Snow-White Charmer: The West Highland White Terrier
This shaggy-haired white dog is mainly known lovingly by its fans as a “Westie” for short. The “it” dog of the 1990s still enjoys great popularity to this day. Hardly surprising, since the Westie is an adaptable, playful dog with typically headstrong terrier charm.
Shaggy-haired power package
The Westie attracts attention despite its small size, since its pure-white fur shines out from a distance and lends the breed its typical look, combined with the dark eyes and black nose. The topcoat consists of approx. 5cm long harsh hair with no curls, with the soft, thick undercoat below. The small ears and tail, which can reach up to 15cm in length, stand upright. These snow-white beauties reach up to 28cm in height and weigh from 7 to 10kg.
From spurned hunting dog to fashion dog
The West Highland White Terrier's ancestors were often unwanted, since they were white dogs born by chance amongst Cairn Terriers. Since the colour white was associated with weakness for this breed, most white puppies were doomed to die. However, the bright-spirited nature particularly appealed to one particular master hunter: In the late 19th century, Colonel Edward Donald Malcolm finally made a success of breeding white terriers. The bright fur had the advantage of preventing the dogs from being mistaken for other animals during the hunt. In 1905, the first fan club was founded in Scotland, whilst the English Kennel Club recognised the West Highland White Terrier as an independent breed two years later. In the 1990s, the breed became very famous in Europe due to taking part in TV and print advertising for a dog food brand and thereby turned into a fashion dog, although this boom has now declined. For instance, the number of officially registered Westie puppies has almost halved in Germany in the past 15 years, currently standing at around 700 puppies per year. Even to this day, the hunting dog heritage is present in the Westie, since like all Scottish Highland Terriers, they are deployed for hunting badgers, otters and foxes on their own.
Small they may be, but under the beautiful fur lies a great deal of self-confidence. The breed is considered fearless and is rather intolerant of unfamiliar dogs. West Highland White Terriers are friendly to people and usually form a very close connection to their family pack, but they remain distant towards strangers. Westies are considered docile, cheerful and playful. They are good watch dogs – however, the fact that some Westies develop “yapping” tendencies is usually due to them not getting enough exercise and activity to meet their needs, because a stimulated Westie doesn't tend to bark exaggeratedly. Caution: Despite the cute appearance, the Westie is still a terrier and often still possesses the hunting instinct.
Training small dogs with big self-confidence
These white beauties are fundamentally docile and easy to train, but their training should take into account the terrier's stubbornness. As the breed used to enter foxes' dens alone on hunts, Westies nowadays still tend to quickly wish to assume the alpha role in conflicts. If you don't attentively take countermeasures, you will soon have a shaggy-haired tyrant on your couch! Hence, these small dogs with big self-confidence need clear and consistent training. Don't let yourself be bewitched by terrier charm, because many know how to deftly make use of their innocent look. Early socialisation with other dogs is particularly important so that your Westie doesn't become a ruffian that constantly looks to measure up to other dogs – even those that are much bigger. You're best off taking your puppy at an early stage to a dog school where it will have lots of contact with dogs of different sizes.
Grooming for wellbeing
On a daily basis and especially in nasty weather, West Highland White Terriers have a tendency to end up with brown-coloured fur. Some time and discipline is required to keep these little dogs snow-white whatever the weather. Brushing on a daily basis in order to avoid felting is part of this. You're best preparing your puppy for grooming sessions with a regular routine and lots of praise. The Westie's topcoat doesn't fall out of its own accord and needs regular trimming, which is best done every ten to twelve weeks. The loose hairs can be removed with a special trimming blade. The fur shouldn't be sheared, as this can lead to medium-term skin problems, because the thick fur is only made shorter, not thinner. However, you can cut the fur a bit more at some areas with shears. Get professional instruction on trimming and shearing should you wish to do this yourself, or look for a dog hairdresser every two to three months. Washing with shampoo will only be necessary on rare occasions – use a mild dog shampoo if there is persistent dirt. Going beyond fur care, you can get your dog used to regular dental care with a dog toothbrush and special toothpaste.
Diet with a high proportion of meat
Like all dogs, West Highland White Terriers too are carnivores and need a diet with a high proportion of meat. Be it wet or dry, the food should ideally not contain grain. Instead, meat comes at the top of the ingredients list in good-quality foods. A Westie moving into a new home should receive its normal food for the first few days. Should you then wish to change the food, do this gradually and with caution, by slowly mixing more and more of the new food into the normal one. This also applies when it comes to changing from puppy food to food for adult dogs. If the transition takes place too quickly, many animals will be at risk of diarrhoea for several days. Young dogs receive up to four meals per day, and adults generally two portions. Your Westie will be quick to put on the pounds if you don't feed it according to its size, weight and activity level – bear in mind treats too, which you should only give out as additional rewards. In order to keep the teeth as bright and white as the fur, you can provide special dental care snacks or dry chew products like cow ears.
Robust Westies thanks to healthcare provision
Due to their strong TV presence in adverts of the 1990s, Westies became fashion dogs, which rarely does a breed any good. Due to the resultant mass reproduction, some health problems emerged that still follow Westies to this day, making it all the more important to support scrupulous breeders with appropriate healthcare provision. Some of the originally robust dogs have a tendency to form skin allergies, luxating patella and deformed jaws. West Highland White Terriers and Cairn Terriers are prone to Krabbe disease, which can set in at the age of up to three months and causes severe neurological damage, which can lead to affected dogs not surviving up to their first birthday. Breeders can now exclude this disease through DNA testing.
These former hunting dogs aren't bothered by the cold and the rain, but in summer owners should always make sure that they have a shady retreat on hand. Healthy Westies can live to the age of 16 years.
Activity: Westies are no lapdogs
Long walks and lots of games are the basic ingredients for a happy Westie life. Although the West Highland White Terrier has an above-average urge for activity for its size, it is not suitable as a companion for joggers, since it also likes to have time to rummage and sniff around during extended walks. Intelligence and activity games for dogs are often very well received by these playful and curious bundles of energy. If you wish to do some good with your Westie, you can find out about opportunities to use it as a therapy dog. With its cute appearance, a well-trained Westie has great appeal for many people in care, retirement, children's and disabled people's homes. Of course, such a role demands intensive training with your Westie, but this can be a very enriching task.
Is a West Highland White Terrier right for me?
These charming little dogs are a good fit for many dog lovers, since they are ideally suited as both family and city or apartment dogs. Children who have learned to handle animals with respect will find an amazing play buddy in the Westie: long walks, activity, variety, fetching balls, learning tricks – the white whirlwind loves to be involved! This means that they don't necessarily form a close bond to a particular person, but usually love the “entire family pack”. Cats can be part of this too if the Westie was socialised to them at an early age. However, the former hunting dog can end up hunting other animals in the outdoors. Owners don't need to be sporting aces, but should enjoy keeping their dog occupied with games and walks. If you want to own a pure-white Westie, you need to invest some time in the grooming process.
Even though Westies are at ease living in city apartments, you of course need your landlord's consent. Consider in advance too how you will organise your holidays – do you have a good potential care arrangement or can your Westie even accompany you on your travels? Find out beforehand about possible accommodation at home or at your holiday destination. Very warm holiday destinations are less suitable for these Scottish dogs.
Before the move-in date, consider that keeping a dog entails great responsibility and that along with the daily time commitment, you will also have to spend some money on your canine family member for many years to come. After the acquisition costs – and here you should definitely invest in a dog from a scrupulous breed – along with basic equipment (including, for instance, bowls, car insurance, blankets and basket, lead, chest harness, collar, grooming accessories such as trimming blade and brushes), regular costs for high-quality and annual visits to the vet as a minimum – more of course should the dog fall ill – are to follow.
Where do I find my dream Westie?
Although the big West Highland White Terrier boom has passed, there are still numerous breeders. Make sure that your breeder belongs to a pedigree breeding association and only gives their animals away with a pedigree certificate, microchip and after they have undergone several rounds of vaccinations and deworming treatments. A good breeder will invite you to meet their puppies and the parent animals at their home and will be glad to answer your questions on the breed – they will of course want to give you a bit of a grilling too, as after all, they want to find a good new home for their puppies. Parents and their offspring should come across as cheerful and even-tempered. The breeder will have integrated the puppies into the everyday routine at an early stage in order to shape their character well. Even after the puppies are handed over, the breeder will be happy to remain your point of question for breed-specific questions and will be pleased to be kept informed about their development.
Under no circumstances buy a Westie from a supposedly cheap “breeder”, because generally their breeding objectives are neither based on the standard, nor do they follow comprehensive healthcare provision. After all, precautionary examinations that responsible breeders undertake before breeding gets underway are very expensive, but they are absolutely necessary in order to keep the breed healthy. The parent animals too often don't live in species-appropriate conditions with quantity-focused breeders, and the females frequently don't get the required recovery period between two litters. Equally, you should steer of private vendors who claim to have “stumbled across Westie puppies”. Breeding means responsibility and a great deal of expertise regarding genetics, health and naturally the Westie standard – this doesn't come about on the fly.
You have more options if you would prefer to give an older West Highland White Terrier a new home. You may well find that the local animal home has taken in a Westie because its owners have passed away or separated. Otherwise you will strike lucky online, because there are multiple organisations that re-home West Highland White Terriers, for instance, special Westie or terrier in need associations. Ideally you can meet the dog and determine if it is the right fit for you before making a decision. However, a good animal protection organisation will already have told you a great deal about the dog's character during the first phone conversation and can test with targeted questions whether the two you make a potential dream team. Older dogs of course have the advantage of already having completed basic training, although you don't know exactly how successful this was. More tranquil senior Westies can be ideal companions for somewhat more relaxed owners who are happy to simply sit on a park bench whilst their Westie sniffs to explore the area – provided that the dog can be easily called back. In any case, taking on a “second-hand dog” can be a very enriching experience!
We wish you a wonderful time with your shaggy-haired West Highland White Terrier!