Westies are loyal, affectionate, playful, enthusiastic, and little clowns. They bring joy to our lives. However, they can also be stubborn, loud, possessive, aggressive, and bossy. It will be up to you to determine if your new friend is a good companion or a terror.
of the Pack
A dominant dog allowed to set itself up as the pack leader will become at first be bossy then aggressive in its manner toward you. On the other hand, if your dog is by nature submissive it may become a fearful, anxious, and nervous biter in its attempt to be leader of the pack. Establishing yourself as head of your household does not have to be a complicated or cruel process. It is accomplished in small logical steps.
The smartest dogs have the intelligence of no more than a young child does. Most dogs remain in the range of 2-5 years. Just as you would set limits on behavior for a 5-year-old child so you will need to establish limits for the dog's behavior. If you do not, then the dog will be left to set his own limits. Children do not come into this world knowing what they need to know to survive. They learn by example and training.
You will provide this training to your dog as its mother did initially. You will be responsible for teaching them how to walk on a leash, where/when to potty, when to play, when to sleep, when to eat, etc. You set the schedule. You are in charge. You have to be able to handle the dog to groom it, to examine it for injury or cleanliness, to remove its bowl or toys without growling from the dog, and to control its interaction with other humans and dogs.
Tip about Correction
NEVER hit a dog-with your hand or any object- UNLESS you want a fear biter. We can always tell dogs that have been hit, as when they come to us they are hand, foot, or object shy. Hitting does not correct a behavior. It just creates another problem. There is NO legitimate reason for hitting a dog.
What you want to be is a benevolent, loving, fair boss, but the BOSS nevertheless.
In return, the dog will feel secure, relaxed, and comfortable. It will respect and obey you. This does not mean you will have a "wimpy" dog. It merely implies that when you tell the dog to do something, it will have to and it will. Someday the ability to be able to issue a command and have it obeyed may save the life of your dog if it starts to run out in front of a car or gets into another dangerous situation.
Once your dog does learn the basics you have the options of earning obedience titles or going on to other activities where your work will pay off such as dog agility where the dog races against the clock while completing a series of obstacles. Most dogs love learning new things and pushing themselves to fly from one piece of agility equipment to another.
The extra bonus of obedience or agility work or any training you and your dog do together is the bond that forms between you. You become a team. This is not you against the dog. It is a team effort of seeing what is the best method to reach a goal whether it is completing a 5-minute Sit/Stay at a obedience trial, doing a trick such as rolling over, or hitting the contact zones on the A-frame in an agility contest.
People will marvel at the attentiveness your dog exhibits as it listens and responds to your commands. A dog is happiest when interacting with you whether on the agility field or your sofa. Giving it something to learn stimulates its mind and creates a closeness to you and keeps it from creating its own diversion, which could be chewing the rug. So work with your dog everyday even if you just play fetch in the back yard or practice "Sit" in front of your easy chair with the dog.
Variations on training can include the use of traditional training collars or food treats (positive reinforcement) or clickers (a metal finger operated snapper that sounds somewhat like a cricket) along with treats. Do some research at the library or on the Internet to decide what kind of training you want then talk to some trainers to see how their program works. Finally, take the plunge and enjoy. And practice, practice, practice. The training course is to teach you how to train your dog. The dog's learning will only occur with his repetition and your patience! Always end each practice session with something the dog does correctly so you end the training with praise.
Remember that dog training is a team sport. It is not you against the dog. The reason we recommend a training course for you and your dog is to build a positive relationship between you and the dog as you work together to learn new skills. It is work that you will continually do the rest of the dog's life for 5-10 minutes daily just to remind both of you what you have accomplished. These "mini refreshers" can be fun as you use your basic skills to teach/learn a trick such as "beg", "shake hands", or "roll over".
After basic obedience is successfully completed, advanced training can really become fun progressing to freestyle obedience, agility, or flyball training. These sports are where the dog can really begin to enjoy itself and you see how the basic work pays off.
You can find trainers in the Yellow Pages of the phone book under "Pet Training". Some cities and counties offer dog-training courses in their parks and recreation classes.
It is up to you to determine if a type of training or a trainer is right for your dog. Although some Westies have "big dog" attitudes, remember they are still small dogs and methods that over-correct for their size can have an adverse effect on your training and one their personality and behavior. Any method that produces crouching or cringing in your dog is not productive.