West Highland White Terrier Breed


The West Highland White Terrier shares its lineage with the Scottie, the Cairn, and the Dandie Dinmont, as well as with other rough-haired terriers of Scotland. A hardy animal, it was originally bred as a hunter to keep down fox, otter, and other vermin populations on farms. It is not an argumentative dog, but has great agility, stamina, and courage, qualities essential in it’s native Scotland where the generally rough terrain made nimbleness a virtual necessity in an outdoor dog. By selection and interbreeding, the white coat was purposely developed to distinguish the dog from it’s quarry while hunting. In 1907, the West Highland White Terrier was recognised by the British Kennel Club.


The West Highland White Terrier is a small, game, and hardy looking terrier. Strongly built, deep in the chest and back ribs with a level back and powerful quarters on muscular legs and exhibiting a great combination of strength and activity. On appearance alone. The Westie merits an award for design excellence. With their natty white coat, dark hazel eyes deep set in a shaggy face, black nose and perky ears and tail carried like a banner, they are a delightful small and compact package of a dog.The West Highland White Terrier is big enough to really be a dog, but small enough to go in the car, or to share your easy chair. They enjoy the outdoors, regardless of the weather but fit nicely into a small apartment.Basically the Westie’s temperament is sweet, loving and loyal, but they are not subservient. Their effervescent and fun loving disposition and their sturdy bones and small size make the Westie an ideal playmate for children. Women love their smart good looks, and infectious charm, but his pluck and stamina make them an ideal mans dog too. The Westie is not a one person dog, but they freely give affection and loyalty to the whole family.Hunting instincts of the West Highland White Terrier’s ancestors are carried in his bones and blood. You will find that they are great mousers and ratters.


“Small, game, hardy looking”. Hardiness is required for a working terrier, they should be strong as they are not a toy.“Game” does not mean aggressive. Unlike most terriers a Westie was bred to work as a pack dog, which means they should be agreeable in a pack of dogs. They should be willing to show their dominance over another dog, but should show no aggression or snarling. Westies should be happy and unafraid with no small amount of self-esteem. On the other hand if pushed they will not back down and will defend their territory or possessions no matter how big the foe. Westies should not show any aggression to humans.“Varminty” is used to describe cheeky, cocky, or mischievous. A look so typical of the Westie breed.


The back of the Skull should not be flat on top, but slightly domed between the ears. The balance of the Skull and muzzle is very important, if the muzzle is too long and narrow in proportion to the Skull the appearance becomes rather snipey. The length of the muzzle from the nose to the stop (a small indentation between the eyes) should be shorter than the length of the Skull from the stop to the back of the head, when viewed in profile. The muzzle should taper in enough from the sides so as not to present a ‘Bullish’ appearance. The black nose should be large and blunt, giving the muzzle a short look.Head furnishings may alter appearances and a dog with heavy furnishings may appear to have a shorter muzzle than one without heavy furnishings. Care should be exercised to determine proportions without regard for furnishings. Puppies can often look long in the muzzle because of lack of furnishings.


The eyes are very important in that they give the Westie their characteristic look. Over the eyes there is a heavy bony ridge which makes the eyes look more deeply set, giving them a rather piercing look. Although piercing they should not be beady. The eye placement, size and shape all count in imparting the typical Westie expression. They should not be too round, or too close together. The correct shape would best be described as ‘almond’.


Unlike the Scottish Terrier which have their ears set well up on top of their head, those of the West Highland White Terrier should be either side of the outer skull and carried upright. They should be small, terminating in a sharp point. It is unfair to damn a young dog for the size of the ears because they do tend to grow to their full size before the rest of the dog. However, shape and placement can be judged earlier. The hair on the ears should be short and smooth.


The teeth of the Westie should be large for the size of the dog. Strong teeth are an important characteristic of the breed. Correct placement of permanent teeth is dependent on proper development and conformation of the muzzle. Teething pups need to be watched to ensure that permanent teeth, especially canines, are not displaced by ‘baby’ teeth which have not been shed.


The length of neck should be in proportion to the remainder of the dog. It should be broad enough at it’s base to allow for the correct shoulder placement. A too long a neck detracts from the character and breed type, it should be of sufficient length to allow the head to be carried correctly. Too short a neck makes the dog look ‘stuffy’.


From the front of the dog the forelegs should be straight, short, and muscular with the gap between them enough to take about the width of a hand. This distance is governed by the rib cage. Barrel ribs would be likely to set the front legs too wide apart. Legs that are too close together are likely to be so because the ribs are not well enough arched in their upper half. When viewed from the side, the forelegs should be set under the dog so that the sternum overhangs the front legs. The chest should reach the elbow. Too little ‘let down’ hampers movement and generally contributes to a narrow front. Too much ‘let down’ makes the dog appear too low to the ground.Proper movement requires proper structure. Poor lay back (upper right shoulders) will prevent the proper reach in front. The front legs should come well forward straight from the shoulder and the hind ones resemble piston-like action with plenty of thrust. The drive must come from the back not the front.


The Westie differs from most other terriers in that it should be more or less flat sided. It is not supposed to have a great round spring of ribs, but rather the rib cage should be heart shaped. The back should be flat and level, both standing and when moving.The rib cage is most important in achieving the correct shape called for in the Standard. It should arch well in the upper half giving plenty of room for heart and lungs. The depth of the back ribs should be considerable giving the body a cobby appearance. It is probable that a bitch will be slightly longer in coupling than a dog as more room is required for her to carry a litter of pups. If the shoulders have the correct lay-back, the back will be shorter , with good shoulder placement there will be the long free stride which really covers the ground and so delights the eye of the beholder. Hand in hand with straight shoulders will go a stilted gate.If the dog is heavy and thick on the shoulder then it will have “loaded’ shoulders giving an appearance of coarseness and heaviness. Good shoulders should resemble more the neck of a champagne bottle than a beer bottle.All parts of the dog should blend into a balanced whole. A Westie should stand off the ground rather than have the low slung appearance of a Scottie.


These should be broad and muscular, looking at the rear view of the Westie it should be impossible to see the shoulders. If the shoulders can be seen it could be that they are too heavy, but it is more likely that the hindquarters are too narrow. The hind legs should also be strong and the feet should be relatively close together when moving although the rear legs are generally spread apart when the dog is being posed. It should not be possible to drop a line directly from tail to ground without encountering the thigh and hock.


Though slight turning out of front feet is acceptable, there should be a straight line of the bones from the shoulder to the front foot.The forefeet are larger than the hind ones, but all should be thickly padded. The pads should be black preferably.


The tail of the Westie is not docked and it’s natural length is usually about 125mm to 150mm, but should really balance the dog. Whilst moving it should be carrier fairly straight, not carried in line with the back nor carried behind the dog in the manner of a Cairn Terrier.


The Westie should project a strong, easy, free gait not a ‘stiff’, stilted or bouncy movement. The front legs should be extended forward by the shoulder. The hind legs should push the body forward with some force, extending well backward. The hocks, after pushing the body forward, should be drawn well under the body ready to take the next step. The strides taken by each step are quite considerable for the size of the dog, so they should cover a lot of ground with each stride.


Dogs come with two types of coat – the kind that sheds all over the house, and the kind that does not shed. This latter type needs help in removing the old coat. Dogs also come in oily coats and dry coats. The dry coat, having far less oil, does not develop “doggy” odour, which is due to the rancidity of the oil and the soil that it naturally collects. Westies do not shed, and they have dry coats. Next to their delightful personalities, this shedless, dry coat is the best reason why they are such wonderful little companion dogs. They are easy to keep clean and with a brush, and are best ‘dry cleaned’ with grooming chalk rather than with bathing. The breed is a joy to own, if the owner knows how to keep the dog clean and groomed. You simply must go about it differently than with other breeds. A Westie falls into the category of long-coated Terrier. They have a crisp, or ‘hard’ outer coat with a profuse soft undercoat. Westies needed these two layers for doing their work in the Highlands. While running free over rough terrain and through briars and brambles, they had no need to have the excess coat removed for them. Now, kept largely as a pet, the Westie has no way to wear off the coat. It needs to be removed to stimulate the new live coat to come in. Otherwise, too many hairs will grow in the same follicle, choking out the new growth. The dog that is not stripped becomes very itchy and they can develop skin problems if they scratch themselves a great deal. Westies need more brushing to keep their skin healthy if they have not had the dead coat removed. Also, the shorter coat is easier to care for and looks smarter.Using clippers on a Westie will shorten the coat, but will not remove the dead hair. It leaves cut ends, causes the coat to curl, and makes the coat softer. Stripping the coat by pulling out the hairs in the direction in which you want the new growth to lie will train the new growth, and the dog’s coat will fit like a lovely jacket. While various publications state that the breed needs a “little trimming” , the word is used in the sense of ‘tidying up’ or ‘making neat’ rather than actually trimming with scissors or clippers.The most common question is, “Doesn’t stripping hurt the dog?” I have read that the nerve ends on these hard-coated Terriers do not lie close to the skin, which is why stripping does not hurt the dog. I do not know whether this is true, but I do know that the dog does not mind the stripping. The dead hair pulls easily with a fast tug. Some dogs have touchy areas, but they will let you know if the stripping bothers them. In those places, pull fewer hairs at a time, pull as quickly as possible, and pull a bit now and a bit later, returning to that area until you get it done.A soft-coated puppy is stripped to bring in the hard coat, and the continued stripping keeps the coat hard. This hard outer jacket, which has very little oil, does not absorb dirt, and is easily cleaned with a brush. This is one reason why a Westie should not be bathed. Water does not hurt the coat, but shampoo softens it. The soft coat will absorb dirt, and the dog will need another bath, and so on, ad infinitum. In fact, the more baths a Westie has, the dirtier the dog will become. Most breeds are bathed to remove the oil in the coat which has become smelly. The Westie has so little oil in the coat that frequent bathing will dry the skin and create skin problems. This is another reason why the dog should not be bathed. There are exceptions however, like a chance encounter with an unpalatable item in which the dog has rolled, or some other unusual situation. But a Westie should have as few baths as possible. An Adult Westie has three lengths of coat- a new coat coming in, the coat of correct length, and the longest coat that needs to come out. In addition, the dog has the soft and cottony undercoat , which needs to be preserved, and the long furnishings on the sides, belly, chest, legs and head. The soft-coated puppy, which needs to be stripped, has no outer coat, so they are really wearing only the cottony undercoat. The technique of stripping either the puppy or the adult is the same.


This procedure is easier for doing puppies. The stripping knife can be used only in one direction. A puppy has to learn to stand in one position, and just as you are ready to pull the hair, he may do an about-face. With your fingers you can pull from any direction, which makes it less frustrating. Most seasoned Westie owners become so adapt at finger stripping that they put down the knife unconsciously and continue to work away with just fingers. This method is found to be easier on the areas of the dog that are stripped very short.In addition to your fingers, you will need a pair of finger stalls, like those used by file clerks – one for your thumb, and one for your forefinger. Or, if you have a spare latex household glove, you can cut the thumb and forefinger from it. The rough surface helps you to grip the hairs better, especially when you are learning. A bit of grooming chalk on the hairs to be pulled will also give a better grip.If you are right-handed, lift a small section of coat with your left hand. This allows you to see the various lengths of the hairs, and where the hair is growing, for selective plucking. Work in a good light. When you lift a section, the hairs below it also rise. Pluck the hairs from just below those that are held in your left hand. Most first-time groomers try to pull the hairs that are tight bunched and firmly held in the left hand and find that they are not getting any hair. It is the hair falling free just below those in your grasp that you will pluck. In the beginning you will only get a few, but as you practice, you will be rewarded. Keep your right hand palm down, and grip the hairs between your thumb and the side of your forefinger. This is like a pinching action, or a combination of pinching and plucking. Keep a stiff wrist , and with a sharp tug, pull out the hairs.


WESTIES from head to tail Ruth Faherty – ( U.S.) Publishers: Alpine Publications
ALL ABOUT THE WEST HIGHLAND WHITE TERRIER Barbara Hands (U.K.) Publishers: Pelham Books
THE WEST HIGHLAND WHITE TERRIER D.Mary Dennis (U.K) Publishers: Popular Dogs – London
The Complete WEST HIGHLAND WHITE TERRIER John. T. Marvin (U.S.A) Publishers: Howell Book House
WEST HIGHLAND WHITE TERRIERS Martin Weil (U.S.A) Publishers: T.F.H. Publications
THE WEST HIGHLAND WHITE TERRIER Barbara Hands (U.K) Publishers: John Bartholomew
How to Raise and Train a WEST HIGHLAND WHITE TERRIER Mrs. Florence Sherman (U.S.A) Publishers: T.F.H. Publications