Here are some frequently asked questions about Westies - what they're like, how to look after them and how to find one… We hope that you will find some of the answers you are looking for in here.
Do Westies bark a lot?
: It depends on the dog. In my experience, the senior female Westie in a group will need to alert the family to any strangers. My male is much more willing to just watch strangers go by the yard. However, it is very possible to teach your Westie to give only one bark and then be quiet. The trick, I think, is to never let the dog keep on barking. Bring him or her into the house, and even put them into the crate until he or she quiets.
Are they good guardians?
: Westies will alert to strangers coming to the house, and they will bark if allowed to. However, they are so friendly that I suspect they'd show a robber where the silver is hidden if it means they get some attention!
Are Westies intelligent?
: Extremely. Sometimes they are too smart for their owners.
Are they hard to train and obstinate?
: Are they hard to train? no. Are they obstinate? yes. Westies are intelligent, but proud, and strong-willed. In order to train them, it is important to be consistent. In addition, they are most easily trained using positive methods. When punishment-based training is used, Westies will often shut down and refuse to work, or they will work but look very unhappy doing it. I use clicker-training and my dogs all compete to be allowed to work with me.
Are Westies sport dogs or lap dogs?
: Both. Westies love to be involved in whatever activities their owners do. I know of a Westie who is a search and rescue dog. I know of several who are therapy dogs. Almost every Westie who is introduced to agility enjoys the activity. My own Westies like to come to work with me - at school and at dog obedience classes. I also know of a pair of Westies who live many weekends and during holidays on their owners' boat.
Are they easy to housebreak?
: Yes! Westies like to be clean. Any Westie will try to be clean, but it is important to teach them the right place to eliminate.
Housebreaking doesn't need to take a long time, but it is important to realize that until a dog is about 4 months old, his or her body is not mature enough to be housetrained, in the same way that a baby cannot be potty-trained until he can recognize the feeling of needing to 'go.' An excellent guide to housetraining is Shirlee Kalstone's How to Housetrain Your Puppy in Seven Days (link to bookstore, eventually!)
Be careful, however - puppies that are brought up in filthy conditions may take a little longer to train. It isn't the puppy's fault - he will think filth is normal if that's the kind of environment he was brought up in. Pet store puppies, because they are almost all bought from puppymills, often suffer from slow housebreaking.
Is it true Westies dig in gardens and will destroy and make holes everywhere?
: No, it is not true. Westies who do learn to dig are very hard to stop, because digging feels good to them. However, some Westies never learn to dig.
One year, I was digging in my flowerbed, when I noticed one of my dogs right beside me, trying to dig the next hole in the line of holes I was making and filling with bulbs. Now, I put my dogs indoors when I have to dig in the garden. The only dog I have had since then who liked to dig had learned it when she was a pup.
Can they be kept with other dogs and pets, such as a cat, mice, birds etc.?
: Sometimes Westies will get along with other animals quite well. In my experience, cats who live in the house before the Westie arrives do very well - especially if the Westie is a pup and learns to respect the cat. Cats who run away tend to make Westies very excited and want to chase them.
To introduce a cat to a house with a Westie already living in it, I would provide a safe place for the cat by putting up a strong baby gate, just 6 inches above the floor. The cat can get behind the gate by going over or under…. And the Westie has to leave the cat alone. And then I would let nature take its course. Eventually, the cat and the dog will develop at least a truce, if not a friendship.
As far as birds go, my dogs have not lived with birds - but when they see a bird my dogs will go after it!
Can we keep more than one Westie in the house?
: I sure hope so. I have four, right now, and have had up to eight. I have friends who have six adults at least, at any given time, and they all live in the house (including the people!)
The only thing one must be careful of is keeping more than one intact male. A male who has not been neutered is at the mercy of his sexual urges and he cannot help having them when there is a girl dog in heat around. Owners do not always know when there is a girl in heat around, as she may belong to the neighbours, or she may just have walked by the house. If you have two males, they will want to argue about who gets to be in charge of the girl - even long before she is ready to breed.
So my advice is that if you want more than one male dog, be sure to neuter both of them. However - that would be my advice, anyhow. All pet dogs should be neutered. It makes them better pets because they don't think about reproducing, and neutering is a powerful way to reduce your dog's chances of coming down with a reproductive-system cancer.
Does a male make a better pet than a female?
: Some people think that male Westies are cuddlier, and more willing to be lapdogs, while the females tend to get up and go to do other things. Personally, my male is happy to lie down and just be with me, while the girls are more likely to try to get me to do something that they want to do (like go for a walk!).
Do Westies shed a lot?
: Not if they are kept groomed. Westies' old, dead hairs don't fall out. What will happen is that an unbrushed Westie will get bigger and bigger looking until eventually he looks like a walking bundle of hair. If he gets anywhere close to this look, the hair will rub off against objects the dog touches - walls, fences, furniture and human legs, just to name a few. If your dog is kept groomed and is thoroughly brushed once a week, you can be sure that there will be very little loose hair lying around!
Are Westies any other colour than white?
: Only when they're dirty! No, that's not quite true. Some Westies are sandy or tan-coloured along the back. This isn't really considered to be very good, but sometimes it happens. Sometimes on an otherwise white dog, you can find a black hair or two. And some Westies have a small tan spot on their tail. One of my puppy people thought the dog got his spot of colour when he went under the owner's motorcycle!
Do you bathe Westies often?
: I only bathe my Westies when they get dirty or if I have a dog show coming up. If a Westie is allowed to dig and roll, it may need to have frequent baths. House dogs who do not get to dig in the garden can go weeks and sometimes months without a bath.
A correct Westie coat is harsh and wiry. When a Westie gets dirty or muddy, the trick is to let the mud dry and then the dirt will brush right out.
How do you keep a Westie white?
: Mostly by brushing regularly. Dirt will fall right off, in most cases. I also use a shampoo that is formulated for white dogs, although I used to use an ordinary dog shampoo and it worked fine, too.
Westies usually form a little grain of 'sand' at the corner of each eye, every day - I gently take it off. If a Westie's eyes are weeping and making red marks on his or her face, take the poor creature to the vet!
Some Westies also lick or suck their feet… and the saliva turns the hair a rusty colour. I use the liquid "Heet" that is made for sore muscles. I paint it on the feet of the licking dog - they hate the taste of it, and tend to stop the licking. Be careful if your dog has a lot of red spots on his legs and feet especially, it may just be due to being wet. However, it may also be a sign that your dog has skin allergies
Westies' faces also often turn rusty under the jaw. Again, this is due to the hair being wet too often. I would do a number of things - first, trim the hair a little shorter. The second thing I would do is to take a towel and clean their faces after they eat. And I always trim out the dark red hair that forms just behind the canine teeth on the lower jaw - there is a fold there that tends to make any wetness drip down right there. Just gently snip it off if you don't want to look at it!
How do you keep them neat?
: I groom my own dogs. Several of the people who've had my pups do their own grooming, too. It is simple to trim the hair when you have a good picture of what you want, and you are willing to try.
If you have someone else groom your Westie, you should plan to take them in about every six weeks. In between beauty parlour visits, you should brush your Westie's coat at least once a week. This will pull out the dead hairs and keep your Westie from leaving those hairs lying around the house or on your clothes.
Do you HAVE to strip Westies or can you keep them well groomed by some other means?
: A Westie can be kept very well groomed by using clippers and scissors. Most professional groomers expect to do a clipper-grooming on pet dogs.
How often do you trim a Westie?
: Westies need to trimmed about every six to eight weeks, depending on how quickly the hair is growing. They need to be brushed much more often however, about once a week, to keep loose hair from building up in the house.
Do they need a lot of exercise?
: I find that my adult dogs tend to like being quiet indoors most of the time, but when it is time to go outside, they are active and ready to run and jump for as long as I will keep walking! One of my dogs lives with a person who exercises the dog by throwing a tennis ball down the hallway. Caloo, the dog, runs to get her ball and joyfully brings it to me, over and over.
Compared to other breeds of dog, they do not have huge exercise needs. Puppies need to be active. I also find that Westies have FRAPs - FRenetic Activity Periods. Most evenings, I often have a wild game of tag going on in my home and it generally involves every Westie in the house! It's more fun than watching television!
Can they be kept in a small apartment?
: Yes, absolutely. I know of several Westies who are happy apartment dwellers. The trick is to make sure to give them walks every day, and to take them outside often enough that they are not uncomfortable waiting for a potty break. Some owners of apartment dogs will train them to use paper or litter so that the dog does not have to wait to be taken out.
Can Westies be left alone during daytime while I work?
: I sure hope so, because I do it to mine all the time! I leave the radio on for them, so their environment isn't totally dead. My trustworthy adults, I just leave loose in the house.
For young dogs who cannot be trusted to not chew on things, I crate them with toys and a buster cube to keep them occupied. A buster cube is a toy that I can put food in. When the dog plays with it, the kibble falls out, a little at a time. I also use Kong toys - and put a tiny bit of peanut butter very far in, to give the dog things to challenge his or her mind while I am gone.
For puppies who will need to eliminate before I come home, I put out paper and confine them using a puppy pen, or a baby gate to keep them in a room that has a nonabsorbent floor.
Are Westies good with children?
: Given reasonable supervision, Westies are excellent dogs to have with children. They are active and cheerful and will want to be in the middle of whatever activity is going on.
However, no child should ever be allowed to play with a dog unsupervised. Children can do things that frighten or annoy dogs - and a dog has only two possible ways to ask a child to back off - to growl or to bite. Also, a child stumbling over a sleeping dog can make them wake up very grumpily - and too many times will cause the dog to be rather suspicious of the child. If it is not possible to supervise when they play together, it may be necessary to confine the dog to its crate.
Are they good with older persons?
: Westies get along with anyone, any age, any colour, and any sex. While I would not recommend that an elderly person have a puppy Westie, an adult dog would be ideal - Westies like to spend time with their people and are small enough to be on the couch or chair if the person wishes them to be there.
If a person is allergic to dogs, is a Westie a good dog to have?
: Sometimes! Many people who are allergic to dogs are not allergic to Westies. However, some people who are allergic do react to Westies. If you are allergic and are looking for a breed of dog that will not stimulate your allergies, you should make a point of visiting someone who owns a Westie and spend some time indoors with the dog. This is the best way to find out if you will react.
If you are allergic, it is even more important than usual to keep your pet properly groomed and brushed out.