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West Highland White Terriers and Digging

Most terriers have a tendency to dig and West Highland White Terriers are no different. This behavior is natural for an animal bred specifically for this purpose, but as a pet, digging can be devastating to a cultivated lawn. In fact, digging can even be dangerous if your pet decides to dig under a fence to see what’s on the other side. Although digging is natural to Westies, there are ways to control the urge for this behavior. So why are Westies predisposed to digging and what are some things that can be done about it?

The West Highland White Terrier has a tendency to dig, but to understand why, we must first go back to the breed’s roots. Westies, along with many other short-legged terriers from the Scottish region, were specifically bred to help hunt small animals. Called “earth dogs,” they were trained to search for and flush foxes and other small animals from their burrows. Over generations, this behavior is simply hardwired into animal behavior, and the body evolves to fit its specific purpose. This is why the claws of Westies and many other small terriers tend to grow faster than other breeds to help them dig.

It is true that all breeds have some degree of digging behavior. However, it is also clear that some breeds have a stronger instinct than others. Although there are several ways to control this behavior, many of them require close supervision. First, it will be helpful to know what attracts your Westie to a certain spot. In his eyes, the wetter and fresher the dirt, the better, so newly planted flowers, fresh mulch, or areas you’re trying to keep moist will be the first places your pet will go. If you’re not planning on fencing your flower beds or giving your Westie free reign in the backyard, here are some tips you can try.

A shaker box, which is simply a soda can with a handful of pennies or nuts and bolts placed inside with the opening taped shut, is what many breeders and hobbyists use to discourage digging. When your Westie starts digging in an area where it is not allowed, shake the box once in an up and down motion. Constantly shaking the can will desensitize your pet to the sound and you want to startle it by making it unpleasant so it stops the behavior. Immediately after shaking the can, reinforce the command with praise, such as “Good boy, no digging.” Be prepared to repeat this task quite often, try to distract him with toys immediately after you stop him from digging, and above all, be patient and consistent.

On the pet market right now, there are certain sprays or dry treats that can be sprinkled on an area you don’t want your Westie to dig. As it is the “bad” smell that keeps the dog away from the area, you should repeat this process several times as well, on a regular basis. Covering a hole your Westie has dug with chicken wire or rocks may discourage him from digging in that area, but will not affect his propensity for other areas.

Finally, there are those who advocate giving your Westie a space in the backyard – a free digging space. Encourage him to come to the area with some of his toys and when you find him digging elsewhere, scold him gently and calmly take him to his special digging area.

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