West Highland White Terrier

If you see a moving cotton ball around the backyard, no need to get the fear, that’s just the lovable West Highland White Terrier. Said to be the youngest of the Scottish Terrier lot, the Westie is as bold as they are show boaters. 

If you want bestie like the Westie — join the line — this is one of the more popular breeds around.

Yet, make no mistake, when it comes to getting dirty, the West Highland White Terrier knows a thing or two. Once formidable rat catchers are now formidable heart catchers.

But will this breed be able to catch your heart?

Here is what you need to know about the West Highland White Terrier.

History

According to the American Kennel Club, the West Highland White Terrier, or Westie for simplicity, is said to have origins dating back to the 1700’s. While that appears to be true, the breed as we know today, came into fruition in the mid 1800’s. And by accident. 

If there is one thing we owe to Scotland it is their ability to create worthwhile dogs. Earthdogs, to be more precise. Earthdogs got the name due to their ability to burrow into a hole and chase vermin. That is what the owners then would call, “going to Earth.” 

Breed historians claims the breed owes its foundation to the Skye Terrier and Dandie Dinmont. It is the belief that those breeds gave birth to certain white coat puppies. 

How the West Highland White Terrier became its own breed is something of a sad movie. The job of a Westie was to hunt. Most of the time, the breed was busy with rodent infestations. Westies had a reputation of getting the job done, and many would laud their courage and bravery after the job was done. Then there was the father of the breed, or as many claim he is. Colonel Ed Malcolm is said to have bred many Cairn Terriers and earthdogs. According to legend, Malcolm had accidentally shot one of his reddish coat terriers thinking it was a fox. Not wanting to repeat the horror of shooting his best workers, Malcolm made it his mission to breed white coat terriers as a solution. 

This is where most people cite the invention of the West Highland White Terrier. The breed didn’t always carry that name, however. Many of their first appearances they would appear as the Poltalloch Terrier. It was the Poltalloch estate where the breed made a name for itself, just as it was in West Highland.

In 1896, the Westie made their first appearance at a dog show in Scotland. In ten years, the West Highland White Terrier would make its debut at an AKC event. At the time, some people would call the Westie, “Roseneath Terrier,” further adding to the breed’s arsenal of names. In fact, the breed’s first club was under the guise of Roseneath Terrier Club in 1909. That would change quickly when breeders officially made it the West Highland Terrier Club. 

Meanwhile, in 1908, West Highland or not, the breed was officially in recognition with the American Kennel Club. In 1919, the second biggest kennel club in America, the UKC, would grant recognition as well.

Since then, the breed has done nothing but explode in popularity. Thanks to several wins at the two biggest dog shows, Crufts and Westminster, the breed enjoys a wealth of registrations worldwide. While the breed is much more popular in the United Kingdom, in America, the AKC lists them as the 42nd most popular breed in America. The Kennel Club of England has the breed 18th most popular in the U.K.

Today, the breed is rarely a earthdog or rat chasing exterminator. With the rise of technology and innovation, the breed’s main job is that of a companion. However,  Westies make fine athletes and competitors at exhibitions around the  world.

Size

Don’t let the excess of hair around their neck fool you, this is a small breed. What they lack in size, their poise, spirit and heart make up for. The AKC suggests that males stand at 11 inches, where females should stand at 10 inches.

When it comes to weight, both male and female Westies can weigh between 15 to 20 pounds.

Personality and Temperament

A breed that has plenty of poise. The West Highland White Terrier never lacks confidence. They are brave, bold, courageous and curious. You put all of those things together, and you have yourself a typical terrier. Westies aren’t afraid of a challenge nor will they back down from one either. Just because they are on the smaller side, doesn’t mean they feel that way.

They enjoy a good game of chase, thrive with sports like agility, rally and even obedience. Of course, as pups, they are a bit stubborn when it comes to training. Once they grow out of that mischief, the West Highland White Terrier is a treat to train due to their intelligence. Highly energetic, this self reliant breed does have an eager to please side. 

The West Highland White Terrier loves a good game or backyard romp. Take them for a walk, and you’ll have a best friend for life. With children, they are wonderful. With dogs, you’ll need to work on it a bit. Perhaps that’s their loner mentality, as the breed prefers working alone, historically.

Aside from work, being alert and instinctive protectors of the home, the Westie will give you much entertainment. They love tricks, they love performing. In addition, the West Highland White Terrier is a people’s person. Overall, they are friendly. 

All in all, expect a very compassionate, spiritual, hard working, busy body dog. They’ll give you nothing but love and affection. Loyalty first, and everything else is second place for the West Highland White Terrier. A breed that is dying to find a family and be a key part of the nucleus.

Health

When you buy a West Highland White Terrier, make sure you do from a reputable breeder. A reputable breeder will have no problems supplying health clearances and other documents necessary to make the best purchasing decision. Always ask the tough questions, read reviews and never settle for excuses when it comes to buying a dog.

In addition, you’ll want to schedule regular veterinarian visits to maintain your Westie’s health. If you do those things above, there’s no reason to believe your West Highland White Terrier won’t live between 13 to 15 years.

Degeneration of the femoral at the dogs hind leg is a serious issue. This what the medical industry calls Legg Perthes Disease. Some of the signs include wobbling, limping, and lameness. Contact your Vet if you suspect your dog is suffering from this complication.

Hip Dysplasia is the malformation of the hip joint, where it causes the breed much pain, discomfort and lameness. This can progress into other orthopedic issues if treatment is put off. According to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, the West Highland White Terrier ranks 92nd out 187 breeds on the list. Their 12.3 dysplastic rating out of 481 evaluations ranks them about the Boston Terrier, Labrador Retriever and Irish Setter.

The breed also suffers from a condition that happens when the kneecap slips out of place causing a slew of issues similar to that of Hip Dysplasia. Patella Luxation is a problem for working and athletic breed. This will cause lameness, wobbling, pain, and discomfort. The OFA found that the West Highland White Terrier ranks 47th worst with a 3.2 dysplastic rating from the 500 plus evaluations took. That puts them among the Maltese and Affenpinscher.

Addisons can be seen within the breed as well. Addisons is a lack of cortisol production, which is a hormone from the thyroid gland. This will cause a great deal of complications including: vomiting, hair loss, coat issues, weight loss, lethargy and depression. Contact your Vet immeditately if you suspect your Westie suffers from Addison for medication treatment.

White Shaker Dog Syndrome is a unique problem the breed faces. This is when the dog tremors, possibly leading to seizures. There is no cure for this syndrome but there is a steroid the dog can take to help them cope.

Westie Armadillo Syndrome occurs in Westies between 3 months to 12 months of age. This is inflammation of the breed’s head, feet and stomach due to constant itching. It is painful, and there is no cure, other than medication to help the dog maintain a decent life,

The breed may also suffer from cloudiness of the eye lens, which disrupts vision and lead to an eventual loss of vision. This condition is Cataracts and is seen in many breeds. Other issues include; dry eye, allergies and issues with the breed’s skin.

Care

If you are going to train the West Highland White Terrier you will need to be patient and offer positive reinforcement. This is a stubborn breed at first, that won’t give in, due to their independent nature. Eventually, however, the breed will come around and picks up things nicely. If this doesn’t sound like you, then choose another breed, because the Westie will make you earn your stripes.

Westies enjoy chasing, whether it is a ball or a squirrel. The latter can be a problem if you don’t want your Westie running off into the road. Strong prey drive is an issue for people with smaller pets. Avoid integrating the two and be sure to put a fence or leash your dog during walks.

Walks and backyard fun is a must for the West Highland White Terrier. They need plenty of mental and physical stimulation to avoid destructive behavioral habits due to boredom. Agility, flyball, fetch, walks to the park or even expeditions on the road are enough to suffice this breed’s energy requirements.

While the breed is good with children, you should teach them how to properly handle a dog of this size. It’s critical to introduce new people, things and yes, dogs to the West Highland White Terrier. Typically, the breed likes being alone, so other dogs may present a problem. The AKC recommends supervision around the Westie when others dogs are at stake.

They shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time. Essentially, you are investing in a long term companion and they expect that much from you. This is a dog that enjoys attention and craves the special bond between hand and dog.

Regular dental brushing to help with tartar buildup, trimming their nails to avoid splits, cracks and overgrowth, and always check the ears regularly to avoid bacterial buildup.

Feeding

How much your West Highland White Terrier eats will depend on their age, metabolism and activity range. Not all dogs will eat the same portions. It is critical that you inquire or consult with a breeder or a veterinarian if you have your doubts.

That said, the West Highland White Terrier should do fine with a high quality formula or dry kibble. This formula should have meat as the first ingredient. Avoid fillers, grainy elements and preservatives. With that, most owners seem content feeding their Westies between half a cup of high quality dry food to 1.5 cups of dry kibble per day. Of course, you can break that up into two or three meals to help maintain a balance for your Westie. It also helps prevent Gastric Torsion, a deadly disorder of the stomach that distends and twists due to an excess of gas.

As always, you should provide your Westie with fresh drinking water.

Coat

Take one look at the West Highland White Terrier and you’ll see that you have your work cut off for you. That you do, they do require daily brushing or combing. Clipping and trimming is another mandate that you’ll need done every so often if you plan on hitting the shows. 

The breed has a double coat. Around the neck, you’ll notice the length is longer than other parts of the body. That’s because groomers typically pluck around the neck to get that roundness look. The coat should only be white as its name indicates. Short coat around the neck and shoulders and 2 inches of length elsewhere on the body, Westies have a hard feel to their coat and it should be straight.

According to the American Kennel Club, there is one acceptable coat color option: White.

There are no acceptable markings for this breed’s coat.

Fun West Highland White Terrier Facts

  • Although the breed ranks 42nd, they have been as high as 36th most popular. In England, the breed had an improvement of one slot etching out an annual 2300 registrations.
  • The breed won Best in Show at Crufts a total of three times! Those titles being: 1976, 1990 and 2016. At Westminster, they won Best in Show twice. Once in 1942 and again in 1962.
  • 86th most intelligent breed on Stanley Coren’s Intelligence of Dogs list. This means they’ll obey your first command 50 percent or better of the time.
  • Celebrities love the breed too! 30’s and 40’s American actress, Genevieve Tobin was a proud Westie owner just as Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johannson and Ashley Judd are.
  • Cesar Dog Food has a West Highland White Terrier as its selling mascot on the cover of its brand packaging.

Closing Words

As you can read and see, the West Highland White Terrier definitely comes with a bit of effort. They aren’t the easiest breeds to care for. Yet, if you ask any Westie owner or enthusiast, the breed is certainly worth the work and investment of energy, money and time.

Westies have a long history of ratting, hunting, and human companionship. As impressive as they have been inside the show ring, as ratters, and as companions, it is no wonder they are perennial favorites of the British.