I have exciting news: I recently became the proud owner of a small dog.
I would not normally self-identify as a “small dog person.” It’s not that I don’t like small dogs. I’ve fostered and loved many of them and they’re every bit as diverse in personality as big dogs. I’ve known quite a few gentle, smart, and/or well-behaved small dogs… but I’ve also met plenty of nippy little nightmares who pee everywhere.
I love my new dog to pieces, but he’s definitely the latter sort. At ten years old, he bites, he isn’t housebroken, he doesn’t know any commands at all (not even “sit” or his own name), and he’s very destructive. He has been described as “a liability,” “not welcome here,” and “the meanest dog I’ve ever known.” That’s the reason I took him- he’s been in the shelter for four years. Nobody else wants him. And if I weren’t up to the challenge, well… I wouldn’t have any business writing a pet blog, would I?
But the thing is, the reason this little boy and so many other small dogs are like this is not that they’re just born to be a-holes. What I have is a stubborn, clever, loving dog who has been failed by his humans. He’s undersocialized, underexercised, and undertrained. And that’s the humans’ fault, not his. He’s just one example of the results of some very, very common misconceptions about small dogs.
Small dogs are not just extra-fun stuffed animals.
This is something I encounter a lot. Somebody wants the rewards of dog ownership: someone who is always happy to see them, a warm body curled up next to them, a companion for their housebound nana, someone to alert them when someone is at the door, or just to get their kids to get off their back and quit begging for a dog. But taking care of a dog properly is a lot of work and requires a big time investment and they’re not interested in all that. So they think- maybe they’ll get a dog, but just a LITTLE dog.
And often, things go more-or-less okay for the family. Problems that, in bigger dogs, are usually corrected because they’re bigger problems, go unacknowledged. So what if he bites? He’s too little to seriously injure people. And it’s so cute how he thinks he’s so big and tough! It would be nice if she didn’t pee on the floor, but oh well- it’s just little puddles and poops. Why train him to walk nicely on a leash when you can just carry him and he’s not strong enough to pull you down anyway? What’s the point of working on intentional socializing? She’s Grandma’s dog and Grandma never goes anywhere.
Small dogs have needs, just like any other dog.
Just as you can save a lot on vet care by just not going to the vet and ignoring your pet’s healthcare needs, taking care of a little dog CAN be a whole lot easier than taking care of a bigger dog… if you don’t take their needs into account.
Sure, it may not be as inconvenient for you if your dog acts up if they’re small. But it still means they have needs that are not being met. Your dog is a complete individual with their own inner life and mental and emotional needs, not an accessory that sometimes misbehaves. While “I don’t want him to eat my couch” is one good reason, say, to make sure your dog gets regular exercise, it’s not the only one.
My dog bites defensively. And because he’s only ten pounds and he doesn’t bite hard enough to break the skin, it’s a problem, but not the kind of major hazard it would be if he were a Great Pyrenees. But even if everyone thought the biting was cute and he could do literally no damage, I would still not be okay with brushing off the fact that he’s anxious and afraid of people. I love him and don’t want him to have to feel that way and it’s my job as his person to help him build his confidence so that he spends more time feeling happy and comfortable and doesn’t feel the need to bite.
Yes, to some degree, they may just be born that way.
Bad breeding is a problem with dogs of all shapes and sizes. But small dogs- especially “teacup” dogs are often bred for the wrong reasons. Small dogs are moneymakers, which makes them attractive to irresponsible breeders. And for puppy mills, it’s easier to house 90 yorkies and chihuahuas in stacked cages than it is to do the same with collies or great Danes.
The other problem is, temperament and health are often not top priority when it comes to small breed puppies. It’s all about the looks and the size- that’s what sells.
100 dogs raised in identical circumstances would not grow up to have identical personalities. Dogs are individuals, have many personalities (5 main ones to be exact), and some are more predisposed to being anxious, driven, lazy, smart, nippy, energetic, laid-back, responsive, aloof, cuddly, or… whatever! Genetics can have a part to play in some of that, so poor breeding can emphasize some of those undesirable traits.
It doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to help it. Throwing up your hands and going, “welp, he’s just neurotic. I got a defective one,” does no good for you or your dog. It just means you have some challenges to rise to- challenges you agreed to when you decided to get a dog.
Small dogs are REAL DOGS.
So how do you avoid those small-dog pitfalls? Treat your small dog like… a dog! They may be called “toy breeds,” but they’re not toys. Attend obedience classes if you’re not sure how to train them. Take them for walks. Keep them fit. Expose them to a variety of settings, smells, noises, and experiences. Treat them with respect and expect other people (including children) to do the same. Just as it wouldn’t be okay for a massive toddler to snatch your lab mix off the ground and dangle and squeeze them, it’s not cool to let a regular-sized one do it with your Pomeranian. You are your dog’s advocate and it’s important to keep their needs in mind at all times.
Fortunately, you’ve got someone to help you with all that right at your fingertips! Big or small, we’ll walk them all- if you need a hand meeting your little guy’s exercise needs or giving him the chance to explore the neighborhood, we’ve got your back! Check out our services page for more information.
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.