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.
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.
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.
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.