The West Highland White Terrier (also known as “Westy”) is a small terrier with a strong build, deep chest and level back with the typical terrier attitude. It features a slightly domed head with a tapered muzzle and a distinct stop formed by heavy, bony ridges above the eye. More prominent facial features include a large black nose, medium sized dark eyes which are slightly deep-set and give a sharp piercing look. It also has bushy eyebrows and small, pointed and erect ears covered in velvety hair. A closely fitted jaw features a regular scissor bite with teeth that appear quite large for the dog’s size. The Westy has short, straight and muscular front legs covered in short, hard hair with short and muscular back legs. The breed’s front feet are larger than the hind feet but are practically in proportion with the dog’s size. They are thickly padded and covered with short harsh hair that acts as shock absorber during motion. The straight bushy tail is carried gaily and is about 5 to 6 inches (13 – 15 cm) long. It has a harsh, straight outer coat to protect the Westy from the harsh elements. A fine and soft undercoat acts as a protection during cold weather. Averaging two inches, the coat comes in pure white and is longer on the face.
The West Highland white terrier is a result of a cross between the Cairn Terrier and the Scottish Terrier. Cairns occasionally produce white puppies naturally while the Scottish terrier occasionally whelped white offsprings. Over time, white coloured Bedlington Terrier and Dandie Dinmont Terrier were added to the mix but this practice generally halted during the 1850s. Credit goes to two Scottish gentlemen (Col. E.D. Malcolm and George J.D. Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll) for working together in creating the breed in the 1800s in the region of western Scotland. The breed was developed to hunt fox, badgers and vermin. It’s white colour made it highly visible when hunting on the moors of Scotland which made it easily distinguishable from game animals. The breed held many other names before officially becoming the West Highland White Terrier in May 31, 1909, including Poltalloch, Roseneath, White Scottish, Little Skye and Cairn. Today, the Westy is a popular terrier in its native origin and has made a loyal following in other countries as well.
Like most terrier breeds, the Westy has plenty of attitude (or "spirit" as some might say) for a dog of its size. As a descendant of working terriers, it packs a lot of energy, tenacity and aggression towards its prey. It will respond with a growl or may even bite if irritated or provoked. Its natural alertness makes it a good candidate as a guard dog. This breed is very possessive of its belongings, including food.
Training the West Highland White Terrier should have positive reinforcements and responds best to a gentle and loving approach. Harsh training will only lead to stubbornness.
The harsh, straight coat is quite easy to maintain. A metal comb or a hard bristle brush should be used to groom the Westy on a regular basis, bathing only when necessary. The hair around the ears and eyes should also be trimmed when needed. This breed sheds little to no hair and should be trimmed quarterly or stripped every six months.
With an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years, the West Highland White Terrier is typically a long-lived breed. The breed usually has a conventional sleeping pattern similar to its human companions and loves taking several naps during the course of the day. There are however, some major health concerns that affect this breed which includes:
Minor concerns include cataracts and patellar luxation.
Foods that provide meat protein especially from poultry and lamb along with sources of carbohydrates such as potatoes, barley and wheat are ideal diet mix for this breed.
It has a high energy level and needs to be taken for regular walks or a session of play in an open but well-secured space. It can adapt quickly to any living environment, be it city or country living; very active indoors, it will do fine even in a house without a yard.
The West Highland White Terrier is a friendly breed. It goes well with older children, and thrives on lots of attention. They can also be be a great companion dog and generally gets along well with other animals that it grew up with but caution must be taken when introducing the breed to unfamiliar animals such as cats. It is a well-adapted breed which can easily adjust to new environments.