You may be interested in a West Highland White Terrier for a variety of reasons ... as a pet, a show dog, an obedience competitor, a working dog, or a combination of these things. Whatever your objective you, the dog's owner, will be responsible for the care and training that will enable your Westie to fulfill its potential.
A Westie is an all white, compact, sturdy package of frolicsome energy, looking for some fun. His ears stand up naturally. His tail is short by nature's design. As adults, males measure about 11 inches in height with bitches being about 1 inch less. The breed was developed for the hard and dangerous work of destroying vermin. The physical characteristics of the Westie are described fully in the Breed Standard.
The Westie's coat is double to protect him from the elements and from the teeth and claws of his quarry in the hunt. The outer coat is hard with softer undercoat for insulation. Puppies may have more of the softer undercoat, but with proper hand stripping, the hard coat will emerge. The adult coat sheds lightly, so he must be brushed to remove the dead hair. This coat is a "dry" rather than oily coat so that it does not absorb soil readily or have a marked "doggy" odor.
A Westie needs very few baths. The hard outer coat is easily kept clean with a brush and occasional dry cleaning. This is done by brushing white powdered chalk or corn starch into the coat. When the powder is brushed out, the soil comes with it. A Westie kept as a pet requires grooming every eight to twelve weeks for a tidy appearance. A weekly or bi-weekly schedule is necessary for the dog appearing in the show ring.
If you want a cuddly lapdog, a Westie may not be the right breed for you. Many are too independent to be held for long periods. While they like to be in close proximity, most find a corner of the room or near a heater vent to be ideal. However, there are some exceptions and it is independent of the sex of the dog.
If someone in your household is an avid gardener, you may want to avoid a Westie or any one of the other terrier breeds. They are "earth dogs" and do like to dig. If your heart is otherwise set on the Westie, there are ways to accommodate the family gardener and his enthusiastic Westie "helper." A designated and/or restricted area should be designed into your garden plans.
If you want a one-man dog, prefer cats to dogs, or aren't home much, you shouldn't get a Westie. Westies are very people-oriented and like being with you whenever possible. While they do not require a huge amount of exercise, they can get bored and look for trouble when they do not get enough attention and human companionship.
Most people prefer to get a young puppy and raise it themselves. This can be very rewarding, but also time consuming and sometimes frustrating. Other people prefer a dog that is out of puppyhood and has already been "civilized." This page will discuss the pros and cons of both, and how to select a Westie of any age.
Additional helpful information can be found on our Westie FAQs (Most Frequently Asked Questions) page.
CHOOSING A WEST HIGHLAND WHITE TERRIER
What are you looking for in a Westie?
A beautiful animal? A good family pet? A good obedience worker? A good earth dog? There are Westies that fit each description, and some that fit all of these descriptions. The West Highland White Terrier Club of America has hundreds of members whose interest in the breed has led them to develop the potential of the Westie in each of these areas. Westies also work as hearing dogs, as therapy dogs, as tracking dogs, appear in commercials and advertisements, and are preferred by people who want a large dog in a small package. Westies are fun loving and spirited, and have a sense of humor. They have "no small amount of self esteem," which is 90% endearing and 10% maddening. His hard, "dry" coat sheds only a little, is easy to clean, and has no "doggy" odor. There is no question that the West Highland White Terrier is a versatile and remarkable breed.
Before you even start looking at litters of puppies, take time to learn about the breed. Attend dog shows and earthdog tests, Westie Club meetings, and local kennel club meetings, and talk with and question Westie owners. They are proud of their dogs and are happy to share their enthusiasm.
Look around. It is much easier to find a "puppy mill" or "backyard breeder" that knows and cares little about the welfare of the breed than it is to find a reputable breeder. Have patience and never buy impulsively ... all puppies are cute. The West Highland White Terrier Club of America and many of the regional clubs can supply you with a list of conscientious breeders in your area who will help you in your search even though they might not have anything for sale themselves.
You want a sound, healthy puppy who will grow up to be a sound, healthy representative of the breed. Careful selection now will save heartache and money later. Poor quality puppies are produced by people who breed their pets just to have a litter, or by profit seekers who give little thought to quality, looks or temperament in the puppies they produce. Many of these indiscriminately-bred puppies have health problems, poor temperaments, and/or breed disqualifications. Remember, you are choosing a companion for the next ten to fifteen years.
A poorly-bred six-week-old puppy selling for any price is no bargain! Chances are that the parents were not tested free of hereditary defects, that the puppies had little if any veterinary care, and that they were not given the proper socialization and TLC needed to raise a healthy litter of Westie puppies. Please check with several breeders or regional Westie clubs to learn more about current prices for a sound, healthy, properly raised pet from good parentage sold on a spay/neuter contract. Show and breeding prospects will be more expensive, and prices vary depending on the area of the country in which the breeder is located.
Male or Female
Temperamentally, there is very little difference between the sexes in Westies. Each has its pros and cons. There is a cross-over and always the exception to the rule. Spayed and neutered animals do not have many of the negative characteristics of their sex. Males can be easily trained to use a urination post in the garden, thus keeping the garden healthy and odor free. Many fanciers find the males to be more affectionate. Stronger urine odor can be reduced by adding 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar to a male dog's food. Females are slightly smaller, are not as strong, and are therefore easier to walk and carry.
CHOOSING A REPUTABLE BREEDER
Choosing a reputable breeder is very important. Since it would be almost impossible for you to know what the puppy you are buying will grow up to be physically and emotionally, you must rely on your faith in the person from whom you are purchasing your puppy. There are three options open to you in choosing this person.
Pet Shop or Dealer
The worst possible choice. The puppies are poorly bred and raised. They are thought of as merchandise to be sold for a high profit. The high profit results because little has been put into the breeding or the care of the puppies. Many are sickly. Pet shops rely heavily on impulse buying, which is not the way to choose a dog as an addition to the family.
Also a poor choice. This is the person who owns a pet Westie and thinks it would be "fun" to have puppies, that it would be a great experience for the children, or that the bitch should be bred once before she is spayed. Even worse, perhaps, it's being done just to make money. Usually this breeder knows little about the Breed Standard or history of the breed, and still less about proper care. The casual breeder does not have annual eye examinations done by a Board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist, and does not send hip X-rays to the GDC or OFA for evaluation and registration. The backyard breeder is not aware of breed problems, and doesn't care. Often the quality of the dogs being bred is poor. This person's only goal is to produce puppies and when the "fun" is over, sell them quickly.
Serious Hobby Breeder
The very best choice. The serious and dedicated hobby breeder regards his/her dogs as even more than a hobby, although the true fancier does not expect to make a profit. When someone is involved in dogs for the enjoyment of each individual animal, for participating in any of the many aspects of "dog sport," and for the challenge of producing the finest animals possible, the result is superior. These breeders acknowledge responsibility for each and every puppy produced, and stand behind every dog they have bred.
Unequivocally, your choice should be from the ranks of the SERIOUS HOBBY BREEDER. It is an interesting fact that poor quality puppies from pet shops and backyard breeders are often sold for the same price and sometimes even more than those purchased from the serious hobby breeder. The question is: How does one recognize the serious hobby breeder? Following is a list of requirements the breeder should meet before you consider purchasing a puppy. Don't be afraid to ask the breeder many questions. It is your right, and you can rest assured that the dedicated breeder will respond positively and with pride.
THE BREEDER SHOULD:
(The West Highland White Terrier Club of America does not recommend, guarantee, endorse, nor rate breeders, their kennels, or their stock.)
PICKING A PUPPY
Once you have found a breeder that you trust it's time to think about a puppy again. Take your time. You might have to wait weeks or even months for the "right" litter to be whelped, and it can be well worth the wait. If you are fortunate, and more than one good litter is available at the same time in your area, you can compare puppies, pedigrees and parents. You may be asked to put a deposit of $50 or more on the litter of your choice if the puppies are not yet eight weeks old. Good litters seldom go begging, and it is not uncommon for a choice litter to be completely spoken for by the time the puppies are eight to twelve weeks of age and ready to go to their new homes.
Be sure that the breeder knows if you want the dog for a particular purpose other than a companion (such as show prospect, a competition obedience dog, and/or working dog), and have the breeder help with the selection of the puppy. Very few litters have more than a few real "show prospects" in them, but a "pet-quality" puppy from a well-bred litter has all the potential of growing up to be a sturdy, healthy Westie of proper size and temperament.
Almost all Westie puppies are appealing, but you need to look for more than "cuteness." They should be sturdy in build, with straight legs. They should feel firm and muscular, and be squirmy and active at first when picked up, but be willing to relax and accept being held and cuddled for a short time. Coats should be clean and thick; eyes, nose and ears free of discharge or irritation; and the puppies should not be pot-bellied. Gums should be pink, not pale. See the Breed Standard for details on appearance.
If the breeder offers you several puppies to select from, take each puppy you are considering away from the rest of its litter mates and observe its reactions to its environment and to you. Puppies at seven to ten weeks should be willing to explore their environment, and although perhaps a little bit cautious at first, they should investigate new objects and be fairly self-assured. Speak to the puppy and see if it will follow you as you move away. Roll a ball or other toy to see if it has any instinct to watch, chase, carry, or possibly even return to you with the ball. Most Westies do not have a retrieving instinct, but you should be wary of the puppy who does not show some interest in or awareness of a moving object. See if the puppy exhibits the type of personality you would want to live with. Perhaps the bold, brash puppy that never stops getting into things would be too much for you, and the more easy-going fellow who's agreeable and a bit more receptive to your guidance would be a better choice. Again, the breeder can advise you. Remember, they have observed the puppy's personality over a long period of time, while you may only have done so for an hour or so.
While observing the puppies, observe the dam as well. Any excessive shyness or aggressiveness on her part is indicative of a poor temperament, and the puppies might inherit these undesirable traits. A Westie bitch should be watchful and patient with her puppies, and should be happy to show them to you. If the sire is available, ask to meet him too.
CONSIDERING THE OLDER DOG
If you aren't prepared to go through the trials and training of a baby puppy, an older puppy or even a mature dog can be a good alternative, especially in households in which the family pet may have to spend much of the day unsupervised. The older Westie who has been well socialized at the home of his breeder adapts to a new family readily. This is not a "one man" dog. A Westie spreads his affection around to all the family members. There are many reasons that older dogs are available. Breeders often hold a puppy until it is old enough to determine its show or breeding potential; a brood bitch that has been bred once or twice is retired; or circumstances change and the breeder is helping someone place a much-loved pet they have had to part with. The reasons are myriad, but whatever they may be, the grown dog is available. He may be housebroken, knows many commands, and has formed many behavior patterns. If the dog has been loved and well taken care of, he will continue to give love and devotion to his new family. Never be hesitant to take an outgoing, good-natured older dog into your home. Although it may be confused at first and cause a few problems, patience, consistency, and reassurance are the key words. The dog's self-confidence will return, and it will adapt readily to your routine.
Try to find out all that you can about the older dog that you are considering, so that you can determine if his temperament is compatible with yours. Learn as much as possible about his habits, daily routine, likes and dislikes, diet and past history. Be sure to find out if he is housebroken. It is important that all family members meet the dog before its adoption, and agree that this is the dog they want.
It is best to acquire the dog when the household member with primary responsibility for the dog's care and training will be at home full time for the first few days. Time must be taken to make clear that the dog knows where it is to sleep, relieve itself, where and when it will eat, and what it can and cannot do in the house. In short, it has to learn the routine it will be following and what is expected of it.
Give the dog a month or so to settle in to its new environment and gain confidence in its new owners before beginning formal obedience training. Even if the dog has had some obedience training, attending class is an excellent way to brush up on its training and help you understand its responses and personality more completely. You'll enjoy working together.
If you rescue a mistreated or abandoned West Highland White Terrier through a Westie Club Referral Westie Rescue service or a humane society, and give it your affection, it will reward you with eternal love and gratitude. These dogs may well be of unknown background, and bring you a few more problems than those with a more favorable history, but the rewards can be great.