The West Highland White Terrier was first called the Poltalloch Terrier after the place in Scotland where Colonel Edward Malcolm began their development. One legend says that the colonel decided to breed for color after one of his red terriers was shot, mistaken for a fox.
The breed was also called the Roseneath Terrier for a short time, then changed again in 1909 to the West Highland White Terrier.
Today, the word "white" is occasionally left out, and the nickname "Westie" is extremely popular.
Like most terriers, its original purpose was to pursue vermin into their dens where hounds could or would not go.
The overall appearance of the Westie is strong and alert. His small frame is muscular under his white hair. He has an undercoat of soft short hair under the courser outer coat.
The hair is always white--any other color will bar a Westie from showing. When he is clipped for shows, the hair is about two inches long over the body, becoming slightly shorter at the neck, while the hair around the head is usually left longer.
This cut gives the Westie an appearance something like a miniature white lion. His dark eyes are deep set and generally look perky and inquisitive. Hair tends to hang ponderously over them, giving the impression of large, bushy eyebrows.
Thanks to careful breeding to produce a fearless vermin hunter, the Westie is an active, courageous little package deal.
He is playful and friendly with humans, but doom to rodents. He makes a nice alternative to a house cat for dog lovers with mouse problems. His spunky attitude makes him popular with children, and he adjusts well to life in a family.
He will usually get along well with other dogs, but can sometimes view cats as he would a fox or badger that needs hunting, and so should be firmly trained to leave cats alone.
If his master is inconsistent in training and leadership, the Westie can develop a Napoleonic complex. He should be well aware of his master's authority at all times.
He should also be supervised in the yard, since his vermin-pursuing instincts may lead him to dig it up. He may tend to use his voice to make up for his size in terms of intimidation, so obedience training may be needed to help him keep his barking to a minimum.
The Westie can make a good watch dog, so his tendency to bark may be desirable in that case.
Though Westies can leave their mothers after eight weeks, some puppies are afflicted with mandibular osteopathy, which does not become apparent until at least three months of age.
The disease is treatable, but extremely painful, and occasionally pups have to be euthanized. For this reason, families may want to check the health history of the puppy's parents, or even wait until he is past the susceptible age.