This page updated June 24, 2015
You might know the West Highland white terrier from his famous picture on the Caesar food can, or the adorable dog owned by Kahn, Hank’s neighbor depicted on the old TV series King of the Hill.
Without a doubt, there is much more to endear you to this breed than their cute face. Described as an alert, active, independent, friendly breed, these little dogs are true to their terrier heritage.
They are quick to win your heart with their energetic persona and their bright white coat that just accents their button eyes, making them an initial hit among anyone who loves a people oriented canine.
I remembered the first time I encountered a Westie many years ago. It was a time when I was serving as a vet tech to a local veterinarian. Working for a very small practice, I got to know all the dogs that walked through the doors.
But the Westie I met so many years ago, never walked through the door, rather, he bound through dragging his unsuspecting new owner behind.
Trying to dodge any obstacle in his path, he made his way to the reception desk where I stood and literally tried to scale all 3 feet of it to get to me. I immediately thought, Wow, there’s some energy, waiting to be harnessed!
Of course, I was thrilled and surprised because most dogs drag their owners in the opposite direction when they encounter a vet clinic.
What I later learned was that the West Highland white terrier makes a great hunter, though few people use them to hunt these days.
Rather, people love them because well; they are just plain FUN. These dogs are self-confident and somewhat independent making them an ideal choice for someone who doesn’t want a really “needy” dog, but they are loyal and build close bonds with their favorite humans.
As terriers go, they are highly social, happy and friendly.
If you think you’d like to participate in a dog sport, the West Highland White Terrier may be just right. They do well in earthdog trials, agility, obedience and flyball.
All of the shorter legged terriers of Scotland including the Scottish, Skye, Carin, Dandie Dinmont and West Highland white terrier were bred to hunt small game.
As the story goes, one day one of Colonel Edward Donald Malcolm of Poltalloch, Argyllshire, Scotland’s red dogs was mistaken for a fox and killed.
After that, Malcolm decided to breed only white dogs so they could be seen and recognized during a hunt. These dogs were called "Poltalloch Terriers".
Later, Malcolm did not want to be known as the father of the breed and asked that the dogs be renamed.
The first breed club was set up in 1904 and first recognized by the Kennel Club in 1907. During the same time, the breed, then known as the Rosenearth Terrier was imported into the United States and recognized by the AKC in 1908.
It was renamed the next year to the West Highland white terrier. Over the 20th century, they gained in popularity.
Now, they hold an AKC ranking of number 37 in 2014.
Vigilant, Friendly, Spirited, Robust, Active, Independent—these are all words used to describe the Westie’s personality.
While not considered to be hyper, they are energetic and will need plenty of exercises which suggest that they might not be suitable for couch potatoes.
West Highland White Terriers do love to roam and a walk or two each day will help keep meet their curiosity requirements.
Basically, they want to be doing what you are doing, so they work very well for active single, couple or family.
This breed is much easier to housebreak
than other small breed dogs, and they do well with training especially if you
use positive reinforcement and rewards.
Some do very well in obedience trials as they primarily want to please. There is that “what’s in it for me,” streak that is found so often in small breed dogs, so patience is the name of the game.
They do have some inbred traits that may be difficult to overcome such as digging and chasing (especially little squirrels and chipmunks), so a fenced in yard is a good idea.
Remember, the West Highland White was originally bred to hunt and kill game and vermin in the rugged Scottish Highlands.
No fence? No Problem, just keep your Westie safely on a leash when outdoors.
The breed as a whole usually gets along well with other dogs and household pets, but as you might expect, two unaltered males may not become best friends, especially if an altered female is nearby.
Spaying and neutering the dog will take care of any issues in this regard.
Any household pets that might be perceived as prey for the Westie (i.e. hamsters, birds, small guinea pigs) will not survive in the same home as a Westie.
They were traditionally bred for catching vermin so it’s not surprising that they have a high “prey, drive,”as a result.
Breeds with high prey drives enjoy tossing and retrieving games, but the object of the game should be a ball or a Frisbee, not a live animal.
They are not a “yappy” dog, but they will announce visitors with a bark or two, so they do make good watch dogs.
They are smart, curious and will become bored easily if not given enough stimulation.
If you’re looking for a lap dog, this may not be the breed for you. Some West Highland White Terriers have been known to be excellent lap dogs, but the vast majority are just to independent, inquisitive and active to spend their day warming your lap.
At first glance, you might decide that a white dog is out of the question because they would need much grooming to keep their coat glowingly white. Not so.
The West Highland White Terrier has a double coat with an inner coat being soft, and the outer coat being harsh. Puppies have one coat—the outer coat and the soft inner coat will not grow in until about a year old.
Grooming a show Westie is very involved but for the pet, grooming is less intense. A good brushing with a slicker brush followed by combing with a greyhound comb takes care of any snarls and keeps hair smooth.
In addition, their outer coat tends to prevent dirt from remaining on the dog. Even mud can be brushed off after it dries.
Most pet owners prefer to have their dog groomed professionally every 6 to 8 weeks. When done this way, their coat is clipped making the texture of their hair softer than would be the case for a Show dog.
If that Show Dog appearance is what you love, learning to hand strip the coat is a must and usually the best way to learn this is through the breeder or groomer familiar with this technique.
Hand stripping rather than clipping will retain the wiry texture of the coat.
If cost is a factor and grooming your Westie at home is a real alternative. The cost of Professional clippers is about the same as a couple of professional grooming visits and well worth the investment.
Bathing about one per month is usually sufficient as most Westie’s coats tend to repel dirt. Some owners will use corn starch on the coat sprinkling it on, fluffing out the hair and then brushing.
This keeps the coat clean and odor free. Other grooming tasks that should be performed include brushing the teeth, clipping the nails, and trimming any hairs from between the foot pads.
Westies do shed, but not as much as you might think. Brushing weekly will help with this.
Like all dogs, Westies are prone to certain problems many of which are genetic in nature. Although the list seems long, it doesn’t mean that one dog will ever suffer from any of them.
Atopic dermatitis (an inherited skin allergy)
Luxating patellae (knee caps that pop out of normal position),
Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease is a condition involving the hip joints.
Dry eye is a condition of the eye where there is inadequate tear production. Artificial tears may be necessary.
Addison’s disease: This is a rare disease which is also known as Hypoadrenocorticism. It is characterized by a deficient production of
glucocorticoids that lead to symptoms such as weakness, low blood pressure, blood in feces, weight loss and dehydration.
White shaker dog syndrome (or idiopathic steroid responsive shaker syndrome) is a condition that occurs in small white dogs including the Westie and results in body tremors that can lead to seizures and difficulty walking.
Pulmonary fibrosis occurs when scar tissue replace normal lung tissue making it eventually difficult to breath.
Juvenile cataracts: Cataracts are changes that occur in the eye that lead to opacity of the lens. They normally occur in senior dogs, but some breeds including this one may develop them as early as six months of age.
Craniomandibular osteopathy is a disease that causes jaw deformities in puppies usually under one year old; it is also known as lion jaw or Westie jaw.
It is an autosomal recessive disease, meaning that both mother and father must be a carrier to pass on the defect to their offspring.
The bones around the jaw thicken causing problems for the dog to chew and swallow their food. Treatment involves administering anti-inflammatory medicine and offering a soft food diet.
Some animals live with the disease throughout their lives but if the dog cannot eat and seems to be in pain, euthanasia may be the only option.
The West Highland White Terrier is used frequently in advertisement and branding. Have you seen
Westie on the Black & White Whiskey label?
Caesar Dog Food label
Two Westies on the Juicy Couture’s Company Logo
My Dog Brand dog food made by the Australian dog food company, Mars, Inc.
The more you know about the breed you are considering, the better pet parent you will be. We always recommend purchasing a book or two so you will know and understand your breed thoroughly.
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