Little Dogs. Treat as Big Dogs?

Most people who choose little dogs treat them very differently to how people usually treat bigger dogs, carrying them everywhere and keeping them closely on lead – but not so the couple I went to last night.

Daisy

Daisy

Little dogs are ‘proper dogs’.

Their two little dogs, tiny Chihuahua Jack Russell mixes, have deliberately been given the same ‘proper dog’ life as larger dogs in every way possible.

Surrounded by love and care, they have been kindly trained to do the important things like come back when called and to wait. Twice a day the lady takes them somewhere by car so they can run free. The little dogs are seldom carried.

Although both Daisy and Poppy are fourteen months of age, they came from different places. Poppy, the smaller of the two, is much more robust mentally. Daisy is more nervous, easily upset, and it’s for her that I was called out.

Both little dogs get on very well apart from the occasional pop when Daisy gets over-aroused and redirects onto Poppy. Daisy’s general arousal and stress levels are something we will be working on.

They called me in with the aim for Daisy ‘not to react aggressively to dogs that came too close to her’.

Why should little dogs not object to their personal space being invaded?

Upon discussion, I feel that it is totally acceptable for Daisy to tell another dog – a dog that will probably be a lot larger than herself – to keep its distance. She ignores dogs unless they are in her face, it’s the same with young children, and that is the end game many people would be happy to achieve.

This is where treating little dogs exactly the same as big dogs falls down.

Little dogs and big dogs aren’t the same. Little dogs are a lot more vulnerable. Just imagine what the world and other dogs must look like through their eyes! Anything approaching would loom. Just imagine also how little dogs may appear to a big dog, particularly a dog of a hunting breed.

Twice a day the two little dogs are taken, by car, to a large open park or to the woods. Both come back when called and, always off lead, they have plenty of freedom. Daisy in particular stays close. Of late, the more nervous Daisy has shown reluctance to go for the second walk but that’s okay, the lady allows her choice – she also allows her choice if she doesn’t want to get out of the car the other end. I love that, but why the reluctance in the first place?

I’m sure Daisy is torn between loving the walk and feeling unsafe. Once a day is enough for her at present.

If the lady is anywhere she can’t see other dogs coming, she is taking a risk.

Little dogs on the beach

On the beach

A short while ago the two little dogs were chased by a Rottweiler and another big dog that suddenly appeared out of the trees. The Rottie was after the braver Poppy who, when she eventually came back, leapt into the lady’s arms terrified, urinating and shaking. She may have been lucky.

They talked to their vet about Daisy’s attitude to other dogs. The advice given? Not to pick her up because she may then become protective of the lady!

How ridiculous in this context.

Just as behaviourists are not vets and I would always refer for anything medical, few vets are experienced, up-to-date behaviourists and often give outdated advice or may not have had time to see the whole picture.

The two aspects we are concentrating on are Daisy’s general stress levels and confidence, and making sure she feels safe on walks. This means doing things just a bit differently. It means choosing locations carefully.

Making sure the little dogs not only feel safe on walks but are actually safer too means regularly calling them back even if there is no other dog about so the two things are not associated. It means regularly picking one or other dog up and getting her used to being carried for a short distance, regardless of the approach of another dog.crisis. Why?

Little dogs simply are not big dogs and they have to be protected

The owner needs to be the little dogs’ safety net and trusted always to keep them safe. If, then, a big dog approaches, Daisy can opt to jump into the lady’s arms – better than simply scooping her up unless in emergency. If she knows she has backup, she may feel less need to defend herself anyway.

Little dogs in the mirror

Who are those dogs in the mirror?

See this lovely video ‘Small Dog Syndrome‘ from Steve Mann with his own little dog, a Chihuahua.

The lady will watch Daisy’s body language carefully and keep sufficient distance between her and other dogs. She can be assertive with other owners and parents of young children. She already has a yellow top for herself that says ‘My dog needs space’. I suggest one for Daisy too – ‘I need space’.

If the other dog leaves her alone, Daisy is chilled. She can even sit within a couple of feet of a dog she doesn’t know if the lady stops to chat, so long as it leaves her alone. What more can we ask for?

Would we like a giant stranger looming over us and putting his scary face right into our own? No. He would deserve a complaint if not a slap. We ask a lot of our dogs.

So, we have changed the aim of my visit from ‘For Daisy not to react aggressively to dogs that came too close to her’ to ‘Helping Daisy to feel safe when other dogs get too close’.

Little Daisy will then trust the lady to keep her safe and I’m sure she will soon be happily choosing to go out for the second walk.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for the little dogs Daisy and Poppy and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Chihuahua Bit Man on the Mouth

Chihuahua Ant on the left is quite a confident little dog while Dec is restless, on constant alert

Ant and Dec

Here we have Ant and Dec – adorable eighteen-month-old Chihuahua brothers. They have had exactly the same upbringing but their personalities are very different. Ant on the left is quite a confident little dog while Dec is restless, on constant alert, wary of being approached, barks at people he doesn’t know well or dislikes – and has snapped and bitten.

Both little dogs are overweight despite the couple who own them sticking rigidly to the diet regime. This is because they need the help of another couple to look after them so they are not left alone too long, and unfortunately these people, who absolutely adore the dogs, can’t be persuaded not to over-indulge them. The alternative would be leaving the dogs all alone for hours.

Little Dec may bite if removed by the gentleman owner from his lap when asleep and he has bitten a child. He is actually fairly tolerant of them, but when he’s had enough his signals simply are ignored. We need to be looking out for ‘look-aways’, lip-licking and yawning which all show the dog is becoming increasingly uneasy.  Growling will follow. He may then be scolded for giving what is really quite a reasonable warning. By now he is between a rock and a hard place; he has no options left – he snaps.

The poor dog can’t talk ‘human’ and the humans aren’t understanding ‘dog’.

Dec is scared of vehicals and bicycles; air-brakes send his tail between his legs and he would run if he could. He hates the vacuum and the strimmer – and fireworks. Visitors may pick them up which makes Ant pee.

He bit a man on the mouth

The final straw came the other day when the friend bent over Dec as he slept on the sofa (in order to kiss him I believe), and he bit the man’s lip badly.

These little dogs are carried about too much (as chihuahuas often are); they are subjected to big hands reaching out on top of them to touch them and large human faces getting uncomfortably close. They are also allowed to dictate when they get attention and when they are played with. Food for rewards has little value.

Over-feeding, pandering to fussy eating, giving too many un-earned treats and sharing one’s own food, carrying little dogs about, forcing kisses on them and getting them too excited when greeting to the extent that a dog pees may be done in the name of love, but isn’t kind really. The owners themselves are more restrained whilst having some tightening up to do, but they need to be much firmer with the other people who share the care of their dogs.

It is always best if I can have my first meeting with everyone willing to be involved in changing their own behaviour in order to change the dogs’ behaviour. The couple are very keen to understand Ant and Dec’s needs, but fear the other people may be unwilling to listen to my advice or change their over-indulgent ways. Consistency from everyone is so important.

Just see in the photo how eager and attentive they can be if motivated!

It is just after Christmas and I received this email: Hope you had a good Christmas! Just wanted to let you know of some fantastic success we have had with Dec. It’s funny that we only saw small changes until we visited Craig’s parents over the last couple of days…
Normally Dec has been petrified of Craig’s brother…..When we visited we had been using the pen lots when things got too busy and hectic to keep them calm and calmly brought Pluto into the room Craig’s brother was in- seriously was like a miracle moment- no barking, no signs of him being anxious he even went onto his lap and let him stroke him!!!! I think knowing the signs of when they are anxious has really helped us to keep him calm- we can’t always remove him from a situation but just knowing what to look out for really helps!
Normally visiting Craig’s family with the dogs is something I find really stressful but they have been 100% better behaved which just makes everything so much more enjoyable!