Kirkland Kennels

The West Highland White Terrier

West Highland White Terrier

The best way to describe this wee white Terrier dog breed from Scotland is simply to say that he’s so full of self-esteem that he knows he’s the best thing around. Always on the lookout for a good time, he’ll make you laugh while he entertains himself. He’s friendly and happy, with a lively nature that endears him to everyone (except small rodents), especially when he cocks his head to the side and looks at you quizzically.

To say that the West Highland White Terrier — or Westie, as he's affectionately called — is a "big dog in a little dog's body" doesn't do him justice. He's not pushy or temperamental, and he doesn't need to challenge or demand. He's not stubborn so much as just interested in what's in it for him. Convince him that what you want is in his best interests, and he'll jump right on board with your plan.

Originally developed for hunting and ratting, the Westie learned to think on his own, a trait he still enjoys indulging in today (although there will undoubtedly be times you might not enjoy it quite as much). The Westie's instinct to work is now usually channelled into agility and obedience competitions rather than getting rid of rodents. He also works as a therapy dog, and a few Westies have even joined search-and-rescue teams. He is also known to compete in earthdog tests, tracking, and flyball. You can focus all of his abundant energy into any one or more of these jobs.

Mostly, though, the West Highland White Terrier is a companion, and he enriches his family's life with his silly antics and love of life. He's a social guy who gets along well with everyone, strangers included, and he is not a one-person dog. He's affectionate with children of all ages, and he does well living with older kids. He gets along with other dogs in public settings (unless he's one of two intact males in the group), and he positively thrives in homes with multiple dogs. He can adapt to cats — despite chasing them from time to time, he will usually settle down nicely with friendly kitties. What he cannot adapt to are small animals that run free, such as rabbits or gerbils, since the wee white one has a strong prey drive.

The Westie is happy in any type of living situation and will do well in the country or in the city. He needs to live inside with his family, however, not outside. He makes an excellent apartment resident if properly exercised and trained not to bark. He's happy to stay at home while you're at work, and — with proper stimulation and safety precautions — he's fine on his own during your workday. To top it all off, he's also an easy traveler, whether on long vacations or short errands.

The West Highland White Terrier can be trained easily. He's intelligent and a quick learner, and training will amuse him as long as it remains positive and consistent. In fact, using positive reinforcement laced with consistency is the only way to train a Westie. Clicker training is an excellent training method for him. You're wasting your time using harsh corrections, since his "what's in it for me" attitude is likely to kick in, causing him to shut down and ignore the commands.

The Westie will definitely alert bark when he sees or hears something suspicious, and without fail he'll announce visitors, letter carriers, and dogs who walk in front of the house. Some will even announce bugs who fly by. In other words, he can be pretty darn noisy. But with appropriate training from a young age, he can be taught to bark only once when he sees or hear something.

A popular breed, the Westie can be affectionate and loyal but still possess enough independence and self-assurance that he doesn't need pampering (although he'll never turn it down). Some Westies like being a lapdog more than others. He likes being clean, which makes him a piece of cake to housetrain. He makes a wonderful companion for a first-time or inexperienced dog owner. With his easygoing nature, intelligent eyes, and fun-loving personality, the Westie can melt even the coldest of hearts.

Generally a calm guy when he's indoors (where he may hang out on the couch like a white lounge lizard), the Westie will often morph into a different dog outside. He can be a speed demon who zooms around the dog park, and he can hike with his people all day. He loves playing games, flinging plush squeaky toys around, or just romping through the backyard sniffing and surveying his domain. And while he can enjoy digging, it seems to be an acquired passion. (With proper training, and by redirecting him whenever you catch him in the act, this habit can be stopped.) Some Westies can be exercised indoors by playing fetch down a hallway. Although he doesn't require quite as much exercise as some breeds, expect to walk him once or twice every day to keep him happy and healthy.

The Westie is not meant to live outside, however. He does best in the house, although he's not really a lapdog or an avid cuddler. On the independent side, he'll bypass the center of the action for a spot just near it. (If that spot is close to a heating vent, so much the better.) He can watch the household while you're at work; although some individuals can suffer from separation anxiety, it's not a common trait in the breed. Just give him safe but entertaining toys and activities to keep him from becoming bored: turn on a radio, leave him with frozen kongs stuffed with peanut butter, and make his crate a cozy haven.