West Highland White Terrier - Breed Introduction
The West Highland white terrier, or "Westie” as it’s called, is one of the breeds that children flock to because of their sweet look and personality. Not only do they make a hit in the show ring, but are great family pets.
While in the show ring they look prim and proper, at home they love to play a good game of tug-of-war with their human companions. Small, compact and spunky: those are the words that describe a West Highland White Terrier.
A smaller breed, the West Highland white terrier stands about 10 to 12 (25 to 30 cm) inches at the shoulder and weighs around 13 to 15 pounds (7 to 10 kg). A compact dog, with good balance and substance, the Westie’s body between the withers and the root of the tail is slightly shorter than the height at the withers. short-coupled and well boned.
History of the Breed
In Scotland terrier dogs were crossbred to produce hunters of fox, otters, mice and other varmints. What evolved were the Cairn Terrier, Dandie Dinmont terrier, Scottish terrier, Skye terrier and of course, the West Highland White Terrier. The Scottish were still crossbreeding up until 1917 when the kennel clubs refused to recognize and register the crossbreeds.
The first West Highland White Terrier was recorded in the early 1900s in Poltalloch, Scotland. While the name suggests it’s only a white dog, that’s not true. The Westie can come in other colors. However, the kennel clubs only recognize the whites.
When the Westie was first shown in the United States during 1906, it was shown under the breed name Roseneath terriers. But when the AKC accepted the breed for registration and award recognition, it changed the name to West Highland White Terrier.
Color and Coat
While there are other colors besides white, only the white Westies are accepted for registration in the various kennel clubs. Some whites will have a lemon yellow color around the face and ears.
The West Highland White Terrier has a double coat with a soft undercoat, and a hard wiry and straight outer coat.
Personality and Temperament
Spunky. That’s the best word to describe the Westie. It’s intelligent, with good manners. It loves to play, and is always a “puppy at heart” no matter how old he is. They’re willing to play anytime of the day with anyone – human or another dog! And yet, they can be quiet and determined depending on if they’re in the show ring, on the agility course, doing obedience or at home.
This is a great breed for older children as they are very tolerant of children’s mishandlings and stepping on paws. No matter what age children are in the household, there should always be adult supervision when around a dog. Small, they are excellent for apartment dwellers as well as in the home, traveling or on the farm hunting mice.
A spunky little dog, the Westie should portray a dog that is full of life, and eager to please no matter what his role in life is: companion, hunter, agility dog, show dog. It should exhibit good showmanship, have great self esteem, and be powerful in build and look. In general appearance, the Westie is compact and small.
It’s head is domed, with a moderate muzzle. Ears are erect and pointed, giving it’s face an “always on alert” look. The eyes are dark, deep set, sharp and intelligent under shaggy eyebrows which make him look like he’s looking right through you!
The coat is about two inches long, and should be hard to feel on the outercoat, but soft in the undercoat. The hair is longer around the head, giving the Westie a more “lion-maned” look which only adds to his strong look.
Strongly built, the Westie should look like a hunter that is low to the ground, so he can chase that mouse as it runs into the barn….have the forelegs to dig a gopher out of its hole…or be protected by its wiry coat when it runs through the brambles as it chases a rabbit.
It has a muscular neck set on sloping shoulders; compact body with great substance for a dog his size; forelegs are muscular and well boned, short and covered with short hard hair. The forefeet are larger than the hind feet, round and thickly padded.
The hindquarters are well muscled, but the legs are thinner than the forelegs, but still strong and ready to hit the ground running! The paw pads and nails should be black; however older dogs may have some discoloration of the pads and nails.
Typical Health Concerns
The West Highland White Terrier has several health concerns. Many are diseases are not unique to the Westie, but other breeds can be afflicted by the ailments. One disease that only affects younger Westies is craniomandibular osteopathy. As the dog’s mandible (jaw) grows, sometimes it will grow too fast and cause pain.
This disease will subside as the dog matures out and grows into its jaws. A disease typically of older dogs are cataracts which cause full or partial blindness. Other diseases that Westies can have problems with include diabetes; patellar luxation (floating kneecap); hip dysplasia; dilated cardiomyopathy (a large, thin-walled heart muscle); allergic skin disease; and liver disease.
Two diseases associated with white dogs – and are traced to recessive genes – are deafness and white shaker disease (tremors).
A white coat means one thing: extra time to keep it clean. The double coat will take more time too, especially when stripping out the undercoat that will shed during the warmer months, and drying them after a bath.
The outercoat will need to be combed regularly to prevent mats and tangles. They should not be clipped, but rather combed out. Since they’re a terrier, the West Highland White Terrier will want to dig in the yard.
And that means his pretty white coat can get dirty very quickly. Don’t let him dig…not only because of grooming, but it can become a bad habit that you don’t want him to have!
Average Life Span
The average age of the West Highland white terrier is 14 to 16 years.