Little dogs sure do get away with a lot! Sometimes this is because owners feel the need to "protect" or "baby" their small dogs. Other times, people think it is cute when a small dog barks, growls, and bites. Whatever the reason, I see more aggression and general misbehavior in little dogs than in big dogs. Within the clinic setting, I estimate that smaller dogs try to bite us five times more often than their larger counterparts.
Bad behavior is bad behavior -- whether or not the culprit weighs 8 pounds or 80 pounds. In fact, if you wouldn't accept a particular behavior in your dog if he weighed 80 pounds, then it shouldn't be allowed in your little dog. Do we let shorter people break the law just because they aren't as tall?
As a group, smaller dogs are born believing that they are the leaders of the pack. In the dog world, being in charge has nothing to do with how big you are -- it is all about attitude. By the pound, most little dogs are packed with attitude.
Owners tend to add fuel to a dominant little dog's fire by carrying him around and putting him on their level. When a top dog wants to show ownership (dominance) over another, he will stand over the subordinate dog. Little dogs are invited onto the couch and onto the bed and this puts them on our level -- physically and mentally.
Remember, your dog will always love you ... but does he respect you? If he doesn't come back when called, if he is still soiling in the house, if he growls or barks when you tell him to be quiet, then he does not respect you.
If you want your little dog to start respecting and minding you, then you need to take control of the pack. This means that the dog is not allowed on the furniture or on the bed -- stick with it for a month and you will have a better, more respectful dog. This might seem like "tough love," but it is the difference between a dog that walks beside you and one that walks all over you.
Dogs love to go for walks. We all know that the top dog is out in front when the pack is on the move. If your dogs are walking in front of you, then you are acknowledging their dominance. Put that collar high up on your dog's neck and make him walk alongside you. He will get just as much exercise (in front of you or alongside you, it's still just a walk around the block) and your shoulder won't get dislocated in the process.
Put a collar on your dog and get him used to the leash -- and you deciding which direction he goes in. Most dogs don't like collars at first because it is a form of control and they don't want to accept it. This isn't a negotiation. If you are the top dog, then put a collar on your pooch and tell him to "get over it." Do not use a harness. Harnesses are designed for dogs to pull sleds, and they don't provide the feedback and control that you should have as a top dog.
The dog world is one of hierarchy. If you don't accept your role as top dog, then your furry friend is going to assume that he is in charge. However, dominant little dogs are actually less happy and relaxed because they have to worry about the pack. Most dogs would prefer that you take control and allow them to do what they do best -- playing and sleeping and living a dog's life.
Dr. Jon Klingborg is a Merced veterinarian and is associated with Valley Animal Hospital. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org