When training dogs, size does make a difference. Small dogs are dogs, just as Golden Retrievers and Great Danes are, and they respond to training just as their larger cousins do. However, just the fact that toy breed dogs, small spaniels and terriers, and other little dogs are diminutive in comparison means your training techniques need some small changes, too, to be more effective.
Training With Treats
Treats for little dogs should be tiny. If you have a number 2 pencil in the house, look at the size of the pink eraser on the end. Treats should be no larger than that eraser and preferably even a bit smaller.
When treats are this small, they need to have a good strong smell to keep them interesting. After all, if the treat disappears in one chew or gulp, a lot of the appeal is then in the smell and anticipation.
To save your back from bending over each time you give your dog a treat, teach him to catch a dropped treat. Start close (just a couple of inches away) so he can catch each one easily then as he gets better at catching gradually stand upright and drop it.
Teaching a new exercise or trick or beginning training with a puppy is often easier if you can elevate the small dog. Placing the dog on a grooming table, folding table, or even a tall chair will help. Use a treat to pick the dog up or better yet provide him steps or a ramp to choose to go to the elevated surface on his own. After all being swooped off your feet can be frightening and result in your dog avoiding you when you lean over him.
When elevating the dog’s position, he can watch your expressions more easily and make eye contact with you. Better for your back, you can teach and help him without bending over. Keep safety in mind, so have the dog on a leash, never walk away from him when he’s up high, and don’t let him jump.
Introduce exercises, especially basic training such as sit, down, stay, and watch me, in an elevated location. When your small dog knows those exercises, move him to the floor and help him understand they apply in other locations, too.
When you add a new exercise, bring your dog back to the table to teach the initial steps. Even trick training can start in an elevated position.
Build More Trust
Many small dogs hesitate to work close to people’s feet because they learn early that people are clumsy, distracted, and sometimes don’t see small dogs. It takes only a few times of being kicked or stepped on before the dog keeps some distance from moving human feet.
The training exercise most affected by this is the stay. If a little dog is asked to do a sit-stay or down-stay where a person (or people) are moving around, the dog will probably move out of position. After all, self-preservation overrides any training.
Asking a tiny dog to walk close to your feet in the heel position is going to be tough, too. The small dog will be more comfortable walking slightly farther away from your side than a larger dog will. Just as with the stay, this is because of the dog’s perceived danger of being stepped on or kicked.
You can eliminate some of your dog’s concern by being aware of it and not reacting in a negative manner when you see your little dog’s anxiety. Work on building more trust. Ask your dog to stay and then hold your own stay so your feet aren’t inching closer to him. When you go back to praise him, don’t move in as close, and reward him from a slight distance (outside his danger zone).
If you can control your feet and be aware of your dog’s discomfort, you can eliminate most if not all of his anxiety. Plus, if you are aware of your own feet, what you’re doing, and where your feet are placed in relation to your dog, you can better control your own movements. When you begin doing this you’ll be amazed at how often you move, turn, twist, shuffle, and otherwise move your feet.
Be Aware Of Health Issues
It’s not unusual for health issues to cause training issues. A dog with bad teeth may refuse treats or need soft ones. A dog with a patella (knee) issue may not want to sit. If you see a change in your dog’s behavior or reaction to training, talk to your veterinarian.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT