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West Highland White Terrier Dog Breed: Info, Pictures, Traits & History

Written by: Grant Piper

Last Updated on June 19, 2024 by Dogster Team


West Highland White Terrier Dog Breed: Info, Pictures, Traits & History

The West Highland White Terrier is a small, adorable dog from the highlands of the British Isles. These dogs have been around for hundreds of years and have evolved from adept pest hunters to regal companions today. People adore the West Highland White Terrier for their upbeat personality, cute appearance, and small size. Here is everything you need to know about the West Highland White Terrier.

Breed Overview


10–12 inches


15–20 pounds


13–15 years



Suitable for:

Families looking for a small, friendly companion


Happy-go-lucky, loyal, friendly

The West Highland White Terrier is a small, spunky dog with a long history. These dogs are commonly referred to as Westies. Westies have been around since the 18th century and have been prized for their personality, energy, and appearance. Today, the West Highland White Terrier is extremely popular due to their size and personality. These dogs will appeal to a broad audience, including small dog lovers, families, and people who appreciate purebred dogs with a rich past. The West Highland White Terrier is the 43rd most popular dog breed in 2023, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), out of 201 total breeds.

West Highland White Terrier Characteristics

High-energy dogs will need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy, while low-energy dogs require minimal physical activity. It’s important when choosing a dog to make sure their energy levels match your lifestyle or vice versa.
Easy-to-train dogs are more skilled at learning prompts and actions quickly with minimal training. Dogs that are harder to train will require a bit more patience and practice.
Some breeds, due to their size or their breeds potential genetic health issues, have shorter lifespans than others. Proper exercise, nutrition, and hygiene also play an important role in the lifespan of your pet.
Some dog breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, and some more than others. This doesn’t mean that every dog will have these issues, but they have an increased risk, so it’s important to understand and prepare for any additional needs they may require.
Some dog breeds are more social than others, both towards humans and other dogs. More social dogs have a tendency to run up to strangers for pets and scratches, while less social dogs shy away and are more cautious, even potentially aggressive. No matter the breed, it’s important to socialize your dog and expose them to lots of different situations.

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West Highland White Terrier Puppies

Image By: Waldemar Dabrowski, Shutterstock

West Highland White Terrier puppies are simply divine. When they are young, the West Highland White Terrier is a fuzzy bundle of white that is extremely adorable, playful, and tiny. The best way to get a West Highland White Terrier puppy is to source one from a reputable breeder. You can find breeders through the American Kennel Club or the West Highland White Terrier Club of America. (Many local clubs deal solely in West Highland White Terriers.) The odds of stumbling across a West Highland White Terrier puppy in a shelter or at a rescue group are very slim.

History and Origin of the West Highland White Terrier

The West Highland White Terrier can trace its origins back to the early 18th century on estates owned by Britain’s elite. Britain’s estates often oversaw large tracts of farmland and would store goods like grain, hay, fodder, and wine. These goods would attract the unwanted attention of rats, which would pillage the estates and spread disease. To combat this, the West Highland White Terrier was bred to hunt rats and keep other small pests away.

The first West Highland White Terriers were bred by a group of people known as the Malcolms in Scotland. The Malcolms lived on an estate called Poltalloch, and it was here that the first litters of Westies were born. From Poltalloch, the West Highland White Terrier spread to another nearby estate called Roseneath, where more breeding was done. From there, the dog spread out into the surrounding region. The dog became known as the West Highland White Terrier because it originated in the West Highlands of Scotland.

Westies were first shown in Scottish dog shows starting in 1896. From that point, they made their way to the United States. Just a decade later, in 1906, they were recognized by the AKC and started appearing in American dog shows. In the following century, the West Highland White Terrier gained fame and popularity in the United States and is one of the most popular breeds in the country today.

west highland terrier dog lying on the carpet
Image Credit: Bogdanovich_Alexander, Shutterstock

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Temperament & Intelligence of the West Highland White Terrier

West Highland White Terriers are smart, independent, playful, friendly, and loyal. These dogs are almost always happy and are a joy to be around. One of the only bothersome considerations with the West Highland White Terrier’s temperaTerrier’sheir willingness to bark. West Highland White Terriers are labeled as alert. They will bark when strangers come around or when they see something outside that excites them. West Highland White Terriers are not particularly loud, but they can bark a lot, which might be frustrating to some potential owners. Barking can be mitigated, but it cannot be completely trained out of this breed. West Highland White Terriers can also be independent, which can verge on stubbornness in some individuals.

Are These Dogs Good for Families?👪

Yes. West Highland White Terriers are phenomenal family dogs. They get along swimmingly with small children and are known to play well with kids of almost any age. These dogs do not need intensive exercise or in-depth care, so they can be slotted into almost any family unit. West Highland White Terriers are people pleasers who love spending time with their owners and have no red flags when it comes to family life.

Image Credit: Kseniia De Netto, Shutterstock

Does This Breed Get Along With Other Pets?🐶 😽

West Highland White Terriers are known to get along decently well with other dogs and with small animals like cats. The only type of pet that the West Highland White Terrier will not get along with are rodents. West Highland White Terriers were bred to be rodent killers, so they will not do well in houses with pets like hamsters, guinea pigs, or rats. West Highland White Terriers are relatively solitary so not every member of the breed will be thrilled with having other dogs in the house, but they are also adaptable and will get along fine with most dogs.

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Things to Know When Owning a West Highland White Terrier

Food & Diet Requirements🦴

West Highland White Terriers have no specific diet requirements. You should put your West Highland White Terrier on a high-quality diet of well-formulated dry food. It is suggested that you feed your dog food based on its age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some people like to get food that benefits skin and coat health to keep their Westies looking their best. Outside of those general recommendations, the dog’s diet is up to dog’s owner’s discretioowner’s sure to follow feeding guidelines to avoid canine obesity.


West Highland White Terriers love to play, and they should be given ample opportunities to do so throughout the day. West Highland White Terriers love to sniff around outside and run perimeters, so a fenced yard is suggested. These dogs will enjoy two walks per day, one in the morning and one in the evening, but these walks do not have to be long or high-intensity. As long as the dog gets some outside time and some play time, they will be more than happy. West Highland White Terriers do not need extensive or intensive exercise.

West Highland White Terrier dog barking outdoor
Image Credit: Fotyma, Shutterstock


West Highland White Terriers are trainable, but they can be stubborn and independent. West Highland White Terriers were bred to work alone, and therefore, they are very independent. Training them to do things that they don’t want to do is challenging. Thankfully, they are small and eager to please their owners, which helps in the process. Training of West Highland White Terriers has the best results when you start early. Socialization is recommended but not necessarily required due to their size and disposition. Many people neglect the training of small dogs due to their size, but you should not neglect basic training for a West Highland White Terrier.


Grooming is essential for West Highland White Terriers. These dogs have a long coat that needs to be brushed regularly. Baths are also recommended to eliminate mats and to break up dead hair and skin. You will likely need to employ a professional groomer for the best results. West Highland White Terriers should go to the groomer once every 4 to 6 weeks to get bathed and trimmed. Neglecting the coat of a West Highland White Terrier can cause skin irritation, dirty coats, discoloration, and matted fur. If you are not willing to keep up with the grooming needs of a dog like this, you should consider getting a dog with a shorter, more manageable coat.

Health and Conditions🏥

West Highland White Terriers are considered to be a very healthy breed. Westies have very few serious health conditions compared to other breeds. The two biggest problems West Highland White Terriers will face are hip dysplasia, which can be screened out by responsible breeders, and potential cardiac problems. Neither of these issues is very common and can be eliminated through selective breeding. Minor health problems include poor dental health (regular dental evaluations and cleanings are recommended) and luxating patella. A luxating patella causes the knees to pop out of alignment during running, but they usually resolve on their own and can be managed if the problem is identified early.

Minor Conditions
  • Bad teeth
  • Luxating patella
Serious Conditions
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Cardiac disease

Male vs. Female

Male and female West Highland White Terriers are very similar in size and disposition. Female West Highland White Terriers are slightly smaller and less powerful than their male counterparts. While females may only stand one inch shorter than males, they can weigh 5 pounds less. This makes females leaner and less muscular overall. If you want a smaller dog that is lighter and easier to handle, you will want to consider getting a female over a male.

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3 Little-Known Facts About the West Highland White Terrier

1. All West Highland Terriers Are White

Due to their genetic makeup, all West Highland White Terriers are white. White is the only color that is accepted for West Highland White Terriers. Some people claim to have come across black or black and white West Highland Terriers, but those people are mistaken. If you believe you’ve seen a black West Highland White Terrier, it is likely a mixed breed or a case of misidentification.

2. Westies Are Rodent Hunters

After the bubonic plague swept through Europe, people began to realize that pests like rats were dangerous. In the wake of the plague, many regions began to breed dogs to hunt rodents, such as rats specifically. The West Highland White Terrier is one such dog. The West Highland White Terrier was bred to seek out and hunt rats. When able, the West Highland White Terrier will kill rats on sight. If the dog cannot reach the rats on its own, it will bark to alert its owners of the presence of rodents on the property.

3. West Highland White Terriers Have Many Names

West Highland White Terriers have a number of names. The official name is the West Highland White Terrier, but they can also be referred to as West Highland Terriers or Westies. They have also been called Poltalloch Terriers and Roseneath Terriers. These names are derived from the estates that first bred West Highland White Terriers. That totals five distinct names that these dogs have been referred to over time, which is a lot of names for a little dog.

west highland white terrier dog standing on grass
Image By: Nixx Photography, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

It will come as no surprise that the West Highland White Terrier has been a popular dog breed for over 300 years. These dogs are sociable, fun, small, cute, and adaptable. They make great family dogs or adept show dogs. While most people no longer need a dog to hunt rats on their property, the West Highland White Terrier is still beloved by thousands of people all around the globe. These dogs can fit into almost any family and are sure to delight people with their heartwarming personalities. It is easy to see why this small breed has spread far beyond the West Highlands of Great Britain and into the hearts of dog lovers everywhere.

Featured Image Credit: anetapics, Shutterstock

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