The dog who doesn’t cuddle

What do you do with a dog who doesn’t cuddle? 

It’s a dilemma we’ve been coping with since early July, when a foster French Bulldog puppy came into our lives. There are many breeds of dogs that are naturally more aloof. French Bulldogs, and any breed classified as a “Companion Dog” would never be classified that way. 

Too friendly would be a more apt description. One of the reasons Hope’s Torque doesn’t have Obedience titles up the wazoo is because, when he was younger, he was unable to “Sit for Exam.” He was absolutely convinced that the hand reaching out to touch the top of his head needed to be licked and the judge would welcome enthusiastic greetings. He was mistaken, but remained unconvinced.

The dog in front of us

One of the precepts of dog training is to train the dog in front of you. That means not loading old baggage onto the current dog. See who this dog is and adjust to him. 

Image of an eager white and black French Bulldog illustrating a dog who doesn't cuddle.

There are lots of reasons the foster puppy isn’t like other dogs. He spent many formative weeks sick with a deadly virus. After a week in ICU, he spent many subsequent weeks in isolation. He didn’t have the benefit of a full-time “pack.” For his own safety and the recovery home’s, it just couldn’t happen.

This puppy never learned to relax around other dogs and people. When he’s awake, he’s active. He’s busy, nosy, exploring, chewing, annoying, and exhausting. He’s also sweet, fun, smart, biddable, and a little sponge, learning at a great rate. But he’s never relaxed outside of a crate or exercise pen. 

Project not a pet

When most people look to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, they are probably looking for a pet, not a project. But most dogs from shelters or rescues have a history. They may not be from abusive situations, but their known circumstances have changed, and that’s usually not a good thing. 

The ironic aspect is that most newly-adopted dogs use “company manners” for the first few weeks. They don’t understand they’re home to stay. It takes about six weeks or so for the dog’s true personality to emerge. By which time the family loves the dog and is completely committed. So they take on the project that is the dog in front of them.

Commitment to change

We weren’t sure how to cope with a Frenchie who has no particular training issues, but social shortcomings. It’s relatively easy to train a dog to be calm. He can do that. But it requires our constant attention and training. Even if all the other dogs are sacked out, snoozing. He can’t. Torque would like nothing more than to cuddle with him, but the puppy has no experience and doesn’t know how. 

The two keys we preach as dog trainers are patience and consistency. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient. And the guilt is a bit overwhelming. This puppy is crated for many hours a day. Our lives can’t be paused to watch the puppy all the time. We carve out chunks of time to let him be a puppy; playing with toys, with the other dogs, going for walks. But the “down time” just isn’t there.


The puppy’s recovery continues, and he still requires lots of sleep. Almost dying takes time to get over. And in the wee hours of the morning, when Hope opens the crate door, he belly-crawls over to lay his head on her arm for a few minutes. And that very precious time gives us hope for the dog who doesn’t cuddle.

The truth about teacup dogs

The truth about “teacup” dogs is: there’s no such thing. It’s a deceptive marketing name for unhealthy, poorly-bred “runts.”

Our shop specializes in stuff for small dogs – up to 30 lbs. We had some trouble finding dog gear to fit the tiniest dogs, but we did it. Supporting all small dog owners is our mission, and we know that mission includes telling the truth about all dogs. The truth is, “teacup” dogs, produced on purpose, are a scheme to take money from people who make emotional decisions.

The pictures are adorable – tiny puppies posed in actual tea cups. It’s probably how the trend started. We know several reputable breeders who take pictures of new puppies in cups and post them. It’s just darling. But it’s a moment captured in time. These particular puppies wouldn’t fit in the cups a week later. And no healthy adult dog should be able to.

Truth hurts

Humans are genetically programmed to like and protect cute little things. That’s why babies are taken care of. They’re a lot of work, without much return. Especially at first. It’s why we all say “Awww, so cute” when we see pictures of tiny little puppies. And our love for small, cute things makes us want them to stay small and cute forever.

Teacup with a dog in it

The problem is that most cute, small puppies grow up to be dogs. We have neighbors that fell for a cute little Husky puppy in a pet store. The kids carried him around, doted on him. And then he grew up into a Husky and has lived in their backyard, howling, for years. 

So while we understand the attraction of a cute little dog that stays little, how little is small enough?

How small is too big?

The smallest of the toy dog breeds are probably the Chihuahua and the Yorkshire Terrier. According to their U.S. breed clubs, which are the guardians of their breeds, the optimal size for a Chihuahua is under six pounds, for a Yorkie the standard says not bigger than seven pounds.

Isn’t that small enough for anyone? Especially when you consider the health risks associated with dogs under two pounds:

  • Hydrocephalus (water on the brain)
  • Liver shunts
  • Heart defects
  • Collapsing trachea
  • Seizures
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Broken bones

Veterinarians will also tell you that treating a tiny dog is more difficult. Imagine the size of the needle to give a “teacup” dog an IV. Not to mention finding a viable vein. 

Don’t leave them

One of the reasons people want teeny dogs is so they can take them wherever they go. As too many “teacup” owners have discovered – the dog has to come along. If they miss a meal, they can pass out and die from hypoglycemia. They’re too small to store the nutrients they need. It’s one thing to want a companion dog. It’s another to be permanently tethered to a dog 24/7.

We mentioned that no reputable breeder is deliberately producing “teacup” dogs. Every breed of dog varies in size, and some puppies are unusually small or large. Just like people. Even within a family, height varies among siblings and cousins. A responsible breeder will make sure that unhealthily tiny puppies are never part of their breeding programs. And that these pups find pet homes aware of the possible issues these dogs may have, and are prepared to deal with them.

Buyer beware

If you’re wealthy and have staff, like a celebrity we can think of who seems to have a new tiny dog often, you can cope with the demands of a “teacup” puppy. 

If you’re a real person, beware. There’s no such thing as a “teacup” dog. It’s clever marketing to drive up prices for the runts that used to be given away. And anyone who is breeding “teacup” dogs on purpose doesn’t care about the health of the puppies they produce. They know that suckers will buy them. By the time health issues crop up, those buyers love that puppy. That’s why these unscrupulous breeders’ “Health Guarantee” often includes a clause that allows return of an unhealthy dog for consideration in a future litter. Return? Most people couldn’t do it. 

Truth about teacup dogs

The truth is that some dogs are small. Some are tiny. And while every dog deserves a loving home, we cannot encourage people to open their hearts to a teacup dog. Wouldn’t a six pound dog be just as wonderful?

Dogs hate change. We do, too.

Change is hard. Routine is comfortable. Dogs hate change.

Because humans can understand the “why” of change, it’s easier for people to cope. We may not like the shifts, but we’re able to reason why they may be necessary. Dogs are presented with a “done deal.” In lots of ways, their coping skills may be better than ours. They may not like it, but they do it.

Tough week

There has been lots of change in our lives over the past week. Golly Gear’s bricks-and-mortar location became yet another Covid victim as our lease expired. We’ve shifted operations into our shared, little house. We’re hoping to keep the nuts-and-bolts challenges pretty invisible to the outside world. Some transitions are taking a bit longer than expected, but overall we think we’re on track. 

Dogs hate change almost as much as we do. Golly Gear's bricks-and-mortar location, pictured, is gone.

But our dogs know something weird is happening. Their schedule has been disrupted and they’re of two minds about it. 

On the one hand, they love having us around more. On the other, their “going to work crate snack” isn’t happening. That resulted in some whining this morning. 

Navigating the change

The biggest change is that our entire shop now occupies what used to be a living room. There are crowded, narrow aisles to navigate. Finding our inventory is challenging, but so far, we’ve picked the right bins and found everything customers needed. That was a relief.

An even bigger relief was everything electronic connecting the way it should. We can figure out the inventory stuff. Tech support isn’t our strength.

Getting it sorted

It’s going to take a little time to settle into the new routine. For us and the dogs. In the meantime, while things are jumbled, the dogs are gated off from the work space. That resulted in some whining, too. Did we mention dogs hate change? The addition of vast quantities of comfy beds on their side of the gate helped. But you know that feeling of “someone’s watching” you sometimes get? That’s perpetual for now. There are lots of eyes following us whenever we move.

Dogs hate change, but they are adaptable critters. As long as they get enough “normal” in the schedule, they’ll be okay. And since their normal routine involves daily training, they start the day with a fun activity that has a dual purpose – it tires them out. There’s nothing that exhausts a dog more than having to think!

What we’ve learned

We’ve been sisters forever and business partners almost as long. But we’re still learning, too. What this transition has taught us is to be gentle with each other – especially when under extreme stress. We know each other so well that we know exactly which buttons to push to spark rage. We’re very carefully not pushing them. 

Get all your dog questions answered

Social media is great! You can get all your dog questions answered – usually in just a couple of hours! How accurate, or reliable those answers are is another question.

Use it as a resource

We belong to lots and lots of dog groups on social media and off. Groups about different breeds, behavior, training, dog sports, rescue, feeding dogs, dog illnesses, etc. There’s probably a group for any dog interest you have. One of our favorites is a group that just posts pictures of puppies. It’s not really useful, but it does make us smile.

How you use those groups is what matters. All too often we see someone post a picture of something nasty going on with their dog and asking the group what to do. The right answer is always “call your veterinarian!”

Social media best practices

On the other hand, if your dog has already been diagnosed by a veterinary professional, it’s a good idea to seek out others on social media going through the same thing. There are other people trying to regulate their dog’s diabetes. Or pancreatitis. Dogs in mobility carts have several groups devoted to their care.

Illustration of dog questions

It can be a terrific relief to know you’re not alone. That if your dog is having a particular issue, there are other people going through the same thing. And some have managed to get through it and can share their successful methods for dealing with it.

If your dog has a particular allergy, or tummy trouble, somebody out there in internet-land has the same problem. Even if they haven’t resolved it, you can connect with someone who knows what you’re going through.

Helpful resources

We’re not saying that when Jane Doe from Erewhon suggests a diet supplement that you dash out and get it. What we are saying is that, if it works for Jane Doe’s dog, it may be worth checking out. If you think it may be a good idea, print out a copy of the ingredients and ask your vet next time you see her. 

A great idea in social media groups is to ask for recommendations. If you need a good groomer, ask in your local neighborhood groups. Most groomers these days are booked far in advance, so start asking at least a month before your dog needs an appointment. When you get some ideas, check out the reviews, read what other customers say. 

Word of mouth

In the olden days before the internet, the resources we had available were almost entirely local. There was no way to connect with people across the country and discuss a common interest. People relied on the advice of their friends, neighbors, and relatives to find the resources needed for everything. 

While there is lots of nonsense on social media, there’s also a lot of good. We’ve seen people find lost dogs,  network to connect suddenly-orphaned pups to a nursing surrogate mom, share triumphs and tragedies with other like-minded dog people. If you have dog questions, there are answers at your fingertips.