Having a small dog has its perks. Their size makes them convenient to live with, cheaper to feed, and not to mention adorable! There are many reasons as to why someone would opt for bringing a small breed dog into their home, and they come in many variations of energy levels, personality types, and appearances. There are even several small breed variations that are purpose-bred to be working dogs or provide a service to humans! Unfortunately, sometimes smalls have an unfairly negative reputation in today’s society. Many people believe that behavior issues are inherently in their nature, they’re untrainable, and they aren’t able to do the same activities that larger dogs can. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and small dogs are actually just as trainable as any other! In this post, we’re going to cover some considerations, tips, and tricks to get the most out of living with and training your small breed dog.
Step One: Meet Their Needs!
Small dogs are convenient. Their supplies are smaller and easily stored, they generally cost less, and they’re a great size for living in more urban or confined spaces. However, it’s also very easy to equate the size of the dog to the level of daily commitment to meet their needs, which is not the case! Small dogs are still dogs, and we should make sure that even though they’re more easily controlled and easily forgotten about, they still need the same fulfillment opportunities as larger breeds.
Incorporating enrichment activities into your daily life with your dog is a great way to let them burn mental energy, express natural behavior, and reduce stress. This can be through many different avenues:
Food Enrichment: Kongs, lickimats, snuffle mats, treat dispensing toys, edible chews, etc.
Social Enrichment: This varies from dog to dog, but can include doggie play dates, playtime with their humans, meeting and socializing with new people, group walks or hikes, etc.
Training: Teaching new tricks, teaching manners and impulse control, dog sports, etc.
Sensory Enrichment: Going somewhere new, sniff-walks, nosework, listening to music, car rides, playing with toys, etc.
It’s important to make sure that your dog is still getting sufficient exercise and an appropriately balanced diet to stay healthy as well. When dogs are under-exercised, they can be prone to becoming bored, frustrated, and lethargic. These symptoms can be a recipe for health and behavior issues down the road, so it’s important to make sure that you’re getting your dog out for physical exercise daily through walks, play time, swimming, hiking, etc. If you’re not sure how much exercise your dog should be getting on a daily basis, talk with your veterinarian.
Step Two: How To Train With Food Rewards
Food is usually the easiest and most accessible reward to train with for most people. However, the smaller the size of your dog, the smaller the amount of calories you have to work with in a day before you start to over feed. Training small dogs with food rewards is very do-able, but it requires a little bit of thoughtful planning to do so and maintain your dog’s weight. When walking through the treat aisle at the pet store, look out for treats that are formulated to be low-calorie and used specifically for training, as these treats are typically made to be fed in larger amounts throughout a training session. You can also look for foods that are complete and balanced, so that if you need to skip a meal with your small dog after training with a lot of food throughout the day, they will still have eaten food that is nutritionally fulfilling. Lots of pet stores sell kibble toppers, freeze dried/air dried food, or refrigerated fresh food that is higher value for training than kibble, but still provides complete nutrition. Single-ingredient meats (like boiled chicken breast) can make good high-value rewards for small dogs as well, as they’re likely to be lower in calories than processed meats or cheeses. If you do need to use processed meats and cheeses, make sure to do so sparingly and account for those calories fed at your next mealtime.
You will need to also get in good practice with handling the smallest pieces of food that your fingers can physically hold. You can even take already-cut training treats and continue to cut them into quarters to get more repetitions of training per treat. It’s helpful to cut a bulk amount of food and treats into bite-sized pieces one day a week, then use that food throughout the week to train so you only have to spend time cutting and dicing training treats once.
Lick-able food can also be used with small breed dogs to control the amount of food they take in during a session. Invest in a few squeeze tubes, then fill them with soft food like peanut butter, cream cheese, pureed baby food, canned dog food, or anything else your dog finds valuable enough to work for. This way, when you reward your dog, you can control just how much food they’re taking in by only giving a very small squeeze, enough for just a small lick of food, per repetition.
When training with a lot of food throughout the day, it’s important to account for these calories at mealtimes. Be sure to cut back on the amount of food you normally feed when you’ve already been training with food earlier in the day.
Step Three: What to Focus On?
Small dogs can learn pretty much anything a larger breed can, so when considering what to work on or what you would like to achieve with your dog, you have tons of options! If you are wanting to put some consideration in ways to train and work with your small dog to help set them up for success in the world, here are some suggestions:
Confidence Building- If you are raising your dog from puppyhood, it’s very important to make sure that you heavily focus on socializing them while the window to do so is still open. There is a specific way to do this, and it’s important to differen