West Highland White Terrier (Westie): Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

West Highland white terrier (Westie) walking on grass

 

Raindog Photography / Getty Images

The West Highland white terrier, or Westie, is a small terrier dog breed from Scotland with a medium-length coat that’s typically pure white. The Westie’s dark, almond-shaped eyes and black nose pop against its white coat. Overall, it has a muscular build with a deep chest, and its tail is fairly short and thick. Westies are typically confident and charming little dogs. They were bred to hunt, but they also tend to love playtime with their family.

Breed Overview

Group: Terrier

Height: 10 inches (female), 11 inches (male)

Weight: 15 to 20 pounds

Coat: Medium-length double coat

Coat Color: White

Life Span: 13 to 15 years

Temperament: Affectionate, playful, friendly

Hypoallergenic: Yes

Origin: Scotland

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Characteristics of the West Highland White Terrier

Westies tend to have very affectionate and playful personalties. While they do make for good watchdogs, they also are usually open to meeting strangers. High intelligence helps to shape this terrier’s personality, as well, and can make it strong-willed at times.

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the West Highland White Terrier

Terriers have a long history in the Scottish Highlands, dating back centuries as working farm dogs and hunting dogs. Many were used to keep the rodent population at bay. Besides the Westie, the Scottie, cairn terrier, and Dandie Dinmont are other breeds that descended from these dogs.

The Westie breed can trace its roots to the 1700s when Edward Donald Malcolm, 16th Laird of Poltalloch, bred for white terriers to exterminate the rodents on his estate. Thus, the breed was sometimes referred to as the Poltalloch terrier. It’s said that Malcolm had a reddish dog that was shot when it was mistaken for a fox. Consequently, he wanted only white dogs that would be identifiable. 

By the end of the 1800s, the West Highland white terrier had its present name and was being entered in dog shows. The American Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1908, and since then it’s become quite popular in the U.S. People might recognize the breed as the mascot for the dog food Cesar.

A judge inspects a row of people and dogs who are the entrants in the West Highland white terrier class during the Cruft's Dog Show in 1965.
A judge inspects the entrants in the West Highland white terrier class during the Cruft's Dog Show in 1965. Roger Jackson / Getty Images

West Highland White Terrier Care

Westies need a moderate amount of exercise each day and have somewhat involved grooming. They also should receive training and socialization from a young age.

Exercise

Plan to give your Westie at least an hour per day of exercise to keep it healthy and happy. A couple of daily walks and some vigorous playtime are ideal ways to burn both mental and physical energy. Westies also enjoy dog sports, including agility, rally, and earthdog events.

Unless your Westie is in a securely fenced area, avoid letting it off leash outside. This breed’s high prey drive can cause it to take off quickly chasing small animals and other perceived prey. 

Grooming

The traditional way of grooming a Westie’s coat is stripping (the plucking of dead hairs with a special tool) roughly every month. But some owners opt to have the coat clipped instead every four to six weeks, which tends to make it softer and curlier. You also should brush your Westie’s coat at least weekly to remove any loose hair and dirt, prevent tangles, and distribute oils.

Plan on a bath every four to six weeks, depending on how dirty your dog gets. Check your dog’s nails roughly every month to see whether they’re in need of a trim. Look in its ears at least weekly for wax buildup, debris, and irritation. Aim to brush its teeth daily. 

Training

Westies are quite smart. But they can have an independent and stubborn streak that might make training difficult. Start both training and socialization from an early age to prevent bad habits from forming. Keep training sessions fun and varied to hold your dog’s attention, and always use positive reinforcement. 

Try to expose your Westie to different people and other dogs starting when it’s young to help it become comfortable around strangers. Westies usually can get along with other dogs and even cats when raised together from a young age. But they might view smaller household pets as prey, especially rodents.

Westies often can be problem barkers, alerting you to every passerby and moving creature. But if you are diligent, you can train them to bark just once and quiet on command. Westies also can have a tendency to dig. But if you’re consistent about redirecting that behavior from a young age, you might be able to put a stop to it.

Westie digging in grass
Nigel_Wallace​ / Getty Images 

Common Health Problems

Westies are prone to some hereditary health issues, including:

West Highland white terriers as pets illustration

The Spruce / Kelly Miller

Diet and Nutrition

Always have fresh water accessible for your Westie. Feed a high-quality canine diet that has balanced nutrition. It’s typical to feed two measured meals per day. But you should always discuss the amount and type of food with your vet to make sure it’s suitable for your individual dog. Also, monitor treats and other extra food to prevent your dog from overeating.

Where to Adopt or Buy a West Highland White Terrier

Westies are a fairly popular dog breed in the United States. So it’s possible to find one in need of a home at local animal shelters and breed-specific rescue groups. If you’re looking for a puppy from a reputable breeder, expect to pay around $1,000 to $1,500 on average.

For further information to help you find a Westie, check out:

West Highland White Terrier Overview

Pros
  • Very affectionate and playful

  • Typically good with respectful kids

  • Doesn't shed excessively

Cons
  • Tends to dig

  • Can be stubborn about training

  • Can be very vocal

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

As with any breed, if you think the West Highland white terrier is right for you, be sure to do plenty of research before obtaining one. Talk to veterinarians, pet professionals, Westie owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are West Highland white terriers good family dogs?

    Westies can be good family dogs as long as they have proper training and socialization. They are best with respectful older children, as some Westies won't tolerate rough handling and might be territorial when it comes to toys and food.

  • Are West Highland white terriers good apartment dogs?

    Westies are generally good at adapting to different living situations, including apartments. They don't need a great deal of space. But they do tend to be vocal, which might disturb neighbors.

  • Are West Highland white terriers aggressive?

    Westies that have proper training and socialization typically don't display aggression. But they can have a territorial and protective streak that must be managed.

Article Sources
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  1. West Highland White Terrier. American Kennel Club.

  2. Westie, West Highland White Terrier Puppies and Dogs. Adopt a Pet.