West Highland White Terrier (WHW / Westie)

West Highland White Terrier (WHW / Westie)


Group: Terrier

Size: Small


The Terrier group is made up of dogs that were originally bred and used for hunting vermin. The word 'Terrier' comes from the Latin word "Terra", meaning earth. Terriers are a hardy breed of dog that were selectively bred to be extremely brave and tough for hunting and ratting. Terriers have been around since ancient times, and as early as the Middle Ages. These game breeds were portrayed by writers and painters.

The West Highland White Terrier (WHW / Westie) is a small breed and belongs to the Terrier group. This is defined by the Kennel Club as "dogs that were originally bred to pursue fox, badger, rat and otter (to name but a few) above and below ground".


Top Clinical Tip: From a clinical perspective we need to consider both the temperament and nature of this wonderful breed. The Westie is tenacious, intelligent, quick to learn and knows his own mind. Always use Therapeutic Handling and make every Therapeutic Touch count!

Westie Conformation + Morphology

  • Head shape; mesaticephalic
  • Body shape; mesomorphic
  • Coat type; double coat with a soft, dense, thick undercoat and a rough outer coat
  • Coat colour; white
  • Paw shape; oval
  • Tail shape; gay
  • Ear shape; erect

Westie Common Conditions + Problems

  • Atopic Dermatitis; a heritable chronic allergic skin condition
  • Legg–Calvé–Perthes Disease (LCPD); also known as "avascular necrosis". This is a developmental orthopaedic disease which causes degeneration of the hip joint, due to disruption of blood flow to the head of the femur. This results in bone death and collapse of the femoral head
  • Craniomandibular osteopathy; this is a developmental disease in dogs causing extensive bony changes in the mandible and skull
  • Copper Toxicity; is the build up of excessive copper in the liver and can cause liver disease. Some dogs can be asymptomatic but have high liver enzymes on blood work, whilst others can have pronounced clinical signs and be very unwell
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease; is a condition which involves inflammation of the walls of the Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract
  • Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS); is also referred to as "Dry Eye", is the commonest eye problem in dogs. It is an autoimmune disease which causes destruction of the tear glands resulting in a decrease in natural tear production
  • Addisons Disease; also known as Hypoadrenocorticism is a hormonal disorder which is caused by a lack of production of the adrenal gland hormones, cortisol and aldosterone
  • Juvenile Cataracts; are cataracts which develop shortly after birth
  • Pancreatic Enzyme Deficiency; also known as Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) results in the inability to digest food properly (maldigestion), due to the pancreas not making enough of a specific enzyme
  • Canine Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (CIPF); is a chronic, progressive, interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  • Luxating Patella; this occurs when the patella (knee cap) moves out of its natural functional position
  • Hip Dysplasia (HD); is the abnormal development of the canine hip joint and is one of the most common joint conditions seen in dogs
  • Diabetes Mellitus; is a common endocrine disease in dogs caused by a lack of production of insulin
  • White Shaker Syndrome; also known as idiopathic steroid responsive shaker syndrome, causes full body tremors in small breeds of dogs


This breed has an extensive list of common conditions, however Atopic Dermatitis which affects about 25% of Westie's, is by far the most common condition seen in this lovely breed and is more common in males than females.

Westie: Breed Facts To Consider

  • Fast moving busy dog, really like adventures and have an incredibly strong prey drive for small animals like rats
  • They are intelligent and inquisitive
  • Have an extremely sensitive nature
  • Are prone to sunburn and sensitive to temperatures
  • Can live in a small space, however need lots of exercise

Relevance to clinical practice

  • It's important to use a variety of Clinic Enrichment techniques which facilitate the professional bond of focus, confidence and trust, as well as having a high proprioceptive value for the dog
  • Utilise appropriate restraints, for example, select and therapeutically fit an appropriate Y-Shaped harness to optimise their natural balanced stance and motion. The best fit for each dog will be dependant on their size, conformation and specific needs
  • Always use Therapeutic Handling techniques to include canine Key Points of Control (cKPC) and a Therapeutic Sternal Hold to assist the dog to work with you in an active (consciously mediated) and considered way


Top Clinical Tip; Therapeutic Handling techniques includes a range of different Therapeutic Holds. Working with the Westie during their land based and / or water based therapy sessions, we find the use of the symmetrical or asymmetrical "Puppy Hold" is an ideal choice when working with this wonderful breed.

  • In the clinical setting consider your speed of movement, body posturing, facial posturing and the volume and tone of your voice. Mindfully approach the dog from the side so as not to overstimulate the dog into fool around, flight or fright
  • Always "work with the dog", responding positively to their feedback signals and give them time to assimilate your selected Therapeutic Handling techniques. Avoid applying techniques onto the dog without their consent
  • Be aware of the Westie's skin sensitivities. For example, the Westie is more sensitive to water temperature than many other breeds. When working in the aquatic environment and using Therapeutic Showering, always check the temperature of the water on the back of your hand and adjust as needed before applying it onto the dog. Introduce the shower rays to the harness area carefully whilst monitoring the dogs feedback signals. Respond to the signals as required and in a timely fashion before moving to other areas of the dogs body


Top Clinical Tip; Westie's are more temperature sensitive to Therapeutic Showering after being in the aquatic treadmill or the hydro pool than before this clinical experience.

  • Canine Movement Enrichment techniques have a high proprioceptive value and are incredibly beneficial to improving the quality of the dogs movement and functional abilities
  • Consider introducing and supporting owners how to use feeding enrichment at home. Research suggests that "10 minutes of mental stimulation equates to 1 hour of physical exercise"

Westie Temperament + Personality

The Westie is highly intelligent, independent, confident and self-assured. They are an incredibly hardy, active breed with a high prey drive, however they won't tolerate rough handling.

They are quick to learn, social and a loyal breed that bonds with their family, making them a very popular breed in the UK.

The Westie is a "big dog in a little dog's body" and will definitely alert bark when he sees or hears something suspicious.

Introducing Archie

A male, 10 year old West Highland White Terrier (WHWT), who lives with his brother Charlie and his human mum, Helen.

Although a veteran Archie does not act like one as he is full of energy and always on the go!

He has a kind and friendly nature and during a "Silver Kennel Club" award test the examiner commented on his amazing temperament.



Archie is a great protector and he always looks out for me and his little brother Charlie.

He also loves children and engages any child he is able to, into throwing his ball!

Following two bouts of lameness in his hind limb, Archie had an X-ray and was diagnosed with arthritis. He was 5 years old.

The vet prescribed Metacam for when he was in pain and advised no more flyball or playing with a ball. This was devastating for Archie as he lives for a ball! Each birthday and Christmas his favourite present is a ball

Nothing makes him happier, than when he is sitting shotgun next to me in either my Mazda Mx 5 with the top down or my VW camper van. He is ‘King of the Road’ .


So at 5 years of age I tried to adjust the amount of exercise he had. I introduce shorter, frequent walks and less ball play. However, despite these changes, the use of his affected leg declined, resulting in pain. I decided I needed to get a referral.

The vet then said let’s try physiotherapy including hydrotherapy and I agreed, as to be honest I had wanted this before but it had not been offered as an option in the previous visits.

I was given a list of centres and I chose K9HS because it had been highly recommended to me.

Archie then met Barbara and Sarah and he quickly responded and is so happy to go to the clinic. He always works hard to please and checks in with me all the time during his session.

During the land based therapy Archie is super calm even though he has so much extra energy after coming out of the pool. He quickly readjusts to the therapy touch work they use.

Archie chilling in sunny Suffolk!
Archie chilling in sunny Suffolk!

Archie‘s condition changed so much and everything became easier and now with correct management, Archie lives a full and happy life without pain.

He is such a mischievous character and so joyful.

His party trick is ringing a bell which he learnt with no practise at all. I was trying to teach his brother Charlie (as previously Archie never showed any enthusiasm for tricks) and Archie just came up to the bell and pressed it!

My first ever dog Archie is one in a million.

The Westie's Role Historically + Now

This breed of dog is from Scotland and was once used to hunt fox, badger, otter and for killing vermin such as rats.

The Westie's instinct to work is usually now channelled into other activities which include;

  • Agility competitions
  • Obedience competitions
  • Therapy dog
  • Search and rescue
  • Tracking
  • Flyball

The Westie is intelligent, quick to learn, easy to train and loves adventures.

Westie Bitesize History

The Westie is a small sized breed and since 2010 has been the third most popular of the terrier breeds in the UK. They originated in Scotland and the modern breed descended from breeding programmes before the 20th century, where they were bred to hunt small rodents on farms.

Westies were first recorded during the reign of James VI of Scotland (1567 - 1625). Known as Scottish White Terriers they were considered to be an offshoot of both the Scottish Terrier and the Cairn Terrier breeds, sandy and brindle coloured dogs were seen as hardier than other colours.


Edward Donald Malcolm, 16th Laird of Poltalloch, is credited with the creation of the modern breed from his Poltalloch Terrier.

The Westie is cousin to the Cairn Terrier.

Even More History

In 1588 a ship from the Spanish Armada was wrecked on the island of Skye and was reported to be carrying white Spanish dogs. The descendants of these dogs were kept distinct from other breeds by Clan Donald. White and sandy coloured dogs were preserved by other families including Clan MacLeod on Skye.

Descendants of this family reported that at least two Chiefs, "The Wicked Man" Norman MacLeod and his grandson Norman (who became Chief after his death) kept white terriers.

Another breed of White Scottish Terriers, know as "Rosenheath Terrier" were bred by George Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell.

At this same time Dr. Americ Edwin Flaxman from Fife developed a line of White Scottish Terriers, known as "Pittenweem Terriers" from a female Scottish Terrier which produced white offspring. This bitch produced white puppies regardless of the sire that she was bred to.

Dr. Americ Edwin Flaxman concluded that this was an ancient trait of the Scottish Terrier that was trying to reappear.


Flaxman rededicated his breeding programme with the aim of restoring the white Scottish Terriers to the same stature as the dark coloured breed and is credited with classes being added to dog shows for White Scottish Terriers towards the end of the 19th century.

Edward Donald Malcolm, 16th Laird of Poltalloch is most closely associated with developing the modern breed of West Highland White Terrier. Malcolm owned terriers and used to work game and following the mistaken shooting (for a fox) of one of his reddish-brown terriers he decided to develop a white terrier breed.

This terrier became known as the "Poltalloch Terrier" and the first generation had sandy coloured coats and pricked ears, which is a trait seen later in the modern breed.

It is unknown whether the 'Poltalloch Terriers' and 'Pittenweem Terriers' were interbred. In 1903, Malcolm declared that he did not want to be known as the creator of the breed.


Edward Donald Malcolm insisted that his breed of white terriers be renamed and the term "West Highland White Terrier" first appears in Otters and Otter Hunting by L.C.R. Cameron, published in 1908.


By the time of Malcolm's death in 1930, a stable type had appeared with prick ears, a white coat and a short back.

This joyful White Terrier dog breed from Scotland is full of self-esteem and knows he’s the best thing around. He's always on the lookout for a good time, and he’ll make you laugh while he entertains himself. He’s friendly and happy, with a lively nature that endears him to everyone (except small rodents), especially when he cocks his head to one side and looks at you quizzically.

This Bitesize Resource was produced for you and is owned by K9HS Courses