Tag Archives: small dogs

Picture of a Boston Terrier carrying a foam block to illustrate Expect More From Small Dogs

Expect more from small dogs

Small dogs are just as smart (if not smarter) than medium or large dogs. Many breeds of small dogs had the job of controlling pests, like rats. They were bred to work hard and independently, to solve problems and figure out ways to outsmart their prey. So why don’t more small dog people get involved in dog training and dog performance sports? Why don’t people expect more from small dogs?

We see lots more people with medium or large dogs in our training classes than small dogs. Which contradicts the demographics in the nation, since there are more small dogs than any other group. We think we know why. People know medium and large dogs must be trained because they cannot physically control them. Small dog people can. If a little dog’s being obnoxious, the person can just pick them up and remove them from the situation.

While we understand what’s going on, we wish it weren’t so. It deprives both people and dogs of the fun they could be having together. If you’ve never seen your dog’s glee when it figures out a new trick or behavior, you’re missing out.

Try some tricks

Almost every dog, large and small, knows the basics; sit, down, wait, off, etc. But what about all the adorable things your dog does spontaneously? Have you ever wished you could capture those little behaviors and teach your dog to do them on command? You can! It’s really easy. 

Just like it’s actually easy to teach your dog a “polite greeting” for occasions when you have visitors, or meet someone when out and about. It just takes a few minutes a day, it’s a lot of fun, and your dog will be happier when they know what’s expected of them. It leads to a richer, bigger life for both of you.

Smart dogs are troublemakers

Picture of a Boston Terrier carrying a foam block to illustrate Expect More From Small Dogs
Booker putting his blocks away

The smarter a dog is, the more likely they are to find ways to get into trouble. They’re not content to just lounge around and eat bonbons. They’re curious about the world and want to explore. You may not think it’s exploring when your dog topples the bathroom wastebasket to see what’s inside. But your dog does!

Channeling your dog’s natural curiosity into learning can be a great outlet. And only your imagination limits what you can teach your dog. If you want to see a great example of how little “tricks” can lead to big things, watch the winner of the 2022 AKC Virtual Trick Dog Competition. Maddie-Moo, an Australian Terrier, won with “Dogwarts: School of Witchcraft” routine. This little bitty dog did some wonderful tricks – that your dog can do, too!

Start today

If you watch that video and think to yourself “My dog can do that!” You’re absolutely right. You can start right away – you have everything you need. A good place to start is by teaching your dog to touch a “target” – which can be something as simple as the (clean) lid of a yogurt container. We talked about it in a 2-Minute-Dog-Training tip here.

It’s called 2-Minute Training because that’s all you need. Dogs don’t have the attention span or the focus to concentrate for long stretches. And they don’t need to. With the right motivation (treats, toys, pets, praise), dogs are very willing “workers” and love interacting with you. 

You don’t want your dog to fall into the stereotype of “obnoxious little dog.” Expect more from your small dog. You and your dog can do it!

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Dogs love their people. Others? Maybe not.

Dogs love their people. That’s a special and precious relationship. But it may not extend to the world at large. And it doesn’t have to. Dogs’ feelings matter.

Some dogs do love everybody. They love meeting new people and seeing new places. Anyone can say “Hi!” to them and they’re okay with that. But your dog isn’t wrong, or mean, or broken if they don’t. 

Dogs in society

The growth of things like dog parks and doggy daycare foster the notion that socialized dogs have “doggy friends.” And if your dog doesn’t like other dogs, or strange people, there’s something wrong with your dog. That’s not true. Among dog trainers, a well-socialized dog is one who is able to ignore distractions, be calm in unfamiliar circumstances, and pay attention to their person. It has nothing to do with playing nice with other dogs.

Another bizarre idea, probably spurred by internet video, is that dogs should let anyone take anything away from them. If the dog dares to object, either by keeping hold of the thing, or even growling, it’s a bad dog. What happened to the old saying “Let sleeping dogs lie?” Pestering dogs by taking stuff away from them, just to prove you can, may be one reason that dog trainers are seeing more dogs with issues of resource guarding.

Obviously, you have to be able to take things away from your dog. Especially if they’ve gotten hold of something dangerous or toxic. Knowing this, most dog owners teach their dogs some form of “Drop it!” and trade the dog for something they really like, like Chicken Heart Treats. We don’t just randomly reach for their food bowls when they’re eating.

Petting and greetings

We take our dogs many places, especially when we’re training. Our goal is to have that dog be able to focus on us, pay attention to us, and become accustomed to different sights and smells. Many times people charge up, hands outstretched, exclaiming “Look at the doggy!” They get offended when we step between them and our dog and say something like “I’m sorry, we’re training. I’d rather you didn’t try to pet him.”

A small white dog being held by a woman in an orange parka to illustrate Dogs Love their people.

It’s as if, just because we’re out in public, our dogs are public property. They’re not. And they don’t have to be. Even if your dog is a menace to other people, you’re allowed to be out and about together. Our 13-year-old Brussels Griffon Tango was just such a menace when Fran got him. Hope couldn’t even touch him without risking being bitten. But through training and patient persistence, he can now go anywhere and loves everyone. 

Fran was able to turn him around by carefully managing every single encounter with every single person and dog Tango met. No one was allowed to get near him without coaching and a handful of yummy treats. If you have a reactive dog, and you want to change that around, check out Fran’s book: Tango: Transforming My Hellhound

Small dogs more vulnerable

It’s more common for people to ask “May I pet your dog?” when you have a big dog. Little dogs seem to be magnets for hands. They’re little, cute, and hard to resist. And some small dogs enjoy the attention. But if yours doesn’t, it’s okay. It’s okay for you to block those reaching hands. Some may think you’re rude, but that’s okay. You and your dog get along just fine. Dogs love their people. Others are optional.

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Military dogs in size small

Making plans for Memorial Day got us thinking about the dogs who serve. And, because that’s how we think, we wondered if any small dogs have served as military dogs.

As far as we could find out, not officially. All branches of the military in the United States employ dogs. Most have “specific jobs, including: tracking, explosive detection, patrol, search and rescue, and attack,” according to the American Kennel Club. But all of the dogs currently serving in the military seem to be large breeds, with German Shepherds the most numerous. There is mention of Russell Terriers in scent detection, but we couldn’t find confirmation.

Unofficial mascots

However, two of the most famous military dogs of the 20th century were both little dogs. Neither one was officially part of a military training program. Although one, Stubby, was the only dog to be awarded the rank of “Sergeant” through combat.

Military dog Stubby was a Boston Terrier like our very own Booker
Our very own Boston Terrier, Booker

Stubby was a Boston Terrier who served in World War I. He was the unofficial mascot of the 102nd Infantry Division, and served for 18 months. Most of his duties were morale-related, comforting and entertaining the troops. But he also warned of mustard gas attacks. After being injured in one such attack, Stubby was fitted with a custom gas mask. His credits include finding and holding an enemy soldier by the seat of his pants until American soldiers caught up.

After the war, Sgt. Stubby was a celebrity. He met presidents and led parades all across the country. When his owner went to Georgetown, Stubby went along with him and served as the Hoyas’ team mascot. Stubby died in 1926 and is now part of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Equal rights

The other notable little dog was a female Yorkshire Terrier named Smoky. Smoky was owned by an airman from Ohio who served in the Pacific in World War II. Her most notable exploit was running a telegraph wire through a mostly-closed conduit at the Luzon airfield in the Philippines. Smoky’s tiny size (less than four pounds) and willingness to learn new “tricks” saved the construction detail three days of digging that would have exposed them to enemy bombing. To Smoky’s credit are 12 combat missions and eight battle star awards.

Smoky is the first recorded therapy dog. In 1944 she started acting as a therapy dog when her owner was in the 233rd Station Hospital in New Guinea. She went on rounds with the nurses and doctors to visit their patients.

There is a life-sized statue commemorating Smoky, the “Yorkie Doodle Dandy” in Lakewood, Ohio.

Honoring War Dogs

There are other memorials to dogs that have accompanied the military into harm’s way. The National War Dog Cemetery is at Naval Base Guam. During World War II, Doberman Pinschers served with the Marine Corps during the Second Battle of Guam in 1944.

There is also a U.S. War Dogs Memorial in New Jersey, as well as other memorials around the country. In support of military dogs, both current and retired, there are several non-profit organizations. Former military dog handlers banded together to support their colleagues and their dogs.


Most Nasty Little Dogs are Just Scared

Small dogs have a big reputation for being aggressive. “Nasty” little dogs is a pretty common phrase. But are small dogs actually more reactive than big dogs? Or are other factors at work that just make it seem that way?

Nature vs. nurture

A dog’s breed has a significant impact on their temperament. Most small dog breeds were developed for pest control. Designed by people to work independently, as hunters. The Yorkshire Terrier, now considered rather fancy, was developed to rid the Yorkshire fabric mills of rats. Not as elegant as they seem!

Many of the terrier breeds are expected to show their feistiness. Even these days at dog shows, judges will ask terrier people to “spar” their dogs – seeing how they react to each other. 

Many of the medium and larger breeds of dogs work closely with people. Calmly doing their jobs, whether that’s retrieving, tracking, pointing, herding, or guarding. Killing vermin didn’t really enter the picture.

So many small dogs are, by nature, readier to react to distractions in their environment. They’re always ready for the chase.

The nurture part

Of course nature is only part of the answer. How dogs are raised makes a huge difference, too. Most people with large, or powerful dogs know their dogs need to be trained to live successfully in society. Small dog people aren’t as likely to seek out manners or obedience classes. We know that, if push comes to shove, we can always pick up our dogs and leave. And, unfortunately, many puppy classes include play periods that may be unsafe for small dogs. It only takes one incident of getting bashed into or rolled over to make a small dog wary of their bigger cousins.

In addition to training, most larger dogs also have a need for more exercise than most people can typically provide in their homes. Even a tiny house is big enough for a little dog to play fetch. So we tend not to take long walks with little dogs.

Confession time

This is where we tend to fail. Even though we live in a very walkable, suburban environment, we’re not walkers. In our minds, there’s always something else that needs doing and taking the time to go nowhere seems like a waste. Of course that’s not really true. Walking has lots of benefits, for both people and dogs. 

Nasty little dogs may not be comfortable out and about.

As a result, our dogs lack the socialization they probably should have. They’re fine in training classes, dog shows, obedience and agility trials. They just can lose their cool when they see other dogs, or bicyclists in the neighborhood greenway.

It’s our fault and we know it. Real socialization of dogs means getting them comfortable in a variety of real life places, so they don’t react negatively. Dogs of any size who regularly get out and about in their neighborhoods are generally calm. Even the smallest dog will be comfortable in familiar surroundings.

Fear based

Most nasty little dogs don’t have a Napoleon complex. They don’t think they’re the kings of the world. They’re afraid, and showing how tough they are in hopes that the threat goes away. No surprise they act this way – fear causes most dog aggression. Even resource guarding behavior has its roots in fear – fear that something the dog values will be taken away.

The cure for nasty little dogs isn’t to punish them or yell at them. It’s to get them comfortable in new places, new experiences, and new encounters. Even if it’s just getting out to the local greenway to practice calmly watching the world pass by. Which we promise to do – as soon as the weather gets warmer.