Dogs are amazing, aren’t they? The largest dog breeds can weigh up to 290 pounds, and the smallest can be anywhere from 1 to 5 (although there are LOTS of reasons not to breed ‘teacup’ anything). They have such a vast diversity that it’s often difficult to lose track of the fact that they are all the same animal, and need to all be treated with the same set of rules.
Unfortunately, a lot of small dog owners treat their buddies by a whole different rulebook—and the dogs pay the price. Dogs that are scared and insecure are dogs that “misbehave”—and this is precisely why the shelters of America are filled with tiny dog breeds like Chihuahuas, most of which will be put down, because their previous owners didn’t know how to treat small dogs.
If you want your small dog to be both well behaved and happy, you have to follow these four guidelines:
4. Don’t reward them for something you don’t want them to do
This goes for any dog, of course, as does all of this advice, but it’s still something people seem to particularly forget when raising small dogs. If your dog jumps onto the couch with you and begs for a potato chip, don’t give it to them. No, not even once. If your dog barks, and you think it’s adorable in one context, and try to punish him in another, the message is being entirely lost. When you reward a dog, you are always sending the message, “What you did was good; keep doing it.”
There is one area in my house where my dog gets treats. If he begs in any other part of the house, he is punished and denied what he wants. As a result, he’s respectful of my food—so much so that I can leave him near a plate of food and walk out of the room knowing that most of the time (maybe 95% of the time), he won’t touch it.
You don’t have to ‘spoil’ your small dog by giving him whatever he begs for. Spoil your dog with love and care, not treats.
3. Picking them up and holding them IS rewarding them
Building on the last point—when your small dog is doing something that you don’t want it to, and you pick it up, you are rewarding him. When you hold and cuddle your dog, you are showing affection and care (hopefully), which are positive emotions.
If your dog starts barking at another dog, and you pick him up, guess what? It temporarily solves the problem—maybe—but it reinforces your dog’s behavior. Not only that, but when you hold your dog, you’re perceived as protecting him, and reinforcing his fear about “others”.
2. Take their aggression seriously
Here’s the mistake a lot of small dog owners make: they think their small dog exhibiting bad behavior is cute. Yeah, your Chihuahua probably won’t kill that postman, but you have to act like he could. Constantly ask yourself one question: would you tolerate this behavior from a big dog? If your small dog is showing signs of aggression that would be unacceptable for, say, a Mastiff, then you MUST treat it like the serious issue it is.
It’s not about whether your dog could literally do damage to someone. An aggressive dog is far more likely to be abandoned and put down. And your little buddy could get himself hurt or even killed by picking fights he can’t possible win.
1. You have to dominate them
So what do you do instead when your dog is doing something you disapprove of? You dominate them. Dogs are pack animals, and as much as you may be tired of this Ceasar Milan Dog Whisper “be the pack leader” stuff, it’s true. You have to be the alpha dog. Dogs need an alpha dog. If there isn’t an alpha dog, your small dog will struggle to become the alpha dog. That means your small pup will suddenly have to worry about leading the pack because you don’t make them feel safe.
Here’s the thing: your dog doesn’t WANT to be the alpha dog. Your dog wants to follow a leader. If they’re scared and insecure, they will give you trouble. But you need to be the leader that will make them feel secure.
Here’s a quick gauge of your dog’s respect for your leadership: when you walk with your dog, does he look to you? If he does, it means he’s trying to gauge your reaction and attitude. Your dog should get his attitude from you. When your dog trusts you as their pack leader, they will be able to relax, knowing that they have a top dog looking out for them. That means fewer problems for you, and less stress for your dog.
There are much more in-depth guides than mine to teach you how to dominate your dog, but a huge part of it is believing in it. Embody the pack leader, express your dominance, and keep your dog happy and healthy.