The West Highland White Terrier, affectionately known as the Westie, is an iconic dog. When people think of terriers, the white, inquisitive face of the Westie usually comes to mind. This spunky, curious, hardy, and happy little terrier is renowned for a sharp intelligence that is well-balanced with stubbornness and ego.
Westies are smart and equally independent. The Westie is a confident and intelligent dog who wants to do things its own way. Therefore, training is a must from day one. A consistently trained Westie is an adorable, intelligent, and energetic powerhouse that is always ready to play, explore, and adventure.
Westies are very smart. Sometimes they are described as being too smart for their own good. Owners may find that Westies know exactly what is wanted or expected of them but are intentionally exploring ways of going around the rules to do what they want. However, you can train your Westie to behave well, making them an intelligent and fun companion.
Westies are Smart and Independent
Westies are notoriously independent. It does not mean that they are unsociable or do not like attention. Rather, they love to be the center of attention, and they love to have it their way. The strong independent streak in Westies sometimes makes people believe that they are not smart or trainable, but this is not true. Westies are very smart, trainable, and can make wonderful, cooperative, and fun pets.
The first step to getting along with a Westie is to acknowledge their intelligence, independence, and bossiness; in other words, their westitude, and then work with them to form a good relationship that gives the owner the cooperation they desire from the dog.
- Independence does not mean disloyal. Westies like to have things their way, but they are extremely loyal to their family.
- Independence does not mean that they are bad dogs. They have interests that human owners do not share. These interests include chasing rodents, digging holes, and barking at birds. Often these interests are more pressing than an owner’s desire to sit and watch TV or take a relaxing walk around the block.
- Independence is a sign of their intelligence. Westies do want to please their owners, and well-trained Westies are wonderful dogs. Their independent streak is another proof that their brains are working beyond simply seeking to please their owners.
- Independence often means excitement. This independent little dog will think of fun things to do, and owners who love to explore and have fun will enjoy this personality trait. The Westie can be a bundle of fun for all of their different ideas about how to enjoy life and have a fun day.
This little independent dog is intelligent and extremely charming for all of that big attitude. This personality trait is just another win for the Westie that makes it such a popular dog breed for families of all kinds.
Training Considerations for the Intelligent Westie
Westies and their owners benefit greatly from professional dog training that starts from puppyhood. However, Westies who are left to develop their personalities without intervention will drift sharply toward their breed characteristics which include persistent barking, stubbornness, and bossy non-cooperation, especially with younger family members.
- Consistency. Westies will take advantage of training inconsistencies. If an owner does not find something important enough to reinforce consistently, then the Westie will not find it important enough to bother learning.
- Time. Westies are highly intelligent and stubborn. This stubbornness can be overcome by training that is given with patience and time. Owners have to take the time to show the Westie that the training is important to convince the Westie to cooperate.
- Patience. Especially with bark training, owners who yell at a Westie will start a shouting match which the Westie will always win. Westies will respect firm but calm training that demonstrates the importance of what you teach them.
- Respect Training. The earliest kind of training to give a Westie is respect training. This type of training teaches the Westie to respect the owners’ opinions, desires, and reactions. This training teaches the Westie to look to the owner for guidance on how to deal with unfamiliar situations.
Owners must respect the intelligence of the Westie and seek to understand why the dog is reacting to a situation with the undesired behavior. Then use training that validates the dog’s instinctual reaction but redirects behavior toward a more desired outcome.
In this example, the dog is persistently barking when the letter carrier drops off the mail. It is because the Westie sees the letter carrier as an invader. You must teach your Westie that this is normal, acceptable, and desirable to have the letter carrier on the property daily.
Training should include helping the dog to get to know the letter carrier and see them as a welcome friend rather than an invading stranger. Westies also bark at friendly faces, so the next key is to understand why. The barking may be to alert you that there is a person in the area, or it may be an enthusiastic greeting of a welcome face.
First, use treats to teach the dog to bark or “speak” on command. Once the dog is trained to bark on command, use the treats to teach the dog to “hush,” “quiet,” or “stop” on command. It requires more patient training, but it will work well and give you a way to make the dog stop barking both at home and on walks.
When the dog barks, acknowledge the reason for the barking on the very first bark and validate that reason. Praise the dog for saying hello to a friend or alerting you that someone is at the door. Then give the quiet command and a treat immediately when the dog quiets down. This type of training can help the Westie give a single bark alert or greeting and then quiet down.
Westies are Smart and Distractible
Westies need to be trained indoors with as little distraction as possible until they learn to obey the owner and have basic commands learned very well. Then you can move training outdoors. A well-trained Westie may still have an overwhelming desire to hunt outdoors and completely ignore its owner until the quarry is caught or out of reach.
Westies are natural hunters, and centuries of breeding to encourage predatory traits do not diminish because you and your Westie live in a city apartment. The Westie sees everything smaller than itself as potential prey. It means that outdoor training is very taxing for the owner and the dog because there are so many more exciting things to take the Westie’s attention away from the task at hand.
- Respect training should be started indoors and remain indoors until the dog is quite well established with good habits regarding obeying the desires of the owner.
- Socialization training can take place both indoors and outdoors as needed. Indoors socialization is ideal for families who have additional pets or may obtain more pets in the future. Indoor exposure to other dogs and cats will help the Westie adjust to family additions in the future.
- Socialization training does not work with small animals that the Westie views as prey. The Westie will always view hamsters, gerbils, birds, ferrets, and other rodent pets as prey.
- Initial commands should be learned indoors, away from distractions, until the Westie is consistent at obeying them. Then you can move training outdoors. However, I would suggest you always have your Westie on a leash unless you want to chase him around the neighborhood.
Westies are so cute and so much fun to have both indoors and outdoors. This distractible nature sometimes gets them into trouble, but they can be trained to obey their owners. This intelligent little dog has to be convinced that obedience is worth it.
Westies are adorable and incredibly smart little dogs. Their independent streak can get them into trouble. They sometimes use their intelligence to look for ways to thwart training so that they can do what they want. However, Westies are highly trainable, and training pays off in big ways.
A well-trained Westie is a big dog in a little body. Westie is smart, independent, full of ego, fun-loving, curious, inventive, athletic, energetic, and loyal. It is the perfect little companion for a family who wants to have a lot of fun with their dog.