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West Highland White Terrier : 10 Most Common Questions

The West Highland White Terrier was established as a separate breed in the 1800s, after a breeder of Cairn Terriers found that he had some white puppies in a litter. With selective breeding, the West Highland White Terrier developed as a separate breed.

The Westie has some of the same characteristics and temperament as Cairns and other terriers, but is generally not as “snappish”, as some are. The West Highland White Terrier can be a wonderful companion, though the breed may be a bit willful and strong-headed at times.

We have put together 10 common questions about the breed with answers for each.

West Highland White Terrier Questions


1. What is the history and background of the West Highland White Terrier?

The West Highland White Terrier is a white Cairn Terrier, developed by selective breeding from dogs producing white pups and from white Cairns. As with the Cairn, the Westie was used for controlling rats and other small animals on Scottish farms.

The West Highland White Terrier has become popular as a companion dog and pet in the U.S.


2. What is the size and color of the West Highland White Terrier?

The male of the breed will be about 10 to 12 inches tall when grown, while the female will be an inch or so shorter. The medium ranges of height are considered ideal for clubs and shows.

Adult Westies will weigh about 15 pounds to 22 pounds (male) and 13 pounds to 16 pounds (female). The name implies that this is a white terrier only. The American Kennel Club considers any golden or wheaten color to be a fault.


3. Is the Westie good with children?

In general, yes, but only if the children are well behaved. As with many terriers, the West Highland White Terrier can be a bit willful and may snap at children if irritated. Good socialization with a top breeder is important for young terriers.

A calm atmosphere in the home will also help your new pet fit in. Most Westies are playful and energetic and will like being around people.


4. Is the West Highland White Terrier an inside dog or outside dog?

This question can be answered simply: The Westie, like many terriers and other small dogs, should never be left tied outside for long periods. This makes them a target for larger dogs.

A West Highland White Terrier will do best indoors, with occasional exercise in a fenced yard or with walks on a leash. Terriers tend to chase smaller animals by nature, so your Westie should remain under your control at all times.


5. I have thought about a dog from a rescue organization, is this a good idea?

With Westies and many other purebred dogs, a wonderful companion is often available from a rescue or shelter. Adult dogs, as well as dogs having already been in another home, come with unique challenges.

It is best to talk with the rescue/shelter staff and make sure that your situation fits with the dog you are considering. Remember that it may take some time to overcome some behavior patterns and habits the dog developed with its first owner. However, pets from a rescue organization often make wonderful, loyal companions.


6. What is the best way to house train a Westie?

Everyone has a preferred method, but it is true that most successful ways to housebreak or house train a dog involve patience and a consistent way of working with the pet. We recommend crate training as a way to give the dog a safe place to go to and a “den” that the pet will naturally want to keep clean.

Combine this with consistent and frequent trips outdoors or to paper train and the Westie will often learn quickly. Taking the dog outside early in the morning and before retiring for the night is very important as well.


7. What health problems should I look for?

West Highland White Terriers and some other terriers are prone to skin problems, including very dry skin and skin irritations. This is something you should discuss with the breeder and the veterinarian so you can watch for symptoms.

There are treatments, including antihistamines and cortisone treatments to help with this condition. Smaller dogs such as the Westie may also develop a hip condition called Perthes disease. You should discuss this thoroughly with the breeder before purchasing any new puppy.


8. Does the Westie need special grooming?

Several Westie clubs provide good guidelines for grooming this breed. The outer coat is not extremely long, but hangs rather straight. The undercoat is softer and thick. A regular brushing is recommended to keep the coat in good order.

A West Highland White Terrier should not be bathed too frequently because of the tendency to skin problems. Trimming is usually recommended around the ears, to shape the head and with the growth of the coat.


9. What should I feed my Westie?

As with many purebred dogs, allergies and other minor problems may develop with consistent, long-term feeding of cheaper commercial foods. It seems some dogs are allergic to the high grain content of these foods.

A better quality of commercial food is recommended. Owners have found that feeding fresh meats and some vegetables is also a good diet. Consult with your breeder and veterinarian to determine a specific diet for your pet. You may be able to continue the diet started with the breeder.


10. Is the West Highland White Terrier a good show dog?

Westies can be good as a show dog or even an obedience trial dog, but both require some patient and consistent training from the early days of the dog’s life. Special attention must be paid to the appearance and temperament with show dogs, so choosing a puppy from a breeder of show dogs is critical.

Westies can also be very good as therapy dogs and with obedience work, but again it takes special training and a great deal of time and patience to develop a top animal in these areas.


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