The West Highland White Terrier is one of several popular terrier breeds that originated in Scotland. Their ancestors were used to hunt foxes and badgers on the estates of noblemen in the early 19th century. The Westie, as it is affectionately known, is thought to share ancestry with the Scottish Terrier, Cairn Terrier and Dandie Dinmont Terrier. Until this breed was developed, hunting terriers were dark colored, which meant that at times they were confused with their prey and accidentally shot.
Some fanciers believe that the Westie first appeared when a Dandie Dinmont Terrier had an unexpected litter of pure white pups. However, it seems more likely that the lightest terrier pups in the litter were kept and selectively bred to produce increasingly light colored dogs.
The breed has had a few name changes over the years, from Poltalloch Terrier to Roseneath Terrier. These sturdy and outgoing little terriers were registered with the AKC in 1908, and their name was finally changed to West Highland White Terrier in 1909.
The West Highland White Terrier may be small in stature, but they are strong and muscular with a deep chest and powerful legs. These hardy little dogs will only grow to 12 inches (30cm) in height, and weigh in at up to 22lbs (10kg), so they won’t take up much space on your couch. Their whole demeanor is one of self assurance.
Their distinctive harsh wiry white coat conceals a thick layer of soft undercoat. Two black eyes and black button nose contrast with the white, and together with small prick ears give them an endearing expression. Their short tail is often described as shaped like a carrot and is usually held straight up.
Don’t let their size deceive you; these little dogs have a big personality. Typical terriers, they are confident and brave, and very independent. They are loyal and affectionate, and make wonderful companions for people of all ages. The Westie loves company, and if your dog is feeling neglected, you can be sure they will do just about anything to catch your attention.
Westies are high spirited dogs, and will play for hours. They are quick learners, and respond well to training. In fact, this is a must because these little dogs need to have a firm but fair leader, to keep them in line. Otherwise they can become bossy, and protective of their food, their toys and their favorite spot on the couch.
These little dogs are usually friendly with people they have not met and get along well with children. They are not afraid of other dogs, even breeds which are much larger than them; however, they are not dog aggressive and will not pick fights.
Westies also make superb watchdogs and will bark to let you know if someone unfamiliar is approaching your home. They will also bark if they aren’t getting enough attention from their human pack, or if they are bored.
Overall, the West Highland White Terrier is a healthy breed. They can develop Legg Perthe’s disease, an orthopedic condition that affects the hips of young dogs.
There is a genetic condition in the breed known as craniomandibular osteopathy. Affected dogs develop calcification of the joint where their lower jaw connects with their skull. It is extremely painful, and makes it difficult for them to eat. Fortunately it is usually treatable, and dogs grow out of it by the time they are a year old.
The Westie also seems to be particularly prone to skin allergies, and their excessive scratching can lead to traumatized skin and hair loss.
For such small dogs, West Highland white terriers are full of energy and can often out-walk their larger counterparts. Because they are so compact, they can get much of their daily exercise by playing indoors if necessary. However, Westies should also be taken for a walk every day, even if it is a short one. They love exploring their neighborhood, and meeting new people.
The Westie coat does take time to look after. They don’t need bathing very often; in fact dirt can usually be removed from their coat with a thorough brushing. These dogs need to be brushed at least twice a week to remove loose hairs and to prevent their coat getting matted. They will also need to have their outer coat removed, or stripped, two or three times a year – this can be done by a professional groomer, or you can learn to do it yourself. If you do decide to hire a groomer, make sure you factor the cost into your yearly pet budget.
West Highland white terriers are great companion dogs for anyone, regardless of age or type of residence. They are just as happy living in an apartment as they are in a house with a big back yard, as long as they get regular playtime and exercise.
They are a particularly good choice for families with children – sturdy enough to put up with some rough and tumble games, and sporty enough to go for long rambles in the woods, or play ball for hours. Another characteristic that makes them great family pets is that they tend not to be a one person dog, but instead love all members of their human pack. This avoids any jealousy amongst children which can happen if their dog has a favorite person in the house.
If you are looking for a watchdog but you don’t want a larger dog, then the Westie is ideal. His bark is intimidating enough to keep intruders at bay, but his temperament welcomes everybody who tries to be his friend. Your Westie will keep you company for up to 14 years.