TAKING THE BEST LOVE & CARE OF YOUR West Highland Terrier

How to calm down a Westie

How to Calm Down a Westie

West Highland White Terriers are the toddlers of all dog breeds. Hunters by nature, these spunky little fur-balls are energetic, attention-seeking, restless, and even a little feisty. Just like young children, these dogs can be challenging to assuage when they throw a tantrum. They truly are small dogs with really big personalities. But how do we respond when that personality becomes too big for us to handle?

Determining how and when to react is important for preventing harmful situations in the future. Your top priority should be to keep your dog and everyone who will interact with them free from danger. Here you can learn everything you need to know about handling your Westie’s hyperactive behavior.

Do Not React Threateningly or Aggressively

There are right and wrong ways to react to your Westie’s fits. You know how when you shout at someone to calm down, it almost never actually results in that person calming down? Well, the same rule applies for your fur-baby. Learn to be proactive instead of reactive when these situations arise.

Calming down a Westie requires a non-threatening demeanor, a steady stance, and a means to detract them from the scene. 

It is best to take steps early on to identify potential stressors and keep them in a comfortable environment.

Simple social cues translate from humans to animals. Reacting to aggression with aggression will only add fuel to fire. Understanding how to properly respond to your dog’s stress will help to establish a new pattern of behavior where he or she can learn to compose themselves in a healthy, non-disruptive way.

When to Step In

It is much easier to calm your Westie when you identify the aggression before it escalates. Your dog is likely in a heightened state of mind when they start:

  • Snarling
  • Growling
  • Barking

Try to intervene before the behavior amplifies to this:

  • Charging
  • Pouncing
  • Biting

It is important to note that Westies in particular are naturally quite vocal. Barking itself is not necessarily a sign of aggression. That’s why it’s important to learn your dog’s body language so you can make the inference.

How to Respond 

If you begin to notice that your Westie is anxious or acting out, then you need to make sure you do not exacerbate the problem by not intervening in a useful way. 

There are multiple things to consider when responding to an uncalm Westie: 

  • Avoid punishment
  • Guide them away from the commotion
  • Reducing the tension
  • When to make the call

Keep reading to learn about different strategies you should consider using if your Westie is not calming down. 

Avoid Punishment

If you respond to their snarling and barking by shouting, tapping, or yanking them, this will only create more tension. They will become aggressive towards you and react violently. 

In addition, they might learn to avoid giving warning signs when they feel threatened. Instead of growling before they charge and bite, they may just bite, leaving you no chance to mitigate the situation.

Guide Them Away from the Commotion

In any situation where they are showing signs of aggression or over-excitement towards another dog or human, you must firmly, but kindly, direct them away from the counterpart.

  • Do not entertain the distraction by verbally or physically responding to it
  • Politely negate their action by saying something like, “No, buddy, no.” 
  • Gently tug on their leash in a pulse-like pattern
  • Continue to walk in the direction that you were going
  • Verbally reward their behavior once they stop resisting 

Lead by example. If you stop and give in to the distraction, they will be inspired to do the same. On the other hand, by keeping your attention on your dog’s emotional state and continuing to your routine, they will adhere to this pattern.

Reducing the Tension

In situations where your Westie is unleashed and unhinged, it can be much more difficult to control their movements. Especially in situations where strangers are involved, as they could make matters worse by responding in the wrong way.

When a Westie shows signs of aggravation towards you, just as always, you will want to avoid counter-aggression. 

  • Stay standing and stay put with a comfortable distance between you both
  • Remain facing towards the dog
  • Grab an object of interest that could be used to distract them
  • Slowly and enticingly, lead them to a comforting area that is free of threats and commotion 
  • Coax the dog with a soothing, higher-pitched voice, reciting affirmations such as “Good boy,” or “Follow me buddy.”

By doing this, you are communicating to the dog (whether it belongs to you or not) that you are not a threat. If you were to approach or scold them in their aggravated state, they would see this as you challenging their dominance. If you were to turn your back away from them, they could see this as an opportunity to pounce.

The key is to remain calm and distract them until they no longer feel the need to be defensive or offensive. Move slowly, keep your distance, and kindly guide them to safety.

In a situation where a strange human is the perceived threat, things can get tricky. If it is a human, then you must quickly inform them of the steps listed above. If you can, try to shift their attention back to you by snapping, whistling, or calling their name. All the while, the stranger should stay put and quiet.

When to Make the Call

While aggression and hostility in Westies is a natural, expected behavior, there is always a line that should incite action when crossed. If your Westie is abnormally combative, or the behavior is prolonged after attempts have been made to correct it, it may be time to elicit professional help. 

If the veterinarian has already ruled out an underlying medical cause, then you should look into contacting a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.

Address Your Pup’s Anxiety

Just like any other species, Westies are simply a product of their environment. 

Before trying to calm down your combative pup, it is best to first understand what factors may have contributed to their anxious state.

According to a research study conducted by UC Professor Benjamin Hart and associate Michael F. Millner, canine aggression can be attributed to several identifiable factors. Having an understanding of each of these factors will help you handle a Westie when they are struggling to calm down. 

Keep reading to learn about each of the factors revealed from this study so we can approach an uncalm Westie with a deeper understanding of the situation. 

Fear

According to research conducted by the University of Helsinki, fear is the number one contributor to a dog’s aggression. 

The fight-or-flight response is not exclusive to humans, as it is found that when a dog is not able to flee from a suspected threat, it may resolve violent tendencies as a form of fight.

Excitement

There are many situations in which a dog will get riled up with excitement. And while most factors of aggression are negative, excitement is most likely positive and non-threatening. But even with that, their responses to each may be identical. Identifying these factors will help make the difference clear.

  • The sight or scent of another dog
  • The sight or scent of a prey animal
  • The scent of food or treats
  • Object cues associated with an action (picking up a leash, jangling keys, etc.)
  • The entrance of non-threatening humans
  • Non-threatening loud noises, such as laughing or childrens’ shouting

While over-excitement is completely normal in these circumstances, it can lead to inappropriate behavior. You must make sure not to reward or ignore your dog’s responses, as they may worsen over time if not corrected. Learn how to train your Westie to contain their excitement.

Pain or Discomfort

Where it becomes more difficult to identify the cause of your Westie’s aggression is where they are experiencing pain or irritation that is not clear to the eye. 

Because dogs cannot verbally announce to us when they are hurt, they will use other means of communication to alert us when they need our help. 

  • Unusual antisocial behavior
  • Being excessively vocal through barks, growls, or yelps
  • Obvious signs of limping or stiffness
  • A clear decline in mood, posture, and attitude

Keep in mind that while many injuries may be external, there are just as many that are internal. If you cannot identify a source of your dog’s pain from their body, then it might be time to schedule an appointment with the vet. 

Remember, if your dog is suffering, it is up to you to take action to prevent the issue from escalating to increased agony, or even a life-threatening wound or injury.