Breeds

Westies Are Beautiful, Bossy, and Tougher than They Look

Let’s get one thing straight: Westies are down right adorable. All bright eyes and round faces, it’s no wonder that they’ve been a movie and marketing favourite for the better part of a century. But it needs to be said–these dogs are more than just a pretty face. West highland terriers are tough. These charming, but stubborn, dogs don’t put up with anything they don’t feel like doing.

History

As their incredibly Scottish name suggests, west highland terriers are (shockingly) from Scotland. Their history is long and impressive, stretching back to the 16th century and the reign of James VI. In fact, it’s said that the king himself ordered a dozen terriers be presented to the Kingdom of France as a gift. 

Like many terriers, Westies were originally bred to catch rodents on farms and later became hunting dogs. Their history is written in their appearance: some sources claim their sturdy, thick tails were specifically bred so they could be easily pulled out of animal warrens if they got stuck. That signature white fur is also rumoured to be the result of work requirements. Edward Donald Malcolm, 16th Laird of Poltalloch, and the man most closely associated with developing the breed we know today, previously owned reddish brown terriers who joined him on hunts. But when a dog was tragically mistaken for a fox and shot he decided to breed white animals that would stand out during the action.

Interestingly, the Laird didn’t want to be defined by his association with Westies. Leading to the original name of Poltalloch terrier being changed to West Highland terrier. But while he might have been a bit cool on them, their popularity is well established elsewhere. Westies have been in the top third of most popular breeds in the US for over 50 years. They’re also repeat winners at the iconic UK dog show Cruft’s. As mentioned, they’re regulars in movies, TV, and adverts–many Australians probably associate them with the My Dog adverts.

Appearance

Nothing represents the tough but sweet energy of westies like their coat. Although bright and fluffy, giving them a full-cheeked appearance, it’s thick and suited to rainy Scottish weather.

Weighing between six and 10 kilos, you get a sense of their surprising heft when you pick them up. But while they tend to be stocky, they’re still fast and agile.

Life Expectancy

Between 10 and 15 years. Although they can live even longer.

What You’ll Love about Westies

Lots of personality: Westies are energetic, friendly, and highly social (some could say boisterous). They love to play and have fun, but will need regular exercise to keep the enthusiasm under control.

Loyal: These guys are nothing if not confident and independent, but they also really love their families. Meaning they make pretty good watch dogs for their size.

Outgoing: Westies love to have adventures and enjoy long walks and chances to explore. They’re not easily intimidated by other animals or kids, so are great companions for the city or country.

What You Might Find “Challenging”

Stubborn: As you may have gleaned, they very much see themselves as the boss. If they haven’t been well trained that can be an issue.

Destructive: Westies have instincts to bark and dig, so aren’t great housemates for gardeners or people who prize quiet time.

Not totally pet friendly: While they tend to get on well with other dogs, their strong prey drive means they’re not great around pets like bunnies or mice.

Common Health Issues for Westies

Westie jaw: This condition sees an overgrowth of bone in the jaw. It can sometimes be treated with medication or surgery, but may impair their ability to eat.

Skin issues: Westies can have problems and sensitivities with their skin that may lead to excessive itching and licking. In rare cases they can experience the breed-specific condition hyperplastic dermatosis. 

White dog shaker syndrome: Westies are most at risk of this neurological condition that causes excessive tremors. Although other small breeds like maltese, bichons, and poodles can also experience it.

Instafamous Westies

Thinking about getting a dog? Check out our other great articles on the topic, like:

Should You Get a Dog?

Should You Get a Rescue Dog? How to Decide

What You Need to Know about Bringing a Dog Home for the First Time

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Written by Wendy Syfret
Wendy is Head of Media at Scratch. Which is a good fit, because she's never met a dog she didn't like. Although she has a special place in her heart for muts: three legs, one eye, missing fur, bit of a weird walk? The scruffier the better. Her favourite dog in the whole world though is her terrier-mix Stevie.