HOW TO LIVE WITH A WEST HIGHLAND TERRIER
Having been owned by a Westie for the past 13 years and having been involved in Westie Rescue has given me some insight into just how wonderful being owned by a West Highland Terrier can be. You never, ever own a Westie, they own you. From the time their little black button nose, and round black eyes look up at you, you will be smitten. Be aware, this breed is not for the meek and mild. It is for the witty, happy go lucky, fun loving crowd that takes on the challenging role of being owned and the challenges of training a dog into what can become the best love affair you will ever encounter.
Be sure you take note, that you will never own your own furniture, slippers, snacks, favorite TV chair, or bed again as long as this Westie resides in your home. What is yours is theirs, and that’s that. They have the awesome personality of a tenacious 2 year old their entire lifespan. Always getting into trouble, always challenging who’s in charge, these little white balls of fire will come into your home and melt your heart into what I none other than call the “softie hold”!
When I got my Westie Maggie, I had just had to put to sleep my beloved Razzles, a black 13 ½ year old Peekapoo who had been the love of my life. I didn’t plan on adopting a puppy that day, I was just looking. I came upon a breeder that I had sold newspaper advertising to before, and he stated that if I wanted a dog, to come by and he’d help in any way to oblige me with a puppy that would help to heal the wound of losing a treasured friend.
I walked into the main area of this breeder’s house and out of the corner of my eye came a bouncing six month old Cairn Terrier. I had never owned a terrier breed before, and I really hadn’t done any research like I normally do before adopting a new pet. This Cairn, was meek, shy and downright could have cared if I had walked into the room or not. It was like “nobody was home” in that puppies mind. Of course, the dog hadn’t found his “true love” yet, so the relationship was strictly platonic. After walking the area and seeing other breeds, I stumbled upon a cage of 3 small white balls of fur. I asked the breeder what these were and he said, “Oh, you don’t want those, 2 are taken and the 3rd is the runt of the litter”. Runt, you mean tiny? Tiny could be good. To me, tiny meant, tiny dog which would be easy to train! Ha, ha, little did I know that just because you are a runt, does not mean that you are little, small in brain power or anything like that. I asked to see the “runt” of the litter. He brought this little white ball of fur to me and explained that this was a White West Highland terrier. I had heard of this breed before, but knew nothing of its nature. The breeder placed the puppy on the floor, and the puppy proceeded to ignore me as if I wasn’t good enough for her to own. Once the puppy set her little paws on the floor, she took off under the desk to explore. She came back out with a “sticky glue mouse trap” stuck to the side of her face, and I knew, this puppy was going to be mine. I look for characteristics in a dog like curiosity, tenaciousness, and being playful as the foundation to a good relationship with a dog. I picked up this little ball of fur, and was smothered in kisses that only I can describe as a small, mighty Niagara Falls. This dog was mine. It was love, love at first site, and I knew she was would be coming home with me. Although my heart had been broken by my previous dog having gone to “Rainbow Bridge”, I allowed my heart to unfold and embrace this new adventure of “man vs. dog”.
My previous dog Razzles, had suffered from kidney stone surgery, and we brought her home for 2 weeks after surgery. She had been so torn up by the stones, that she could no longer hold her urine. I slept on the couch next to her for 2 weeks, getting up hourly every night to let her outside. She ruined my carpet, but she didn’t ruin my love for her. This poor dog was old, worn out and I had to let her go so she could move on and wait for me at Heavens Gates.
After having had a dog that had leaked urine on my carpets, constantly peed right in front of me, bringing a puppy home that had the bladder the size of a pea was a challenge. Every time she had an accident, I’d get so mad because my previous beloved Razzles had to be put down because she could no longer hold her bladder. Here I was being accepting of a new puppy that couldn’t hold it for more than an hour. Until I could let go of Razzles, I couldn’t accept “Maggie” the new puppy in our house as my true, new friend. I had called the breeder because the first week we had Maggie she snapped at me when she had a bone. I told the breeder that she was too aggressive and that I didn’t want some little tiny ball of fur pushing me around. The breeder said, “Roll her over on her back and growl in her face”. Show her who’s the boss, and embrace her as your own, or you will never develop a relationship with this dog. Let go of the past dog, and learn to love again. This was the best advice anyone could have given me. As soon as I let go, Maggie became one of the family.
I had never been a fan of crate training, I didn’t like the idea of a dog being constantly in a crate, so I opted for the old fashioned baby gate and newspaper routine. I hadn’t gone out for more than an hour to come home and find puppy poop prints all over the wall behind the gate. It looked like Maggie had turned into a centipede and developed 1000 legs. Everywhere you looked there were puppy prints that had stepped in poop. She did not miss a centimeter of this tiny enclosure. Well, after cleaning her up and the room, I decided that maybe puppy training and a crate were in order. They say that dogs will hold it when placed in a small crate because they don’t like to lay in their own excretions. This is very true. From that day forward, Maggie began a potty training quest that she passed with flying colors. Pretty soon, the longer she held it, the longer she was out of the crate. At long last, one evening, I turned into a real softie and allowed her to sleep on my bed, and that was the end of the crate ever being in my home again. Maggie had found her forever home.
Months passed, training was tried over and over again. Walks down the street became entertainment for the neighbors on a daily basis. Oh, it wasn’t funny to see Maggie strutting her stuff down the street that became entertaining; it was because if Maggie didn’t want to walk, she didn’t. This stubborn breed decides when and where they will do what they will do in their own time. Every time Maggie decided she didn’t want to walk, she’d hold her head down and turn on the breaks. Literally, the leash would jerk as I pulled, and when I turned around there would be Maggie with her head down as if to say “Uh, sorry lady, not now, not ever” I am not going anywhere. I would then have to pick this white fluffy ball of fur up and walk her home in my arms. Some exercise plan. I developed stronger biceps than quadriceps, because when you carry a 10lb dog on a daily basis, your arms do start to develop muscles.
The strangest thing about a West Highland Terrier is their desire to go outside over 100 times a day. While potty training was in progress, I developed a routine of tying a bell to the doorknob and ringing it every time we went outside. Maggie caught on quickly, but decided that it was way cooler to ring the bell and go out each and every time. Maggie would ring the bell to go chase a squirrel. Maggie would ring the bell to bark at the outside air. Maggie would ring the bell to chase anything in the yard that moved. And thus, in a short time I was trained to answer the bell and let her outside. It was like Christmas in July with all that bell ringing going on. Pretty soon the bell disappeared as well. Maggie developed a nice routine of going out to do her business, she’d throw a squirrel chasing moment into the mix and life went on.
Years have passed and Maggie is now a Senior Citizen in our home. She’s now 13½, her eyesight is dwindling, her hearing is either almost not there or selective, and she sleeps away most of her days. As I watch her progress into an older dog, I am taken back to a time when she was so adorable and small and she tested my patience every moment of every day. I would do it all again I tell her. She was and has been one of the best dogs I ever had, and if she has it her way, I was probably the best person she ever owned.