The Westie or West Highland White Terrier is a small breed of dog from Scotland. Measuring an average of 11 inches with a weight of 20 pounds or less, the Westie is a small but robust breed. They are loyal, fun-loving dogs with heaps of energy. Best suited to families with older children, the Westie makes the ideal apartment pet for active homes.
History and Original Purpose of the Westie
The Westie Terrier is closely related to other terriers, such as the Cairn, Scottish and Dandie Dinmont Terrier.
Terrier translates from the Latin word terra, meaning earth. This name could come from the breed’s original purpose. It was once bred as a working terrier, for digging out prey such as rats, foxes, rabbits and badgers.
The legend is that, during the 19th century, Colonel Malcolm accidentally shot his small brown terrier while hunting after mistaking it for a fox. As a result, he developed a small breed of white dog who had all the necessary characteristics of a working terrier but couldn’t be mistaken for prey.
Since then, the Westie has been known by many names, including the Poltalloch Terrier and the Roseneath Terrier. However, it was officially recognised as the West Highland White Terrier by the Kennel Club of England in 1906. The breed was introduced to the USA in 1905 and first shown the following year. The AKC recognised it in 1908.
Famous actors such as Scarlett Johansson, Whoopi Goldberg and Matthew McConaughey have all been photographed with adorable Westies.
The Westie dog is small but robust with a broad chest, rectangular shaped body and a waggy carrot-like tail!
Male West Highland White Terriers measure between 10 and 12 inches tall and weigh approximately 15 to 20 pounds. Females, on the other hand, are a little smaller. They measure between 9 and 11 inches tall and weigh approximately 13 to 16 pounds.
In addition to a distinctive build, the Westie Terrier has a notable white coat that distinguishes him from other terriers.
Grooming and Coat Care
Also, Westies possess a unique double coat. The undercoat is soft and furry whereas the outer one has stiff, coarse hair that measures about two inches in length. Because the outer coating has a rough texture, mud is easily brushed out, making it easy to keep a Westie clean.
It also provides warmth and protects against cold or wet weather as well as possible bites from prey. And although they are not hypoallergenic dogs, you will notice that Westies shed very little hair.
Grooming Westies is very important, and their coats should be brushed at least once a week.
Additionally, regular clipping helps to remove dead hair and maintain a healthy, shiny coat.
Some owners prefer to do this themselves with others choosing to pay for a professional dog groomer.
Show dog owners use the technique of stripping. This timely process involves plucking the dead hairs from the Westie by using the fingers, resulting in a rough but wavy coat.
When it comes to the West Highland’s temperament, don’t be fooled by their diminutive size and adorable cuteness! The Westie is a big dog in a small dog’s body and is stronger and tougher than it looks with no shortage of self-esteem.
For starters, they are exceptionally energetic and intelligent. Sometimes too much of a busy body to be a lap dog, wriggling away after just a few minutes!
However, the Westie possesses a happy disposition endearing him to everyone, including strangers. They are extremely loyal with a strong desire to please.
The West Highland Terrier personality is larger than life itself. They will keep you amused and entertained with their funny ways.
Westies love being around people and do well in a household with older children. However, they are not the most suitable dog to have around young kids. They should never be left unsupervised. Tail pulling, sudden jerks or movements and noisy, boisterous children running through a house can bring out the Westie’s inherent traits. This could cause them to chase after or even nip a small child.
They get along with other dogs and cats in the home. But it is not recommended to keep small pets such as hamsters, guinea pigs or rabbits. They could be in big danger from your Westie!
Despite their small size, the West Highland Terrier is brave, strong-minded and independent but easier to handle than other Scottish terriers. They do, though, like to have their way and can be domineering and a little naughty if given a chance.
Training and Exercising your Westie
Westies require regular exercise and playtime to keep them occupied. This is especially important if you don’t want to find them digging up your backyard.
It is possible to keep a Westie Terrier in an apartment provided they have plenty of walks and are taken for a run at least twice a week.
Furthermore, the terrier instinct remains, so we don’t recommend letting a Westie off leash in any open area. This is because if they see a small animal to chase, it’s highly likely they will go after it, oblivious to your commands!
A common complaint of Westie owners is barking. Although they are attentive watch dogs, their yapping can become out of control.
When they were hunters, the Westie Terrier needed a loud bark to be heard from underground.
It is important that your Westie is trained correctly from the start. For example, he will need plenty of early socialization with other dogs to help kerb his barking habits.
You can find a guide to stopping your dog barking here. You may also be interested in our guides on how to stop digging and biting.
Early socialization will also help with any behavioral problems around strangers and will get your Westie dog used to being around new people.
Westie Health and Care
There is some controversy surrounding purebred vs mutt health. However, in general, purebred dogs can inherit some frightening complications or be prone to certain illnesses as a result of a very small gene pool. The Westie is no exception.
Like many breeds of dogs, West Highland Terriers are susceptible to certain health issues.
Skin allergies causing severe itchiness is especially common in Westies. One such condition, Atopic Dermatitis, is genetic and affects 25% of Westies aged between three months and six years. Unfortunately, it cannot be cured. However, it can be controlled by special diets and medications.
Another condition believed to be genetic, but not known for certain, is Westie lung disease. This condition causes serious breathing problems.
Like many small dogs, luxating patella (loose kneecaps), hip dysplasia and other orthopaedic issues are common in West Highland Terriers. So are digestive disorders such as colitis and pancreatitis.
Other conditions that Westies are prone to include the white shaker dog syndrome. This is where they tremble uncontrollably, requiring long term medication. They can also suffer from dry eye, Addison’s disease and aggression.
Before you buy a Westie puppy, talk to the breeder about which health tests they have had carried out on the parents. Make sure there is no family history of atopic dermatitis or shaker dog syndrome.
On a happier note, the Westie Terrier has one of the longest life expectancies among purebred dogs. They live on average 13.5 years.
You may decide that you do not have the necessary time to devote to a puppy so may want to adopt a Westie adult dog instead. The advantages are that an older dog will have had some training and be less destructive and energetic.
Start by contacting shelters that rescue Westies to find out what they have available. A West Highland Terrier rescue center will be honest about any health or behavior issues and will offer support should you rehome one of their dogs.
Not all their dogs have problems, and many West Highland Terrier rescue cases are simply because an owner had no time or a change in circumstances. If you do decide that you’d rather raise a Westie from puppy through adulthood, then make sure you do your research first to avoid puppy mills.
Finding a Westie Puppy
If you decide that you would like to buy a puppy, then you should look for a breeder with a good reputation.
One way to choose a breeder is by checking out the websites of the West Highland White Terrier Club of America or the Kennel Club Assured Breeders in the UK.
All members must abide by their club’s principles and meet certain requirements before they can sell West Highland Terrier puppies. Otherwise, attend local dog shows to meet breeders or ask your veterinarian to recommend someone.
Avoid breeders that have multiple litters, allow you the choice of any puppy or sell to you at a low price without papers. Also, steer clear of pet stores as their puppies often come from puppy mills with little regard for bloodlines, health concerns or where the animal ends up.
When visiting a reputable breeder, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Take note of the environment and if the puppies have been socialized and look healthy. Observe the Mother’s demeanour and, if possible, the Father’s too. Additionally, request details and papers about their pedigrees.