These little dogs, originating from Scotland, earned both their fame and their name from the northwest part of Scotland. Originally called the Roseneath Terrier and sometimes the Poltalloch Terrier, the West Highland White Terrier, or the Westie for short, might look like adorable little teddy bears at first glance. Don’t be fooled, though—Westies are working dogs through and through!
These energetic little dogs are up for anything, and their confidence and vigor more than make up for their diminutive size. As long as you can keep up with high activity levels, and don’t mind working with dogs with a real independent streak, the West Highland White Terrier makes a fantastic companion.
- Bred for hunting and ratting
- First bred by the Scottish Malcolm clan in the 1700s
- Recognized by the AKC in 1908, the same year as the German Shepherd and the Doberman Pinscher
- Brands like Black & White Scotch and Juicy Couture have used the Westie as part of their logos
Scotland is the birthplace of many terriers, including the Cairn, Scottie, Skye, Dandie Dinmont, and, of course, West Highland White Terriers. Westies are considered to share ancestry with these other Terriers, though Westies specifically were bred by Scotland’s Malcolm clan on their estate known as Poltalloch. These dogs were bred for fox hunting and, more importantly, ratting. Rat infestations were common in the area, and breeders wanted a dog that would be able to effectively hunt these vermin.
The specifics of the Westie’s past are murky, but there are some theories as to what inspired these dogs. As the breed’s lore goes, the Westie’s pure white coloring comes from Colonel Malcolm mistaking his Cairn Terrier for a fox while hunting. After shooting his dog, the grieving Colonel decided he would breed a white dog that couldn’t possibly be mistaken for a fox again.
This breed’s history may go even further back to when King James I requested “earth-doggies” from Argyleshire.
Despite their foggy past, the Westie is a popular and well-loved breed. Their amiable, energetic personalities and adorable looks have secured their position in the hearts of dog lovers everywhere.
Appearance and Vital Stats
The Westie is a small dog with a stocky, sturdy stature. Recognizable by their pure white fur, their bright, intelligent eyes, and their overall alert and focused expressions, the West Highland White Terrier hides their spirited and brave personalities behind an adorable exterior.
Dog Breed Group
These dogs are part of the Terrier dog breed group. Terriers are dogs bred specifically for their energy and hunting abilities. The Westie specifically was bred in large part to help protect the estates where it lived in Scotland from rat infestations.
Terriers come in all shapes and sizes. From the tall Airedale Terrier to the smaller West Highland White Terrier, the most important element of the Terrier dog breed group is their spirited personalities.
Male Westies stand at about 11 inches tall at the shoulder, and females around 10 inches tall. These portable dogs weigh between 15 to 20 pounds.
Like most small dogs, West Highland White Terriers tend to have longer life spans than their larger counterparts. Your healthy and well-cared for Westie can be expected to live about 13 to 15 years.
Coat and Colors
The Westie’s coat is one of its most defining characteristics. You’ll only find these dogs with white coats, though you might find some wheaten coloring at the tips of their coats. The Westie has a double coat, with the topcoat made up of straight, hard hair two or so inches long. The fur will be shorter around the dog’s neck area, and longer along the legs and stomach.
The West Highland White Terrier’s coat requires regular maintenance. These dogs are seasonal shedders.
The Westie’s tail is frequently described as “carrot-shaped.” It is naturally relatively short, never going beyond the top of the dog’s head when standing erect. The tail is set high on the dog’s back and covered with hard hair that shouldn’t feather and should be as straight as possible.
The Westie’s ears are small and triangular. They stand straight up on the dog’s head, without any flopping over. They sit far apart from each other and are covered in soft, velvety fur.
These dogs are the epitome of small dogs with big personalities. Westies are multi-faceted dogs, courageous and playful, loyal and independent. They are friendly companions and will get along with anyone. That said, although they’re not the sort of dog to pick a fight, the Westie won’t hesitate to stand up for himself.
These are spunky, energetic little dogs that love to play. And a good thing too, because they are also active and need ways to burn off their energy levels! A thorough play session with these dogs will leave you tired from laughing at all their antics.
Westies are also extremely intelligent dogs. In some respects, this makes them easy to train, since they’ll grasp concepts quickly. On the other hand, their intelligence does lead to a stubborn streak. You’ll want to keep training sessions fun and interesting, with positive reinforcement being the best way to reward these dogs.
West Highland White Terriers do tend to bark. They are very friendly, but won’t hesitate to let you know when someone shows up at your door. Their high levels of intelligence, however, does make it relatively easy to train them to be quieter.
Westies are extremely adaptable dogs. Having a yard where they can run around is great, but they’ll also be perfectly content in an apartment. The important thing is making sure you have time to take them on at least one or two brisk walks a day, as well as a play session or two.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, because these dogs do naturally tend to bark, you’ll want to put in the time to train your Westie to be quiet. If you don’t, you’ll likely have to deal with a lot of unhappy neighbors!
Children and Other Pets
As super friendly dogs, Westies will get along with basically anyone. They make awesome family dogs, but you should remember to never leave your dog and children unsupervised. The Westie is loving and affectionate, but their high self-esteem won’t allow them to tolerate any tugging on their fur, ears, or tail. Teach your children how to properly approach a dog, and that they should never pull on any part of a dog. Also, remind them not to approach a dog while he is eating.
Westies do well in multi-pet homes, and will easily make friends with other dogs. Bear in mind, however, that these dogs were bred for ratting and hunting. Small animals, and even cats, can become targets for the Westie to chase.
The Westie should eat ½ to 1 ½ cups of high-quality dry dog food every day. Westies are not a breed prone to obesity, but you should still be mindful not to overfeed your dog. It’s recommended that you split this up into two meals, to keep your dog feeling full throughout the day.
The Westie’s coat requires regular grooming. They shed seasonally, but to keep their fur healthy you’ll still need to brush them daily.
Like many terriers, the West Highland White Terrier has a double coat that requires a special type of grooming called “stripping.” This is when the dead fur is removed by the root. You should take your Westie to the groomer every 4 to 6 weeks to have this grooming method performed.
The Westie is an active little dog, and you’ll want to give him enough exercise to tire him out and keep him from becoming destructive. Take him for one or two brisk walks or jogs every day, and spend some time playing a few rounds of fetch or tug in your house or yard.
Because there are very intelligent, it’s almost important to exercise their minds. Signing up your pup for dog sports is a fantastic way of giving him mental and physical exercise all at once.
West Highland White Terriers are, in general, healthy dogs. However, they can be prone to certain ailments.
This is a condition affecting Westies that occurs while the dog is still a puppy. It’s caused by the puppy’s skull bones becoming enlarged, which leads to the puppy’s glands and jaw swelling up where it is difficult for him to open his mouth. The dog will drool, and will occasionally get a fluctuating fever. Symptoms usually appear when the puppy is between 4 and 8 months old.
There is no cure for this condition, but your vet will likely prescribe anti-inflammatories to help manage swelling and pain. In very severe cases, your vet might recommend corrective surgery.
This condition, also known as “Westie lung disease,” causes scarring in the tissue that supports the dog’s lung sacs. The scarring leads to lungs losing their elasticity, making it more difficult for oxygen to enter your dog’s blood.
Early diagnosis is key for this pulmonary fibrosis. Usually, treatment includes keeping your home at the right temperature, as cooler temperatures make it easier for your dog to breathe. Your dog might also require bronchial dilators.
This is a skin condition commonly affecting Westies. About a quarter of Westies tend to be affected. A hereditary chronic allergy condition, atopic dermatitis causes the dog’s skin to become inflamed itchy, and cracked. Your vet will probably recommend a new diet, along with anti-inflammatory and anti-itch medication to manage symptoms in the meantime.
The Cairn Terrier is very similar in looks to the West Highland White Terrier. Small and stocky, they stand slightly shorter than the Westie at 9.5 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder. They weigh around 13 to 14 pounds.
Aside from stature, one of the major elements that distinguish Cairn Terriers from Westies is their coloring. While the Westie is all white with the occasional touch of wheaten around the edges, the Cairn Terrier is all wheaten. They also tend to be slightly quieter than the Westie, though they’ll require the same type of grooming.
Like Westies, Cairn Terriers are energetic, happy, and playful dogs that make wonderful family companions.
Weighing in at 11 to 12 pounds and measuring 9 to 10 inches at the shoulder, these dogs share the same teddy bear-like aesthetics of the Westie. Like the West Highland White Terrier, however, the Norfolk Terrier’s looks belie a spunky, independent personality. Spend any time with a Norfolk Terrier, and you’ll quickly find them to be fearless little dogs who love to have a good time.
One of the obvious differences between Westies and Norfolk Terriers is, of course, the coloring. Norfolk Terriers come in a variety of colors, including red, wheaten, black and tan, or grizzle. Their coats also require less brushing than the Westie. You’ll probably only have to brush your Norfolk Terrier about once a week.
Unlike the Westie, the tails of the Norfolk Terrier are frequently docked, though they still share the same thick, high-set tail.
Although the Scottish Terrier sits at about the same height as the West Highland White Terrier, about 10 inches at the shoulder, you’ll find these dogs to be slightly heavier. A male Scottish Terrier will weigh in between 19 to 22 pounds, and females 18 to 21 pounds.
Scottish Terriers are recognizable by their long heads and thick, wiry beards and eyebrows. This gives these dogs a knowledgeable, confident expression—which isn’t far off from their actual personalities.
You’ll find the Scottish Terrier in a range of colors. This includes pure black, wheaten, and black, red, and silver brindle. Their coats, while still requiring the same stripping method as many terriers, require slightly less maintenance than the West Highland White Terrier. As opposed to the Westie’s daily brushing, you can very likely get away with only brushing your Scottish Terrier 2 to 3 times a week.