Why small dogs are troublemakers

Small dogs are troublemakers.

They can’t help it. It’s in their nature to explore every nook and cranny of their world. And, because of their size, they can fit into the smallest spaces. Especially the ones we can’t reach. 

four small dog troublemakers

They’re at their curious worst when they’re puppies. They’re even tinier and can fit into even smaller spots. Keeping track of Boston Terrier puppy is like being on a perpetual carnival ride. Both of you are in constant motion when the puppy’s awake. Fortunately, puppies nap a lot. And when they do, every bit of waking aggravation is eclipsed by their cuteness. 

Chaos is their job

A blanket statement like “small dogs are troublemakers” is just begging for contradiction. And, anecdotally, we know there are some incredibly angelic little dogs out there. We’ve just never met one. And we’ve encountered a multitude in our time.

It makes sense, when you consider their background. The vast majority of small dog breeds were developed as vermin-hunters. They have the size they do to fit into rats’ nests and vermin holes. Many people are surprised to find out that the elegant-looking Yorkshire Terrier breed was developed in the fabric mills of Yorkshire to rid the factories of rats. They look like fairy pets. They’re fierce like the dickens.

Where did this come from?

Small vermin-hunting dog breeds are also designed to work independently of people. Unlike most hunting and sporting dogs, little dogs “do their thing,” without any direction from their owners. The low-slung Dachshund are solo hunters, with badgers and other tunneling animals their primary prey. 

One possible exception may be the Toy Poodle. All Poodles are water retrievers, bringing back game brought down over water. Small dogs are not, by any stretch of the imagination, frou-frou, do-nothing creatures.

Which brings up a whole set of issues for people “downsizing” from bigger dogs. While it’s true that little dogs are easier to carry, you have to get hold of them first. Anyone who’s ever tried to coerce a little dog into staying where it doesn’t want to be (like the bathtub), knows the feeling. If you don’t know the taste of dog shampoo, you’ve never had a little dog. 

Problem solvers

These independent little hunters had to figure out, on their own, how to get to their prey. In modern times, this leads to all kinds of trouble, from figuring out how to open crate doors, to cabinets (where the snacks are), to climbing onto furniture (tables, kitchen counters). They can get under, and over, and into just about anything their creative minds desire. Which is why small dogs are troublemakers.

One of the best ways to make sure your dog stays out of mischief is to keep his brain engaged. If she’s trying to solve puzzles you’ve created, she’s not making up her own. One of our favorite games is “find it,” or a version of hide and seek. Deliberately place some treats around the house, in accessible but not obvious places. Small plastic leftover containers to keep the treats from getting too lost. 

A tired dog is a good dog

Your dog will love “finding” the treats. Even more than if you handed them to her. Dogs do feel a sense of accomplishment. Achieving a goal, using their natural abilities, and engaging their brains makes a good day for any little dog. And you’ll both have fun, too.

If your “find it” game whets your appetite for more, please check out our dog-training site: 2-Minute-Trainer.com You’ll find all kinds of training games to play with your dog, and new tips every week for more fun with your little troublemaker.

How to know your dog’s in pain

Animals try to hide symptoms they don’t feel good. In the wild, it’s a survival trait. When it’s our pets, we have to pay attention to know when a dog’s in pain.

There are some obvious signs. The most notable in our experience happened years ago. One day when we got home from work, our Boston Terrier Daemon screamed when we touched him. The shrieking was terrifying. Off to the emergency vet we went, in a blizzard. It turned out Daemon had gas. We’re grateful that’s all it was. But it was one of those moments when you really wish dogs could talk and we could have handed him a Tums.

Subtler signs

Most of the time, the signs your dog’s in pain will be much more subtle. 

Within the last few weeks, we noticed that Torque (Hope’s French Bulldog) had some muscle/skin twitching when we petted him along his side. If we hadn’t been watching at the time, we may not have noticed. We weren’t too bothered by it – we’d noticed him slip on the melting ice and figured he probably had a bruise or strained muscle. When we checked again the next day the twitching had stopped. 

With a fleeting pain signal like the twitching, watching it over the course of a day is probably safe, according to most veterinarians. If it persists, at least give your veterinarian a call and get her recommendation. 

photo of a bandaged stuffed dog in pain

Physical symptoms of pain in dogs, other than the muscle twitching may include: holding their head low, shaking or trembling, arching of the back, and panting.

Mobility issues can also be signs that your dog’s in pain. Reluctance to lie down or get up, limping, walking slowly, or sitting abruptly, could all be caused by pain.

Behavior changes that may indicate your dog’s in pain

One pain indicator that may be misinterpreted is restlessness, or an inability to calm down. It’s such a vague reaction that you may think your dog’s just being annoying, especially if you have a high-strung dog. 

Other signs may include: reluctance to eat, avoiding touch, constant licking or whining, and even aggression. 

The other day at the shop we had a customer come in to talk about her 16-year-old Yorkie. Her dog used to be wonderfully-behaved for grooming, including nail trims, tooth-brushing, and hair-trimming. But now the dog is cringing and even growling when the owner tries any of it. It’s quite likely the dog is suffering some pain, probably from arthritis at her advanced age, and the owner is going to talk to her vet about getting some relief for her dog.

Help with the diagnosis

If you think your dog may be in pain, one of the most helpful things you can do is keep track of what’s going on. These days, when many people are still unable to accompany their pets into the veterinarian’s office, a journal of symptoms may be extremely helpful in making a diagnosis. 

If you note that your dog is having trouble getting up after a nap, the vet may know to look at a specific part of the body. Same thing if your dog now prefers his/her bowl raised up off the ground. Or, like our customer with the Yorkie, something that’s changed over the last few months. With an issue like arthritis, the changes may be gradual over time and your observations can help.

Treatment options

There are many possible treatments for pain in dogs. These can range from watching for a day or two, to pain medication, to physical therapy and/or massage, to acupuncture, to surgery. But the first step to relieving it is knowing the signs when your dog’s in pain.

Using a dog muzzle for one of our own

Have we gone to the dark side? Are we really using a dog muzzle for Simon?

No, we haven’t succumbed to evil. And yes, we have started putting a muzzle on Simon, Fran’s 2-year-old Boston Terrier, whenever we take the dogs out in our yard.

Why on earth would you do that?

The explanation starts with the two-plus feet of snow that’s melted in the last week or so. And continues with the question we saw one of our neighbors post on “Next Door” – “What are all those round brown things on the lawn?”

Lots and lots of neighbors quickly enlightened him. That’s rabbit poop. Which emerges from the depths of winter like a luxuriant crop when the snow melts. And which Simon considers a delicacy of the first order. And he’s not alone.

Ewww. Why do dogs do that?

Just a quick internet search will turn up a wealth of articles on “why dogs like eating rabbit poop.” We don’t really care. We’re glad it’s not considered harmful, just disgusting. We just want it to stop. 

Simon, using a dog muzzle

That’s why we got the muzzle. As you can see, Simon can breathe and see perfectly fine. He can also sniff to his heart’s content, and we can give him lots and lots of treats for being a good boy. About the only thing this muzzle doesn’t let him do is eat stuff from the ground. Which he delighted in doing – mud, grass, weeds, and of course, that caviar of the lawn – rabbit poop.

Isn’t using a dog muzzle cheating?

It would be possible to teach a dog not to eat stuff in the yard. We chose this route instead for a few reasons. The most important one is we want Simon to have the opportunity to be “good” all the time. Other means of achieving this would be to have him on a collar or harness and leash all the time. It would require micro-managing his outings, rather than letting him run around, play with the other dogs, and enjoy the outside. If we went that route, we’d also have to take him out by himself, since he would require our complete attention.

And we’re way too lazy to take “sets” of dogs out. When it’s time to go outside – everybody out!

Been here. Done that.

We’re actually not new to using a dog muzzle. Tango, Fran’s 11-year-old Brussels Griffon, was an aggressive, reactive, obnoxious creature when she got him. It was fear-aggression, but it was aggression. It took months of dedicated, positive-reinforcement training to turn him into the model canine citizen he’s become. You can read the story of how she changed him in Fran’s book: The Reactive Dog Recipe. We tell him he’d better live to be at least 50 – he owes us lots of time with “good Tango.”

The muzzle is a tool. It allowed Fran to take Tango out and about and be confident that no one, including Tango, would get hurt. It let every single interaction have a positive outcome. She was able to reward him for being calm. And he learned that other dogs, people, and places could be fun.

Just the beginning

We’re hoping that, in time, Simon’s habit of grubbing for goodies in the dirt will be broken. We’re also hoping that rabbits will stop living in our yard. We don’t really understand why they do. There are lots of yards in the area that dogs don’t inhabit. 

Maybe the rabbits enjoy doing a mad dash for the gate with a dog hot on their heels. Stupid rabbits. Tricks are for dogs.

Dog inspired: how has having a dog changed your life?

How has having a dog made your life different? What dog-inspired changes have you made?

We’re not talking about just in the past year, where life for everyone has changed dramatically. We’re talking about how living with a dog, over the span of time, has changed the way we live.

Dog inspired community

In total, we have to credit dogs with some of the best times in our lives, and bringing us some of the best friends. Entire communities, both in real life and online, of people we wouldn’t have known if not for our mutual love of dogs. Either because of a shared breed, or shared interest. 

And those interests are as diverse as the people sharing them. From dog sports (Obedience, Rally, Agility, etc.), to dog nutrition and wellness, to disease management, to bringing smiles every day with goofy pictures of silly things our dogs do. 

So many people coming together just because we all love dogs. 

Living the changes

One of the dog-inspired changes we see people make is having “dog rooms.” We’re so envious! A specific space set up with crates, and maybe a grooming table, even a waist-high tub! Talk about a dream come true! In our little house there’s constant rearranging. 

We kidded ourselves that our little area in the basement was a “workout” space. And Fran actually does use it for that. But it’s really a place to play training games with our dogs, with safe mats for tractions and jumping and shelves with dog toys/equipment/treats/clickers. 

A friend of ours (and her husband) built a new house about three years ago. And a major part of the design planning was where to put the dog room, with good access to the dog’s potty area, and how to grade that area so it would be good for the dogs. They did have to change it up after a year in the house – the dog’s fenced area wasn’t big enough, so they expanded it. But our friend still can’t get her husband to do “poop patrol.” Some things don’t change at all.

Getting out and about

It’s our belief that most people would be happier and probably healthier if they had dogs. Think about it: dog people have to get out of bed every day and do stuff. We have to consider another life’s wellbeing every day. And the vast majority of us have to put on shoes, go outside, and get some fresh air with our dogs. Even when it’s below freezing, even if it’s snowing or raining, even if we’d rather pull up the covers and go back to bed. Our dogs give us a reason.

We also wonder if dog people are less deficient in Vitamin D. Since it’s produced by sunlight, we think it’s possible dog people have more than others. Just a thought. 

Dog-inspired adaptations

Picture of Boston Terrier Simon, the dog inspired us to put our shoes away

Another great thing about each dog in your life – you have to adapt. Every dog, just like every person, is different. And a new dog in the family inspires adjustments. Simon’s (Fran’s 2-year-old Boston Terrier) the latest addition to our family, and the house rules have changed. The most notable one: if you want to find your shoes, leave them someplace behind closed closet doors, or above Simon’s reach. He doesn’t destroy them, he just carries them around. It’s pretty darn cute, actually. Which is why he’s still doing it. Simon figured out fast how to make us laugh.

The best medicine

That’s probably the biggest dog inspiration – learning how to live in the moment and enjoy the moment you’re in. Dogs are excellent at it.