9 Facts About West Highland White Terriers
These adorable dogs were bred to be hard-working and fierce—but that doesn’t mean they won't want to cuddle. Learn more about these fluffy white dogs.
1. THEY STARTED OUT AS RATTERS.
West Highland white terriers were bred in Northwestern Scotland as working dogs, and were used to clear out mines, farms, and barns of rats or other vermin. Westies would also accompany hunters on fox and rabbit hunts, scaring the game from their burrows. They’re very closely related to other terriers in the area, such as Cairns and Skyes.
2. THEIR WHITE FUR KEEPS THEM SAFE.
The Westie’s distinctive snow-white fur helped it stay visible during hunts. In the 1800s, Colonel Edward Donald Malcolm of Poltalloch, Scotland (in Argyllshire) was hunting with a pack of Cairn terriers, when he accidentally shot his favorite dog after mistaking it for a rabbit or fox. Upset by this loss, Malcolm vowed to only hunt with white dogs, which could easily be seen even when obscured by foliage. [PDF] Some Cairn terriers and Scottish terriers are born white, so these lighter-furred dogs were bred until the offspring were consistently white.
3. THE BREED HAS HAD A FEW DIFFERENT NAMES.
While Malcolm was breeding his Poltalloch terriers (named after his estate), George Campbell, the 8th Duke of Argyll was also attempting to breed all-white terriers under the name Roseneath terrier, after his castle in Roseneath. The breed was accepted by the American Kennel Club in 1908 as the Roseneath Terrier, but the name was changed to the West Highland white terrier a year later.
4. THEY'RE BUILT TO MOVE UNDERGROUND …
When burrowing underground to flush out game, Westies need to be able to squeeze through some tight spots. Their bullet-shaped bodies and thinner, heart-shaped thoraxes help them wriggle through underground caverns to chase after rodents.
5. … BUT THEY STILL OCCASIONALLY GET STUCK.
Westies are an ambitious breed, and might attempt to squeeze into spaces smaller than their bodies will allow. When they find themselves wedged somewhere they can’t escape, it’s up to the owner to pull them out. The hunting dogs have been bred to have an extra sturdy tail that can be used to yank the dogs out of holes. (That being said, don't go around pulling a Westie's tail unless it's absolutely necessary.)
6. THEY'RE LOUDMOUTHS.
These verbal dogs like to alert you of everything from passing cars to squirrels in a tree. West Highland white terriers were bred to have big barks so that hunters could hear their dogs barking underground (an especially useful trick if they got stuck). Their bark also makes for a great alarm, but don’t expect to use them as guard dogs—they’re more likely to become friends with any intruder.
7. THEY HAVE A DOUBLE-LAYER COAT.
Westies have a wiry coat on top with a soft undercoat underneath. The top coat sheds the dirt and debris that the dogs used to collect underground, while the bottom coat keeps the canines warm. Westies require regular haircuts and brushing to keep their white coat clean and bright.
8. THEY REQUIRE A LOT OF TRAINING.
Westies are not an ideal choice for first-time dog owners. The willful dogs are independent and like to do things their own way. If you remain diligent, you can usually have yours fully trained within six months—but that’s a big "if."
9. WATCH FOR SUNBURN (ESPECIALLY ON THEIR EARS).
The little dogs have sensitive ears, so some sunscreen is recommended if you plan on spending a lot of time in the sun. Yes, dogs can get sunburned too.