As an owner of small dogs, I am hyper aware of what it takes to keep them safe in the big city. As a dog trainer, I understand the obstacles that can present themselves in training a small dog. I hope this article will convince you that small dogs, despite requiring a little extra protection and attention, offer big rewards.
The Giants are Coming!
It is important to remember that the world is “larger than life” to our small dogs. From their point of view, everything appears gigantic. Cars driving by during walks must seem like alien creatures coming at them, preparing to attack! People bending over them, staring at them, and reaching out to them appear as terrifying Godzillas threatening to scoop them up!
Noises that are commonplace for us humans – such as buses, motorcycles, and cars zooming by – are surely nerve-wracking for dogs that stand six inches off the ground and weigh less than 25 pounds. Needless to say, big dogs that approach our little ones also can be intimidating.
Observing your small dog’s body language will tell you a lot about what she is feeling and trying to communicate to the approaching person or animal. It is your job as her guardian to help her feel safe, so learn to read these signals. If her tail is lowered or tucked and her ears are back, do not force her to say hello. Small dogs in such situations can snap or even bite, exhibiting classic fight-or-flight behavior. Given a chance, they would flee from a scary or threatening person or situation, but if they cannot get away they will fight to make the perceived threat go away.
Watch your small dog next time a person or animal approaches her. Is she struggling to avoid contact or eagerly anticipating it?
Small Dog Basics
Here are some simple rules to prevent common small dog problems:
Never tie a small dog up and leave him alone while you go into a store or restaurant.
Avoid dog parks where there are a lot of big dogs; small dogs can get hurt really easily by larger dogs running around (and potentially over) them or playing too roughly with them. They can even be perceived as tempting prey by big dogs.
Seek out situations in which your little pals can play safely with dogs their own size. Even though they are small, they still like to get out and explore the world and they still need exercise! Find dog parks in your area that have special areas or special days and times for small dogs.
Do not let your little dog off leash unless he has had some formal training and you are absolutely certain he will come back to you immediately when you call.
If you are looking for doggie day care or boarding for your little one, make sure the employees have experience with small dogs and that the facility offers safe play areas where only the small dogs play and interact. Many services now specialize in dog walking and daycare for little dogs.
Take your little friends to small dog classes designed specifically for their special issues.
Many places now offer small dog social hour – off-leash play time for small dogs in a safe controlled environment!
Training Tips for Tiny Dogs
A small dog’s natural fear of people, noises, and larger dogs also comes into play during training. Again, keep in mind that they are easily startled by people looming over them or reaching down to grab them. If your dog seems scared in new situations or barks at people or other dogs when walking down the street, hire a positive reward-based trainer who has experience with small dogs to give you some practical tips. (The San Francisco SPCA website has a referral list for positive reward-based trainers, as well as small dog training classes and walking/petsitting professionals in your area.)
It is crucial to use only positive reward-based training with small dogs. This means rewarding them for doing something right with high-value treats or something else that really will motivate them, rather than physically harming or yelling at them. Never punish a small dog, as this can increase his fearful tendencies and hinder your relationship with him, and may lead to barking problems. Most small dogs bark or yap because they are afraid, and they hope barking will make the scary thing go away.
Use a harness instead of a collar when training and walking a small dog – a regular collar can injure his little trachea. For small dogs that pull, there are anti-pull harnesses available (such as “sense-sation” and “easy-walk”). Small dogs can easily be stepped on, so use a nylon or leather leash either four or six feet long and keep your little friends close to you at all times.
Small dogs have very big hearts. They need a bit of special care and protection, but will pay you back with fun, affection, and devoted companionship – just like their larger canine cousins.