By Jeff Stallings, CPDT-KA
Small dog breeds and mixes are more popular than ever, in part because they fit well in smaller homes and urban environments. I was always more fond of larger dogs until I volunteered for a few years with an organization that rescues small dogs, where I came to better appreciate the personalities and antics of these miniscule mutts.
Some folks assume that their eight-pound Chihuahua or Yorkshire terrier doesn’t need to be trained because of his diminutive stature, but this mistaken notion does a huge disservice to the dog and the owner alike. If anything, training is more important for small dogs because, unlike a big lumbering Newfoundland for example, they often have energy to burn, and exercising their impressive canine brainpower is exhausting. But, of course, train that Newfoundland, too!
Start with early socialization
How many times have you seen someone scooping up their tiny dog every time another dog enters the picture, in an attempt to stop her from lunging, barking and freaking out? When I see this, I can pretty much tell you this dog’s early history: As a puppy, she was not taken to puppy socials, not given opportunities to play with other puppies, and not allowed to methodically learn the ins and out dog language.
Keeping in mind that the primary socialization period ends at 12 weeks of age—go to puppy socials early and often! The lack of early socialization is potentially tragic for any dog, and no less so if she’s a pipsqueak instead of a pit bull.
Oh, and your little rascal should meet 100 people of all sorts before she is 12 weeks old, especially babies, children and big men with tattoos, beards, glasses and hats—like me! (And don’t forget the skateboards, bicycles, buses, trains and wheelchairs.) Did I mention children?
Potty training is a piece of cake
I sometimes field calls from exasperated owners telling me their eight-month-old Chihuahua mix is still peeing and pooping all over the house—and chewing up their furniture, shoes and everything else in sight. I just about scream when I hear this, because it means they have read not any book published in the last 20 years about potty training a puppy.
Puppies, large and small, EARN the privilege of having unfettered access to your entire home—once they have mastered the art of eliminating only in the great outdoors. Until then, they are in a pen area or small room unless they can be watched like a hawk.
You must strive to set your puppy up for success, and extending full and unfettered access to your home is a recipe for an exasperated owner and a confused puppy. Each time your puppy “goes” outside, a small but tasty treat is in store. Click here to read my blog post on potty training.
Obedience training for your teacup tailwagger
Nothing makes me happier than watching a calm, well-behaved small dog happily following the lead of his responsible owners. Just because your dog is small, it does not mean that the ability to follow cues is any less important. All dogs—and I do mean ALL dogs—should at least know how to sit, lay down, stay and come when called. I am shocked when I meet older dogs who have not even been taught to sit!
Look, if you want an animal that does whatever, whenever, get a cat. Wait, I take that back: Even cats can be taught those behaviors! If you don’t know how to teach your dog (or cat) these most basic of behaviors, sign up for an obedience class, or hire a trainer to come to your house to show you how clicker training works. If you think your dog is too small or too young to learn anything, take a look at this video that went viral last year, of a tiny young Yorki doing amazing things:
If 20-week-old Misa Minnie can learn to play dead and weave an obstacle course, your little dog can at least learn to sit, stay and come. So get cracking on the training: Your diminutive dog will thank you for it!