Like most terriers, West Highland White Terriers have a tendency towards digging. While this behavior is natural to a breed that was bred specifically for this purpose, as a pet, digging can be destructive for a cultivated lawn or dangerous for the dog if he gets a notion to dig under a fence to see what's on the other side. While digging is natural for Westies, there are various methods of controlling this behavior. In this article, we'll take a look at why Westies are predisposed to digging behavior and some tips for how to control it.
In order to understand why the West Highland White Terrier has a penchant for digging, we have to go back to its roots. Westies, as well as other short legged terriers from Scotland, were bred specifically for aiding in the hunt for small animals. These "earth dogs" were trained to search out and flush fox and other small animals from their burrows. After generations of this type of work, the behavior becomes ingrained and the body evolves to suit its purpose. This is why Westie's and other terrier's nails tend to grow faster than other breeds, in order to aid them in their digging work.
While it's true that many breeds have a small degree of digging behavior, it is clear that some breeds have stronger instincts than others. There are several ways to control the behavior, but many of them require attentive supervision. First, it will be helpful to understand what attracts a Westie to a particular spot. For a Westie, the fresher and moister, the better, so newly planted flowers, fresh mulch, or areas you're trying to keep damp will naturally attract a Westie to that spot. Unless you're willing to fence off your flower beds or give up the backyard to your Westie, here are a few tips you can try.
Many fanciers use what is called a shake can, which is simply a soda can with a handful of pennies or nuts and bolts placed inside, with the opening taped shut. When the Westie starts digging in an area he's not allowed, shake the can once (that is, make one up and down motion). Continuing the shaking will desensitize the dog from the noise, and you want to keep it unpleasant for him so he'll stop his behavior. Immediately after shaking, reinforce the command and praise, such as 'no dig, good no dig.' You'll have to be prepared to repeat this quite a lot, perhaps distract him with toys, be patient, and above all, consistent.
There are also sprays or dry treatments available on the market that can be sprinkled over an area that you wish to keep dig free. You'll have to keep this up on a regular basis, as it is the "unpleasant" smell that keeps the dog away. Others recommend covering a hole that the dog has made with chicken wire or rocks, to discourage continued digging in one area.
Finally, there are those that recommend giving a space in the backyard to the Westie especially for digging. Entice him to the area with toys, and when he is found digging where he shouldn't, gently scold him and calmly take him to their special digging area.