The West Highland White Terrier requires a number of different types of grooming to maintain his coat, hair, and body. Like any wiry-haired Terrier, this is a breed that is very hands-on and time-consuming — or at least expensive — to groom. Some aspects of the grooming should be carefully considered, and not all aspects are fully required for the dog's health. If, however, you wish to have a great-looking Westie with a show dog quality, be prepared for nothing less than a part-time job. On this page, you will find how to groom your Westie as well as recommendations on tools to do it.
West Highland White Terrier grooming is not the same as with most dogs, single or double-coated. While you are free to brush it, this coat requires carding and stripping to really get the job done. How to groom a Westie at home will be discussed in Plucking & Stripping. Not grooming this way will allow a scraggly look that may invite tangles, mats and perhaps even skin problems. If you want to learn how to do this, it's not difficult. If you prefer professional care, make sure it is a Westie groomer. Once you learn how to groom a Westie puppy, it is not much different when they get older. The same Westie grooming tools are used all their life.
The West Highland White Terrier doesn't shed much--but because the breed has a double coat, shed hairs can get trapped beneath the outer coat, which can cause tangling or matting. The best defense against Westie tangles, of course, is consistent brushing! If the dog's coat does get tangled, the hair snarl will need to be removed as soon as possible--because if left unchecked it will become matted and nearly impossible to separate. Two ways to handle Westie tangling:
- Use a de-shedding tool. This method helps prevent tangles from developing in the first place, With a tool like a Furminator, Westie coats are less likely to tangle because the tool's fine, sharp teeth remove a lot of the dead hairs from the undercoat. The problem with using a de-shedding tool is that it often removes healthy hairs along with the dead ones.
- Use your fingers. Though it's not as easy, this is the preferred method. Simply separate the tangled hairs with your fingers, going strand by strand if necessary. Some tips: you can spray the tangle beforehand with de-tangling solution to lubricate the hairs. And if a tangle is starting to mat, use scissors to cut it in half (or even fourths) to get the untangling process started.
Stripping a Westie tends to be a time-consuming task, but it's only needed a couple times a year or before a dog show. Stripping will literally strip away the outer coat by its roots so a fresh new one grows in. Stripping will create a vibrant, colorful and crisp new coat. To test the coat to see if it's ready for stripping, use your forefinger and thumb to pull — not yank! — in the direction of the hair growth. If the hair comes out easily, it's time to strip. Summertime will require a bit more stripping.
There are not only specific tools for stripping but tools specific to the breed being stripped. For a West Highland White Terrier, many groomers might recommend the Double-wide Mars Coat King 23-blade. No matter what kind of blade you use, the duller it is, the better. It must be used with the lay of the hair or it will cut the hair — which you don't want. Cutting or trimming the hair will make the coat dull.
Hand-stripping a Westie is when you don't use a blade but literally use your hand to pull the hairs from the coat. This procedure is best done over time, and it may take several weeks to hand-strip the entire coat.
Once the overcoat is stripped, some people will continue on to carding. Carding is the removal of dead undercoat hair. Like stripping, it is quite the task. Using any one of a number of tools that will casually grasp and extract the dead hair can be used: pumice stones, a lava rock from the garden, shedding blades, stripping knives or any old, dull blades originally meant for large, coarse hair. You don't want to cut the hairs, however, and you will want to see how it's done by a pro first so you can learn how to drag out the dead hairs.
When it comes to plucking, there remains a debate. Some people insist that plucking hairs from a dog's ears leave microscopic wounds that allow bacteria to collect and sores to form. Others state that certain dogs, like Westies, have such thick inner-ear hair that, when their ears flop down, the unplucked hair creates severe health problems. If you decide to pluck your Westie's ears, you should do so carefully. Be sure to gently clean and dry afterward. Use mineral water for cleaning and vet-approved cotton balls for drying.
Many West Highland White Terrier clubs will say that bathing 3-4 times a year is best. Some groomers will say that once every 4-6 weeks is best. Some people prefer to have a clipped Westie, and the short, soft coat that results might be bathed once a month. Regardless, you shouldn't bathe less than every 4 weeks unless there is a medical condition. Doing so will destroy the undercoat's natural oils, and this will create health problems and unwanted skin conditions. Sometimes a good brushing and wipe-down with a damp cloth or slicker brush will work. When properly groomed, a Westie's coat tends to repel dirt and dust. Of course, Ii your Westie gets dirty, smelly or skunked, a bath is in order.
It's best to get a shampoo especially for wiry-coated dogs, and there are even specific shampoos for Westies. One is the Healthy Breeds West Highland White Terrier Deodorizing Dog Shampoo. If your Westie has a skin condition, you might want to get a DermaDine or iodine-based shampoo. Between full baths, wash his face and leg hair alone. Westies love to romp and play in dirty, wet areas, and these parts will get dirty often.
Here are some Westie bathing tips:
- Bathe in a calm place during a quiet time
- Use a rubber mat in the tub
- Do not use any human shampoos, conditioners or soaps!
- Follow the instructions
- Rinse thoroughly
- If there's a skin condition, use a post-bath spray such as Humilac
- Have a treat afterward for him
In addition to its coat, your Westie will need its paws maintained regularly.
- Nails: If West Highland White Terrier nails click on hard surfaces, it's time for a trim. Use standard clippers to cut the nails as close to the toes as possible. Take care not to cut them too short, though! Doing so can cut into the nail's quick (the blood vessel running through it), making the nail bleed and be painful. (BONUS: Creative types can leave the nails longer and add some fabulous Westie nail art!)
- Toe Hair: The hair between your Westie's toes can get really long, and if it does it'll get extremely dirty and even cause infections. Use scissors to trim the hair short if needed.
- Paw Pads: Your Westie's paw pads can become dry, cracked, and tender, especially if the dog walks or runs a lot on hot asphalt or snow and ice. Apply canine paw pad moisturizer (available at pet stores or online) to the pads weekly to keep them soft, moist, and healthy.
Westie tear stains are a common problem. They could be caused by a dog's diet, white coat or health issues. Filtering the dog's water or getting a Lixit Water Bottle for his crate might help if it's a pH problem. If he has a sensitive stomach, it may be the protein. Switching the protein might help. It could even be red yeast (aka "pityrosporum" and often incorrectly termed "ptyrosporin") causing the issue. Many vets claim that the discharge will be brown if it is red yeast. In this case, a quick topical solution is a good tear stain remover. You'll also want to get a dog food that doesn't have the red yeast in it.
A Westie haircut might require some work, but the result can turn heads. You can get an idea of how to style your West Highland White Terrier by looking at pictures, and you can learn a little bit about how to cut a Westie by watching a groomer. Keeping your Westie properly groomed will make him look good and keep his coat and skin healthy.
Here are some of the popular Westie hair styles:
The Puppy Cut is not just for puppies; it's also for small dogs. It's all about making the coat easy to groom (for you) and hard to soil (by doggy). It's done by trimming down to about 1 to 1.5 inches. Less debris is picked up by shorter coats. If you want tufts on the tail or legs, having a short coat makes these stand out more. This style can be learned at home, but you may want to first go to a groomer.
This is a very specific cut, and it's the only one allowed by the AKC and most other big kennel clubs. The Westie's head is round, and all loose undercoat hair is stripped (typically by hand). The outer coat is 2 inches on the body and blends into the shorter hair on the neck. The hair on the underside is about 4 inches, and this longer part looks like a skirt. Unless you have a lot of experience trimming dogs, you'll want a groomer who has experience with wiry coats.
This is a combo of the Show and Puppy Cuts but is less labor-intensive and more traditional. The underside is shorter and more manageable. The rest of the body is short, and the head doesn't need to be as round as the Show Cut. You can learn to do this, but it's best to watch a pro groomer first.
If you want to keep your Westie cool and the shedding to a minimum but not impact the dog's health or cause skin conditions, you'll want the Summer Cut. The coat is approximately half an inch long on everything except the face and tail. This is a very-low maintenance style but you should watch for any developing skin conditions. This one is simple but you should watch a professional do it first.