West Highland White Terrier

Country of origin:
Great Britain
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Good with kids:
Pros Cons
  • cheerful
  • friendly
  • great watchdog   
  • independent and willful
  • training is not easy
  • needs a great amount of grooming

The West Highland White Terrier is an ex-hunting dog with sunny and amiable disposition. It has been created in Scotland but the breed quickly earned widespread popularity around the globe especially in the USA and United Kingdom. Its outgoing personality and sweet look make it an almost an ideal family pet.


The West Highland White Terrier is a newly invented breed that originated in the early XIX century in Scotland. Its pedigree can be traced with more accuracy than it’s usually possible with majority of the modern breeds. The immediate forebear of this dog is evidently a terrier-type dog, which has been inhabiting the British Isles since at least I century A.D. This canine possessed short trunk and tenacious temperament and was capable to follow wild animals such as badgers and foxes down into their burrows. The word «terrier» came into the English language from the Latin «Terrarius» which can be translated as «earth» or «ground». Therefore terrier roughly purports «one who goes to ground» and this definition serves a perfect depiction of its hunting habits.

The Terriers of Scotland were extremely robust and relentless in their hunting assignment. They passed through serious selecting process of both Mother Nature and human being so the dog acquired prime capabilities of surviving in the ruthless terrains of Scotland. These dogs were generally kept by rural peasants, who used them as superb exterminators of various kinds of vermin (rats, mice, foxes, rabbits) that presented a great threat to their crops and cattle.

During the XVIII century the breeding practises were quite unorganised which led to creation a number of terrier’s varieties in different parts of Scotland. The next century was marked with appearance of several breeds with distinctive characteristics and the breeders began to keep stud books for more precise fixation of breeding results. Prior to the end of the XIX century the white coloration in terrier was highly disfavoured since these dogs were considered to be less hardy as well as poorly disguised in the greenery. White dogs were usually destined to die and were drowned.

It’s known that at least three separate lines of pure white Terrier were established in the Highlands of Scotland in the last decade of the XIX century. The major contributor to the invention of the West Highland White Terrier was Edward Donald Malcolm, the 16th Laird (Lord) of Poltalloch who was an avid hunter. The legend states that he has mistaken for a fox and shot his favourite little brown Terrier while it was getting out of the burrow. He deeply grieved at the loss of its beloved dog and decided to breed a line of a pure white Terrier in order to exclude the possibility of this mistake in the future.

The West Highland White Terrier reached the United States and England in the beginning of the XX century. There the breed was quickly re-qualified into a popular show and family dog.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) fully approved the West Highland White Terrier in 1908. In 1919 the dog was given a complete recognition of the United Kennel Club (UKC).

The West Highland White Terrier is a typical member of the terrier family but unlike other breeds of terrier it possesses more even temperament. This breed tends to cling to human beings and strives to always stay in the presence of its family. It usually expresses its feelings openly and cheerfully and likes to give kisses to the people it adores. The West Highland White Terrier is prone to choose one person for its master but it can also become equally attached to all family members if it has spent enough quality time with them. This mischievous creature is always eager to get involved in playing activity with children and it’s moderately tolerable to teasing from their part.

The West Highland White Terrier makes friends with strange people almost instantaneously and it’s always happy to set up a new acquaintance. Naturally the dog has to be correctly socialised otherwise it can become timid and highly distrustful when meeting unfamiliar people. Its vigilance manifests itself in warning bark if the dog senses some threat. That’s why it can be turned into a wonderful watch dog. However it’s deprived of compulsory aggression to make a good guard dog.

Majority of the West Highland White Terrier exhibits very low level of aggressiveness towards other canine animals and will gladly share the same roof with one or more other dogs. Some animals do show aggressive attitude towards other canines of the same sex or can develop possessive issue but it’s quite fixable with proper up-bringing. This breed is able to accept a home cat if it got used to its presence since the puppyhood. Nevertheless the West Highland White Terrier retains much of its hunting drive so it can’t resist the urge to chase small species of animals especially hamsters, rabbits or stray cats. So the owner should never neglect the use of a leash during walking with the dog.

Health Problems
The most common problems for the breed include:

• atopic dermatitis;
• patellar luxation;
• inflammatory bowel disease;
• legg-calve-perthes disease;
• eye problems;
• Addison’s disease;
• lymphoma;
• shaker dog syndrome;
• pulmonary fibrosis;
• Lion’s jaw;
• pancreatic enzyme deficiency.

The West Highland White Terrier is rather demanding when things concern grooming. The owner should brush the dog with stiff bristle brush on a regular basis. This dog may also need a visit to a professional groomer since its coat should be trimmed every three to four months.

Moreover the breed requires its hair to be plucked minimum twice a year. This procedure can be done at home but it’s more convenient to use professional help in this case. The West Highland White Terrier has a tendency to shed and the amount of shedding varies from dog to dog.

The West Highland Terrier is very independent and wilful, which means that it can be really difficult to train this breed. It’s prone to make its own judgments about what should or shouldn’t be done and sometimes no amount of coaxing can change its opinion. Additionally it lacks the typical canine eagerness to please and this breed is much more trainable if stimulated with some more tangible incentives than simple verbal praise.

It’s absolutely crucial to have a superior position in the dog’s mind since it will most likely ignore the command of the trainer, who is perceived to be lower in the pack order. The trainer should apply firm but somewhat gentle approach to learning process and base it on plentiful of tasty treats.

As it’s usually a case with terrier-type dogs the West Highland Terrier has high energy level and therefore requires substantial amount of physical activity on the daily basis. It has to have an opportunity to socialize with other canines and to play with them to its heart content.

The master should also allow the dog to run and roam on the securely enclosed territory. Generally speaking it won’t become a big challenge for an averagely active family to satisfy the dog’s need in exercise so it’s a perfect choice for those who want to have a playful, funny and cute dog.