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Are Westies Intelligent Dogs?

Are Westies Intelliegent

Westies are not only inquisitive and able to form close bonds with their humans, but they can show signs of great smarts as well. At other times they might display seemingly silly acts which make you wonder how clever they really are. 

And if you’re about to adopt a West Highland Terrier (or just generally curious), you’re not alone in asking how clever they are. 

After all, you’d want to know what you’ll be faced with when it comes to training and obedience.

Since I have had my Westie for a few years, I can share with you my experience. 

So, are Westies intelligent? In short, yes, Westies are quite intelligent. They are known for their streak of independence and stubbornness, and their ability to adapt to new situations. Westies are loyal and eager to please their owners and these traits make them one of the most intelligent small dog breeds. 

But there’s more to it and it’s worth noting that dogs have different types of intelligence according to their breed. A herding dog for example is going to behave differently to one that was bred to hunt (source).    

Table of Contents

What Makes Dogs Intelligent?

In order to assess any dog’s intelligence, we need to clarify what we mean by it and how this can be measured. 

I was surprised to find that there have been numerous dog intelligence surveys carried out among breeds, with the help of obedience trial judges (source).

The criteria was based on how many repetitions a new command took to learn and consequently how successfully the dogs obeyed these commands for the first time. 

One set of data shows Westies ranking at no 47 (source), whereas another as no 88, both placing them in the average working/obedience and intelligence category, compared to other dog breeds. 

However, that’s not the full story. Research indicates that working/obedience intelligence is not the same as general (‘everyday’) dog intelligence. Some breeds perform outstandingly well in obedience work but are not so clever at other tasks.

Whereas the above studies show dog breeds’ general obedience, other types of intelligence can be considered as well such as adaptive and emotional intelligence. These are not so easy to measure and will vary between individuals.

Adaptive intelligence refers to how dogs work things out by themselves. This varies from one dog to another even within a breed.

Emotional intelligence in dogs means that your pet can read your facial expressions for example and respond to them. They might even exhibit guilt when they realize they’ve done something the owner doesn’t approve of.

So, you can look at it this way: while some dog breeds are more intelligent than others, an individual dog’s intelligence may be different depending on the situation.

Are Westies Intelligent?

To understand the Westies’ intelligence, we need to look at their past. As the name suggests, they originate from the Scottish Highlands area and were bred specifically to hunt vermin. 

They have active bodies, which are perfectly developed for getting into small holes and can bark very loudly should they get stuck in a burrow. In which case they need to rely on their brain and ingenuity to get out of trouble.

So as working dogs, they have evolved to respond to changing situations quickly, which makes them smarter than a lot of other dog breeds.

While they are no longer used for hunting, the instinct remains very strong along with digging. 

Although people often choose Westies for their adorable looks and small size, they are actually quite the feisty little character and can be aggressive if necessary. Also, they can respond accordingly to the situation’s demand.

West Highland Terriers are also known for their loyalty and desire to please their owners. This makes them eager to learn something new, which in turn tells us they have quick-thinking brains.

These traits are part of Westies’ nature, making them cute and intelligent. Not all other dog breeds show these traits. This is one of the reasons why Westies are a popular pet these days.

Let’s look in more detail at some of the traits that demonstrate their intelligence.

A Typical Terrier Breed

Like all terriers, the West Highland Terrier is also an exceptional hunter. This also means, they are quite fast and are prone to barking. All of these are common traits to terrier dogs.

Having a high level of energy, Westies are lively, strong, and generally busybodies. They can be determined and boisterous. Because of that, they need to be trained from a young age in order to get used to all kinds of people and animals.

Westies are always on the go and have a very curious nature but are loyal to their owners also.

Hunting Instinct

As I mentioned earlier, the Scots originally bred Westies for hunting purposes in their region. They became expert rodent hunters just like the other terriers. Because of this, Westies can quickly start a chase as soon as they sense their prey. They’ll often notice movement long before our human senses catch on (hedgehogs under sheds for example).

Being quite impulsive, if something or someone startles them, they will start barking. They are also likely to try and chase if they suspect there is prey around. Westies can be very clever at catching rodents, so much so that they will dig up roots to catch said rodent!

Because of their natural instincts, Westies are always on guard. Their senses are highly developed, which proves to be beneficial in a variety of situations. Because they were trained as a hunting dog breed to follow commands, Westies are recognized for being able to follow instructions, although being alert for prey always comes first to them! This trait remains an important characteristic of the breed.


One of the most distinctive features of the West Highland Terrier is its self-assurance. They are proud of themselves, despite their small stature. This is why Westies are such a free-thinking breed when compared to other dogs.

They are stubborn at times. And when they are, there’s a good chance they won’t listen to you. They will do whatever they want and pushing them likely won’t help. Sometimes, they will behave like they are the ones in charge!

This is why it’s critical to train them properly from the start, otherwise, they won’t obey your instructions later. They can grow up to be bossy.

Restlessness When Bored

As these dogs are full of energy, they can become restless if they are bored. This again goes back to their hunting background. Back in the day, they worked through the rough, rocky countryside of Scotland. These hunting sessions would take long hours and often with no breaks.

Because they had been trained to endure lengthy hunting sessions, their mind had to be engaged with various activities all the time. So if they are not doing anything for a long period, Westies grow restless. They start to agitate and might start barking without any reason or create annoyance.

They also dig when they are bored and get the chance. It’s another characteristic of a sturdy terrier that they have. And if you’re not careful, they may dig up your lawn and harm your front yard. The best thing to do is to make sure they have plenty of small activities to keep them busy.

Inquisitive Attitude

The Westie is known for being very loyal and will bond with you easily. That explains why they can quickly adjust to any environment or scenario.

Having said that, they are independent too and like to spend time with themselves. You won’t have to worry about leaving them alone at home.

But it doesn’t mean you don’t need to spend enough time with them, or that you should leave them for hours. You need to have a balance.

Their inquisitive nature means they are curious about things and like to investigate their environment. This can be dangerous for your Westie if not well-trained. With the right upbringing, they shouldn’t attempt any harm or create havoc in the house.


It’s not surprising that Westies are witty and intelligent, given their heritage. They’re also quite self-aware and are able to judge situations to some extent. You can’t force them to do anything they don’t want to because they are well aware of themselves.

You must train them. They are easier to teach than other terrier breeds but if you don’t do it early, they won’t respond to your orders and will probably disobey.

Tips to Make Your Westie Smarter

 Here are a few things you may do to make your Westie smarter than it already is. Some of them include:  

  • Reward your Westie with treats (in moderation), whenever he shows intelligent behavior.
  • Expose your Westie to as much social interaction as possible.
  • Start training your Westie when he’s still a puppy.
  • Once in a while, test them with new challenges. It is a fantastic way to develop their intelligence.
  • Stop your dog from digging and chewing if they do.
  • Always give them the opportunity to exercise and be active to provide mental and physical stimulation.
  • Maintain a balance in terms of training and discipline.

Final Thoughts

If you have a Westie or are considering one as a pet for your family, they can be wonderful companions.

Having a typical terrier temperament, they’re energetic, quite clever, and often stubborn. They need to know who is in charge at all times by using the right training techniques. This might take time but once your Westie understands that you’re their owner, they will follow your direction and seek ways to please you, because they want your love and praise as much as possible.

So keep these points in mind when searching for the right breed of dog for you and your family. Always make sure you do your research on the breed you are considering. It’s also highly recommended to visit a few animal shelters and talk to some of the employees who can help you find the right companion for you and your family.

Thanks for reading this article. Keep up to date with Westie Wisdom for more great posts about our canine friends.

Check out our Resources page where we put together a collection of products and links to organizations for Westie owners. We only recommend products that we believe will enhance your Westie’s quality of life.