Smart, confident, and always entertaining at play, the adorable West Highland White Terrier (Westie, for short) has charmed owners for over 300 years. This tiny but sturdy earthdog is among the most popular of the small terriers. The nobles, landed gentry, and poor farmers of the long-ago British Isles all faced the same problem: infestations of rodents that pillaged grain stores and carried disease. The solution was the development of a vast array of terriers called earthdogs, proficient at finding and dispatching rats. Westies were first shown at AKC shows in 1906. The Westie has been a popular companion dog in America for well over a hundred years.
West Highland White Terrier Appearance
Westies are 10 to 11 inches tall and weigh 15 to 20 pounds. They have longer hair on their head to frame their face, dark piercing eyes, compact body, and a carrot-shaped tail. Westies are surprisingly strong and tough. Their coat is about two inches long and the all-white double coat is hard to the touch, not soft and fluffy. To keep the Westie looking his best, regular grooming is a must. Stripping (or plucking) the old, dead hair is the traditional way of taking care of the terrier coat. Pet owners often have their dogs’ coats clipped for neatness. Most people find a professional groomer who will help keep that beautiful Westie look. Usually a visit to the groomer every 4 to 6 weeks will work just fine. Daily brushing and combing are important. Because the Westie has a hard coat, bathing too often can do more harm than good.
West Highland White Terrier life expectancy is 13 to 15 years. They are bold, confident, fun-loving, and intelligent finding joy in the simplest pleasures of life, such as squeaky toys, a belly rub, and food. His happy disposition and love of life make him a favorite for many, in spite of his mischievousness. High in self-esteem but not so overbearing in his confidence that his self-assurance becomes a negative trait. He is friendly and gets along with everyone, and he enjoys being part of his family. No docile lapdog, he can be spunky. He rarely starts a fight, but he is after all a terrier, so he won’t walk away from one. He’s a lively little guy who greets the adventures in life with a sparkle in his eye and a skip in his step especially when he’s mowing over your feet to get to his food bowl. Same-sex aggression around other dogs is not rare, though females tend to be more alpha than males. The males lean more toward the happy-go-lucky lapdog.
He’s affectionate with children of all ages, and he does well living with older kids. He gets along with other dogs in public settings (unless he’s one of two intact males in the group), and he positively thrives in homes with multiple dogs. He can adapt to cats and he usually settles down nicely with friendly kitties. What he cannot adapt to are small animals that run free, such as rabbits or gerbils, since he has a strong prey drive.
Caring for a West Highland White Terrier
Next, we’ll go into how you should care for a West Highland White Terrier.
Westies should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to becoming overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.
Although he doesn’t require as much exercise as other breeds, the Westie still needs one or two daily walks or play sessions. He generally has a low energy level inside the house, though individual dogs vary in this regard. Westies can be exercised indoors by playing fetch down a hallway. He can be a speed demon who zooms around the dog park, and he can hike with his people all day. He loves playing games, flinging plush squeaky toys around, or just romping through the backyard. Since they will run after anything that moves they need fenced area or on a leash.
The West Highland White Terrier can be easily trained. He’s intelligent and a quick learner, and training will amuse him as long as it remains positive and consistent. In fact, using positive reinforcement laced with consistency is the only way to train a Westie. Clicker training is an excellent training method for him. You’re wasting your time using harsh corrections causing him to shut down and ignore the commands. Westies alert bark when they see or hear something suspicious. With appropriate training from a young age, they can be taught to bark only once when they see or hear something.
West Highland White Terriers are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions, including the following (not all Westies will suffer from these conditions):
- Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a heritable condition in which the thigh bone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia.
- Craniomandibular Osteopathy: When the skull bones while a puppy is growing, causing them to become irregularly enlarged.
- Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: When the blood supply to the head of the femur (the large rear leg bone) is decreased, and the head of the femur that connects to the pelvis begins to disintegrate.
- Cataracts: This common eye condition causes the lens of the eye to become cloudy, resulting in poor vision.
- Pulmonary Fibrosis: Scars on the supporting tissue in the air sacs and connective tissue of the lungs prevents oxygen from passing normally into the blood.
- Patellar Luxation: Also known as slipped stifles. The patella is the kneecap. Luxation means dislocation of a bone at a joint. Patellar luxation is when the knee joint slides in and out of place, causing pain.