Recently, I’ve been helping a little girl named Luna through our boot camp. As I was working with Luna, I realized that 80% of the dogs we work with are medium or large dogs, and only about twenty percent would be called small dogs. People who are interested in finding a dog trainer here in Salt Lake City often ask if we even train small dogs at all!
Of course, we do work with small dogs. Unfortunately, we talk to much fewer people who are interested in training their smaller dogs. I think that there are a few reasons for that trend. For one, it’s easier to overlook misbehavior from a small dog. If a little dog jumps on you, that’s noticeably less of a problem than having a hundred-pound dog jump on you. Likewise, if a little dog poops in your house, that’s obviously not the same as an eighty-pound German Shepherd pooping in your house. That means that a lot of people overlook these problems when it comes to training their small dogs.
But I think this attitude does a huge disservice to these small dogs. If you think about it, small dogs have a more inherently difficult time in the world because everything is so much larger than them. Think of it like this: if you’re an eighty-pound dog, you’re on par with a child or a piece of furniture, you can easily reach people’s waists, and you’re generally on the same size plane as the objects surrounding you. If you’re a tiny fifteen-pound dog, however, you don’t fit as easily into a human world.
That discrepancy often leads to a lot of fear issues. I think that little dogs are more susceptible to fear because their experience of the world is so different from—and so much scarier than—a large dog’s experience. That means it’s actually more important to spend time training small dogs. They simply need more help with navigating the world than the average large dog.
I always try to recommend a few things to people who want to train their small dogs. The first step I recommend is resisting the constant desire to hold them. If you’re always holding your dog, you will likely give him a complex! See, when your dog is surrounded by touch and comfort he essentially has a security blanket around him at all times. The second that he doesn’t have your touch, he suddenly feels very vulnerable and afraid.
Plus, when your dog is being held he can also feel very empowered. You’ve probably encountered a person holding a Chihuahua or a Yorkie who’s flipping out, trying to snap at people, and growling at everything. That’s because the dog has become overly empowered by that constant feeling of security. This certainly doesn’t mean you can’t hold your dog. It simply means that you should be aware of how long you hold him, where and when you hold him, and how he reacts emotionally to being held.
I also recommend being very careful with children. Kids and small dogs are often a recipe for disaster. It’s a combination that often ends in a child being bitten in the face, or the rear end, or worse. The small dog is on the child’s level, and is constantly approaching him, which can be very terrifying from the dog’s perspective. Children often try to interact with a small dog innocently, but end up frightening them. So you should absolutely monitor your children to make sure they aren’t accidentally abusing your dog.
There are a million other subjects we could discuss in this article, but small dog training essentially boils down to this: small dogs need to be trained to walk on a leash just as thoroughly as large dogs. Sure, your small dog pulling on his leash doesn’t create as much of an issue as it would if he were heavier. But leash pulling is a mental error, not just a physical one. Small dogs also need to learn how sit, and come, and stay on their bed for an extended period of time.
These rules of behavior should apply to them just as strongly as they apply to larger dogs. We also need to be aware of our small dogs’ fears, and avoid doing things that might frighten them. If you keep these principles in mind, you’ll be on your way to a well-trained, well-behaved small dog in no time!