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Small dogs have a reputation for being yippy-yappy prima donnas, and there’s a good reason for that: many small dogs are yippy-yappy prima donnas, but not by nature.
As small dog owners, many of us create monsters when we forget that our little sweetie pies are dogs rather than adorable little babies or fuzzy kittens. If you want an animal that you can carry around in your arms everywhere you go, have a baby, or borrow one. If you want a cute little animal that you don’t have to train and that can practically live on your lap without annoying consequences, get a kitten. If you want a small dog, get a small dog, but remember one very, very important thing: your dog is a dog.
What Dogs Need
Dogs of all sizes, from the two-pound teacup Yorkie to the 265-pound St. Bernard, need a calm, firm, and consistent pack leader. They need to know what the rules are so that they can do what their very nature dictates, which is to please their leader. If they don’t know the rules, they do things they shouldn’t do. And when they do things they shouldn’t do, they tend to get yelled at. And when they get yelled at, they think you’re unstable. No dog wants an unstable pack leader, because again, the dog’s nature is to challenge the pack leader if he’s not leading properly.
Dogs that are aggressive, anxious, or ill mannered tend to have unstable owners. And by unstable, we mean inconsistent. And that goes double for small dogs, and researchers just found out why.
A recent study by the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna found that the relationship between punishment and a dog’s anxiety and aggression is much stronger in small dogs. Part of the reason, the research found, is that because of their size, smaller breeds tend to be a little more tense and alert to begin with, for obvious reasons. The other part is that owners of small dogs tend to be much less consistent in their expectations than owners of big dogs.
Think about it: If you have a 100-pound dog, it’s never going to be okay for that dog to jump on a visitor. But if you have a teeny weeny dog whose head barely reaches the ankle, you’re going to let it slide sometimes. Same with jumping on the couch, stealing a little morsel of food, or barking or growling at passersby. But that lack of consistency confuses the poor pup, who doesn’t get why sometimes it’s okay to jump while other times it’s not. You’re the unpredictable one, my friend, and it’s making your dog nervous, because she never knows what’s going to make you give her affection and what’s going to make you go crazy crackers on her. It’s already been said, but it bears repeating: ALL dogs need a calm, firm, and consistent pack leader.
What Should You Train Your Small Dog to Do?
You need to teach your bunny-sized dog the same manners that you would teach a goat-sized dog, and you need to expect her to follow the rules all the time, just as you would with a large breed. Train your little dog to sit, stay, heel, be quiet, and get down. It’s also a good idea for her emotional wellbeing to train her to recognize a code word that means you’re about to scoop her off her feet so that she has some warning before she suddenly leaves the floor.
Tips for Training Your Small Dog
So now you know what you need to do to reduce your small dog’s anxiety and aggression, and you know what essential manners she needs to learn for her own wellbeing and for your sanity.
So how do you go about doing all of that? First, you let go of any notions you might have that small dogs aren’t as intelligent or as capable of learning to behave as big dogs. If you need convincing, just watch an agility competition and watch the little guys serpentine around cones and jump through hoops, or watch an obedience competition and see how well the teeny dogs follow commands.
When you’re ready to begin training, you’ll need some tips on training techniques for small dogs, so here you go.
1. Don’t tower over her.
Remember that little dogs are naturally a bit tenser than bigger dogs, because how many times have you accidentally stepped on her, or sat on her, or tripped over her? During the first few training sessions, get down on the floor so you’re not such a big galumph. Be super extra gentle at first so that she gets the idea that you’re perfectly harmless.
2. Reward good behaviors and ignore bad behaviors.
Attention from you is one of the best things in the world to your dog. That’s why he jumps on you, begs, and whines. But those are unacceptable behaviors, and when you give him attention for them, whether it’s picking him up and loving on him or shaking your finger in his face and saying no to him, he’s gotten his way. So when you’re having a training session, give him a treat and a little love when he does what you expect him to do, and ignore him when he acts inappropriately. When you’re not training, ignore him if he whines at you, gently push him away with your foot if he jumps on you, and when he gives up and you see that he’s calm and no longer vying for your attention, reach down and pet him. He begins to see that whining and jumping won’t get him anywhere.
3. Use teeny tiny treats during training.
Training involves a lot of treats, and unless you want an obese Chihuahua and the astronomical vet bills that’ll soon follow, you’ll need to make the treats really small. Experts recommend treating her with little nuggets of delicious that are about the size of a quarter of a pea.
4. Fit him with a lightweight collar, harness, and leash.
You need to be very careful when using leash corrections when training your little dog, since sharp tugs on the leash can injure him pretty easily. Instead, when it’s time to take him on a walk, put him in a body harness, which takes the pressure off his neck, and use a thin nylon leash that won’t carry a lot of power behind it. Use very gentle tugs just to redirect his attention to the task at hand.
5. Don’t pick her up every time a bigger dog is around.
Small dogs are often super yippy around other animals because we owners sort of flip out when a big dog comes around the corner, and we scoop up the pup to get her out of harm’s way. She reads your nervous energy, and she learns that other animals are scary, and so it scares her when she sees another, bigger animal. A scared dog is a loud and often aggressive dog. Socializing your little dog is essential, and staying calm and letting her find her comfort zone around other, larger animals is important. That’s not to say you shouldn’t protect her, obviously, but don’t jump in to save the day when the day may not need saving at all.