The West Highland White Terrier, or "Westie" as it is nicknamed, is one of five breeds of terrier that originated in Scotland. The other four are Skye, Cairn, Dandie Dinmont, and Scottish ("Scottie") terriers.
It is generally accepted that the Skye is the oldest of these breeds, and the Westie, the newest. No one knows how the first of these breeds first entered Scotland, but they quickly became favorites amongst Scottish small game hunters. One legend has it that the breed originated via a crossbreed of a Maltese and Poodle on the Scottish isle of Skye, around the time the Spanish Armada was defeated. Every terrier from Scotland is said to be descended from this beginning, during Queen Elizabeth I's reign.
Her successor, King James I is noted to have written to Edinburgh asking for 6 of these terriers to be sent to France as a gift, and to send them on two separate ships because of their high value.
Westies have also been known as Pittenweem, Roseneath or Poltallock Terriers. The earliest known picture or illustration of these dogs dates back to 1839, which shows a man hunting with both a bloodhound and a Westie. "Terrier", a derivative of the Latin "sierra", or "earth", indicates the prime usage of the dog in history. Many terriers are tenacious even to this day, indicating their willingness to "go to ground" down a rabbit or foxhole when hunting with their masters. Terriers are still known as "earth doggies" today. They love to dig.
The breed as known today actually owes its existence to a hunting accident. A Scottish colonel, Malcolm, lost his favorite red or rust-colored terrier when it was killed by a fellow huntsman, being mistaken for a fox. Greatly grieved by the loss of his favorite dog, Malcolm decided that the only way to distinguish hunter from prey was to breed a snow white dog. This took a great deal of time, but eventually the color bred true, and the Westie was recognized as its own breed by the Kennel Club of England in 1907, followed by the American Kennel Club in 1909.
Probably the most well-known Westie is from an advertisement, where it served as one half (the other half being a Scottish Terrier) of a mascot team for Black and White whiskey. In fact, in some European countries, these two breeds are called "whiskey dogs".
Westies are good natured, faithful and protective dogs. They are active, assertive, and fun-loving and make excellent playmates for young kids. Extremely intelligent dogs, they are easy to train, and make perfect watchdogs. They get along well with other dogs, but they need to be trained when young to tolerate cats. They are vocal, using their bark to indicate an intruder or something of interest to them, and thus are best suited for country living rather than crowded metropolitan areas where they may be considered a nuisance.
The Westie is a healthy breed, living an average of 15 years. They are about 10-11 inches high, and weigh on average 15 to 22 pounds. Their snow-white coat is actually two: a thick, straight, wiry outer coat, with a very soft undercoat.
Most of the historical information
adapted from the "West Highland White Owners Site"
Temperament and physical descriptions adapted from
loving memories of "Megan" as well as the above listed