Are you wondering if a West Highland Terrier is right for you and your family? Well, I’m here to help.
Before making any decisions, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the breed. Remember, no dog breed is perfect. I’ll give you both the pros and cons.
My Westie, Murphy, was far from perfect, but she was definitely the right dog for me and my family.
With that in mind, here are 53 West Highland Terrier Facts that you should know before adopting.
- West Highland Terrier Names
- Life Expectancy
- A Type of Scottish Terrier
- Great Mousers
- Strong and Tough
- Breed Popularity
- Double Coat
- Pointy Ears
- Good Family Pets
- Good with Cats?
- Exercise Needs
- Owner Community
- Best in Show
- Sensitive Stomachs
- Home Alone
- Not Toy Dogs
- Cost to Adopt
- Cost to Buy
- Head Tilt
- Crate Training
- Service and Therapy Dogs
- Always White
- Mixed Breed Westies
- Apartment Dogs
- House Training
- Light Dog Smell
- Indoor Dogs
- Celebrity Westie Owners
- Litter Size
- Westie Lung Disease
- Sense of Smell
- Male vs. Female
1. West Highland Terrier Names
West Highland White Terrier is their official name, but they are more commonly referred to as West Highland Terriers, or simply Westies.
Some may refer to them as a Roseneath Terriers, but there is debate over whether the Roseneath Terrier was a separate (now extinct) breed.
Although there are many types of small white dog breeds, owners will also refer to Westies as the “little white dog.”
West Highland White Terriers are small dogs that only grow to be about 11 inches tall and weigh 15 – 20 pounds.
They are certainly a small breed, but they do not qualify as one of the “toy breeds” which weigh under 12 pounds.
In fact they don’t even crack our list of the 10 smallest terriers.
3. Life Expectancy
In general, smaller dog breeds live longer than larger breeds. In fact, Chihuahuas can live upwards of 20 years while healthy Great Danes can live as few as 8 years.
Westies have a relatively long lifespan of 12 to 17 years. My family’s West Highland Terrier, Murphy, lived to be 16 years old.
4. A Type of Scottish Terrier
The “West Highland” part of their name refers to the the West Highlands of Scotland where the dogs were first bred in the late 1800’s.
Colonel Edward Malcolm, the 16th Laird of Poltalloch, is credited with creating the breed which is why you may occasionally hear a Westie called a Poltalloch Terrier.
5. High Prey Drive
Like other terriers, West Highland Terriers were bred to hunt mice, rats, and other small rodents – and still retain a strong prey drive.
Much like barn cats, some Westies are still used to catch mice around the farm. My dog Murphy even caught her fair share of rodents in the yard.
6. Strong and Tough
Despite their diminutive size, because they were bred as working dogs to catch prey, they are actually remarkably strong and tough.
You’ll often hear Westies described as “sturdy.”
7. Breed Popularity
West Highland White Terriers were the 46th most popular breed in 2021 in the United States according to the American Kennel Club.
Westies are always a popular breed, consistently ranking inside the top 50.
They are the third most popular of the terrier breeds, behind the Yorkshire Terrier and Boston Terrier.
8. Double Coat
Westies are not soft and fluffy like other dogs. They have a short soft undercoat with a harder topcoat that protects them from the weather and the claws of the small prey they like to hunt.
If you have allergies, this is a big one. West Highland Terriers shed very little.
In addition to minimal shedding, they also don’t drool very much. These two factors make Westies a hypoallergenic dog breed.
Westies are known to be independent dogs, who sometime like to do their own thing. However, with some patience, they are certainly trainable.
Large dog breeds are more often ranked higher in intelligence than small breeds. However, Westies are relatively smart.
On the whole, Westies have average intelligence when compared to all dog breeds.
To make sure your Westie is looking their best and their hair doesn’t get matted, it is important to maintain proper grooming by taking them to a groomer every 4 to 6 weeks.
Daily brushing of their coat is also recommended to remove any dead hair.
There’s no way around it, West Highland Terriers bark a lot. It’s just part of who they are.
Murphy would spend all day out in the yard barking at things only she could see (and probably driving the neighbors crazy).
14. Health Issues
All dog breeds have their own set of health concerns. Learning about potential health problems before adopting any dog is always smart.
Westies have their share of health concerns. One in particular is that they are more prone to certain skin conditions than other breeds.
Even when they are resting, Westies always seem to be alert. You’ll know immediately when they hear something because their ears will perk up.
They always seem to be on the lookout for other animals around. Their size means that they aren’t great guard dogs, but they do make for good watchdogs.
16. Pointy Ears
Speaking of ears perking up, Westies have upright ears which help them hear better and pick up sounds that dogs with floppy ears might not hear.
West Highland Terrier puppies are not born with pointy ears. Their ears will usually start to stick up in the first few months of their life.
17. Good Family Pets
West Highland Terriers are good family dogs that are good with older children.
Families with young children should teach them how to behave with their new dog and never grab their tail or taunt them.
Of course, you should never leave any dog alone with a young child especially when you first bring the dog home.
While more independent than other dogs, Westies still love their families. Like most breeds, Westies are affectionate dogs that love getting attention from their family members.
While they are generally friendly dogs, it is important to socialize your Westie puppy with other dogs early in life. If they are not socialized, West Highland Terriers are less likely to get along with other dogs.
Unfortunately, that was the case for Murphy who never fully learned to get along with other dogs.
If you have an unneutered Westie, they are less likely to get along with another male dog who is also unfixed.
20. Good with Cats?
Just like it is important to introduce your West Highland Terrier puppy to other dogs, they also require socialization to get along with cats.
If a Westie has not been exposed to cats by the time they are an adult, they may not get along with a new cat.
Nearly all dogs can swim, but some are better than others. Labradors and some other water loving dogs even have webbed feet for swimming.
West Highland Terriers have the ability to swim, but they are not great swimmers as dogs go. All dogs, but especially Westies should be supervised when they are in the water.
22. Exercise Needs
Westies love to run and play. They are programmed to chase after small animals, so they also naturally love to chase after toys.
Responsible pet owners will make sure their Westie gets regular exercise to keep the healthy and happy – approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour each day.
Certain dog breeds are prone to wanderlust – or the urge to wander off and explore.
Siberian Huskies a perhaps best know for their wanderlust, but Westies are also prone to wander away. This is especially true if they are on the hunt for rodents. Because of this, they will do best in a fenced in yard.
Many West Highland Terriers don’t seem to understand their own size. While they may be small, they are confident.
However, their courageousness can sometimes get them into trouble. Whether it is wandering off on their own or picking a fight with a dog 10 times their size.
25. Owner Community
While the West Highland Terrier is not a rare breed by any means, Westie owners seem to gravitate toward each other.
Don’t be surprised if you’re walking your dog at the park and another Westie owner stops to talk to you about their own Westie.
26. Best in Show
A Westie is not only a family pet, but can also be a show dog.
A West Highland Terrier name Geordie Girl won Best in Show at the 2016 Crufts International Dog Show.
It was the third time a Westie has won the award since the competition started in 1928.
Westies love to run around and chase toys. However, they are not built with a runner’s body.
If you are looking for a long term running partner you can do better than a terrier. Some owners do take their Westies for runs with them, but you should be careful to not overdo it.
Some West Highland Terriers have a mind of their own. If they don’t want to go for a walk, they may refuse to go or just lay down on the sidewalk when they decide they are done.
Like all issues, this is something that can be nipped in the bud by training at an early stage.
Generally, West Highland Terriers will eat about one cup of dry dog food per day. The actual amount may vary slightly depending on the specific dog food and exact size of the dog.
As always, you should consult your veterinarian for feeding advice specific to your own dog.
30. Sensitive Stomachs
In addition to certain skin conditions, West Highland Terriers are prone to have sensitive stomachs. As such, you should be careful what kinds of food you are feeding your Westie.
31. Home Alone
I’ve said that Westies both love attention from their people and are independent. So what about leaving them alone for a long period of time?
With the proper training, including slowly building up the time they are left alone, Westies can be perfectly content at home by themselves while you are gone for the work day.
Most Westies can be trained to follow basic commands such as sit, stay, come, and lay down without any problems.
They can also be taught some more advanced tricks like roll over and play dead. However, they are unlikely to be able to learn dozens of tricks.
The best way to train any dog is to start training sessions at an early age and use positive reinforcement.
I mentioned that West Highland Terriers love to chase small animals and were bred to hunt small rodents. A side effect of this is that they are diggers.
In order to get to their prey that live underground, they will dig. In fact, Westies often compete in Earthdog competitions for dogs who hunt underground vermin.
34. Not Toy Dogs
Despite their small size, Westies are toy dogs. They don’t qualify as a toy breed because they weigh over 12 pounds.
But more importantly, they don’t like being treated like toy dogs. While they may be happy to sit next to you on the couch or even on your lap, Westies don’t enjoy being picked up and carried around like a doll.
35. Cost to Adopt
Getting a dog from an animal rescue or shelter is not free, but it will save you money over going to a breeder. Adopting a Westie or any other dog will usually cost anywhere from $50 to $500.
There are so many dogs that are looking for a good home. I always encourage people to adopt their dog if possible. However, I know that is not always possible if you have your heart set on a specific breed.
36. Cost to Buy
If you decide to purchase a purebred West Highland Terrier from a reputable breeder, it will cost between $1,000 and $2,000.
Please, if you decide to buy from a breeder, make sure to do your research to make sure they are reputable and not a puppy mill. Simply trying to find the cheapest price can end up being more expensive down the road.
37. Head Tilt
The Westie Head Tilt is one of the cutest things that a dog can do. If they don’t understand a certain sound or words, some dogs will tilt their heads to try to pinpoint sound and hear better.
Westies do this more often than most breeds. I know Murphy did it all the time.
38. Crate Training
Some new Westie owners are hesitant about crate training their dog because they don’t want to “just leave them in a cage.”
However, the truth is most dogs end up loving their crate and see it as a safe space. Murphy would voluntarily go into her crate to rest all the time.
39. Service and Therapy Dogs
While most people think about larger dogs when they think about service animals, any dog can be trained to be a service dog.
Smaller dogs like Westies can make the perfect service animals for the deaf, and are also great companions as emotional support animals.
40. Always White
The full name of the breed is West Highland White Terrier, but are they always white? In other breeds such as Labs, sometimes even littermates are different colors.
However, purebred Westies are almost always white in color. They may also be a a light wheaten (off-white) color, but Westies are never black.
41. Mixed Breed Westies
There are many Westie mixed breeds. As they are closely related and descended from Cairn Terriers, the Cairland Terrier is one of the most popular Westie mixes.
Others include Fourche Terrier (Westie + Yorkshire Terrier), Bostie (Boston Terrier), Chestie (Chihuahua), Wauzer (Schnuazer), Scoland Terrier (Scottish Terrier), Westie Jack (Jack Russell Terrier), Westiepoo (Poodle), and many more.
42. Apartment Dogs
If you live in an apartment, it is important to make sure that you get a dog that can adapt to apartment living.
Fortunately, West Highland Terriers are highly adaptable and can make great apartment dogs. Just make sure that you are able to get the out of the apartment to run around and get in plenty of exercise.
43. House Training
House training is one of least fun, but most important parts of owning a dog. Smaller breeds are known to be harder to potty train due to their high metabolism and small bladders.
If you stay consistent with your training, your Westie should be fully house trained by around 6 months of age.
All dogs, regardless of breed, will create bonds with their human family. That’s dogs are known as man’s best friend.
But even among dogs, Westies are known to be loyal. They create strong bonds with their humans and love being part of the pack.
Dogs love to chew things and West Highland Terriers are no different. Especially as puppies while they are teething, they will chew just about anything.
It is important to teach them when they are young what’s acceptable to chew and what’s not. Be sure to keep plenty of chew toys around for your Westie.
46. Light Dog Smell
If you are worried about your house smelling like a dog, fortunately Westies “dog smell” is not as strong as other breeds.
Of course, they have the typical dog smell, but due to their wiry double coat it is less noticeable.
47. Indoor Dogs
While Westies love to chase rodents and play outside, they should never be left outside overnight or kept as outside dogs.
In fact, no dog should be left outside all the time. Dogs have been domesticated and bred to be companions who belong in the house with their family.
48. Celebrity Westie Owners
There are plenty of famous Westie owners including Betty White, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew McConaughey, Al Pacino, Rob Schneider, Robert Pattinson, Paris Hilton, Christian Serratos, and Scarlett Johannson.
Westies are energetic dogs that need their rest to recuperate. Like most dogs, West Highland Terriers sleep more than the average human.
Adult Westies sleep about 13 hours per day, and puppies may sleep much more.
50. Litter Size
The average gestation time for a West Highland White Terrier is about 2 months. When they give birth, the litter size is usually between 3 and 5 pups.
51. Westie Lung Disease
The leading cause of death in Westies is pulmonary fibrosis, also know as “Westie Lung Disease.”
More likely to occur as Westies get older, the disease causes lung tissue to thicken and scar, impairing lung function.
52. Sense of Smell
Westies use their strong sense of smell to locate their prey underground.
While their sense of smell isn’t as strong as Bloodhounds, Westies do compete in Scent Work competitions.
53. Male vs. Female
On average, male Westies slightly larger than female Westies.
Whether a male or female Westie is right for your family comes down to personal preference.
West Highland White Terrier Facts Wrap Up
Hopefully this list will help you decide if this adorable dog breed is the best choice for you. There is no such thing as a perfect dog. You will have to decide for yourself if the good outweighs the bad for you.
Personally, I’m glad my parents chose to get a Westie for me to grow up with.
I can relate to many items in the list, but not all of them. Remember, each dog is an individual and may not fit into every classic breed trait.