Sometimes I feel as if the main division between dog people lies along the lines of big dog vs. small dog lovers. I am floating somewhere midway, since I have 2 small dogs – a Parson Russell terrier and a mutt (8 kg), as well as a Golden retriever/black Labrador mix (30 kg). Let us set aside the mid-size dogs (6 kg), because we will discuss personality differences and they usually belong to the big dog category. What do I mean? I mean that the Small Dog is not only a physical category, but a spiritual one. And more. Why? Because people usually tend to view small dogs as „nervous“ and „yappy“. I am talking about the Small Dog Syndrome, https://www.purina.com.au/dogs/behaviour/small-dog-syndrome which is a set of behaviors that are often either reinforced or not discouraged by their owners. Just because small dogs tend to be cute, fluffy and generally perceived like babies, we neglect the fact that the small dogs, to put it simply - have a gene called IGF1 that makes them more reactive. But seriously, if you were a Chihuahua being approached by a Great Dane – wouldn’t you start barking to ward it off? I mean – it is as if you are approached by a giant 20 times your size that „just wants to sniff you“....I don’t know about you, but I would definitely freak out. So – size matters.
Well known dog scientist Dr. James Serpell has done a research on dog owners – he first divided them into two groups and then asked them to rate the level of reactivity of their dogs in the online questionnaire C-BARQ - Canine Behavioural Assesment and Research Questionnaire. This research done with the Center for Interaction of Animals&Society http://www.vet.upenn.edu/research/centers-initiatives/center/center-for-interaction-of-animals-society has brought forth very surprising results. Or not. Depending on the size of dog you have. Small dog owners won’t be surprised by the top list of the most aggressive pooches: Dachshund and the Chihuahua. I am surprised that my favorite breed, the Jack/Parson Russell terrier landed in the third place...
Mark Derr, my favorite dog book author in his excellent book „A Dog’s Best Friend“ has written that some terriers are even more aggressive than wolves because they sometimes attack without any warning and/or provocation, which makes them great for hunting virtually everything. And anything, it seems - including the Indonesian Brown Tree Snake which threatens the autohtonous bird population on Gwam: https://terriermandotcom.blogspot.com/2004/08/guam-snake-dogs.html.
Now – as I have mentioned, I have another small dog, just slightly bigger, but of a completely different character. She is a shelter mutt, adopted at 4 months old, but she has no inclination to chase anything besides her favorite ball. As the matter of fact, she is even a bit shy around other dogs and humans – so it made me wonder: how much of the dog’s character is a result of nature and how much of nurture? Over the course of some 35 years I’ve had 5 small dogs so far – 2 mutts, 1 Fox Terrier, 2 Russell Terriers and a Poodle - and none of them were either „nervous“ or „yappy“. Terriers were quick to chase other animals and to pick up a fight with other dogs if annoyed by them, but that is typical for the breed. Poodle was trying to imitate the terrier, but would soon give up for lack of prey drive, and mutts did the same. But they barked when terriers did, and terriers only barked for a reason (mostly out of frustration of not being able to climb the trees where squirrels are!). I’ve decided on small dogs for practical reasons – life in the big city, small apartment – but I’ve never regarded them as less of a dog that, say – my grandmother’s German Shepherd I grew up with. But ever since I’ve been writing on dogs and working with trainers and behaviorists, I’ve come to realize that the typical small dog owner often treats his/her puppies as babies, and go on long after they’ve grown..
Of course – who wouldn’t want to cuddle those small balls of fur all day and all night long? God knows I can’t make myself do anything else when I get a new puppy. But between cooing and petting and sleeping on the floor with him (and the bed, too) – it is necessary to start teaching it the basics of living together. Because that cuddly little creature needs to learn some rules, no matter the size when it grows up. From my experience - there are three basic mistakes that small dog owners make:
1. Getting a small dog because „it will need less walkies“ and neglect to toilet train him properly, i.e. leaving a doggy toilet in the house even after when the dog is all grown up and able to hold for 8-10 hours. It leads to dog eventually starting to do it all over the place – among other reasons, this happens because our usual cleaning products contain ammonia, which, to a dog – smells like urine. No matter the size of the dog, the walkies (yes, even in bad weather – buy him a coat) are a necessity! Not only for the body, but also for the dog’s mind.
2. Carrying him around in your arms (or worse, in the purse). Let him walk! He needs to experience the smells, meet other dogs. Of course you are not going to let your Chihuahua puppy run with a bunch of Irish Wolfhounds, but you can find a couple of smallish or mid-sized puppies to socialize with, or even better – enroll into a puppy course where your little friend might not only play with others, but learn a thing or two. You will, too.
3. Do not drag it around on the retractable („Flexi“) leash and never let run free! Those leashes are not reliable (easy to chew trough, stopping mechanism can jam, if it falls on the floor it will „chase“ your pup and scare him into traffic, it can burn or cat your limbs, etc.). Your small dog needs to learn a proper recall (to come when called) and you need to let him run free in appropriate dog parks, as well as meet other dogs. If you do not let him socialize on time, being afraid he will get hurt, when you finally decide to let him play with other dogs when he grows up - he won’t have the proper social skills and might react aggressively out of fear. He’ll get into trouble, and your fear will get reinforced – leading to his life spent on the leash, with no dog company.
I could go on and on, but just those three mistakes will be enough create a „nervous“ and „yappy“ dog! Please keep in mind that small dogs are not babies, and definitely not toys – do not treat them as such. Also, whenever in doubt whether to let your small dog do something - chew things, jump on people, bite you, pee&poo all over your place, hump guests - just ask yourself if you’d you let him do it if he was big? Didn’t think so.