West Highland White Terrier

Breed Group: Terrier

Temperament and Behavior

Animated, and full of self-esteem, the West Highland White Terrier (or simply "Westie" to many of his owners) have the courageous and sometimes foolish personality typical of a terrier. They enjoy their family and view themselves as an always armed alarm system ready to warn of a trespassing squirrel or any unexpected sound. But with their small size and love of people, they make a substandard guard dog. With some, the same quick bark that makes them a reliable watchdog becomes too frequently used. Their high activity level inside and out combined with a normal interest in play make them a good match for older, well-behaved children who can provide for the dog’s reasonable exercise needs. Younger children must be taught proper dog etiquette and encounters should be supervised. Strangers are announced then normally greeted with a wagging tail. But small animals beware. The Westie was bred to catch vermin as large as he is. Mice, hamsters, ferrets, rabbits, and similar pets can be quickly dispatched if not protected. Westies can also be testy with dogs, especially those of the same sex. Cats, however, are frequently accepted. A Westie enjoys being outside. They even like the cold and snow. But when outside they must always be on-leash or securely confined otherwise their prey drive can quickly lead them astray. They also enjoy digging and are often possessive of both their food and toys.

Physical Characteristics

Westies are small dogs, growing to 10 or 11 inches tall and weighing 15 to 20 pounds. They have a distinctive thick, wiry, white coat about two inches long. They shed very little and need only occasional brushing. But they benefit from professional trimming every three months or so. Frequent bathing is also needed to keep their coat white. They do just as well in heat as in the cold.

Trainer's Notes

As puppies, Westies benefit from an extra dose of socialization with dogs and small mammals to help increase their acceptance of these animals. Although they have a wide streak of willful stubbornness, they are quite intelligent and are perhaps the easiest terrier to train. Use consistency and food rewards to obtain the best results. They are not recommended for first-time owners.

Photo © by Ralf Benning available under the GNUFDL
West Highland White Terrier

West Highland White Terrier


The most common health concerns for West Highland White Terriers include a deterioration of the brain and spinal cord called Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy which affects about 25% of the breed. About 10% suffer from Hip Dysplasia with another 10% suffering from Elbow Dysplasia. Legg-Perthes and CMO round out the most commonly seen genetic health problems. Some of the less frequently seen problems include Cataracts, Patellar Luxation, and Copper Toxicosis. As with many white dogs, deafness can be an issue. A typical Westie lives 12 to 14 years.


West Highland White Terriers ranked 32nd in popularity of the AKC breeds. As a result of being one of the more likable terriers, they have become a reasonably popular companion dog in the U.S. with between 6,500 and 7,500 dogs registered in a typical year.

Breed History

Bred in Scotland in the 1800s, Westies share ancestral roots with several of the other small terriers. In fact, some dog experts view the West Highland White Terrier as a white version of the Cairn Terrier. They were bred to hunt foxes and other small vermin. Legend has it that Colonel Edward Donald Malcolm, the man responsible for creating the breed, accidentally shot one of his red terriers which he mistook for a fox. After the incident, he swore to breed all his dogs to be white and the Westie was born. The Breed went through several name changes, but was finally named the West Highland White Terrier in 1907.

Additional Information

The Westies’ handle-like tail was important in fox hunting. It was used to pull the dog out of fox dens that were too narrow to turn around in. The National (US) Parent Breed Club is the West Highland White Terrier Club of America.

Is A West Highland White Terrier THE BEST Dog For YOU?

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