How to Train a West Highland Terrier 

Smart, confident, and always entertaining at play, the adorable West Highland White Terrier (Westie, for short) has charmed owners for over 300 years. This diminutive but sturdy earthdog is among the most popular of the small terriers. Standing 10 to 11 inches at the shoulder, with dark piercing eyes, compact body, and a carrot-shaped tail wagging with delight, the Westie’s looks are irresistible. Beneath the plush-toy exterior, though, is a true working terrier of gameness and courage. Bred to hunt rats and other underground rodents, Westies are surprisingly strong and tough. The all-white double coat is hard to the touch, not soft and fluffy. Alert and active, Westies exhibit traits of a plucky and self-reliant ratting terrier: They require no pampering, they will chase after anything that moves, and their independence can make training a challenge. But, thanks to their faithfulness and keen intelligence, Westies will train nicely with time and patience.


The nobles, landed gentry, and poor farmers of the long-ago British Isles all faced the same problem: infestations of rodents that pillaged grain stores and carried disease. The solution was the development of a vast array of terriers called earthdogs, adept at finding and dispatching rats.
It is thought that the terriers of Scotland—including the Westie, Cairn, Skye, Scottish, and Dandie Dinmont terriers—are all branches of the same family tree. The exact beginnings of the Westie’s forerunners are, in the poetic words of one historian, “cloaked within the mists of the Scottish hills.”

The breed we know today as the West Highland White Terrier comes into historical focus in the 1700s, when the Malcolm clan began breeding the little white exterminators on their estate, called Poltalloch. They were bred and maintained there for more than 100 years prior to their appearance at dog shows. 

Probably, the lineage of the Malcolm dogs goes back to the time of King James I, who asked for some “earth-doggies” out of Argyleshire. The breed was sometimes known as the Poltalloch Terrier; an alternate name was the Roseneath Terrier, named for another Scottish estate where early breedings were done.
By 1896, when the breed was first shown at Scottish dog shows, it was known as the West Highland White Terrier, referring to the northwest part of Scotland where Westies earned their fame. Westies were first shown at AKC shows in 1906. Amusing, spunky, and portable, the Westie has been a popular companion dog in America for well over a hundred years. Juicy Couture and Black & White Scotch whiskey are two of the brands that have used the Westie’s delightful image to attract customers.

Quick Facts

Temperament: loyal / happy / Entertaining

Height: 10 to 11 inches 

Weight: 15 to 20 pounds

Life expectancy: 13-15 years

Terrier Group


West Highland White Terriers are generally healthy dogs, and responsible breeders screen their stock for health conditions such as cardiac disease and patellar luxation. A Westie’s teeth should be brushed often, using a toothpaste formulated for dogs. Regular visits to the vet for checkups and parasite control help to ensure the dog a long, healthy life.

Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
  • Patella Evaluation
  • Hip Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation


To keep the Westie looking his best, regular grooming is a must. Stripping (or plucking) the old, dead hair is the traditional way of taking care of the terrier coat, and it is the grooming method that must be used if you’re interested in showing your dog. Pet owners often have their dogs’ coats clipped for neatness. Most people find a professional groomer who will help keep that beautiful Westie look. Usually a visit to the groomer every 4 to 6 weeks will work just fine. Daily brushing and combing are important. Because the Westie has a hard coat, bathing too often can do more harm than good.


Westies love to romp and play, and they enjoy a nice walk. Since by nature they will run after anything that moves, the breed does best in a fenced area or on a leash. With their intelligence, energy, and can-do attitude, Westies excel in a variety of canine sports and activities, including obedience, rally, and agility. True to the breed’s original purpose, they have the instinct to go to ground and are superstars at earthdog events.

Smart, confident, adaptable, and endlessly entertaining at play, the adorable Westie has charmed owners for more than 300 years. Like all terriers, Westies were bred to work alone. This terrier independence can make training a challenge, but thanks to their keen intelligence Westies take to patient, consistent lessons that are kept upbeat and interesting. Despite their size, Westies are sturdy, no-nonsense dogs who require little pampering.


The West Highland White Terrier should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.