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Little dogs can be little devils

  • Published Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, at 11:16 a.m.

Cesar Millan, better known as the Dog Whisperer, told me in an interview last year that Americans tend to carry their problems.

I know exactly what he meant.

He noted that in his experience, American owners of tiny dog breeds would rather pick up their “problem children” than train them to behave in public.

Generally, people rationalize they do it to protect their little ones from larger animals. But many times it’s just easier to pick them up than it is to train them to behave. Because they are so tiny, owners make the mistake of treating them like babies. They perceive training as being “mean,” said Chicago veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker on her Healthy Pet blog on the Mercola.com Website.

“Because so many little guys and gals are untrained and under-socialized, it’s common to encounter small dogs in public places who are fearful of humans, reactive toward other animals, and yappy,” she said.

Milly, a poodle/Pomeranian mixed breed, was relinquished by her original family for a couple of reasons, said her owner, Mary Jo Fiant of Copley Township, Ohio.

“She wasn’t potty trained and they said she chewed on things,” said Fiant, who took the tiny pup from her neighbors.

Within a week, Milly was house trained and “she’s never chewed on anything,” Fiant said.

For socialization, Fiant and her husband, John, started walking the seven-pound pup with a “pack” of people and their dogs each day. At the park, Milly gets along with everyone, including newcomers to the group.

Many owners of little breeds are not that successful with their dogs, although the dogs are as capable of learning obedience behaviors as larger animals, said Becker.

But when training a little one, it might be a good idea to start by seeing things from their vantage point, she said.

A human must look pretty scary to an animal that stands less than a foot off the floor. Until your dog has some experience reading your signals, show her welcoming eyes, small movements and a soft voice. Don’t deal with the pup “head on” right away, rather turn slightly to the side and get down close to her level so you don’t look like a huge hulk.

Keep training treats a miniature size, too, said Becker. Anything larger than a quarter of a pea is too big, she said.

Initially, sit on the floor to appear less intimidating or sit on a low stool or chair to avoid hurting your back.

Your tiny dog needs small toys and training tools. Becker recommends you use a training harness to avoid neck injuries. Leather leashes and chain collars are not a good idea, she said.

“Some very small dogs have incredibly fragile necks,” she said.

She also highly recommends you imagine yourself in your dog’s place when you suddenly scoop her up in your arms.

Dogs are often startled to be lifted off the ground and stressed by suddenly losing the ground beneath their feet.

It’s good to train your dog with a verbal one-word cue that signals you are about to pick her up. Put your hands on her, say the word, and apply just a bit of pressure before lifting her.

Becker advises it may be difficult to get tiny dogs to lie down because they are already so close to the ground they feel vulnerable. Train on a soft, raised surface because little dogs are more sensitive to cold and rough surfaces than larger ones.

Respect her space and allow her to meet new people and dogs on her own terms. Picking up a shy or frightened animal to introduce her to others removes her ability to keep her distance. Do not force the issue.

Finally, set boundaries. If you wouldn’t allow a larger dog to jump up on you, don’t accept that behavior from your little one. The same goes for jumping on your lap, charging out the door ahead of you and ripping treats from your fingers. Allow her to go on hikes with you, climb stairs, get in and out of a vehicle and move confidently on all kinds of terrain.

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