How to Train a Westie Getting the Most Out of Training a West Highland White Terrier

How to Train a Westie

West Highland White Terriers are highly intelligent little dogs that tend to think they are the boss. Learn the best way to train your Westie.

West Highland White Terriers, often called "Westies," are feisty little dogs originally bred in the mid-19th century on an estate in Scotland to hunt as a pack. Westies are intelligent, independent, and determined. Their behavior is sometimes stubborn. With proper praise and treats, your West Highland White Terrier can be taught a variety of commands. Remember: training should always be kept positive and fun.

Step 1

Hold two 5- to 10-minute training sessions daily with your Westie. Begin with very brief sessions and one command at a time, but as your Westie learns and understands the training process you can lengthen the sessions and vary the commands and skills you work on during a session. Always stop working on a command on a successful note, give great praise, and move on to a quick game or a different part of the training. The change will be part of the reward.

Choose a quiet location with few distractions at first. Gradually, as your dog learns the commands, take your Westie outdoors to train with more distractions.

Step 2

Teach your West Highland White Terrier basic obedience commands such as "Sit," "Down," and "Come," using food rewards. Give the "Sit" command as you hold the treat in front of your Westie's questing nose, just beyond reach above the head. After trying out a few ways to obtain the treat, your Westie will sit to contemplate the situation. Immediately give the reward and praise. You can ask for a sit in this way whenever you are near the cookie bin, and before you place a meal in front of your Westie or hand your pet a wanted toy.

Step 3

Once your Westie has learned to "Sit," teach "Down" by holding a treat in front of the sitting dog, saying "Down." Bring the treat to the floor and pull your hand back just enough to give the dog room to go down to reach it. When the Westie is down, instantly give the treat and plenty of praise. Soon you will give the command and give the dog a moment to respond before you take the reward to the ground. Before long, you will celebrate with your Westie when the dog goes down on command without the help.

Step 4

Teach the "Come" command by giving your Westie a treat for coming when you call. Begin this work indoors, then move outdoors. Always have treats in your pocket, and always give one when your dog comes on command. Practice the command at intervals whenever you are outside with your Westie.

Step 5

Train your Westie to use a crate. These secure dog enclosures can be a cozy, safe retreat and resting place for your dog inside your home. Westies love to dig out holes to form dens. A crate in the home provides a ready-made den for your dog. Placed in your bedroom, it can be where your little pet sleeps at night and spends times at intervals during the day during housebreaking. Leave treats and a comfortable blanket in the crate to make it a desirable place to be. Decide on a word, such as "Crate" or "Sleep" to correspond with entering the crate. Praise and reward your dog in the crate to make going to the crate a positive thing. Never scold and imprison your Westie in the crate as punishment.

Step 6

Teach your Westie to go outdoors to potty, using the crate to prevent housebreaking accidents. Westies are small enough that it is difficult to monitor all of their actions in the house. That makes housebreaking more difficult unless you use the crate as an aid. Dogs will not soil their living space unless necessity compels them to do so.

Take your Westie outside to the same spot every two hours when you first start housebreaking training. You want to give your dog ample opportunities to get the training right, and little Westie pups have small bladders that need frequent emptying. Between potty breaks, either crate the dog or keep your Westie on a leash to prevent accidents in the house.

West Highland White Terriers are small enough that they can also be paper trained or trained to use a litter box. The training method is the same, but instead of taking your Westie outside, you can take your pet to an area of your home covered with dog potty pads.

Step 7

Teach your West Highland white terrier the "Quiet" command to curb excessive barking. Westies make good watch dogs. They are easily excitable, and tend to bark when someone comes to the door. Rather than allowing your Westie to be a guard dog, you may want to stop the barking as soon as it starts. Elicit your dog's bark response by ringing the doorbell or knocking on a wall. After your Westie barks a few times, wait for a pause and say "Quiet." Follow the command with a few treats to keep the dog silent. Repeat this procedure several times. Sprinkle such lessons between others during training sessions.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always end training sessions on a positive note and keep them fun for both you and your dog. If your Westie senses you're frustrated, the dog will be less willing to train.
  • Contact your regional chapter of the West Highland White Terrier Club of America or SPCA to find out about obedience training classes in your area. These classes provide a good way not only to reinforce training of your dog but to socialize your Westie with other people and animals. 
  • Westies don't respond well to negative training methods such as yelling or harsh leash corrections. These small dogs can easily be injured by such corrections. Instead, use rewards and praise for the behavior you want to encourage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Westies hard to train?

West Highland White Terriers, or Westies, are intelligent and energetic dogs that are generally easy to train. However, like all breeds, they can have their own unique personalities and characteristics that may make training more challenging in some cases. Some Westies may be more independent and strong-willed, and they may require consistent and patient training in order to learn new commands. It is important to be consistent and firm but also to use positive reinforcement and rewards to motivate and encourage your Westie during training sessions. As with any breed, it is important to start training and socialization early in a Westie's life in order to help them develop into well-behaved and well-adjusted dogs.

Can you train a Westie not to bark?

It is possible to train a West Highland White Terrier, or Westie, not to bark excessively, but it may take time and patience. Barking is a natural behavior for dogs and can serve as a form of communication, but excessive barking can be a nuisance for both the dog and its owner. First, determine the cause of the barking. Is your Westie barking at people, animals, or objects outside? Is he barking because he is anxious or lonely? Identifying the trigger for the barking can help you address the root cause of the behavior. Reward your Westie with treats and praise when he is quiet or responds to a "quiet" command. If your Westie barks for attention or to get what he wants, try ignoring the barking and only rewarding quiet behavior. If the barking persists, you may want to consider using a training collar that emits a high-pitched sound or a mild shock when the dog barks. These collars should only be used as a last resort and should be used under the supervision of a professional trainer. Remember to be patient and consistent, as training a dog not to bark excessively can take time.

How do you calm down a Westie?

Westies are energetic and intelligent dogs that require regular exercise and mental stimulation. Make sure your Westie is getting enough physical activity and has plenty of toys and activities to keep his mind occupied. Remove any stimuli that may be causing your Westie to become agitated or anxious. This may include loud music, televisions, or other distractions. You can use pheromone diffusers as they release calming pheromones into the air, which can help relax your Westie. If your Westie is suffering from severe anxiety or other behavior issues, your veterinarian may recommend medication or other treatments to help calm him down.

How do you train a Westie not to bite?

It is important to train a West Highland White Terrier, or Westie, not to bite, as biting can be a dangerous and potentially aggressive behavior. When your Westie starts to bite, try redirecting his attention to a toy or chew bone. This can help him learn to channel his biting urges in a more appropriate way. Make sure to closely monitor your Westie during playtime, especially when he is playing with children or other dogs. If you see any signs of aggression or biting, intervene immediately and redirect the behavior. Teaching your Westie the "leave it" command can also help him learn to resist the temptation to bite. When your Westie starts to bite, say "leave it" in a firm voice and offer a treat or toy as a reward for good behavior.

Can Westies go off-leash?

It is generally not recommended to allow a West Highland White Terrier, or Westie, to go off-leash in unenclosed areas, as they are energetic and can be prone to chasing after animals and other distractions. Westies are also known to be independent and strong-willed, which can make them difficult to recall if they get loose.

How long does it take to house-train a Westie puppy?

The typical time it takes to completely house-train a Westie puppy is between a few weeks and several months. In order to successfully house-train a dog, a schedule and consistency are essential. Begin by setting up a designated area for the puppy to relieve themselves, such as a specific spot in the yard or a puppy pad indoors. Take the puppy there frequently, especially right after meals, naps, playtimes, or when you wake up. Reward the puppy with praise or treats immediately after they eliminate in the appropriate spot to reinforce the desired behavior. Accidents are likely to happen during the house-training process, particularly in the early stages. It's crucial to avoid chastising or punishing the puppy for misbehavior since doing so might increase anxiety and make training more difficult. Instead, calmly clean up any accidents and continue with the training routine. Throughout this process, consistency, encouragement, and patience are essential. Supervision is essential to prevent accidents and to catch the puppy in the act so that it can be redirected to the appropriate spot. Given that dogs often do not want to pollute their resting space, crate training can also be beneficial. Using a crate can aid in establishing a schedule and teaching the puppy to hold its bladder.

How do you train a Westie to come?

It's crucial to teach a Westie to come when called so that you may better handle them in a variety of circumstances and protect their safety. Start in a quiet, low-distraction environment. Begin by using a long leash, which gives you control while allowing the dog some freedom to explore. Attach the leash to the Westie and let it trail behind him. Call their name to get their attention, then say "come" in a loud, appealing voice. Hold out food or a toy to act as bait, enticing your dog to approach you. When the Westie starts moving towards you, continue to encourage them with praise and excitement. As they approach, reward them with the treat or play with the toy, reinforcing the positive association with coming when called. Short bouts of practice are advised, gradually extending your distance from the dog. Over time, reduce the use of the lure and rely more on verbal cues and gestures. Introduce distractions gradually as the Westie improves their reliability in responding to the "come" command. In order to strengthen their capacity to respond when called under all conditions, have them practice in a variety of settings with distraction levels that are gradually increased.

Can Westies be left alone for 8 hours?

While Westies are independent dogs, leaving them alone for 8 hours regularly is not recommended. They are social creatures and enjoy interacting with people. Long-term isolation can cause boredom, anxiety, and destructive behavior. If necessary, provide a safe and comfortable space with toys, food, and water when leaving for short durations, but it's best to arrange for someone to check on and spend time with them during extended absences. Regular exercise, mental stimulation, and socialization are essential for the well-being of Westies.

Do Westies bark a lot?

Westies are known to be vocal dogs and can have a tendency to bark. Barking is a natural behavior for dogs and serves as a means of communication. While some individual Westies may be more prone to excessive barking, it is important to note that the frequency and intensity of barking can vary between dogs. Westies are alert and attentive, which can make them more inclined to bark at noises, unfamiliar people, or perceived threats. They are also known for their protective nature, which can contribute to their barking tendencies when they feel their territory is being invaded. Westies' excessive barking may be controlled and minimized with early socialization and training. However, teaching them appropriate cues to be quiet and providing mental stimulation and regular exercise can help channel their energy and reduce the likelihood of excessive barking.

References & Resources

West Highland White Terrier Club of America: Westie FAQs
West Highland White Terrier Club of America: Philosophy for General Obedience & Behavior Training
Westie Rescue of Northern California: Top Ten Tips for Success With Your Adopted Westie!
American Kennel Club: AKC Meet the Breeds: West Highland White Terrier
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Teaching Your Dog to Lie Down
Deldawn Westies: Training Your West Highland Terrier
"West Highland White Terriers: Everything About Purchase, Care, Nutrition, Special Activities, and Health Care"; Dan Rice
Westie Foundation of America: Aggression in Dogs: What Does it Mean for Westie Owners?

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.

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