Modern Dog Training and Behaviour Advice
Compiled by Amy Lewis
Breed: West Highland White Terrier
Breed Group: Terrier
- A Westie can have terrier traits (no surprise there). He will dig, bark, and go after vermin. But with proper training, he can be trained to only bark once and to not dig at all, although some #dogs are less easily discouraged than others. The vermin chasing, however, is hardwired, and no amount of training will alter it.
- A Westie does well in multidog homes, unless there is more than one intact male (and he’s one of them). He can get used to cats. He cannot adapt to small pets, such as rabbits and birds, because of his strong prey drive.
- He’s generally easy to train if it’s done in a positive and consistent way. Bear in mind that a Westie has a strong will and great self-esteem, which can cause some training difficulties if training becomes boring or is too harsh.
- His coat is easy to groom and only requires regular brushing. If he’s not clipped, his coat requires stripping about twice a year.
- He’s a low shedder.
- Although he doesn’t require as much exercise as other #breeds, the Westie still needs one or two daily walks or play sessions. He generally has a low energy level inside the house, though individual dogs vary in this regard.
- A Westie is adaptable and will do well in any type of dwelling, including apartments (although if he isn’t trained out of barking, he’s likely to cause difficulties with the neighbors).
- He’s a social dog who gets along well with everyone. He likes children of every age, but he’s better suited to homes with older children.
- A Westie can be left for long periods of time when his people are working. Turning on a radio, providing toys and kongs, and crating him are the key strategies to use.
- If you are a fastidious gardener, the Westie is not your best choice, since he may become fond of digging up plants and be just a tad too enthusiastic about helping you garden.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
Country of Origin and Original Function
The West Highland White Terrier shares a history with that of the Dandie Dinmont,Skye, Scottish, and CairnTerriers; they are all considered branches of the same breed. The West Highland White Terrier originated in Scotland and was used for hunting fox, badger, and otter and for killing vermin such as rats.
There’s not much evidence to determine the exact history of the West Highland White Terrier, but many believe that the breed can be traced back to the seventeenth century and a small breed of earth dogs that James I of Argyllshire gave to the king of France.
According to breed lore, the Westie’s white color resulted from a tragic nineteenth-century accident that occurred while Colonel Malcolm of Poltalloch was hunting fox. Thecolonel accidentally shot and killed one of his wheaten-colored Cairns. Devastated, and determined to prevent such accidents in the future, he decided to breed only white dogs that couldn’t be confused with foxes.
The West Highland White Terrier has been known by many names, including the Poltalloch Terrier and the Roseneath Terrier, but he was officially recognized by the Kennel Club of England as the West Highland White Terrier in 1906.
The West Highland White Terrier, often simply called the Westie, is a small, sturdy dog. The head is in proportion to the body and when viewed from the front gives off a round appearance. The blunt muzzle is slightly shorter than the skull and tapers toward the nose.There is a defined stop. The nose is black. The teeth meet in a scissors bite with teeth that are large in proportion to the dog. The almond-shaped, deep-set, dark brown eyes are set wide apart. The ears are erect, set wide apart on top of the head and triangular in shape, coming to a point. The legs are somewhat short but not too low to the ground. The undocked tail is relatively short, about 5-6 inches (12.5-15 cm) long, thicker at the base and tapering to a point. Dewclaws are sometimes removed. The double coat has a straight, hard outer coat that is about 2 inches long (5 cm)and a soft, dense undercoat. The coat color is solid white.
The West Highland White Terrier is a bold, confident, fun-loving, intelligent dog who can find joy in the simplest pleasures of life, such as squeaky toys, a belly rub, and food. His happy disposition and love of life make him a favorite for many, in spite of his mischievousness. He doesn’t lack any self-esteem, but he’s not so overbearing in his confidence that his self-assurance becomes a negative trait.
He is friendly and gets along with everyone, and he enjoys being part of his family. No docile lapdog, he can be spunky. He rarely starts a fight, but he is after all a terrier, so he won’t walk away from one. He’s a lively little guy who greets the adventures in life with a sparkle in his eye and a skip in his step — particularly when he’s mowing over your feet to get to his food bowl.
Crate training benefits every dog and is a kind way to ensure that your Westie doesn’t have accidents in the house or get into things he shouldn’t. A crate is also a place where he can retreat for a nap. Crate training at a young age will help your Westie accept confinement if he ever needs to be boarded or hospitalized. Never stick your Westie in a crate all day long, however. It’s not a jail, and he shouldn’t spend more than a few hours at a time in it except when he’s sleeping at night.
Some Westies like to swim, but they should be supervised at all times while doing so — they’re not as at home in the water as many of their canine cousins.
His coat is easy to groom and requires regular brushing and trimming. Show dogs generally undergo stripping about twice a year, but most pet owners don’t bother. Trimming is usually needed on the feet, and around the ears and eyes. The hair on his head is often plucked to produce that definitive round shape you see on show dogs. His shedding tendencies range from low to nearly zero.
The coat stays fairly clean and he should only be bathed when necessary. To keep that coat a nice sparkly white, the Westie requires some tidying and may need to be wiped down — sometimes frequently.
Check his ears once a week for dirt, redness, or a bad odor that can indicate an infection. Also wipe them out weekly with a cotton ball dampened with gentle, pH-balanced ear cleaner to prevent problems.
Children and Other Pets
The West Highland White Terrier is a loving dog who is good with older children. But he must have adult supervision around children, particularly younger ones. Some breed books have overemphasized how well the Westie gets along with kids, so breed clubs recommend that all children in a Westie’s home be older than seven years of age. This dog can snap if annoyed — but if child and dog are properly supervised, the Westie can do well with children of all ages.
A West Highland White Terrier is good with other dogs and is suited for multidog homes. However, an intact male generally dislikes other intact male dogs, Westie or otherwise. He can adjust to cats, but that’s easier if he’s been raised with them rather than adjusting to a late-life introduction; he has a strong prey drive and will chasecats who decide to run from him. A Westie should not be trusted with small animals because of his prey drive. Bred to go to ground after little varmints, and he can’t differentiate between the caged pet mouse in your child’s bedroom and a wild mouse that found its way indoors. If you want any small pet, including rabbits or birds, this isn’t the breed for you.
Westies are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they’re prone to certain health conditions. Not all Westies will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re considering this breed.
If you’re buying a puppy, find a good breeder who will show you health clearances for both your puppy’s parents. Health clearances prove that a dog has been tested for and cleared of a particular condition. In Westies, you should expect to see health clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) for hip dysplasia (with a score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand’s disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) certifying that eyes are normal. You can confirm health clearances by checking the OFA web site (offa.org).
- Craniomandibular Osteopathy: This condition affects the skull bones while a puppy is growing, causing them to become irregularly enlarged. Symptoms usually appear between four and eight months of age. The cause is unknown but believed to be hereditary. Often the puppy’s jaw and glands will become swollen, and he won’t be able to open his mouth. He’ll drool, have a fluctuating fever that recurs every couple of weeks, and, in some cases, his chewing muscles may atrophy. There is no treatment, but anti-inflammatories and pain relievers help the dog deal with what is a painful condition. Proper nutrition is a must; in severe cases, a feeding tube may be needed. The irregular bone growth slows and typically stops by the time the puppy becomes a year old. The lesions can regress, but a few dogs have permanent jaw problems and therefore have trouble eating. Occasional cases are severe enough to call for jaw surgery.
- Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: If your Westie has Legg-Perthes, the blood supply to the head of the femur (the large rear leg bone) is decreased, and the head of the femur that connects to the pelvis begins to disintegrate. The first symptoms, limping and atrophy of the leg muscle, usually occur when puppies are four to six months old. Surgery can correct the condition, usually resulting in a pain-free puppy.
- Cataracts: This common eye condition cause sopacity on the lens of the eye, resulting in poor vision. The dog’s eye(s) will have a cloudy appearance. Cataracts usually occur in old age and sometimes can be surgically removed to improve vision. West Highland White Terriers are usually afflicted by juvenile cataracts.
- Pulmonary Fibrosis: Also known as Westie lung disease, this malady scars the supporting tissue in the air sacs and connective tissue of the lungs. This makes the lungs loose their elasticity, which prevents oxygen from passing normally into the blood. Symptoms vary from dog to dog — many dogs show none for years — but they can include loss of stamina, rapid breathing, “crackling” in the lungs, a dry cough, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing. Pulmonary fibrosis can lead to heart failure and other diseases as well. There is no cure and prognosis is always poor, so prevention is critical. Preventing any respiratory infections, limiting exercise, and keeping a healthy weight (or losing weight for overweight dogs) is key. The disease is sometimes treated by keeping the house cool and using bronchial dilators. Treatment has greater success if the disease is diagnosed early, before the scarring gets out of hand.
- Patellar Luxation: Also known as slipped stifles, this is a common problem in small dogs. The patella is the kneecap. Luxation means dislocation of an anatomical part (as a bone at a joint). Patellar luxation is when the knee joint (often of a hind leg) slides in and out of place, causing pain. This can be crippling, although many dogs lead relatively normal lives with this condition.