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West Highland White Terrier

Nicole Cosgrove

West Highland White Terrier

The West Highland White Terrier is a small to medium purebred with a lot of confidence and a lot of charm. It is multi-talented, taking part in activities such as tracking, agility, hunting and obedience. It is more often referred to as a Westy or Westie. It has a very distinctive white coat and is especially popular in the UK though it is also loved in the US too. Hailing from Scotland it is an energetic dog and friendly dog with a high prey drive.

Here is the West Highland White Terrier at a Glance
Name West Highland White Terrier
Other Names Poltalloch Terrier, Roseneath Terrier, White Roseneath Terrier,
Nicknames Westie or Westy
Origin Scotland
Average size Small
Average weight 13 to 22 pounds
Average height 9 to 12 inches
Life span 12 to 15 years
Coat type Rough, dense, harsh
Hypoallergenic Yes
Color White
Popularity Quite popular – ranked 41st by the AKC
Intelligence Very good – quite a clever dog and knows it!
Tolerance to heat Good – okay in warmer weather but extreme heat
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle quite cold climates
Shedding Low – not much loose hair to worry about
Drooling Low – not a dog known to drool a lot
Obesity High – loves its food, will need it measured and get daily exercise
Grooming/brushing Moderate to high – needs daily care and regular brushing
Barking Frequent – training will be needed to control it
Exercise needs Fairly active – needs daily walking at the least
Trainability Very good – it is moderately easy to train
Friendliness Very good – social and happy dog
Good first dog Very good – most new owners would be fine
Good family pet Excellent – great family dog
Good with children Very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Excellent with socialization
Good with other pets Good to very good with socialization – can have a high prey drive
Good with strangers Good – can be approachable with socialization
Good apartment dog Very good – size means it is fine in a smaller living space
Handles alone time well Moderate – prefers not to be alone
Health issues Fairly good health but has several health issues including liver disease, joint dysplasia, eye problems and lung disease
Medical expenses $435 a year which cover basic care and pet insurance
Food expenses $75 a year for dry food and treats
Miscellaneous expenses $495 a year for basic training, license, toys, grooming and other miscellaneous costs
Average annual expense $1005 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $900
Biting Statistics Attacks doing bodily harm: 2 Maimings: 1 Child victims: 0 Deaths: 13

The West Highland White Terrier’s Beginnings

The West Highland White Terrier comes from Poltalloch, Scotland and was bred for hunting vermin and small animals like badger, fox and otter in the mid 1800s. Back then it was known as the Poltalloch Terrier or the Roseneath Terrier. The story of the breed tells us that when breeding Cairn Terrier Colonel Malcolm of Poltalloch accidentally shot one of them when out hunting fox. He supposedly then decided to only breed white dogs so that this mistake did not happen again.

It comes from the same ancestor as other Scottish terriers, the Cairn obviously but also the Dandie Dinmont, the Scottish and the Skye. In 1904 the first English breed club for the Westie was formed and in 1906 it was recognized by the Kennel Club of England under the name West Highland White Terrier. Up until 1924 in the UK it was acceptable for Westies to be bred with Scottish Terriers and Cairns.

New Lease on Life

Between 1907 and 1908 it was imported into the US and the first breed club in the US was formed called the Roseneath Terrier Club. In 1909 the club changed its name to the West Highland White Terrier Club of America. It was recognized by the AKC in 1908. At the time the dog was very popular and could be sold for hundreds of guineas, a lot of money back then. Today it is still fairly popular, it has remained in the top third of most popular ranked dogs by the AKC since 1960. It is ranked 41st today.

The Dog You See Today

This is a small to medium dog with a sturdy and well proportioned body, a blunt muzzle, black nose and deep set, brown almond shaped eyes. It has ears that are set on top of the head and are triangular and erect. Its legs are shortish but it does not carry itself very low to the ground.

The tail is short, thicker at the base and then thins to the tip. It has a double coat that is harsh and straight on the outer and soft and thick on the inner. It is short in length and white in color. It has a deep chest and its paws turn out slightly.

The Inner West Highland White Terrier


The West Highland White Terrier is a fairly friendly dog with strangers but very happy and social and affectionate with its family. It is a hardy dog, brave and very confident. It is quite energetic and lively and will love to play. It is not the usual lap dog in that while it might come for cuddles it will also want to be off having an adventure. It prefers to have companionship, it does not like to be left alone for long periods.

It does have a love of digging and may be a barker so training will be important. If it is allowed to believe it is the boss it can be snappy too and can be hard to control and destructive. When well raised though it is alert and can be a great watchdog and is easy to handle. It can be a good dog a new owner as long as they make sure they know how to establish themselves as the boss and to not give in to the dog.

This is an adaptable dog but can be possessive of its toys and food. Some are more tolerant and some prefer to be left alone. It can have a strong stubborn side too and it does have a high prey drive. It is intelligent and loves the things most dogs love, a great ball game, squeaky toys and being adored and rubbed.

Living with a West Highland White Terrier

What will training look like?

It is intelligent and cheerful but will try to be the boss and can be stubborn. It is therefore moderately easy to train, results will come but it will be gradual. It will require patience and the ability to be firm and stay in control. Consistency alone with positive methods are also essential to success. Do not let him get his own way as that can lead to small dog syndrome. Along with training you should also carry out socialization. This will lead to a better dog that you are more able to trust and how it reacts to various people, animals and places.

How active is the West Highland White Terrier?

The Westie is a fairly active dog, lively and energetic, so it will need at least two daily walks along with opportunities to run and to play. Having a yard to play in is something it would greatly appreciate but as long as you take it out it can adapt to apartment living without a yard. Just indoor play will not be enough for it and it is likely to act out if you do not exercise it.

This is an opportunity to take to a dog park or the like too. You can play with it and it can also socialize and have the chance to run free. When not in a safe area though keep it leashed as its high prey drive may lead it to giving chase after anything that moves when out walking.

Caring for the West Highland White Terrier

Grooming needs

It is quite an easy dog to care for, it is low shedding so there is not a lot of loose hair to manage and brushing is easy to do with a stiff bristled brush two to three times a week. Regular brushing helps keep the coat clean so a bath is just needed when it gets especially dirty. It should be done only using a dog shampoo to avoid drying out its skin. It will need regular visits to a groomer for regular trimming. Owners of show dogs also have it stripped a couple of times a year.

Because of that white coat tear stains can be a problem. Wipe around the eyes daily to help prevent this. The hair around the face and ears will need trimming with blunt nosed scissors regularly also. In between bathing you can wipe it down to help keep it clean. Check the ears for infection signs and give them a wipe too once a week. Its teeth should be brushed at least three times a week and its nails need clipping when they get too long. Do not cut too low down, if you are not familiar with dog nails have a groomer do it for you.

Feeding Time

The Westie should be fed ½ to 1 1/2 cups of a good quality dry dog food each day, split into at least two meals. Things like metabolism, age, size and activity level will help guide you to the right amount for your dog.

How do they get on with children and other animals

This is certainly a great dog with children, it is lively and playful and also loving and affectionate. Young children need to be taught not to annoy it when it is eating and how to touch it without hurting it, some supervision until they are more careful may be needed. It is true though that some Westies can be touchy and do not like being bugged so some breeders will not home a Westie with owners who have children younger than 7.

It does have a high prey drive so will chase strange cats, small animals and the like. It may even want to do the same with small pets in the home like rabbits so it is best not to have them if you want a Westie. It can adjust to a cat in the home though when raised with it. In general it is good around other dogs especially with early socialization and training but can have dominant issues with dogs of the same sex. Usually though it will not start a fight, but it certainly won’t back down from one if another dog starts with it.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

This dog lives an average 12 to15 years and is fairly healthy though there are health problems it can be prone to such as liver disease, Legg Perthes, eye problems, skin problems, chronic hernias, patellar luxation, cranionmandibular osteopathy and lung disease.

Biting Statistics

The Westie may be small and cute but it does have snapping problems and there have been some incidents reported. When looking at more serious reports over the last 34 years in the US and Canada there have been 2 attacks that did bodily harm. 1 of those was a maiming, meaning the victim was left with permanent scarring, disfigurement or loss of limb. There was also 1 death. Neither of the victims were children.

Key to having a dog you can trust is making sure it is properly socialized and trained, exercised, given enough mental stimulation and well cared for. If you cannot meet the needs of a dog it is not the right one for you. 2 attacks over the course of 34 years though is not something to worry too much about.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A West Highland White Terrier that is from a good breeder of pet quality dogs is going to charge something close to $900. Show dog breeders though are going to charge a lot more, into the two to three thousand. There are a couple of ways to get one for less, but one is not recommended. There are easy ways to find them from backyard breeders or puppy mills but there are issues there with funding bad breeders and getting dogs of poor health and temperament. The other way is to rescue one but keep in mind there are more adult dogs that need re-homing than puppies.

It will need a crate, collar, leash, carrier and food bowls. It will also need to go to a vet for a physical, its shots, deworming, blood tests, micro chipping and spaying or neutering. These costs will be another $400 or so.

Food costs each year will be about $75 for simple treats and a good quality dry dog food. Basic medical care for check ups, shots, flea prevention, tick prevention and pet insurance will start at $435 a year. Other miscellaneous costs like grooming, license, toys and basic training will come to about $495 a year. This will be less if you are not keeping it to show standards and therefore require less trips to a professional groomer.

This gives an annual starting cost for a Westie of $1005.


This is not a delicate lap dog, though it likes some attention it is a lively and sturdy dog with a typical terrier like tendencies. It needs daily outings, has a high prey drive and needs socialization and training. It can have issues otherwise with other same sex dogs and snapping.

It is certainly a typical small dog who thinks it is a lot bigger and consequently has a lot of confidence and boldness. It does well in various dog sports and as a working dog. It can be a great companion to single owners or couples, but can also be an excellent family dog too.

Popular West Highland White Terrier Mixes

Chihuahua, West Highland White Terrier Mix
General Information
Size Small
Height 8 to 10 inches
Weight 5 to 10 pounds
Life span 10 to 13 years
Touchiness Very sensitive
Barking Frequent
Activity Fairly active
Breed Traits



Can be

Fourche Terrier
Fourche Terrier
Yorkshire Terrier,West Highland White Terrier Mix
General Information
Size Small
Height 9 to 11 inches
Weight 12 to 15 pounds
Life span 12 to 15 years
Touchiness Moderate
Barking Occasional
Activity Moderate
Breed Traits




West Highland White Terrier and Poodle Mix
General Information
Size Medium
Height 11 to 17 inches
Weight 20 to 40 pounds
Life span 12 to 15 years
Touchiness Fairly sensitive
Barking Occasional
Activity Fairly active
Breed Traits

Great family dog



Featured Image Credit: anetapics, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.