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

Characteristics of the West Highland White Terrier (Westie)

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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 actually possess high energy levels, so you likely won't be able to hold your dog for long periods of time. 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 coat of the dog is professionally cut to remove any of the loose undercoat with a stripping knife or stripping comb. The hair on the back and shoulders is clipped with a scissor to blend it 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 white little 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 keeps the Westie free of dirt and debris because its texture prevents the dirt from sticking to the fur. The breed doesn't shed often but does need regular brushing of the undercoat 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 what the style of cut. Ears should be cleaned out with mineral oil or a pet ear cleaner after the hair is removed.

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West Highland White Terrier

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