West Highland White Terriers are active, alert, intelligent, and independent. They are known for their hunting ability, including their keen sense of smell, which means they do well in earthdog trials. Other hunting-related behaviors include barking and scratching at the ground or digging, but the dog can be diverted to more appropriate digging locations such as a sandbox or mulch bed. The West Highland White Terrier may also chase wildlife or be difficult to disengage from an activity or behavior. Even though the West Highland White Terrier is a small breed, they are quite intelligent and can participate in dog sports such as agility, tracking, and obedience as sport. Because of its tendency to bark at strangers, the West Highland White Terrier is considered a watchdog; however, socialization can minimize the development of fear- based defensive aggression. Its small size may also lead it to be easily intimidated by other dogs so that it barks to defend itself, trying to appear fearless when it is actually quite fearful. This barking could lead to confrontations with other dogs causing injury.
The West Highland White Terrier originated from Scotland and was used for hunting fox, vermin and otter. The exact history of the breed is widely debated. Some believe that a request from King James I for a "little white earth dog" prompted an effort to produce a breed with a white coat. Others think that the death of Colonel Malcolm Poltalloch's dog started the effort. When Colonel Poltalloch's dark-coated terrier died, he swore from that point on only to own white dogs. In more recent times, the West Highland White Terrier was known as the Roseneath Terrier due to the Duke of Argyll's interest in the breed. The breed was finally recognized under the name Roseneath Terrier by the American Kennel Club in 1908, only to have its name changed the following year to the West Highland White Terrier.