Meet the West Highland White Terrier: A Remarkably White, Astonishingly Bright Dog

West Highland Terrier by Holly Hildreth.
West Highland Terrier by Holly Hildreth.

Editor’s note: Have you seen the Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our February-March issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.

Overflowing with energy and zest for life, the West Highland White Terrier matches up with families seeking a spunky companion. A hardy hunter, the Westie diligently and delightedly controls his yard’s squirrel and rabbit populations. He’s small in size but surprisingly robust. In fact, the Westie is a delightful example of his home country, Scotland’s, saying: Guid gear comes in sma’ bulk. Yes, Westies prove that good things (and dogs!) often come packaged small!

As a hunter of vermin in the rugged Scottish Highlands, Westies were bred for feistiness with small game yet friendliness with humans. Originally the breed was known as Poltalloch Terriers, named after one of the founders, Colonel Edward Donald Malcolm of Poltallocas (a region of western Scotland). In early years, the Westie’s coat colors were varied: black to red, cream or white. Legend blended with history says that in an unfortunate hunting mishap, one of Malcolm’s Westies was mistaken for a fox and shot. From then on Westies were bred white, as hunters considered a white dog more easily distinguishable in the field.

West Highland Terrier by Holly Hildreth.
West Highland Terrier by Holly Hildreth.

Keeping pace with a Westie

Westies enthusiastically represent the classic terrier pluck and spunk. Cheery and, at times, comical, today’s Westies adore their companion-dog life but fully retain their hunting drive. Since they were bred for going to ground, digging comes naturally to them. Chasing also comes instinctively to Westies; a solid fence keeps them safe at home. When he’s out in the world, a Westie does best on leash; he may show an unparalleled tendency to chase once he’s hot on the trail of a critter!

While many Westies can excel in formal obedience, others may test their handler’s patience with their independent spirit, occasional stubbornness, and “darn this repetition is getting boring!” attitude. Often Westies excel in action sports such as agility or earth dog trials and barn hunts where they can demonstrate their hunting skills. Not content with solitary or sedentary living, Westies thrive on outdoor fun, shared play, and adventures with their families.

Watch and welcome

Vigilant about new happenings (especially new animals!), Westies are energetic watchdogs. But while they’re quick to bark an alarm when doorbells ring, they’ll likely greet newcomers once they cross the threshold. With no passion for actual guard duty, Westies are an especially approachable terrier. Many excel in therapy settings where they’ll offer both affection and entertaining antics.

Socialized Westies do OK with other dogs, but they’re not classic dog park aficionados. Unless, of course, squirrels are running amok in the park! Opposite gender Westies make lovely pairs in the home. Bossy male Westies may challenge other males.

Although nice playmates for older, respectful children, Westies may not consent to small children’s accidental rough handling. Both in the home and in the yard, Westies are well-known busybodies, keeping track of the family’s comings and goings. They’ll also keep an eye on the neighbors, the delivery truck, and certainly any chipmunk bold enough to venture onto the property.

West Highland Terrier by Shutterstock.
West Highland Terrier by Shutterstock.

Westie fundamentals

  • Coat: Double coated. The outer coat has straight, not overly soft white hair. The undercoat is short, soft, and close.
  • Country of origin: Scotland.
  • Grooming: Low shedding with fairly minimal brushing needs, the Westie coat requires trips to the groomer for trims (or hand stripping).
  • Life span: 12 to 15 years.
  • Weight: 15 to 22 pounds. Males typically weigh more than females.
  • Breed motto: Happiness is a state of activity. (— Aristotle)

Top photo: Holly Hildreth

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