Pictures of West Highland Terriers and Westie mixes.
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I’ve been thinking about your question for the past day. When I was looking at adoption applications and reading about dog care, everything made it seem like single people with average work days should not be dog owners. I wasn’t sure I should have a dog at all. At the time, I lived alone in Albuquerque, in an apartment without any fenced-in outdoor space. Including travel time, I was out of the house from 8:30-5:45. I didn’t have family or friends in the area (or the state). I had no previous experience being a dog owner. Fortunately, despite being a less than ideal candidate, I found a rescue willing to work with me, and to trust me with Watson.
I want to say that it won’t matter — that everything will be fine. And, it likely will be! Still, it’s more complicated than that, especially if you are adopting (PLEASE adopt!). The first week I spent with Watson was a mess. I took a few days off work, but my first attempt at leaving Watson alone led to him destroying my bathroom wall. The second attempt had him destroying his crate. I admitted defeat, and called my brother. Joe was sitting at home, post college graduation, with not a lot to do. Watson spent the days before Joe came to Albuquerque in doggie day care. My brother stayed for two weeks and spent every day crate training Watson, and working on his separation anxiety. Advice #1: Crate training is everything. If possible, try to be there (or find someone to be there) 24/7 in the beginning. Petfinder.com’s The Adopted Dog Bible looks to be out of print, but it was the best book I read about how to help an adopted dog adapt to a new home.
After Joe left, things remained difficult. Watson and I went to dog training classes, and I bought him a metal crate that I locked with bungee cords. I walked away from my front door every day to screaming yelps and dog sobbing. It was terrible.
Eventually, things improved. Watson loved his crate, and didn’t seem as troubled. I came home for lunch as often as possible. Four months later, I moved in with Kelli and Max to a house with a yard. I reduced my commute to work from 25 minutes to under 10 minutes. The move wasn’t all about Watson, but he was a big part of it. Kelli often came home for lunch with the puppies, and having one extra person and a dog friend around made all the difference. After Kelli, I lived with Tina, a student who was frequently home during the day and Tony, who worked from home. Watson was still sometimes crated for 8+ hours during those years, but with additional dog or cat company. I never again considered living alone, mostly because of Watson. Advice #2: As much as possible, try to make dog-friendly life choices.
Now, we live in Brooklyn. Watson’s dad is a pianist. When Conor is in NY, he does most of his practicing at home, and tends to leave for rehearsals or concerts only a few hours before I get home from work. Conor travels extensively, though, and when he is gone, Watson is alone from 8:30 until 6:00. This is not ideal, but it is okay. We don’t use a crate anymore, and as long as access to trash cans are restricted, Watson is well-behaved. I leave him with kongs, puzzle toys, and pull up the blinds so he can look out the windows. This mostly works because after nearly 4 years together, we’ve finally sorted things out. Advice #3: This will take a long time. Even so, I’m starting to look at doggie daycare or dog walking in the area for days when I want to do something after work, or have to go in early.
Watson remains very possessive of me and Conor, and tends to be clingy — there will be no personal space. If we pet other dogs at the park, Watson will snap at them. When dogs visit our home, Watson guards the bedroom, snapping if he thinks they are trying to go upstairs to “his” space. He still cries if I leave to get groceries on the weekend and hates it when Conor and I are in different rooms of the apartment. If I am traveling a lot and do not take him with me, you can bet there will be spite-poops in the living room the whole next week after I return. Ultimately, Watson is best behaved and happiest when he is with me. While I can’t take Watson everywhere (if only!), I spend a lot of time on his manners and grooming so that he is welcome as often as possible. This includes everything from minimizing barking, teaching cute tricks, getting him into a travel carrier, being good off-leash, and keeping his beard clean and white. Advice #4: Training is fun and people are much friendlier to polite puppies.
The most important thing, though, is to full-on commit to giving a dog the best home possible and to being his or her best friend for all of his or her days. I could not have anticipated most of Watson’s idiosyncrasies, and it is likely that his problems and our solutions won’t be yours. If I knew then what I know now about Watson, however, I still would not have hesitated for a even a second to bring him home. Whatever goes wrong, we will fix; whatever happens, a life with Watson is worth it.
Silvia has some good information for anyone who might be interested in a Westie and has never had one before.
Westies are not bad dogs at all, but they’re extremely high-maintenance. If you’ve never had a dog before, I definitely don’t recommend getting a Westie for your first dog. They’re adorable and kooky, but maaaaan, they can be really loud and hyperactive. I was raised with terriers — we had a territorial Scottie/Lhasa till I was 4, and I’ve had two Westies after that — so I know firsthand the patience you need with them.
Brockie is a very resilient, extroverted dog, and she never really had separation anxiety, but the first year with her was really difficult. I was mainly the one taking care of her when I was in college — my mom was very busy — and she is just a ball of energy. So take a dog that’s a ball of energy at 9 years old, and imagine that as a puppy. Mouthy, picky with food, barky, etc. We’ve weaned her from the food pickiness and mouthiness, but sometimes she can be a little barky if she’s out of her element.
She’s quite well-trained, and she’s very good with dogs and kids, but your mileage may vary.