By Dianna Young
In many respects, living with a dog is the same no matter whether the animal is a 150-pound Rottweiler or a four-pound Mexican Chihuahua. A dog is a dog. Dogs think like dogs, behave like dogs, learn the way dogs learn. They all need the same kind of structure in order to live satisfying lives.
In many other respects, however, living with large or small breeds is not the same. Life with each has its own nuances.
For example, a thing we have a tendency to do with toy breeds, because they’re cute and cuddly, is carry them to a lot of the places they go. Although that’s fun to do, and in part is why we enjoy having toy breeds — so we can cuddle them — we need to give them a healthy dose of what it’s like to be treated like a real dog.
Among the dogs I personally own is a four-pound Chihuahua puppy. And I understand it’s critical that when I take her out in the world to experience life that she experience it on her own four feet. So I intentionally take her places on her leash even though it might be more convenient just to pick her up and pack her under one arm when we’re walking around.
Saturdays, for example, when I take her to the dog-obedience classes that I conduct, I might carry her during some portions of the classes. But when we arrive at the training site, she gets out of the car and walks into the class on her own feet. This teaches her to meet the world on its own terms, a skill she will have to develop if she is to live a happy and successful life. This tiny tyke is really something to see, by the way, when she walks boldly into class full of larger dogs, brimming with all the newly acquired confidence she’s attained by learning that she can mingle with the other dogs as a part of their group.
If she spent all of her time there in my arms, it very likely would send her — and maybe some of the other dogs — the wrong message.
That brings me to a question that owners of toy breeds often ask, and that is how you as the leader should react if you think your tiny dog is threatened by a larger animal.
Here is the way I handle it. In an emergency, as a very last resort, I might pick up my dog to keep her from harm. In a perfect world, however, if I saw danger approaching I would get the two of us out of harm’s way by simply walking both of us out of the line of fire.
Picking up your toy breed to keep it safe sends a couple of messages you probably aren’t intending to send. One, if you whisk the toy breed off the ground and into the air, you’ve just identified your dog as prey. You have increased the intensify of the other dog’s prey drive by doing that.
Two, if your dog wasn’t already afraid of this oncoming dog, then you’ve just taught her to be afraid. Believe it or not, the message you send when you whisk her off the ground is that you’re also afraid. Where she might have been only mildly worried before, now she’s really frightened, because she thinks you are frightened. No matter what the size of your dog, any time the pack leader — that’s you — becomes weak and afraid, your dog becomes afraid, too.
By not “rescuing” my dog all the time, I help to build her self-confidence and to build her confidence and trust in me.
Dianna Young is a certified, professional dog trainer and canine behaviorist from Camano Island, where she operates Camano Island Kennels Dog Boarding and Training Facility. She can be reached at (360) 387-DOGS or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her web site address is http://www.camanoislandkennels.com. Or visit us at facebook.