Several terrier breeds can trace their roots to the Scottish Highlands. The beginnings of the West Highland White Terrier breed is credited to Colonel E.D. Malcolm of Poltalloch, Scotland. Also called a Poltalloch Terrier and a Roseneath Terrier, the breed was recognized as the West Highland White Terrier by England's Kennel Club in 1907 and by the American Kennel Club a year later. The legend tells of Col. Malcolm accidently shooting one of his favorite hunting terriers when he could not tell terrier from prey due to coat color. The Colonel vowed that after that he would only breed and hunt with the white colored terriers, so as to not mistakenly kill another of his hunting terriers. Prior to Col. Malcolm's decision to breed for the white coat color, white coated pups had been seen as inferior and culled from the litter.
There are some issues to consider when planning for the safe keeping and care of your Westie. Safety dictates that a Westie must be kept in a securely fenced area or on leash, since they move very fast and will not heed their owner's calls. Unfortunately, Westies will chase anything that moves, and Westies have met their end while darting into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Even fences must be checked regularly, as Westies are also known as "earth dogs" and will dig relentlessly to escape and chase prey. The safety of other small family pets must be considered as well. Due to the Westie's strong prey drive they cannot be trusted and will chase, and perhaps injure, small animals that run from them. The Westie family pet cannot tell the difference between your other small pets and the vermin they were bred to dispatch from the farm as a nuisance. If you have a number of other small pets, a Westie might not be a good choice for your household.
Through AKC programs the Westie succeeds in Agility, Earthdog, Obedience, Tracking, Rally, Flyball, Coursing, and as a Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog. A full grown Westie will be about 10 to 11" tall at the shoulder and weigh between 15 and 20 pounds. An all white, double coat is kept neat by regular brushing and grooming. Regular grooming visits should be factored into the expense of keeping your Westie. With proper care and nutrition Westies live long healthy lives. Nevertheless, some health problems are particular to the Westie breed, such as atopica dermatitis, luxating patellas, Addison's disease, and CMO. Annual veterinary exams and consultations will keep your Westie in good health. For further information about Westie health concerns an excellent resource is the Westie Foundation of America, Inc.
The Westie was bred to be a working dog, a hunter of small game and fox. A successful hunter, the Westie has a high prey drive, is quite active and is an independent thinker. They are very intelligent and clever and can be perceived as having a "what is in it for me" type of stubbornness. Training and socializing at an early age is imperative and it is recommended that a Westie owner have a strong understanding of the breed and its personality. Westies are entertaining and great fun to have as a companion, but they are not necessarily an easy dog for the first time dog owner. Westies can be bossy and domineering, and are not always willing to submit to their owner's wishes. Westies respond the best to positive reinforcement training programs, and can respond with snapping and growls if they feel they are being punished unfairly. Training must be fun and challenging or the Westie will quickly become bored and inattentive, looking elsewhere for stimulation and entertainment.
Westies are also not recommended for young children. The quick movements and shrill squeals of children at play can trigger the prey drive of a Westie, often with disastrous results. Westies also do not take well to being stepped on, roughed or mishandled as a child might do unaware. A nipped or bitten child may develop a fear of dogs and the dog will be punished for reacting in a natural and instinctive way. This is not fair to the child or to the terrier. Westies should never be left alone with a child; adult supervision is always a must! Westies make excellent companions for older children and teens and love an active family life.
Westies can be quick to bark, especially at other animals, and anything or anyone intruding into their neighborhood. For this reason they also make excellent alert dogs, raising the alarm when someone is at the door, passing by, or even just removing the trash. Westies do well in most living situations as long as plans are made for adequate exercise to help the Westie expend their plentiful energy. The Westie is not an outside dog and must live inside the home with his family. Westies also love to get out and about and travel well in a car.