West Highland White Terrier (Westie) Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

West Highland Terrier


Raindog Photography / Getty Images

The West Highland white terrier, commonly called a Westie, is a small, energetic dog with a lively and lovable personality. The breed dates back to more than a century, and the American Kennel Club recognized it in the U.S. in 1908. The Westie is very loyal and smart but also possesses an independent spirit. Though quite compact, the Westie is not dainty or overly muscular.

The Westie's upbeat and lovable personality makes it a wonderful companion. Both active and cuddly, the Westie is versatile and adaptable, making the breed a great fit in most households. With appropriate training and socialization, Westies get along well with children and fit in with all types of households. In addition, this small dog breed is typically suitable for apartment living.

Breed Overview

Group: Terrier

Height: 10 to 11 inches

Weight: 13 to 20 pounds

Coat and Color: White, with a double coat of medium length

Life Expectancy: 13 to 15 years

Characteristics of the West Highland White Terrier

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

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History of the West Highland White Terrier

The West Highland white terrier hails from Poltalloch, Scotland, and the breed's origin dates back well over a century. It's believed that all of the terriers of Scotland came from the same lineage, including the Scotties, Cairns, Dandie Dinmonts, and Westies. Westies were used to hunt vermin as well as provide companionship. The inspiration for breeding a white terrier is said to come from Malcolm, Laird of Poltalloch, who noted that his red terrier looked too much like a fox when hunting. After a tragic accident, he was determined to breed a white terrier.

Once known as the Poltalloch terrier or Roseneath terrier, the breed has been in the US since the early 1900s. It was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1908.

Westie Cruft's Dog Show
A judge inspecting the entrants in the West Highland White Terrier class during the Cruft's Dog Show, February 1965. Roger Jackson / Getty Images

West Highland White Terrier Care

The Westie is completely white with medium-length hair. The top coat is coarse, stiff, and dry while the undercoat is soft and fine. Westies require routine grooming—brush or hand-strip (pluck dead hairs) generally on a weekly basis. You may also wish to have your Westie trimmed by a groomer from time to time (generally every four to six weeks). Fortunately, Westies shed very little. Regular nail trims are also important in order to keep your Westie's feet healthy and comfortable.

As true terriers, Westies are naturally curious and alert. They can be considered lively but not highly energetic, so routine moderate exercise should be enough to keep them happy and healthy. Daily walks are generally enough to fulfill the Westie's exercise needs. However, every dog is different. If your Westie seems restless or bored, begins acting out, or becomes overweight, you may need to increase the exercise.

It's important to keep a Westie on a leash for walks as they have a high prey drive and will run after anything that moves. Fenced outdoor areas are ideal for this breed. However, due to their tendency to hunt, they need to be supervised. Westies are best kept indoors when you are away from home and they do well with crate training. They are fairly low-energy when indoors.

Terriers are generally smart dogs that enjoy learning and crave structure. The Westie is intelligent and motivated, so proper training is highly beneficial as well as necessary. A well-trained and socialized Westie is more likely to stay focused on you and be well-behaved in public places.

Westies do well in multiple-pet households and will usually get along well with other dogs and can adapt to cats. But a Westie will naturally pursue small animals such as gerbils and guinea pigs, so keep any such pets separate from a Westie.

Compared with many small dogs, a Westie will tolerate you being away from home during the workday without separation anxiety. They are not typically lap dogs but want to stay near you and engage with you by initiating play and games.

Terriers often like to dig, which can be a problem for your garden and potted plants. You can train your Westie not to dig by being consistent in redirecting from an early age.

Barking can be a problem as your Westie will alert you to every passerby and moving creature. If you are diligent, you can train them to just bark once.

Westie digging
Nigel_Wallace​ / Getty Images 

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. Westie jaw, or craniomandibular osteopathy, is caused by a recessive gene and leads to problems in chewing and swallowing. Some cases are able to be treated with anti-inflammatory medications but others are too severe and painful.

Be aware and monitor for additional conditions, such as:

west highland white terriers as pets illustration
Illustration: The Spruce / Kelly Miller

Diet and Nutrition

Westies are best fed two meals a day for a total of 1/2 to 1 1/2 cups of dry food, depending on their size and activity level. Always make sure that they have clean, fresh water for drinking.

Monitor your dog for weight gain to prevent obesity. Diet needs, including the amount and frequency you feed them, will change over time as they age. Work with your veterinarian to figure out an individualized diet plan for your dog.

  • Great with kids

  • Adaptable to multi-pet households

  • Energetic and loyal

  • Tendency to dig

  • Can be stubborn

  • Loud and sometimes persistent barking

Where to Adopt or Buy a Westie

If you think you'd like to adopt a West Highland white terrier, start by contacting the following organizations:

These groups will be able to provide more information about the breed, and they will be able to direct you to a local breeder or rescue in your area.

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, other Westie owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons:

There’s a whole world of dog breeds out there for you to research to find the right one.