Characteristics of the West Highland White Terrier (Westie) The Personality of a West Highland White Terrier

Characteristics of the West Highland White Terrier (Westie)

West Highland White Terriers are known for their gorgeous white coats and out going personalities. Learn about their sociability and train-ability.

West Highland white terriers are known for their outstanding white coats, compact bodies and spunky personalities. These sturdy little dogs make wonderful, loyal companions. Westies originated in the rocky regions of Scotland, where they were bred to hunt badgers, foxes and other vermin. The determination required to successfully hunt such prey is still evident in the breed today.


Westies are small dogs, but they possess larger-than-life personalities. Although they are bold, strong-willed, independent and naturally persistent, Westies are usually friendlier and easier to handle than other terrier breeds. They possess affectionate, friendly and happy natures, and their lighthearted, amusing antics have won many an owner's heart. West Highland white terriers are very quick to bark at every new sight or sound, which makes them excellent watchdogs. They can be quite possessive of their toys or food, and are determined little diggers. If you are an avid gardener, consider giving your Westie a restricted area to "help" you dig up.


West Highland white terriers love people and usually make affectionate additions to any family. They are great with considerate children, but have little patience for small children who pull their tails, tug their ears or try teasing them. These extremely devoted dogs belong in homes where they are allowed to participate fully in family activities. Once Westies have sounded the alarm about visitors, they generally welcome people inside their domains with wagging tails. Westies are often bossy with other family dogs of the same sex but typically coexist more peacefully with other family pets than other types of terriers do. However, their strong prey drive means it's not a good idea to adopt a pet gerbil, hamster, rabbit, bird or ferret if you have a Westie in your home.

Energy Levels

They might look like cute and cuddly lapdogs, but West Highland white terriers possess high energy levels, so you likely won't be able to hold your dog for long periods. Westies need daily exercise; commit yourself to taking your Westie on short leash walks or playing games in your backyard. Luckily, these dogs usually love to chase balls and play with other small toys for hours.


Westies are highly intelligent, clever, alert and curious, which makes them more amenable to training than other terrier breeds. However, you must start training a Westie at a young age to have any chance of showing that you're in charge. Westies often respond best to training that uses a food reward system. Obedience classes often help owners train these independent dogs, but you should never trust a Westie off-leash. If they see something that looks interesting, they are very likely to chase without warning, and they will ignore your frantic calls.

Haircut Styles for a West Highland White Terrier

Originally from the Highlands of Scotland, the West Highland White Terrier, usually referred to as a "Westie," has a wiry, highly insulated coat to protect them from the elements. These all-white little dogs have a rough outer coat and thick, soft inner coat. Westies need regular brushing and stripping, unless the fur is cut short.

The Westie Cut

The standard cut for the West Highland white terrier is the Westie cut, accepted by the American Kennel Club for professional showing. The dog's coat is professionally cut to remove any loose undercoat with a stripping knife or stripping comb. The hair on the back and shoulders is clipped with scissors to blend into the longer skirt-like fur of the stomach and legs. The face is shaped by plucking and stripping any stray pieces of fur or undercoat to form a round chrysanthemum shape. Hair under the tail, around the anus and above the eyes may be trimmed for neatness. The length of the outer coat is kept to about 2 inches on top of the body and about 4 inches around the legs. The fur is trimmed to follow the natural lines of the coat.

Puppy Style

To reduce the amount of time you spend grooming and stripping the coat of your Westie, get the dog a puppy-style cut, which mimics the more uniform, growing coat of a Westie puppy. Hair around the body, legs and chest is clipped to about an inch to 2 inches in length. The Westie's face is left alone or slightly trimmed into an even, round shape to blend it into the rest of the shorter coat. Trimming around the mouth can prevent or remove staining from eating for this little white dog, reducing the amount of cleaning you need to do to the dog's face daily.

Shaved Coat

In cases where the undercoat has become extremely matted and tangled, a complete shave of the coat may be necessary to remove these mats without causing the Westie distress. These cuts are also given prior to the summertime to keep the dog cool and eliminate the need to brush the dog for a few weeks. Fur is shaved from the body, legs, feet and chest. The face is typically only trimmed to keep the round shape the Westie is known for.

After shaving your Westie's coat, dirt and debris will tend to cling to the skin, requiring more frequent bathing than non-shaved dogs. Because bathing more than once a month can dry out this breed's sensitive skin, use a dry dog shampoo to remove stains and odors without bathing.

Westies with a shaved coat require protection from the elements, such as sunscreen or clothing, to protect their exposed sensitive skin.


The rough outer coat frees the Westie from dirt and debris because its texture prevents the dirt from sticking to the fur. The breed doesn't shed often but needs regular undercoat brushing and stripping of this coat to prevent matting. Shaving the fur of the Westie results in a coat that is wavy and soft, which is unacceptable for show purposes. Unlike other breeds, the Westie can't be shaved or clipped between shows because doing so permanently changes the texture of the fur. Typically, only non-show dogs and retired show dogs are shaved or clipped.


Before taking your dog to a professional groomer, ask them if they have worked with West Highland white terriers and know how to strip or clip the fur correctly. Bring pictures of the look you want and ask for references of other Westie clients. If you plan to show your dog, an improper cut by a groomer can disqualify your dog.

Westies are prone to ear infections, and the hair from the ears should be removed no matter the cut style. Ears should be cleaned with mineral oil or a pet ear cleaner after removing the hair.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a West Highland terrier a good family dog?

West Highland Terriers, also known as Westies, can make great family dogs under the right circumstances. They are energetic, loyal, and affectionate dogs that enjoy spending time with their humans. However, like any breed, Westies have their unique Westies are a high-energy breed and require regular exercise and playtime. They love to play, run, and explore, so they are best suited for families who have a backyard or can take them on daily walks or runs. Westies need to be well-socialized from a young age to prevent them from becoming overly protective or aggressive. They are generally good with children but may need to be introduced slowly to other pets in the household. Westies can be stubborn and strong-willed, so they require consistent training and positive reinforcement. It's important to establish yourself as the pack leader and teach them basic obedience commands. Westies have a double coat that requires regular grooming to prevent matting and tangling. They also shed, so families with allergies may need to consider another breed.

Can Westies be left alone?

West Highland Terriers, like most dogs, are social animals and don't do well when left alone for long periods. They crave attention and affection from their humans, and being left alone for extended periods can lead to boredom, anxiety, and destructive behavior. If you must leave your Westie alone for a few hours, it's essential to provide them with enough food, water, toys, and a comfortable place to rest. Consider leaving the TV or radio on to provide some background noise and help them feel less lonely. However, it's not recommended to leave a Westie alone for more than 4-6 hours a day, and ideally, they should have human companionship for most of the day. If you have a busy schedule or work long hours, consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter to check in on your Westie during the day.

Do Westies bark a lot?

Westies were originally bred as hunting dogs, and their instinct to bark and alert their owners to potential danger or prey can still be strong. They also have a reputation for being a bit feisty and territorial, which can lead to barking at strangers or other dogs. To prevent excessive barking, it's essential to train your Westie from a young age and socialize them to different people, pets, and environments. Provide them with plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to prevent boredom, which can lead to barking.

Do white Westies shed?

Yes, West Highland Terriers, including white Westies, do shed. However, their shedding is relatively low compared to many other breeds, and they are considered to be a hypoallergenic breed. Westies have a double coat consisting of a soft undercoat and a coarse topcoat. They shed their undercoat twice a year, typically in the spring and fall, which can result in more shedding during those seasons. However, with regular grooming, including brushing and trimming, you can help minimize shedding and keep your Westie's coat looking healthy and shiny. While Westies are considered hypoallergenic, no dog is completely allergen-free. People with allergies may still have reactions to Westies, but they may be less severe than with other breeds. If you have allergies, it's essential to spend some time around Westies before adopting one to see if you have any allergic reactions.

What are the negatives of a West Highland terrier?

While West Highland Terriers, or Westies, can make great pets for the right family, like any breed, they also have some potential negative traits to consider before bringing one into your home. Westies are a high-energy breed and require regular exercise and playtime. They need a lot of attention and can become bored and destructive if left alone for long periods. Westies can be stubborn and strong-willed, which can make them challenging to train. They need a firm and consistent hand, and training should begin early to establish good habits. Westies have a natural instinct to bark, which can become excessive if not trained and socialized properly. They may bark at strangers, other dogs, or anything they perceive as a threat. Westies have a double coat that requires regular grooming to prevent matting and tangling. They also shed, so families with allergies may need to consider another breed. Like many purebred dogs, Westies are susceptible to certain health issues, including skin allergies, dental problems, and joint issues.

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