The West Highland White Terrier, or Westie for short, is a terrier at heart. He’s one of those adventurous, confident, and lively small dog breeds. Some people confuse him with the Scottish Terrier, but the Westie is quite distinct.
Still, like his Scottish Terrier cousin, the Westie is a very popular little dog. If you’ve ever heard of Cesar’s dog food, then you’ve probably seen this adorable celebrity.
With his snowy white hair and big, round eyes, it’s hard not to fall in love with this playful breed. But, as with any dog, you need to understand a thing or two about him before bringing a Westie into your home.
After all, he is a terrier!
And his spunky, confident nature may not be for everybody.
The Westie originated in Scotland and was used to hunt rodents and small game.
Not surprisingly, the breed is related to the other terriers of Scottish origin. These include the Cairn, Skye, Scottish, and Dandie Dinmont terriers.
In fact, the Westie and his Scottish cousins are so closely related that there used to be some argument about the differences between them all. It was only in the late 1800’s that the breeds began to gain their own identities.
All the same, the Westie has his own unique story.
The breed came into view during the 1700’s after a man named Colonel Malcolm had a hunting accident. Malcolm was out with his reddish-brown terriers when he accidentally shot his best dog, thinking it was a fox.
As a result, Malcolm decided to develop a white terrier that couldn’t be mistaken for prey. He started out with only the lightest colored terrier pups and bred them to eventually create a pure white dog.
And that’s how the Westie was born.
These stunning white terriers didn’t get their name until the 1890’s, when the Scottish breeds started gaining their separate identities. But even then, the Westie went by several different names until the early 20th century.
The first Westies came to the United States around 1905.
Then in 1908, the breed was recognized by the AKC as the Roseneath Terrier. But that didn’t last long:
The breed name we all know today was adopted by the AKC the following year, in 1909.
Are West Highland White Terriers Good Family Dogs?
The West Highland White Terrier makes a great family dog, depending on the family situation.
The breed does very well with older children (7 years and up).
His playful and energetic nature makes him the perfect buddy for kids to burn off their energy with.
But when it comes to little children, the Westie can be defensive. He will not tolerate small children’s rough handling and can snap when annoyed.
With supervision, the breed can do well with children of any age.
Proper care just needs to be taken to ensure the dog’s tolerance boundaries are not crossed by prodding toddler fingers. But if you’re nervous, it might be best to wait until the kids are a bit older before bringing a Westie into your home.
As for living situations, the Westie is adaptable.
He would enjoy a large yard to romp in, but he will also do just fine in an apartment so long as he gets regular exercise.
While owning this breed can be very rewarding, it’s important for you to understand how to care for a Westie.
As with any dog, your Westie has a few basic needs that you’ll have to provide for. These include nutrition, grooming, exercise, training, and health.
And lots of love and attention!
Westies need a balanced diet of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy.
You should feed them twice daily on a schedule.
Don’t leave food out for your dog all the time as this doesn’t allow you to watch how much he is eating.
The amount of food this breed needs is determined by activity level, metabolism, age, and overall health.
As a general rule, an adult Westie should eat between ½ to 1½ cups of high-quality dog food, divided into two meals, daily.
Since the feeding range suggested for this breed is rather wide, you should check out the guide listed on your dog’s food bag. You may also want to talk to your veterinarian about exactly how much your individual dog should be eating.
Again, several factors affect feeding amounts, and each individual dog is different. But these tips should give you a good starting point.
Westies need more intensive grooming due to their low-shedding fur.
The breed has a double coat, which is made up of a short undercoat and a two-inch long topcoat. If you plan on showing your Westie, you’ll need to get him hand stripped about twice a year.
But if your pup is going to be a pet only, it’s much easier to clip the coat to keep it tidy.
You’ll need to trim your Westie every 4 to 6 weeks. This can be done yourself or by a professional groomer.
A regular haircut isn’t all your Westie needs, though…
Keeping his white coat white also requires some effort.
But bathing him isn’t always the solution. In fact, frequent baths aren’t recommended. (The breed’s hard coat is easily damaged by too much soaping.)
Instead, wipe him down as needed with a damp cloth to keep him snowy white. And be sure to brush him weekly to remove dirt and avoid tangles.
Your Westie will also need the basic grooming care that all other breeds require:
- Brush his teeth at least once a week to keep him healthy.
- Check the ears regularly for signs of irritation or infection.
- And trim his nails!
Westies are an active breed with lots of energy.
They love to go, go, go!
But don’t worry, these dogs are generally calm around the house. (So long as they get their daily exercise fix!)
Since the Westie is on the small side, he doesn’t require as much exercise as other breeds. But he does still need a walk once or twice a day.
Also, if you have a yard, give your pup some time to run and play outside. If not, be sure to take frequent trips to the dog park.
Like all his terrier cousins, the Westie can be destructive if not given sufficient exercise. So keep that in mind!
Physical exercise isn’t the only thing a Westie needs, though.
He’s a little smarty pants, so he’ll need some mental challenges as well. You might consider:
- Agility competitions
- Earthdog activities
- Or you could simply spend some time teaching him fun tricks to work his mind. Puzzles and other games like tug of war or hide-and-seek are also great ways to tire out your Westie.
The Westie is an intelligent breed.
He’s also very independent, which can sometimes make training hard. This is because, as a terrier, he was bred to work on his own.
Since he can be strong-willed, you may want to choose a different breed to begin with if you’re a first-time dog owner. The Westie needs an experienced leader that knows how to be consistent and firm.
He will definitely test your boundaries if he thinks he can get away with things.
But the Westie’s independence streak doesn’t mean that he’s not trainable.
He just needs a patient owner that knows how to make training fun. Try to keep things interesting by mixing it up and teaching him cool tricks in addition to general obedience.
When training, be sure to only use positive reinforcement techniques with your Westie.
He has a very self-centered attitude and will want to get something good in return for his effort. Plus, harshness can cause your Westie to be even more resistant to your training.
Besides basic training, you’ll also need to socialize your Westie.
Of all the terriers, this breed is one of the more friendlier ones towards new people. But even still, an amicable, care-free dog doesn’t come without some effort. You’ll need to expose your Westie to lots of new people and places, both as a puppy and throughout his life.
West Highland White Terrier Health Issues
Westies are a generally healthy breed. They usually live to be between 12 and 16 years of age.
Like all breeds of dogs, the Westie is prone to certain conditions and diseases. These include the following:
- Cardiac disease
- Patellar luxations
- Craniomandibular Osteopathy
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Atopic dermatitis and other skin allergies
- Addison’s disease
- White shaker syndrome
- Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS)
- Copper toxicosis
More Things to Know About Westies
1. A Small Dog With a Big Ego
The West Highland White Terrier may be small, but he sure doesn’t act like it!
In fact, he’s a confident, fearless dog that knows he’s an adorable smarty pants.
But don’t be fooled by that cute, furry expression! The Westie is a love bug, but he’s also a bold dog with zero self-confidence issues.
As I said before, he’ll need a firm, but gentle hand. You’ll never want to treat him harshly, as doing so will only insult him and make him more stubborn.
But doting on him and giving into everything he wants isn’t the solution, either.
You’ll need to set rules and begin training from day one with your Westie puppy. And you’ll want to continue training him throughout his life. He’s smart and unlikely to forget the rules, but he’s going to try to push the boundaries if you become too lenient.
So keep practicing and always be consistent. If you’re going to get a Westie, it’s best to view training as something fun to do and not as a chore to be done.
After all, training is never truly “done.”
2. A Dog Friendly Canine
If you have more than one dog and you’re looking to add a Westie to the mix, then you’re in luck!
The West Highland White Terrier is generally very good with other dogs. This is especially true if he has had proper socialization from a young age.
Even still, your Westie can be scrappy with dogs of the same sex, particularly if both dogs are intact.
(But this isn’t particularly unique to Westies…lots of dogs have this issue.)
Overall, though, the breed does well in multidog households. Just be aware that, as with all breeds, individual situations can vary.
3. Okay With Cats…But That’s About It
It’s great that Westies get along with other dogs, but what about cats?
Well, that depends.
A Westie will do just fine with the family cat if he was raised with felines. So if you’re bringing home a puppy and you have a cat, then you shouldn’t have to worry too much. Your Westie will quickly learn to treat Mr. Whiskers like family.
On the other hand, if you’re bringing home an adult Westie that only ever saw cats as something to chase, then it’s going to take some time for him to adjust. But teaching your dog to get along with a cat isn’t impossible. It will just take more time and patience.
As for pets besides cats and other dogs, it’s a no-go.
Westies were bred to hunt small animals, but they can’t distinguish between your pet hamster and actual vermin. So it’s definitely best to NOT try to introduce the two because it probably won’t end well (at least not for your hamster).
If you’re someone that has small pets and also wants a dog, then you might be better off looking at a different breed. The hunting instinct in Westies is just too strong to be trained out of them.
4. A Fence and a Leash Are a Must
It probably goes without saying, but Westies cannot be trusted to roam around in an unfenced area.
Again, that hunting instinct is going to kick in if your Westie sees a little critter.
And you probably won’t be able to get your pup back anytime soon. He’ll be off to who knows where in pursuit of his prey. And that can be dangerous if there’s any sort of traffic or other hazards around.
To avoid the issue, it’s best to keep your Westie on a leash in unfenced areas. And make sure that if you have a yard, it’s securely fenced and Westie-proof.
5. The Digger
Speaking of Westie-proofing your yard:
West Highland White Terriers love to dig!
He was bred to hunt in burrows, and that digging instinct is still alive and well in your Westie. So you’ll need to prepare accordingly.
First off, if you’re big into gardening, watch out for the Westie.
He’s a dog that is extremely likely to dig up your flowers.
So invest in some barriers.
Fence off your garden area or look at getting some high-standing pots and planters.
Also, make sure the fence around your main yard is secure.
Fencing that goes a foot or so under the ground is perfect.
Or try lining your above-the-ground fence with bricks or cement trimming. That should do a good job of at least deterring your Westie.
You don’t want your pup to burrow his way out!
6. The Barker
Since we’re talking about digging, we might as well address the barking. After all, when it comes to terriers, these traits come in a packaged deal.
And the Westie is no exception.
This breed likes to bark.
He’s not yappy, but he does have a good, hardy bark to him. And he’s not afraid to use it in almost every situation. He’ll alert you to passing cars, knocks on the door, the mailman, the cat across the street, etc., etc.
He actually makes a good little watchdog in this sense.
But be aware:
If your Westie is barking excessively to the point of being a complete nuisance, you may have another problem on your hands.
This active, energetic pup needs his exercise and mental simulation.
Without it, he can become a non-stop barking machine. So make sure to meet your Westie’s needs if you want a level-headed dog instead of a raging terrier monster.
But more on that in the next section…
7. Terrier or Terrorizer?
It’s a hard question. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “terrier terror” at some point.
…And I hate to break it to you…
But that saying can be really accurate.
Terriers are feisty.
They’re bold and mischievous and bossy and scrappy all at the same time.
But truth be told, they’re totally worth it. Terriers make great pets, West Highland White Terriers included.
Even still, they’re not for everybody. Terriers are fun, but they need a special kind of owner that’s up for the challenge.
That being said, each terrier is a little bit different. They all have the same general dynamic temperament, but some terriers are more terrier-ish than others.
When it comes to the Westie’s terrier temperament, the breed falls in the middle of the spectrum. He’s not the most laid back terrier out there, but he’s not the craziest either.
In general, Westies tend to be much more stranger friendly than some of their terrier cousins. They are also more tolerant of other dogs and of cats in the household. And, believe it or not, they are easier to train than some terriers.
So, whether the Westie is a terrier or a terrorizer in your book is up to you! But at least he’s a little less terrier-like than other breeds, if that’s what you’re looking for.
8. Not A Lap Dog
Being the terrier that he is, the Westie is not a lap dog.
He may be small, but he’s an adventurer at heart.
If you’re taking a day trip, don’t hesitate to bring your Westie along. He’ll love getting out and about! Heck, if you’re taking a week long vacation, you might as well bring him with you. He’d definitely enjoy it!
The Westie truly loves to be out and about with his family.
He likes to explore and meet new people and see new things. So give him the chance to do so at every opportunity!
And hey, if you wear him out enough, he just might be more inclined towards cuddles!
But in all seriousness, the Westie really wasn’t meant to sit around in your lap all day. And even on a lazy-type day, your pup will probably prefer his own couch cushion to your lap. It’s not that he doesn’t like you.
He’s just not the cuddle-type dog.
Still, it’s not impossible to get some snuggles out of him. But don’t expect him to sit in your lap all the time. This independent breed typically prefers general proximity to full on cuddles.
9. The Perfect, Happy-Go-Lucky Companion
Even though the Westie likes his space and his independence, he still makes the perfect four-legged friend.
As I hinted before, the Westie makes a great travel buddy since he’s small in size and big on adventure.
His cheerful, friendly personality is also a plus for taking him out in public. If properly socialized, he can be a complete charmer to every new person he meets. And he should get along well with any dogs you might come across.
Inside the home, he’s no different.
The West Highland White Terrier loves his people and thrives on being part of the family. With older kids, he’s the perfect playmate. And with proper supervision and training, he can do well around younger children, as well.
All in all, the breed is pretty amazing. Sure, the Westie has his downsides, but so does every other breed.
You just need to decide if his pros outweigh his cons for your situation!
Though if you do choose to bring a Westie into your home, get ready for years of fun, mischief, and companionship!
10. The Dog With (Almost) a Million Names
Before I let you go, here’s a West Highland White Terrier fun fact!
I had mentioned before that Westies were once called Roseneath Terriers, but that wasn’t their only other name.
Before settling into their current title, Westies were also known by the following:
- Poltalloch Terriers
- Pittenweem Terriers
- White Roseneath Terriers
- White Scottish Terriers
It’s probably thanks to their long history of getting mixed up and confused with other terriers from Scotland. But no matter the reason, this little dog sure does have a lot of names to go by!
(Which is fitting, since he also has a lot of love to give!)