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.

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.

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