not to irritate their skin. If your Westie has allergies, your veterinarian will prescribe a medicated shampoo to be used as directed. After every bath, blow dry your dog with a hairdryer on a cool setting.
An important part of the Westie’s appearance is the roundness of its head from the front, says the AKC. While it’s wise to bring them to a groomer to get their specific haircut, trimming your dog’s fur when it gets unruly can help them look neat and tidy between trips to the groomer.
Keep your Westie’s ears clean with a cotton pad and ear cleaner from your vet. Gently wipe away the accumulated dirt, but only in the areas you can see. This will help prevent ear infections. Be sure to brush their teeth a few times weekly for their best oral health. Trimming their nails regularly will also help prevent injury.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
Looking for your own West Highland White Terrier to bring home will often have you checking for a breeder to purchase a puppy from. This can be a great option as long as you purchase from somebody reputable. There are many unscrupulous breeders running puppy mills who have very little regard for their dogs.
The focus of these operations is to generate as much profit as possible by producing as many dogs as they can. Living conditions are harsh, unclean, and unsafe, with little food or water. We urge you to do your research before choosing a breeder. Buying a puppy from one of these operations contributes to the decline of the breed.
On the other hand, many breeders treat their dogs ethically, with much care and respect. These breeders will be happy to show you where their dogs live; you’ll find these places to be clean and cozy. They will also encourage you to visit your dog in the weeks before you bring them home, to get to know them better for an easier transition into home life.
Responsible breeders will tell you everything you need to know about your new Westie, plus answer any questions you may have about the breed or your puppy. They will also provide you with veterinary certification on any tests they have done, plus vaccination and deworming.
Finding your breeder is not difficult. There are many different places you can check for leads, the first of which should be your veterinarian. Besides this, you can opt to go to local dog shows and ask dog lovers where to find somebody reputable, especially if they have a Westie themselves.
There are many breeder location resources available online, such as forums, social media, and the AKC’s resource for breeder referrals. As for price, you can expect to pay $1,000 to $1,700 for a pet quality Westie. Typical average prices are around $1,300. This is for a pet-quality dog; show-quality dogs will cost significantly more.
Rescues & Shelters
While buying a puppy from a breeder is a great option, we always recommend our readers adopt instead of shopping. This is especially because many Westies can be found at shelters too.
The cost comes out to be a fraction of what you’d pay a breeder, and you’re doing something incredibly kind for your new dog. Many of these dogs are senior dogs or dogs with special needs who will need extra care, coming from such a difficult background.
When you go to the shelter, be sure to ask the staff for a thorough background on your Westie. Learning their history is a great start to giving them the best care. Understanding their needs, from their temperament to their health conditions, will help you greatly in your life together.
Westies from shelters can be much more timid than we know them to be, but they will be back to their old selves in no time if you can prove yourself trustworthy. Give them lots of love and attention, and you’ll be seeing the confident, sparkling Westie personality we know and love.
As Family Pets
- These pups were originally bred as hunters’ companions.
- This makes them highly energetic.
- Westies will need extra care in their exercise needs due to their high energy.
- Westies have a high prey drive.
- This means they may terrorize smaller, non-dog animals in the home.
- However, when raised together with them, Westies can get along well with cats.
- West Highland Terriers are great with children, despite their smaller size.
- This breed needs plenty of mental stimulation, so be sure to keep them busy.
- These pups require dog food meant for small, active breeds due to their energy output.
We hope this article has helped you understand more about the West Highland White Terrier. Whether you are bringing one home for the first time or looking for more information about one already in your family, it’s always good to equip yourself with the right knowledge. Taking care of your Westie is not without its challenges, but understanding how best to do it ensures a long and happy life for your beloved canine companion. That is the greatest reward for a pet parent.
Westies are incredibly loving, warm, and happy dogs. They are beloved in homes all over the world for their affection and intelligence. Plus, how undeniably cute they are. If you’re lucky enough to have a Westie of your very own, be sure to shower them with all the love you can muster. They are happy to return that love with the same, creating a bond you’ll cherish all of your lives.