Typically thought of as the epitome of terriers, the West Highland White Terrier is small, robust, and fearless. The Westie, as owners affectionately call him, is full of himself. Not in an arrogant way, but happy, confident like he knows where he’s been and undoubtedly knows where he’s going next. West Highland Whites know how to have a good time; they’re mischievous and will entertain you for hours with their comical antics.
The AKC (American Kennel Club) ranks Westies at number 42 of 197 popular breeds in the United States. But the breed is immensely popular far beyond the shores of America.
In this article, we will provide you with as much information on Westies as possible, whether you’re just curious about the little Cesar dog breed or looking at owning a purebred Westie; these small white terrier dogs give so much pleasure to millions of owners worldwide.
Everything You Need To Know About The West Highland White Terrier:
1. The West Highland White Terrier – History
The West Highland White Terrier or Westie is a little white dog from Scotland; his relations the Scottish and Cairn Terriers are well-known in Scotland. Locals have called them various names such as Skye, Scottish and Highland Terriers over the years. Local hunters used these types of terriers or earth dogs to pinpoint badgers and foxes’ locations, making it easier to dig them from their lairs.
Short-legged terriers like the Westie had to follow these animals into their lairs by digging through the earth and cornering the animals. Cornered animals are hazardous, so it must have taken immense courage for this little terrier to hold the animals, preventing them from digging their way out of danger.
The dog would need to stay like this for possibly hours until the hunters arrived to free them. The terriers of the time were either black or a sandy, brown color. Some white dogs were born, but hunters frowned on the shade because the perception was they were cowardly dogs.
This whole situation changed when one hunter, Colonel Malcolm of Poltalloch, shot and killed his brown terrier mistaking the dog for a fox. From then on, dogs bred by the Malcolm family were to be white, so a dog was never to be mistaken for prey again. Over time all highland terriers bred in the Malcolm kennels were white. During this period, the white dogs became Poltalloch Terriers after Malcolm’s estates.
Breeders undoubtedly mixed the modern West Highland White Terrier with some of the other dogs of that era, such as the White Scottish Terrier and the Roseneath Terrier; otherwise, it’s difficult to see how he got his purely white coat. In 1907 the Roseneath Terrier was shown in the United States at the Westminster Show; however, shortly after, the owners changed the dog’s name to the West Highland White Terrier. The AKC recognized the breed in 1908.
2. West Highland White Terrier Characteristics
The average weight of a Westie is twenty pounds; the females are always smaller than males. They might be small, but they have strong, stocky legs and a solid build. Westies are longer than they are tall, with a broad chest and a short stubby tail that points towards the sky (legend has it that if he got stuck down a burrow, his master could pull him out by the tail).
The average lifespan of a Westie is between thirteen to fifteen years. The Westie head is broad and round, with a medium-length muzzle ending in a little black nose. Their teeth should be level with a scissor bite and erect ears set wide at the top of the head.
Are Westies always white? Or are there black Westies? These two questions seem to be asked quite a lot online and in forums, so I thought I would give a straightforward answer here; there are no black Westies, nor does the Westie come in any other color than white. If you see a terrier that’s a different color, it doesn’t matter how similar to the West Highland White; it’s 100%, not a Westie.
3. West Highland White Terrier Temperament
We have spoken a little about the West Highland White Terrier personality, but let’s take a closer look. Have you heard some dogs described as big personalities in a small body? That phrase accurately describes the Westie. As we mentioned at the start of the article, a Westie is exceptionally confident and proud of himself.
You might see a Westie as a small dog, and therefore he must be a lapdog, but that wouldn’t be the way to describe a Westie. They are far too curious, energetic, and mischievous to sit on their owner’s lap for more than a few minutes. The Westie is too intelligent and independent to be anyone’s lapdog. Remember, in another life, these dogs were sent down burrows, in the pitch black, to keep badgers and foxes pinned down until hunters could arrive. That’s not a softie, laid-back kind of dog.
But for all that, the Westie is a happy little guy, loves his family, and enjoys spending his time with them. The Westie is tremendously loyal and desperately wants to please his owners. Some West Highland White Terriers are openly more demonstrative in their humans’ affections, wanting more cuddles and licking more frequently; these types can suffer separation anxiety more acutely than other Westies. Certain Westies are often closer to one family member than the rest of the family.
4. Are Westies Good Family Dogs?
Westies are friendly to strangers and love playtime with older kids that respect how to treat a dog. Younger children can be something of an issue with Westies. They aren’t at all happy about having their ears or tails pulled, and they don’t enjoy a young child tormenting them. On occasion, a small child’s sudden movements can alert the prey drive in Westies, and they could run after and even nip a young child.
If you have young children and a Westie, it’s advisable to supervise their interactions at all times. If a Westie has grown up with other animals in the house, they are okay with them. Still, you wouldn’t trust a Westie around small critters such as pet rodents.
As with all terriers, Westies have a dominant streak, and they can be stubborn and more than a little naughty sometimes. Proper training and socializing will deal with these issues. It’s not unheard of for Westies to develop possessiveness problems and inappropriately react if touched or approached when eating; sometimes, some Westies are not at all happy about toys taken away from them.
5. West Highland White Terrier Training And Exercise
Are Westies easy to train? When potential owners are thinking about dogs they would like to adopt or puppies they want to purchase, the question of training constantly crops up. It’s an important question, but is it the correct one people should ask? What really needs answering is if potential owners have the time and inclination to train a Westie, or any dog, for that matter.
Any dog breed you care to mention is capable of being trained in the hands of someone dedicated to training that dog. Some dog breeds are naturally easier to train than others. Without the correct mindset, even so-called easy-to-train dogs end up anti-social, bad-mannered, not house-trained, suffering anxiety and other behavioral issues.
West Highland White Terriers love playtime, playing fetch and catch in a park or your backyard if you have one large enough. But also regular exercise, walking on a leash, is invaluable. They are active little individuals, and without an outlet to burn off the energy, can start to develop behavioral problems.
Many people keep Westies in an apartment, and that’s all well and good as long as they get their outdoor activities taken care of at least once a day.
Remember those terrier instincts? If you let your Westie off-leash, then ensure it’s in a safe area because if they spy any small animals, it’s in their nature to chase them.
A Westie will excel at all types of agility and obedience trials and competitions; naturally, they do well with earth-dog tests.
Westies make excellent watchdogs and alert their owners to anything untoward, but yapping can become excessive if it’s not dealt with from an early age. Socialization can help with this; introducing him to different sights and sounds will curb his habit of barking at anything and everything. Socialization will also help to ensure your Westie will not be overly wary or suspicious of strangers.
6. West Highland White Terrier Grooming
The West Highland White Terrier coat has two layers (double coat); the topcoat, which is harsh, wiry, and snowy-white, about two inches long, with no curls, protects the dog from the harsh environment of digging down into the earth. The dog’s undercoat is soft, bushy, and fur-like.
One question I see asked a great deal is, are West Highland White Terriers hypoallergenic? A better question would be, do West Highland White Terriers shed? Many people suffer from dog allergies. While I appreciate it can be very upsetting, particularly if you love dogs and would very much like to live with one, I have to say there’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. The sad fact is that it’s not the dog’s hair or fur that causes these allergies in humans.
Suppose you find yourself with red, itchy eyes, a sore throat, coughing and sneezing, and even breathing difficulties when you get close to a dog. In that case, this is your body’s overstimulated immune system reacting to the proteins in a dog’s saliva, dander, and urine. Some dogs are high shedding dogs, such as the Siberian Husky; for example, they lose masses of hair all year-round; this amount of shedding undoubtedly makes an allergy worse than it would with low shedding dogs.
Fortunately, if you are allergic to dogs, you stand a much better chance of living with one if you choose a low shedding type and get someone else in your family to do all the bathing and grooming. Westies are low shedding dogs, and to prevent any hair from falling, you can brush him or strip the undercoat regularly. West Highland Whites don’t blow their coats twice a year, the same as many breeds do; they might lose more than usual, but typically it’s negligible.
Late spring is the best time to groom your Westie. By the time hot summer days are here, his coat will have grown out just enough to keep him insulated through the hot months. If you don’t show your dog, then there’s no necessity to pay for him to be hand-stripped; ask your groomer to use the clippers on him.
There are a few West Highland White Terrier haircuts to choose from, but I love Westie puppy cuts. The hair is cut the same length all over his body and left about one-inch long. It just brings back memories of them as a puppy. If you’re still wondering how to cut a westie’s hair, then pop into the local groomers; they can show you a range of cuts that will suit your Westie’s hair type.
Westie Nail Trimming
It’s crucial to take care of your Westie’s nails. They need to be cut short and kept that way. Dog nails that are too long can cause them a great deal of pain and affect how they walk, leading to joint problems down the road. There’s also the risk they could slip over and injure themselves.
If you’re still not sure how to groom a West Highland Terrier, take him or her to a groomer that you have been recommended to and ask for their advice.
7. West Highland White Terrier Diet And Nutrition
Westie Feeding Guide
Westie’s diet and nutritional needs will be a lot different than larger or more active dogs like German Shepherds.
Dogs are not carnivores, and this is a common misconception about dogs. A balanced diet for dogs contains meat, vegetables, and some fruit. You shouldn’t feed them an all-meat diet and any dog foods mainly containing corn, wheat, and preservatives. As discussed in the health section, skin allergies are a significant concern with Westies, so putting them on the best diet from the beginning will help them.
It’s not so important whether your Westie eats dried, wet or raw food as long as what you feed him has the correct combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. If you should realize your Westie is having difficulties with itchy skin, diarrhea, or constipation, you should investigate what is in your dog’s food. Take the label to your vet along with your Westie and ask the vet’s advice on what and how you can change your Westie’s diet.
Westies don’t need the amount of protein that more active and muscular dogs need, but they still need essential amino acids found in protein. All dogs need protein; it helps to maintain and repair damaged muscles. Too much protein is either turned to fat or burned for the dog’s energy needs. You might have heard that too much protein causes kidney disease; this is not true. But if your dog has kidney disease already, then you need to be cautious about how much protein you feed him.
Keeping Your Westie’s Weight Under Control
Portion control is essential with all dogs, and tiny breeds like your Westie. Always ensure you’re feeding as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Also, split the daily total into three separate meals; Westies don’t want an overloaded digestive system; neither do they want to wait twenty-four hours between feeds if you feed only once.
Human food from your plate is another habit to avoid. Food that you prepare for your family will have ingredients harmful to your Westie. These can vary from sauces, herbs, onions, garlic, and other less than desirable foods for your Westie.
Limit the number of treats you feed your Westie to 10% of his total daily calories and feed only treats containing no preservatives, salt, colorings, or extra sugar.
8. West Highland White Terriers Health Problems
West Highland White Terriers are not an unhealthy dog breed, yes, they suffer from various ailments the same as every dog, but most of the Westie’s health issues are non-fatal, which tends to correspond to the length of time an average Westie lives. The WHWTCA (West Highland White Terrier Club of America) studies the health of these dogs and regularly publishes reports and surveys regarding Westie Health; you can find a list of the various health condition surveys here.
As a West Highland White Terrier owner, the most common health condition you may face is atopic dermatitis; this skin condition is an allergy that affects about 10% of all dogs, but that percentage goes up dramatically in Westies. One study found that as many as 66% of all Westies by the time they are three years suffer from a skin ailment.
These Westie allergies occur when the dog is between one and three years but can appear later in a dog’s life. If your Westie starts to suffer from allergies or you notice problems with his skin, your vet needs to investigate the causes. It’s not easy to diagnose the exact allergens causing the issues because your Westie may be allergic to several allergens. On the bright side, it’s possible to control the condition with a combination of treatments, including a special diet, steroids, antihistamines, allergy shots, and shampoos.
There is a very unpleasant genetic condition known as Epidermal Dysplasia (Westie Armadillo Syndrome) and can begin to affect dogs between three and twelve months. Initially, this condition starts on their head, belly, and feet but eventually spreads over the dog’s entire body; it’s painful, causing the skin to become inflamed and severely itchy. There is no outright cure, but the condition is controllable with prescription medications and special shampoos.
Another condition commonly found in West Highland White Terriers is Pulmonary Fibrosis; it’s so common it’s been nicknamed Westie Lung Disease. There’s no definitive detail on what causes PF in Westies other than exposure to allergens, infections, and environmental pollution. No-one is aware of why this is a particular threat to Westies. The first signs usually occur when the dog is around nine years old and presents breathing difficulties, no energy, lethargy, and exhaustion. Typically there’s no outright cure, but it’s controllable by prescribed medication.
A neuromuscular disease known as White Shaker Dog Syndrome can affect some West Highland White Terriers, the same as many small dog breeds. The disease suddenly announces itself with the dog having a seizure and a problem with walking. If your vet diagnoses WSDS, the dog will need to take steroids for the rest of his life to keep the disease under control.
It’s crucial before purchasing a Westie puppy; you discuss these health conditions with the breeder. Ensure they have undertaken the health checks on the parent dogs. Also, determine there is no previous history in the puppy’s family lines of Shaker Dog Syndrome or Atopic Dermatitis.
9. How Much Is A West Highland White Terrier?
Are you thinking about purchasing a Westie puppy or adopting a full-grown dog? Either way, it’s never just about the initial money you are going to pay. The cost of vet fees, food, grooming, pet supplies, and more will cost considerably more than the purchase price.
When people ask how much is a Westie dog, look at the ongoing costs and add that to what you’ll pay a breeder for your puppy.
Typically West Highland White Puppies cost between $600 to $1800, with a good average being in the region of $1000. The cost varies like this because of several factors. The breeder’s quality and reputation. How much is a specific breeder in demand? The more well-known, the higher the price he can achieve. How good the puppy’s pedigree is can be another factor that will increase costs. Westie breeders charge more if the puppy is show quality or if you intend to breed with the dog.
- A wonderful, loyal and affectionate dog to his family.
- For a terrier, they are easy to train.
- They are happy with apartment living as long as they get their daily exercise.
- Westies are fun-loving, comical, and entertaining dogs.
- Westies are not the best dog around small children and toddlers.
- There are specific health conditions to take into account with Westies.
- For a small dog, they need plenty of exercise. If you want a laid-back lapdog, the Westie is the wrong choice.