West Highland White Terrier

"Witty, White, and Wonderful"

Photo of West Highland White Terrier


One of several hunting terriers native to Scotland, Westies are all-white and only white for a reason. Legend goes that Colonel Edward Donald Malcolm of Poltalloch in Argyllshire, Scotland, kept packs of working terriers and during one unfortunate outing, accidentally shot one of his reddish-colored dogs, thinking it was a fox. He immediately vowed to breed only white dogs, so such an accident would never happen again. Established in both England and the United States around the turn of the 20th century, Westies rank as the 33rd most popular breed today.


Like most terriers, Westies love to chase things and could get scrappy with other dogs, but the West Highland White Terrier is among the more trusting and gregarious of the Scottish terriers. Always alert to its surroundings and ready to play watchdog at the slightest suggestion of something unusual, Westies won't mind buddying up to new friends, once they've been properly announced with sufficient barking. Because Westies get bored easily, they shouldn't be left alone all day every day. They need physical and mental stimulation to thrive. They can get along with other dogs, preferably of the opposite sex, and sometimes with cats, if raised with them (but the neighbor's cat is fair game). Westies make good companions to active seniors and families who like to hit the road with the dog in tow. Life is an adventure, and your Westie wants in on all the fun.


A small white terrier with a rough coat and a hardy, rugged look, the West Highland White Terrier has a deep chest, powerful legs with large front feet for digging, and surprisingly large teeth for a dog just 10 to 11 inches tall (all the better to dispatch that rat, my dear). The Westie resembles other terriers like the Cairn and Scottie, but must be all-white and is typically clipped differently, with a round rather than a rectangular bearded face and a tail shaped like a carrot. There is no such thing as a “Miniature Westie.” Such a dog is undersized and should not cost more. Westies are supposed to be strong, hardy working terriers and undersized dogs are more prone to health problems and injury.


“Terrier training” might sound like an oxymoron, but you really can train a Westie. You just have to be a little creative. Independent and self-reliant, the Westie thinks he knows exactly what needs to be done, whether that is to rid the lawn of moles by digging it up, or helping himself to your sandwich when you turn the other way. Basic obedience classes and short daily practice sessions can teach the Westie important cues like “sit,” “stay,” and “come,” but when a Westie gets a whiff of a rodent, chances are your cues will fall on deaf ears, so keep your Westie in a fenced yard or on a leash at all times. Westies need to stay active and want to spend time with you, so if daily training sessions fulfill those needs, your Westie will be happy to get onboard. Easier to housetrain than some small dogs, Westies need to go out on a schedule and should be safely confined for short periods when you can't supervise them. Adult Westies can usually have free run of the house, but provide plenty of chew toys to guard against household destruction. Especially when young, Westies need to chew.

Grooming & Care

Pet Westies should be brushed several times a week to prevent matting and clipped for easier care about every 4 to 6 weeks. Many people have a professional groomer bathe and clip their Westies, but be sure to ask for a Westie clip with the rounded face, or you may end up with a Westie that looks more like a Scottie or a Schnauzer, with a beard and bushy eyebrows. Show dogs should be hand stripped to maintain rough coat texture – your breeder can show you how to do this time-consuming chore, if you so desire, but most pet owners don't. Because they love to dig and roll in stinky things, Westies need baths more than some breeds, but let a muddy Westie dry and the dirt will usually fall right off. Too much bathing can irritate the Westie's sensitive skin, so only bathe when necessary and use a moisturizing or hypoallergenic shampoo formulated for dogs. Keep those big digging nails trimmed, trim or pluck ear hair to prevent ear infections, brush those formidable teeth at least once a week.

Health Concerns

Like many small dogs, Westies can suffer from luxating patellas (kneecaps that slip out of place) and Legg-Calve Perthes, a hip disease. Other health problems Westies sometimes experience include Addison's disease (loss of adrenal gland function), atopic dermatitis and other skin problems including allergies, craniomandibular osteopathy (a bone disease of the jaw), copper toxicosis and other liver diseases, globoid cell leukodystrophy (a denegerative brain and spinal disease), juvenile cataracts, White Shakers Syndrome (causing tremors), and Westie Lung Disease. Ask your breeder about these issues.

Famous West Highland White Terrier

McDuff in the McDuff series of children's books; Doggy, the Souphanousinphone family's dog on "King of the Hill."

Ideal Owner
Activity Level 4
Schedule 33
Home 44
Children 48
Experience 54
Quick Facts
Grooming 57
Exercise 60
Challenges Loves to dig and are great escape artists, may be aggressive with other pets.
Height 9 to 11 inches
Weight 15 to 21 pounds
Life 12 to 14 years
Home Alone 84
With Kids 86
With Strangers 22
Availability 95

This client information sheet is based on material written by: LifeLearn

© Copyright 2014 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.