West Highland White Terrier Temperament
What's Good About 'Em,
What's Bad About 'Em
West Highland White Terrier Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2015
The AKC Standard says that the West Highland White Terrier is "possessed with no small amount of self-esteem."
Indeed. Along with the Cairn Terrier ("Toto" in the Wizard of Oz), the West Highland White Terrier is what many people picture when they hear "terrier."
The Westie is everything a terrier was designed to be. Sturdy, spunky, and bold, he needs his daily walks and interactive play sessions. Yet he is easier to handle and friendlier than some other terriers. He can adapt to any home in which he can be a full participant and busybody.
Quick to announce anything amiss, including visitors, the Westie usually proceeds to welcome them inside with a gaily wagging tail. West Highland White Terriers can be bossy with other dogs of the same sex, but otherwise coexist with other dogs and cats more readily than most terriers.
Rabbits and rodents, however, are in for a stressful (and probably short) life, along with wild critters who venture into the Westie's yard. He will pursue with tenacity anything that moves and cannot be let off-leash except in a safe, enclosed area.
Assertive but cheerful, with the typical stubbornness and cleverness of a true terrier, the Westie must be shown that you are in charge, else he may become demanding and testy when he doesn't get his own way. He does respond well to consistent discipline and to obedience training that utilizes food rewards.
West Highland White Terriers can be possessive of their food and toys, and they are determined diggers and barkers.
If you want a dog who...
- Is small, yet sturdy and tough -- not a delicate lapdog
- Has a natural appearance
- Needs only moderate exercise
- Makes a keen watchdog
- Doesn't shed too much
- Is easier to handle, friendlier with strangers, more amenable to training, and more tolerant of other pets than most terriers are
A West Highland White Terrier may be right for you.
If you don't want to deal with...
- The dynamic terrier temperament (see full description below)
- Potential aggression toward other animals -- strong chasing instincts
- Digging holes
- Regular brushing and clipping
- A considerable number of potential health problems
A West Highland White Terrier may not be right for you.
- choosing the RIGHT breeder and the RIGHT puppy
- or choosing an ADULT dog from your animal shelter or rescue group – a dog who has already proven that he doesn't have negative traits
- training your dog to respect you
- avoiding health problems by following my daily care program in 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy
More traits and characteristics of the West Highland White Terrier
If I was considering a West Highland White Terrier, I would be most concerned about...
- The dynamic terrier temperament. Most terrier breeds are remarkably similar. The same words are used over and over -- quick to bark, quick to chase, lively, bossy, feisty, scrappy, clever, independent, stubborn, persistent, impulsive, intense. Terriers cannot be trusted off-leash -- they are too likely to "take off", oblivious to your frantic shouts, after anything that runs.
- Possible animal aggression. West Highland White Terriers are often more tolerant toward other dogs and cats than many other terriers are, especially dogs and cats who belong to their own family. However, many Westies are still dominant or aggressive toward strange dogs and have strong instincts to chase and seize small fleeing creatures.
- Barking. Terriers are often too quick to sound the alarm at every new sight and sound. You have to be equally quick to stop them.
- Mind of their own. Though much more amenable to training than other terriers, West Highland White Terriers must still be taught at an early age that they are not the rulers of the world. The toughness that makes them suited to killing vermin can frustrate you when you try to teach them anything. West Highland White Terriers can be stubborn and dominant (they want to be the boss) and will make you prove that you can make them do things. You must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say.
- Grooming. Without regular brushing, combing, and trimming/clipping, West Highland White Terriers become a matted mess. On the plus side, their shedding is on the low side of average. (They are NOT hypoallergenic or light-shedding, however.)
- Finding a healthy one. West Highland White Terriers can suffer from skin problems, Addison's disease, a serious liver disease (copper toxicosis), cataracts, a degenerative brain disease, joint problems, and more.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a healthy West Highland White Terrier puppy. Health problems have become so widespread in dogs today that this book is required reading for ANYONE who is thinking of getting a purebred, crossbred, or mixed breed dog.
If you'd like to consult with me personally about whether a West Highland White Terrier might be a good dog breed for your family, I offer a Dog Breed Consulting Service.
Once you have your West Highland White Terrier home, you need to KEEP him healthy -- or if he's having any current health problems, you need to get him back on the road to good health.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy is the book you need. Raise your dog the right way and you will be helping him live a longer, healthier life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.
I do NOT recommend West Highland White Terriers if you have small children. Many terriers will not tolerate any nonsense from little life forms whom they consider to be below themselves in importance. Many terriers are quick to react to teasing, and even to the normal clumsiness that comes with small children (accidental squeezing of their ears or pulling of whiskers or stepping on their paw). Many terriers are possessive of their food and toys and will defend these from all comers, including children.
To learn more about training West Highland White Terriers to be calm and well-behaved, consider my dog training book,
Teach Your Dog 100 English Words.
It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will make your West Highland White Terrier the smartest, most well-behaved companion you've ever had.
Teaches your dog to listen to you, to pay attention to you, and to do whatever you ask him to do.
Please consider adopting an ADULT West Highland White Terrier...
When you're acquiring a West Highland White Terrier PUPPY, you're acquiring potential -- what he one day will be. So "typical breed characteristics" are very important.
But when you acquire an adult dog, you're acquiring what he already IS and you can decide whether he is the right dog for you based on that reality. There are plenty of adult West Highland White Terriers who have already proven themselves NOT to have negative characteristics that are "typical" for their breed. If you find such an adult dog, don't let "typical breed negatives" worry you. Just be happy that you found an atypical individual -- and enjoy!
Save a life. Adopt a dog.
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