The West Highland White Terrier, fondly known as the Westie, is a Scottish breed with a distinctive white coat. He makes a merry energetic companion, is a handy size, and is a courageous and self reliant dog.
The modern breed is descended from a number of breeding programmes of white terriers in Scotland prior to the 20th century. Edward Donald Malcolm, 16th Laird of Poltalloch, is credited with the creation of the modern breed from his Poltalloch Terrier, but did not want to be known as such. Other related breeds included George Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll’s Roseneath Terrier and Dr. Americ Edwin Flaxman’s Pittenweem Terriers. The breeds of small white Scottish terriers were given its modern name for the first time in 1908, with recognition by major kennel clubs occurring around the same time. The breed remains popular in the UK and is in the top third of all breeds in the USA since the 1960s.
The breed is a medium-sized terrier, although with longer legs than other Scottish breeds of terrier. It has a white double coat of fur which fills out the dog’s face giving it a rounded appearance.
The temperament of the West Highland White Terrier can vary greatly, with some being friendly towards children whilst others prefer solitude, so it may not be the best dog for a family. It will not tolerate rough handling such as a child pulling on its ears, and can be both food and toy possessive. Like many terriers westies are normally independent, assured and self confident and can make good watchdogs, but can become bored and become rather noisy. It is a loyal breed that bonds with its owners, but is often always on the move requiring a fair deal of exercise.
It is a hardy breed, and can be stubborn leading to issues with training. A Westie may need to have its training refreshed on occasion during its lifetime. Having a typical terrier prey drive, it tends to be highly interested in toys especially chasing balls. It does retain the instincts of an earth-dog, including inquisitive and investigative traitsas well as natural instincts to both bark and dig holes. Weight varies from 15-20 pounds ( 6.8 to (9.1 kg), and the average dog is 10 to 11 inches in height (25-28cm). Their life span is usually between 12 to 16 years and litters usually have between 3 to 5 puppies.
Many owners find they need the help of a professional groomer to help keep their westies looking clean and tidy due to its double coat.
The outer coat consists of harsh hair, about 5 cms (2 ins) long, free from any curl, and hand stripping or pulling out the coat plus scissoring is the correct way to groom these harsh coated dogs. The undercoat, which resembles fur should be short, soft and close. However many westies have incorrect coats e.g. silky coats with no undercoat, some have a very fluffy coat & some very wavy. These coats will be very hard for the groomer to pull out and will also hurt the animal.
Puppies can be ‘stripped’ from 16 weeks old, this encourages the new coat to come back in quickly. Most grooming sessions will seek to thin the coat somewhat, concentrating on the back area, blending to the longer hair on the face, and limbs. Most dog groomers would recommend a visit to the salon every 4 to 6 weeks.
There are breed predispositions to conditions found across many dog breeds, such as abdominal hernias. Westie puppies may be affected by Craniomandibular osteopathy, a disease also known “lion jaw” or “westie jaw”. The disease is an autosomal recessive condition and so a puppy can only be affected by it if both its parents are carriers of the faulty gene. It typically appears in dogs under a year old, and can cause problems for the dog to chew or swallow food. The condition often stops progressing by the time the dog is a year old, and in some cases can recede. In mild cases it can be successfully treated with anti-inflammatory medications, and the feeding of soft foods.
The breed is particularly prone to skin disorders. About a quarter of Westie are affected by atopic dermatitis, a heritable chronic allergic skin condition. A higher proportion of males are affected compared to females. There is an uncommon but severe breed-specific skin condition that may affect West Highland White Terriers affecting both juveniles and adults dogs. This condition is called Hyperplastic Dermatosis. Affected dogs can suffer from red hyperpigmentation and hair loss. In the initial stages, this condition can be misdiagnosed as allergies or less serious forms of dermatitis.
An inherited genetic problem that exists in the breed is globoid cell leukodystrophy. It also occurs in Cairn Terriers and other breeds including Beagles and Pomeranians. It is a neurological disease where the dog lacks an enzyme called galactosylceramidase. The symptoms are noticeable as the puppy develops, and can be identified by the age of 30 weeks. Affected dogs will have tremors, weakness in its muscles and difficulties in walking. Symptoms will slowly increase until limb paralysis begins to occur. Another genetic condition that affects the breed is “White dog shaker syndrome”. As this condition is most commonly found in Westies and in Maltese, it also occurs in non-white breeds such as the Yorkshire Terrier and the Dachshund. The condition typically develops over one to three days resulting in tremors of the head and limbs. Affected males and females can be affected for different lengths of time, with symptoms in females lasting for between four to six weeks, while males can be affected the rest of its life
A good health point for them is that westies are one of the least likely breeds to be affected by a luxating patella, where the knee cap slips out of place. It is recommended that prospective puppy buyers go to as reputable breeder as possible, someone who understands and tests for these conditions if possible or does not use affected dogs in their breeding program.