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How Smart Is a West Highland White Terrier? Facts, Training Tips & FAQ

Written by: Oliver Jones

Last Updated on April 9, 2024 by Dogster Team

a westie sitting on grass outdoors

How Smart Is a West Highland White Terrier? Facts, Training Tips & FAQ

If you own a West Highland White Terriers are intelligent, curious, crafty, and alert. They are easy to train, and it helps that their eagerness to please makes them highly cooperative. But how smart are they?

Westies are quick learners and take between 25 and 40 repetitions to master a command. They have average intelligence and will generally not overwhelm a new pet parent during training sessions. They score average in obedience and work intelligence and rank high in adaptive and instinctive intelligence.

Read on to learn more about the West Highland White Terrier’s IQ. We will discuss how the breed ranks in different canine intelligence dimensions and share tips to make your dog smarter.


How Smart Are West Highland White Terriers?

Westies are fun-loving dogs that find happiness in the simplest of pleasures that life has to offer. Here is how they rank in different departments.

Obedience and Work Intelligence

Obedience and work intelligence is a dog’s capacity to learn and respond desirably to known commands. Dogs with higher O&W intelligence learn commands in just a few repetitions and obey them more often.

Westies rank average in obedience and work intelligence because they need 25 to 40 repetitions to master a command.

Compared to the world’s smartest dog breed,1 the Border Collie, a Westie’s performance in class is mid-ranging. A Border Collie can master a command in just five repetitions and learn over 250 words with excellent training!

This comparison gives you a clear idea of why Westies cannot be deemed “highly” intelligent.

Fortunately, Westies are eager to please and often obey the commands they understand. Of course, there are instances when your dog will be too bored, upset, or distracted to listen to you. With proper training, those instances are often few and far apart.

West Highland White Terrier dog on grass
Image Credit: BIGANDT.COM, Shutterstock

Instinctive Intelligence

When it comes to instinctive intelligence, Westies are at the top of the game!

Although tiny, these dogs are strong and tough. They are true working dogs bred to hunt underground rodents like rats and badgers. Westies excel at what they were bred to do and are always alert, active, and ready to chase after anything that moves.

Hunting is deep-rooted in a Westie’s DNA. The breed has a high prey drive, and even when trained, you cannot trust your pet around rodent pets like guinea pigs and hamsters. This only proves that your West Highland White Terrier has high instinctive intelligence.

Adaptive Intelligence

Westies are expert problem solvers. They rank high in the adaptive intelligence department because they are keen on learning from past experiences. With some practice, these dogs can even blend multiple commands into a seamless performance. It’s no wonder they excel at agility and obedience coursework.

Although individuals differ, most are good at learning through observation.

Some pet owners even claim that their pets can read their minds because of how quickly they pick up the cues of different activities. They can figure things out independently and know when it’s time for meals, showers, walks, training sessions, etc.

West Highland White Terrier standing on rock
Image Credit: Morten Hjerpsted, Pixabay

Are Westies Hard to Train?

Westies are generally easy to train. Although they only have average intelligence, they are eager to please and make genuine efforts to grasp the taught concepts. Still, each individual has a unique personality, and some tend to be more independent and strong-willed than others.

If yours is a headstrong pet, training her will not be all fun and games. How swiftly a small-sized dog can drive you up the wall can surprise you.

In this case, your furry friend needs consistent and patient training to learn new commands and respond appropriately. Use reward-based training tactics and focus on giving her the things she desires, such as treats, praise, and petting.

Choosing an irresistible reward can be a great motivator, irrespective of your dog’s degree of stubbornness.

Moreover, address behavioral issues using proper disciplinary methods. For instance, consider ignoring your pet when she misbehaves instead of spanking her.


The 4 Surefire Tips to Make Your West Highland White Terrier Smarter

Westies have inquisitive attitudes and are loyal to the core. Although it takes more repetitions for them to learn new commands, their curiosity and loyalty make them fairly good students.

On the flip side, these dogs can have big heads. They are self-aware because of their heritage and can judge situations and decide what they want to do. If you don’t start training early, you risk raising a dog that will barely ever listen to your commands.

Here are four surefire tips to make your Westie smarter and hopefully more obedient.

Westie background wooden wall_
Image Credit: Bogdanovich Alexander, Shutterstock

1. Offer Plenty of Nose Work Opportunities

As aforementioned, Westies are curious. These dogs are also avid rat hunters with above-average instinctive intelligence.

Offering plenty of nose work opportunities for your pet will stimulate her mind and awaken her natural foraging instinct. Start by exposing her to new smells. You can switch up your routes during walks to allow your furry friend to smell different environments.

Also, engage your pet in brain games like hide and seek. Hide a treat under her blanket and watch how fast she is to find and retrieve it. Food puzzles are also great at stimulating the brain and keeping it active. Your doggo will literally light up as she sniffs out the treats and figures out the easiest way to retrieve them.

2. Teach More Vocabularies

Brilliant dogs like Border Collies and Poodles can learn up to 250 commands. As a dog with average intelligence, your Westie can master up to 165 words. If you have only taught basic commands, it’s time you took your lessons to the next level.

Learning new terms offers an excellent way to stimulate your dog’s brain. Fortunately, Westies have high adaptive intelligence and can even learn words associated with specific actions. Don’t be surprised if your pet makes a break for it when you mention your vet’s name.

West Highland White Terrier
Image Credit: anetapics, Shutterstock

3. Teach Your Pet Impulse Control

Westies can be impatient and demanding. Unfortunately, these traits can also get in the way of training and encourage the development of some nasty habits. It’s a well-known fact that poor self-control can make a dog’s IQ seem lower than it is.

Impulse control training can help ensure your dog doesn’t pull on the leash because she lacks the patience to wait for you. It will also address behavioral problems like resource guarding or food aggression. Most importantly, it will make it easier for your furry companion to understand and respond appropriately to commands like leave it, wait and settle.

It takes a lot of effort for a Westie to show restraint, especially when she badly wants to chase down your neighbor’s cat. Play nice and offer a treat or a kind word each time she works on controlling her emotions. Encouraging her to exercise self-control will ultimately make her a more pleasant household member.

4. Spice Up Your Training Sessions

Boring training sessions are counterproductive, especially when dealing with a fun-loving breed like a Westie.

Having fun during class time is beneficial for you and your furry companion. You will likely remain consistent and stick to a regular training schedule if you find your sessions enjoyable. On the other hand, your doggo will develop a positive association with learning and remain more focused during classes.

To keep training sessions fun, maintain a happy demeanor and let your dog feed off your positive energy. Also, train with games and ensure each class lasts a maximum of 15 minutes. Lastly, give treats, treats, and more treats to keep your furry companion eager to ace it in class.

Image By: BIGANDT.COM, Shutterstock



Although Westies are not the smartest dogs in the world, they are intelligent pets with the capacity to learn and understand. Like most Terriers, they have above-average reasoning ability and can figure out how to solve or create problems.

Westies may be eager to please but don’t mistake them for regular lap dogs that obey all commands. They are a little stubborn sometimes, although it’s easy to make them cooperate using positive reinforcement and reward-based training.

Generally, Westies have an irresistible appeal provided you understand your pet’s character and inborn traits. With a bit of patience and diligence during training and socialization sessions, you have a good chance of raising an obedient and well-mannered dog.

Featured Image Credit: xkacha, Pixabay

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