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"Ask Cynthia"- Westie House Training

Dear Cynthia:

Last week we purchased a four year old Westie that the breeder said was housebroken – he is not – in fact he raises his leg to pee at every piece of furniture and doorway he passes, consequently we have him in a crate whenever his is in the house. I would NEVER return him to that breeder. As any good new owner would– we took him to the vet immediately and tests revealed a urinary tract infection and teeth in such bad shape that they may have to pull a few when we take him in for dental work.  First step will be having him neutered and shots updated.  Angus is very timid and has no knowledge of leashes, stairs, or what indoors are, but he is getting better day by day.

Then there is the issue of our cat and Angus's interest in chasing....

Training and care fall on me and that is ok. Is a 4 year old Westie who has apparently had little training is he trainable…or am I beating my heading against a brick wall?  

I am NOT returning this poor little fellow to his former bad care.

Sorry, I am venting.  But is this dog trainable given the above circumstances? 

Thanks for any advice,

Annemarie- frustrated in North Carolina

Hi Annemarie,

It sounds like you got involved with a very bad breeder, possibly even a puppymill owner, who has used Angus as a breeding dog and not taken care of him at all.  A four-year Westie should not be having problems with his teeth.  Thank goodness he is now in your home!

Anyway, that information does not solve the issues with Angus (I have a Westie named Angus too, but that is a story for another day!)

It sounds like your Angus will be a wonderful little boy once he adjusts to his new environment and learns the "Home Rules."  Any dog as young as Angus (even 10 year olds can be taught lots of commands if the trainer is patient and consistent) certainly is trainable!  I have a four-year-old foster dog in my home right now who is so bright he learns something new almost every day.


a. Almost all males who are not neutered will mark territory by peeing on things.  This tendency is very hard [not impossible but much harder] to correct while they are intact.

Once he is neutered it will take several weeks to months for his hormone levels to decrease to where he does not have those "urges."

However, that situation should not prevent you from starting housetraining now.

b. Since he has a urinary tract infection, he is feeling the need to pee more frequently than normal (even more than a normal un-neutered dog).

I have had bladder and kidney infections myself and was in the bathroom constantly.  It is the same with a dog. 

However, medication from the Vet should make quick improvement in his need to urinate so frequently and in his comfort.

c. You say Angus is not familiar with a leash or stairs.  That makes me think that he was an outdoor dog. 

Fifteen years ago, my very first rescue was a 1 1/2 year old female (Bonnie) who was timid around people and unfamiliar with collars, leashes, and stairs (as well as a number of other items such as furniture).  I happened to know that she had been kept outside in a concrete kennel area. 

Bonnie did not know the difference between being on the grass outside and on the carpet (looks and feels similar!).  So, she had no idea that she was not to urinate inside. 

d. Training Information

When Bonnie pottied in the house I corrected her by calmly saying "No" and taking her outside on leash.  I say "calmly" because if you yell at a dog when you are housetraining it the dog may become a "nervous wetter" which will urinate every time it gets scared, hears a loud noise, or is reprimanded.   [This also sometimes to children who are punished for wetting during potty training.] 

When Bonnie pottied outside I would cheerfully praise her and give her a little treat.

It did help that I had another Westie (Sunshine) who was housetrained.  When Sunshine pottied outside I would verbally praise her.  Bonnie would go over to where Sunshine had pottied and urinate herself.  Then I praised Bonnie.

She became housetrained very quickly.  In fact, she was housetrained before she learned to climb stairs or jump up on furniture to sit with me.

e. Using a Crate

I admit I am not a proponent for using crates except when a dog is ill or recovering from surgery. 

Even though a crate is an established housetraining tool, I would caution you that it should be large enough for Angus to stand up without bumping his head on the top, turn around easily, and lie down fully extended.  There should be a water cup attached in the crate that does not impede his standing, turning around, or lying down.  Also, a dog should not be confined to the crate for more than 3-4 hours at a stretch. 

When I am housetraining I confine the dog to a room with linoleum or tile (kitchen or bathroom) by using baby gates in the door openings.  That way, the dog can play, stretch, sleep, get some water, etc. but be in a space where an accident would be a major crisis.  At the beginning of training, I do leave a small piddle paper (can be bought at pet supply stores ... unlike newspapers, they have a plastic backing to protect the floor) down in the corner for emergencies.

Additional Training Tips:

Make frequent trips outside.  Take Angus outside frequently, at least every two hours, and immediately after he wakes up from a nap, after playing and after eating.

You must praise him and give him a treat immediately after he's finished eliminating, not after he comes back inside the house. This step is vital, because rewarding your dog for eliminating outdoors is the only way he'll know that's what you want him to do.  If he doesn't seem to care for regular dog treats, try putting a little peanut butter on it. Usually, this  really turns on those little taste buds.

[You can also put peanut butter on a long-handled wooden spoon to help teach him how to walk on leash.  Keep the spoon just out of reach in front of his nose so he walks toward it.  Do let him have a lick once in a while so he will not get discouraged!]

Never punish for mistakes. Once you're fairly confident that the dog understands where to relieve himself, scold him for mistakes, but don't spank, scream, or push his nose in the mess. The spot should be cleaned up, preferably with an enzyme odor eliminator. (If the odor is left untended, the dog will find it again, even if people cannot detect any smell.)

If you clean up an accident in the house, take a little bit of the soiled paper towel (not one with the enzyme odor on it) and leave it in the potty spot. The smell will help your Westie recognize the area as the place he is supposed to eliminate.

Choose a location not too far from the door to be the bathroom spot so when he really does need to go it will not be a long trip to the spot.

When you take him out, if he doesn't urinate and defecate within 10 minutes, bring him inside and place him in his crate for 10-15 minutes, then try again. Continue this routine until he is successful, and then praise him as if he just won a blue ribbon.

While your dog is actually eliminating, use a simple word or phrase, like "potty" or "go potty," so he learns the word is associated with that action.

*Everyone who will be taking him out to potty have to use the exact same word or phrase.  Otherwise, he has to learn TWO vocabularies! 

*Be consistent.  Do not use the same word for two different actions.

You need to pick a word or phrase you will not be using for something other than pottying. 

*Think ahead.  You might want to use "hurry up" when he is taking too much time sniffing grass during a walk.  So, do not also use it to prompt him to potty.

*For example-

*Some people say "down" to a dog to get it to jump off of a sofa or get its paws off of their clothes. 

*When they take the dog to obedience class they use "down" to get the dog to lie down.  Two actions for One word.

*So, use "off" to make the dog get off the sofa or get its paws off your leg. 

*Use "down" for lie down. 

*Do not use phrases that contain words already used for dog commands.

*For instance, you do not want to try to teach a young dog that "get down" means get off the sofa or off of me and "lie down" means lie down on the floor.  The distinction between the two phrases is too complicated for a dog.

Our group tells people that a really bright mature adult Westie has the intelligence and behavior of no more than five-year-old human child.  Most mature Westies are comparable to a three-year-old child's learning level.

And, yes, dogs do go through stages such as the "Terrible Twos."  This is about the time that people contact us and say "Help, what I can do with my Westie?"  Of course, our first response is "Did you take him/her to obedience class?" 

I would like to note that if at all possible, put Angus on a regular feeding schedule. Feeding your dog at the same times each day will make it more likely that he'll eliminate at consistent times as well. This makes housetraining easier for both of you.  [By a year old to a year and a half old, a Westie should be eating twice a day.  I like to feed my dogs twice because it is better for them to eat two smaller meals rather than one big one.]

Schedule for Feeding.  A dog needs access to clean, fresh water at all times.  However, there are good reasons to put the food down at a specific time and for a specific period (no more than 15 minutes).

*One reason is that it helps with housetraining. 

*Another is that many dogs who are allowed to choose the time they eat also become picky eaters.  They attempt to control you by choosing when they eat and later by what they will eat.  A free -feed program can also lead in later life to an overweight dog. 

*It will also help you to be able to tell your Vet how much the dog is eating when you go for puppy check ups and when the Westie is ill or hurt [they all eventually have a little accident or tummy's just part of being a dog].  Many years down the road when he gets to be a senior, you will need to know if he is eating and how much to determine if your dog needs to go for a check up.  So, it is better to start a feeding schedule now rather than try to change him after he is an adult.

If, after four months of housetraining, he is still having accidents you might want to check again with your Vet to see if there is another reason for his behavior, such as...

*Medical Problems: House soiling can often be caused by physical problems such as a urinary tract infection [You are taking care of this problem through medication from your Vet] or a parasite infection. Check with your veterinarian to rule out any possibility of disease or illness.

*Submissive/Excitement Urination ("nervous wetters"): Some dogs, especially young ones, temporarily lose control of their bladders when they become excited or feel threatened. This usually occurs during greetings or periods of intense play, or when they're about to be punished.

*Territorial Urine-Marking: Intact dogs sometimes deposit small amounts of urine or feces to scent-mark their territory. Both male and female dogs do this, and it most often occurs when they believe their territory has been invaded. [You are addressing this issue through neutering.]

*Separation Anxiety: Dogs who become anxious when they're left alone may house soil as a result. Usually, there are other symptoms as well, such as destructive behavior or vocalization.

*Fears or Phobias: When animals become frightened, they may lose control of their bladder and/or bowels. If your puppy is afraid of loud noises, such as thunderstorms or fireworks, he may house soil when he's exposed to these sounds.

Here are a couple of pretty good sources on housetraining: 



2.  CATS

I wish I had better news for you about Westies and cats.  However, cats are exactly the size animal (ranging in size from a mouse to a fox) that Westies were originally bred to exterminate on farms in Scotland.  Westies retain a strong hunting drive from their ancestors. 

A Westie can be raised from a puppy with a cat and get along with it.

However, you cannot always take that Westie as an adult and put it with a different cat.  You see, the new cat is not the Westie's buddy, it is only a cat.  The tolerance it had for the original cat it knew as a puppy does not always transfer to new cats. 

You can try to correct his behavior but be very careful to protect your cat.

If Angus was an outdoor dog, he may have especially strong hunting urges. 

Frankly, we have no successful training advice for changing a Westie from a cat-hunting dog to a cat-friendly dog. 

Once in a while we see a cat that is dominant and big enough to stand up to a Westie.  When a cat does not run a submissive or small Westie may back down and become respectful of the cat.  If the cat runs, any Westie will chase it.  The dogs with strong hunting instincts will try to kill the cat when it gets it cornered.

You can try keeping them in separate parts of the house.  However, a dog can smell another animal in the house even if it is kept in a different room.

So, even if you keep them apart, you may have to put up with growling, barking, and snarling between the two of them.


You can sign up for our free Westie owners' newsletter by sending your street address to me.  It usually has some training, medical, dietary, as well as dog stories, photos, etc.  In fact, send us a photo of Angus for the issue that will come out the first of 2005!


Finally, the very best thing you can do to bond with Angus is taking him to a 6-8 week obedience class.  You will meet other dog owners to share experiences with, have an opportunity for Angus to socialize with other dogs in a controlled environment, and learn new dog training ideas.

Dogs learn everything by repetition.  So, the class is to teach you how to train Angus.   His training should occur for about 15-20 minutes at least 3-4 times a week. 

You always want to end a session with his doing something positive so you can praise him.  If you add a dog treat to your praise, it will double his fun at being with you, trying new things, and getting your praise. 

By ending on a good note, both of you feel it was a positive experience rather than a long, tedious, frustrating time. 

Even if you end with something he already knows (when he is a beginner, if he is standing say "Good Sit" and give the treat OR if he is sitting say "Good Stand" and offer the treat...and a little pat on the back!) rather than the new thing you are trying to teach, it is better to end on an upbeat note.

5.  Westie Library

Please check out our Library for all sorts of Westie information at :

The list of items in the library is on the right side of the page.  

Good Luck!

Let me know how it goes.

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