Tag Archives: small dogs

Little dogs are brave souls

Last week we talked about how little dogs have a different view of the world. Can you even imagine living in a world where everything, literally everything, is bigger than you are? It got us thinking that little dogs are brave. Amazingly so.

We aren’t big people – Fran is “taller” at 5’ 2 ¾” (she insists on the ¾), and Hope is downright short at 5-foot nuthin’. And there are lots of things we can’t do, or see, without step stools, or ladders, or climbing foolishly on top of things we probably shouldn’t. The potato chips are stored on top of the refrigerator so giving in to temptation requires effort. It usually works.

Everything requires effort

Picture of a brave little dog in a red sweater next to a person's jeans-clad legs and sneakers.

Think, just for a minute, about the tremendous expenditure of exertion and timing for a Chihuahua to climb a flight of stairs. When the dog isn’t even as tall as two steps. It’s the equivalent of a person climbing a 10+ story building in seconds. How amazing is that! And how daunting for the dog when it’s learning to navigate around the house.

Little dogs can’t see what’s up there – anywhere. Everything they do, or try, is based on the trust they have that you won’t steer them wrong.

Leap of faith

Hope has had French Bulldogs for decades. A few years ago she and her dog Teddy were visiting a friend and staying at their home. Teddy was very accustomed to jumping up on furniture to see better, or get closer. He was following Hope’s friend around her house one day – including into the bathroom. He’d never seen a furniture-styled built-in tub before. He jumped. And landed “PLOP!” in the deep, empty tub. 

He was fine – but a little untrusting for a while. The world as he knew it had sturdy surfaces, not hollow, slippery bits to trap dogs!

Take a look around

Every place your dog goes, everything you do together, is because your dog trusts you. Can you imagine being a visitor on an alien planet where everyone is bigger than you, you can’t understand anything people say, you don’t know how anything works. Not to mention the noise! You have no idea what all the noisy things do, or whether or not they’ll hurt you!

There are terrifying things all around us in the environment. The puppy in the house sits and stares when we’re outside and he hears a car go by. Or lawn mowers, string trimmers, and leaf blowers. Not even mentioning the garbage truck or the sound of backing up!

Appreciate your dog’s courage

If you’re ever impatient because your dog seems wary of some new thing – like your new robotic vacuum cleaner, give them some credit. The only reason they can function in our world is because they love and trust us. Dogs truly are amazing creatures.

Caring for an old dog

Is there any difference when caring for an old dog? We haven’t been lucky enough to have a senior dog in the house for a long time. With luck, we’re about to embark on that journey.

Tango is officially our old dog

This month Tango, Fran’s Brussels Griffon boy, will turn 12 years old. We’re not going to say he’ll “celebrate” it. That’s not because Tango doesn’t enjoy a good party. It’s because on the day of his birthday, we’ll probably have forgotten about it. 

We’re just not good at remembering actual dates. So April is going to be Tango month! If we do something special for him every day, we’ll be sure to catch the actual date at some point.

What’s different for an old dog?

Aging changes dogs in similar ways to people. They’re a little slower, may need more sleep, joints can be a little achy, metabolism can slow. And, just like with people, there are things we can do to keep them in the best possible physical condition.

One of the most important ways we can help our dogs is to keep up with their oral health. If you notice your dog eats less eagerly, or if he/she has bad breath, it may be an indicator of a tooth or gum problem. Like many small and toy dogs, Tango never had all that many teeth. But regular brushing has let him keep the ones he does have in good shape. He also makes a practice of playing “bitey face” with Simon, so we have to make sure his defensive lineup is working! 

Since an older dog should get more regular checkups at the veterinarian, be sure your vet checks your dog’s mouth and teeth. And, if you haven’t already, start routine dental care. All you need to do is rub with a soft cloth and gentle dog toothpaste.

Keep them moving!

Tango is an extremely flexible dog. The way he flops, you could swear the dog has no bones. It also means he has an adorable loose-legged gait (and his ears flop adorably when he runs). But we discovered that his flexibility didn’t mean he was toned or in good shape. His limb and core strength was deteriorating. 

Part of caring for an old dog is to make sure he’s in as good condition as possible. To build back his muscle tone, we started a series of balance exercises on an inflatable disc. Because we’re hard-core dog-sport nerds, it was something we already had on hand. You don’t need one. A couch cushion large enough for your dog to stand on will work just fine. 

At first, just stand up/sit down was all Tango could handle. Just a few repetitions, each move rewarded with a treat, was enough to tire him out. Now he’s added turning in a circle one way then the other, going in a circle with just his back legs on the cushion and fronts on the floor, and the opposite with front legs on the cushion and back legs on the floor.

It’s made a tremendous difference in his leg and core strength. And it takes less than five minutes a day. And, probably because of the treats, Tango loves it. If you are worried about your older dog gaining weight, you can use his/her food as the rewards and have your dog exercise for breakfast!

Mind/body connection

In addition to the physical, it’s just as important to keep an older dog’s mind engaged and bright. It’s a complete falsehood that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Older dogs love learning new things, and may even be better at it than their younger counterparts. Their bond with you is more developed and their trust in you complete. 

If you haven’t signed up for our training site newsletter, you’ve missed Tango learning to “bowl” over the last couple of months. The dog training game sessions are only two minutes long, so it’s always fast and fun. And involves more treats! Tango so adores these games that he’s completely ignoring Fran’s command to “stay” or “wait” – he can’t help himself. His Rally Obedience Excellent title means nothing – he’s so eager to play!

Still those unavoidable signals

As much as we try, we know we can’t keep time at bay. It’s harder to wake Tango up, he’s sleeping deeper. He doesn’t see particularly well anymore – bright sunshine is particularly difficult. It breaks your heart a little when your dog can’t seem to find you in his own backyard. He’s also gaining weight more easily – we can completely identify with that part of getting older.

The best thing we can all do when caring for an old dog is pay attention. Notice what’s changing. The one thing that never changes is how much unconditional love our dogs give.

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.

Scared of strangers? Your dog doesn’t have to be!

Is your dog scared of strangers?

Either out and about or at home?

Does he/she “go ballistic” whenever the doorbell rings? Have you stopped inviting people over because it’s just too stressful? When repairs are needed do you have to lock your little dog away?

Most of the “aggressive” behaviors small dogs display are rooted in fear. It’s the dog saying to the world, “I’m tough and I’ll hurt you before you hurt me!”

Warning – danger approaching!

Small dogs know their size. And many of them aren’t particularly confident. They’ll bark and lunge, hoping the display will be enough to keep others away so they’ll be safe. And many owners react by indulging the behavior, either soothing their dogs with a comforting “you’re okay! It’s fine!” or by picking them up to remove the threat.

Many dogs will try to hide behind their owners for protection, then lunge out when they feel a threat. Some trainers encourage dogs to sit between owners feet as a “safe place,” but it can work in reverse if the dog thinks you’re acting as his “back up.”

We feel your pain – Tango was scared of strangers

Our own experience with aggressive dogs is first hand. Unfortunately, Fran’s Tango was a lunging, snapping maniac when she got him. He was fear aggressive and extremely scared of strangers. She had no hint – their instant connection meant she could do anything with him from the moment they met. No one else could get near him – including Hope!

Brussels Griffon Tango

It took time and patience to bring out the best in Tango. He became a dog Fran could take places and compete with in Agility and Rally. There were times we thought it would never happen.

And there are some people who prefer their small dogs to stay aggressive to the rest of the world. We know one woman who firmly believes her Chihuahua’s snarling and snapping keeps both of them safer. And if that’s where you’re at, that’s fine.

Turn it around

But if you want your dog to be a welcome guest and companion, there are simple things you can do to turn things around.

If, like Fran, you’re able to do anything with your dog, you’ll need to enlist an understanding friend to help.

You’ll need some absolutely irresistible treats. Use something smelly, like pieces of hot dogs. And, with your dog on collar or harness and leash, have your helper drop treats in front of the dog. Be sure you’re far enough away that the dog can’t reach your friend. If necessary, the treats can be gently tossed on the ground.

If your dog is nicer than Tango was, your friend put a treat in an open hand and offer it to the dog. Tango would bite, so that wasn’t an option.

Repeat 10 times – 10 treats.

That’s it. The friend shouldn’t try to engage with the dog at all – don’t meet his/her eyes, don’t talk to the dog, nothing. Especially don’t lean over! As tempting as it is to bend over to look at, or pet, a dog, to the dog it’s a threat. Either stay standing, or, even better, have your friend sit on the floor and toss the treats where the dog can reach them. Remember to stay out of range to keep everyone safe!

This sets up the idea, in the dog’s mind, that this person is not threatening, doesn’t want anything from me, and just wants to give me treats. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll like this person!

Enlist some help

The next time you try, maybe your dog will have a more relaxed posture. Maybe he/she will actually seem happy to see your friend. As time goes by, your friend will be able to hand the dog a treat.

And that’s the key. Over time, there were many friends of ours who became “cookie ladies!” Fran packed lots of treats whenever she went out with Tango, and handed a few to whoever she saw. Over just a couple of months, Tango became a dog Fran could take anywhere. He expects strangers to be treat dispensers, not dangers.

When you have a dog that’s fear-aggressive, one eye should always be on him/her, to make sure everyone will be safe. Time, patience, and “cookie people” can help fix the problem, but it may never be cured.

What works for you?

Have you had a reactive, or fear-aggressive dog? Is he/she scared of strangers? What works for you to help your dog cope with the world a little better?