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West Highland White Terrier


The West Highland White Terrier has also been known as the Roseneath Terrier (named after the Duke of Argyll's estate), the Poltalloch Terrier (named after the village and home of the Malcolm family, who bred these terriers there for over sixty years), the Highlander, the West Highlander and most affectionately, the "Westie." The breed is aptly described in an American Kennel Club publication as being "...all terrier, with large amounts of Scottish spunk, determination, and devotion crammed into a small body. They are indeed all that can be desired of a pet: faithful, understanding, and devoted, while still gay and light-hearted. Outdoors they are good hunters, exhibiting speed, cunning, and great intelligence. As the breed standard says, the true Highlander is 'possessed with no small amount of self-esteem.'" West Highland Terriers retain their natural desire to chase anything that moves, so supervision and restraint are important for this breed. They also love to dig. The Westie was recognized as a member of the Terrier Group of the American Kennel Club in 1908, under the name Roseneath Terrier. Its present name was officially adopted the following year.
The mature male Westie ideally stands 11 inches at the withers, while the ideal size for bitches is 10 inches in height. Slight deviations are permitted under the American standard. Adults typically weigh about 15 to 20 pounds. Their thick, double white coat is a breed requirement and must have a straight, hard outercoat and a shorter, slightly less harsh undercoat. It must never appear fluffy. Like most terriers, its coat requires occasional plucking and quite a bit of regular care.

History & Health


The Westie is grouped with and probably closely related to the other terriers of Scotland, including the Cairn, the Dandie Dinmont, the Scottish and the Skye. It was bred to be a working terrier, going to ground to combat rats, rabbit, badger and fox. Legend has it that Colonel Malcolm was hunting with his small brown terriers and accidentally shot his favorite, mistaking it for a fox. Malcolm apparently set about developing a small white dog that could perform all the functions of a working terrier but would never be accidentally mistaken for prey. He selected the lightest puppies from litters of Cairn Terriers and bred them without crossing with any traditionally tan dogs. Eventually, he created pure white terriers that bred true to type, temperament, function and color.
Originally known by several different names, the West Highland White Terrier became known by its present name in the very early part of the 20th century. It was first shown under its modern name in 1904 at the Scottish Kennel Club dog show in Edinburgh. The Kennel Club (England) officially recognized the present breed name several years later, around the time Westies were first shown at Crufts. An imported bitch named Sky Lady, born in 1906 in England, was the first dog to be officially registered as a "West Highland White Terrier."
The first Westies probably came to America in or about 1905. The breed obtained American Kennel Club recognition as the Roseneath Terrier in 1908, as a member of the Terrier Group. The official breed name in the United States was changed to the West Highland White Terrier in May of 1909. By the end of the 20th century, the Westie was among the most popular of all dog breeds.
The Westie is adaptable, versatile and athletic, requiring little pampering and being quite adventurous. It retains its keen nose and boundless enthusiasm for "going to earth" to flush rodents and other small game, whether in a natural or a competitive field trial setting. Westies excel at tracking, agility, obedience and other performance disciplines, as well as in the conformation ring. They have been used as therapy and service dogs and are equally happy in urban or rural environments. These are delightful, active and independent little dogs that require time and dedication to make them excellent companions.


The average life span of the West Highland White Terrier is 12 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include copper toxicosis, globoid cell leukodystrophy, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonic stenosis, generalized demodicosis, hepatitis, pyruvate kinase deficiency, congenital deafness, keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye), corneal ulceration, cataracts, ectopic ureters, epidermal dysplasia (Armadillo Westie syndrome; Malassezia dermatitis) and white shaker dog syndrome.

Temperament & Personality


The West Highland White Terrier, or Westie, is everything a terrier was meant to be: self assured, spunky, curious, fearless and tenacious. These little dogs need plenty of walks and interactive play time, and like to be fully involved in all household activity. They are curious and like to get into everything, poking around in closets, cabinets and perching at the window to keep up on the neighborhood happenings. Westeis are excellent watchdogs, as they will bark at the slightest noise they hear, but after they are done barking at your guests, they will greet friends with a polite wag of the tail and then go about their business. They still possess a strong desire to hunt rodents, so if you live in the suburbs or on a farm, you can be assured your property will remain pest-free, but beware, he is likely to present his "prizes" to you as a gift. Westies get along well with other family dogs and enjoy playing with older children. They are a versatile dog, who make great companions for families of all sizes and ages.

Activity Requirements

Though they are small dogs, Westies require regular exercise in order to maintain happiness and an even temperament. They should be walked daily and allowed to run and play in the yard whenever possible. For Westies who don't have fenced in bark yards or who live in apartments, weekly trips to the park are required.
These smart little dogs also need to work their brains as well as their bodies. If they don't have a productive way to channel their energy they will chew destructively or dig holes in the backyard. They excel in agility competition and also enjoy flyball and earthdog activities. Earthdog is especially appreciated, as it allows the Westie to hunt and dig for rodents in safe, controlled environment where neither dog not rat can be hurt.


West Highland White Terriers have a stubborn and independent streak and generally don't like being told what to do. They approach everything with a "What's in it for me" attitude, and training is no exception. Be prepared with lots of treats to motivate your Westie and keep sessions short and activities varied, as they can be easily distracted. Never treat your Westie with a heavy hand because they will snap and bite if they feel threatened, and once they lose trust in you, it can be nearly impossible to gain that trust back.
Socialization around people and other animals should begin early and often. Westies are more tolerant of other dogs than many of their terrier cousins, but if not socialized, they can become dog aggressive. Westies are naturally wary of strangers, but are not aggressive towards people. Overly sheltered Westies, however can become a handful if they do not spend enough time around new people.

Behavioral Traits

Barking is a common complaint among West Highland White Terrier owners. They are alert watchdogs, but their barking can get out of hand. Proper training, exercise and socialization can minimize their barking fits, but it is essential for your sanity to teach your dog to obey commands to quiet down.
Westies will chase small animals with little regard for your commands to back down. For his own safety, as well as the safety of other animals, you should never allow your Westie to be off leash in an unfenced area. If he takes off after a squirrel, he will completely disregard your commands to return.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The West Highland White Terrier is a small, game, well-balanced hardy looking terrier, exhibiting good showmanship, possessed with no small amount of self-esteem, strongly built, deep in chest and back ribs, with a straight back and powerful hindquarters on muscular legs, and exhibiting in marked degree a great combination of strength and activity. The coat is about two inches long, white in color, hard, with plenty of soft undercoat. The dog should be neatly presented, the longer coat on the back and sides, trimmed to blend into the shorter neck and shoulder coat. Considerable hair is left around the head to act as a frame for the face to yield a typical Westie expression.

Size, Proportion, Substance
The ideal size is eleven inches at the withers for dogs and ten inches for bitches. A slight deviation is acceptable. The Westie is a compact dog, with good balance and substance. The body between the withers and the root of the tail is slightly shorter than the height at the withers. Short-coupled and well boned. Faults--Over or under height limits. Fine boned.

Shaped to present a round appearance from the front. Should be in proportion to the body. Expression--Piercing, inquisitive, pert. Eyes--Widely set apart, medium in size, almond shaped, dark brown in color, deep set, sharp and intelligent. Looking from under heavy eyebrows, they give a piercing look. Eye rims are black. Faults--Small, full or light colored eyes. Ears--Small, carried tightly erect, set wide apart, on the top outer edge of the skull. They terminate in a sharp point, and must never be cropped. The hair on the ears is trimmed short and is smooth and velvety, free of fringe at the tips. Black skin pigmentation is preferred. Faults--Round-pointed, broad, large, ears set closely together, not held tightly erect, or placed too low on the side of the head. Skull--Broad, slightly longer than the muzzle. not flat on top but slightly domed between the ears. It gradually tapers to the eyes. There is a defined stop, eyebrows are heavy. Faults--Long or narrow skull. Muzzle--Blunt, slightly shorter than the skull, powerful and gradually tapering to the nose, which is large and black. The jaws are level and powerful. Lip pigment is black. Faults--Muzzle longer than skull. Nose color other than black. Bite--The teeth are large for the size of the dog. There must be six incisor teeth between the canines of both lower and upper jaws. An occasional missing premolar is acceptable. A tight scissors bite with upper incisors slightly overlapping the lower incisors or level mouth is equally acceptable. Faults--Teeth defective or misaligned. Any incisors missing or several premolars missing. Teeth overshot or undershot.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck--Muscular and well set on sloping shoulders. The length of neck should be in proportion to the remainder of the dog. Faults--Neck too long or too short. Topline--Flat and level, both standing and moving. Faults--High rear, any deviation from above. Body--Compact and of good substance. Ribs deep and well arched in the upper half of rib, extending at least to the elbows, and presenting a flattish side appearance. Back ribs of considerable depth, and distance from last rib to upper thigh as short as compatible with free movement of the body. Chest very deep and extending to the elbows, with breadth in proportion to the size of the dog. Loin short, broad and strong. Faults--Back weak, either too long or too short. Barrel ribs, ribs above elbows. Tail--Relatively short, with good substance, and shaped like a carrot. When standing erect it is never extended above the top of the skull. It is covered with hard hair without feather, as straight as possible, carried gaily but not curled over the back. The tail is set on high enough so that the spine does not slope down to it. The tail is never docked. Faults--Set too low, long, thin, carried at half-mast, or curled over back.

Angulation, Shoulders--Shoulder blades are well laid back and well knit at the backbone. The shoulder blade should attach to an upper arm of moderate length, and sufficient angle to allow for definite body overhang. Faults--Steep or loaded shoulders. Upper arm too short or too straight. Legs--Forelegs are muscular and well boned. relatively short, but with sufficient length to set the dog up so as not to be too close to the ground. The legs are reasonably straight, and thickly covered with short hard hair. They are set in under the shoulder blades with definite body overhang before them. Height from elbow to withers and elbow to ground should be approximately the same. Faults--Out at elbows. Light bone, fiddle-front. Feet--Forefeet are larger than the hind ones, are round, proportionate in size, strong, thickly padded; they may properly be turned out slightly. Dewclaws may be removed. Black pigmentation is most desirable on pads of all feet and nails, although nails may lose coloration in older dogs.

Angulation--Thighs are very muscular, well angulated, not set wide apart, with hock well bent, short, and parallel when viewed from the rear. Legs--Rear legs are muscular and relatively short and sinewy. Faults-- Weak hocks, long hocks, lack of angulation. Cowhocks. Feet--Hind feet are smaller than front feet, and are thickly padded. Dewclaws may be removed.

Very important and seldom seen to perfection. Must be double-coated. The head is shaped by plucking the hair, to present the round appearance. The outer coat consists of straight hard white hair, about two inches long, with shorter coat on neck and shoulders, properly blended and trimmed to blend shorter areas into furnishings, which are longer on stomach and legs. The ideal coat is hard, straight and white, but a hard straight coat which may have some wheaten tipping is preferable to a white fluffy or soft coat. Furnishings may be somewhat softer and longer but should never give the appearance of fluff. Faults--Soft coat. Any silkiness or tendency to curl. Any open or single coat, or one which is too short.

The color is white, as defined by the breed's name. Faults--Any coat color other than white. Heavy wheaten color.

Free, straight and easy all around. It is a distinctive gait, not stilted, but powerful, with reach and drive. In front the leg is freely extended forward by the shoulder. When seen from the front the legs do not move square, but tend to move toward the center of gravity. The hind movement is free, strong and fairly close. The hocks are freely flexed and drawn close under the body, so that when moving off the foot the body is thrown or pushed forward with some force. Overall ability to move is usually best evaluated from the side, and topline remains level. Faults--Lack of reach in front, and/or drive behind. Stiff, stilted or too wide movement.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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