I am presently fostering a little dog. Not being a little dog person, this has been a challenging assignment. The little guys always manage to grow on me, and this one is no exception. I would like him a lot better, however, if he had a few manners.
It is so easy to let little dogs get away with murder. They just want to sit on your lap or cuddle up next to you. It does not seem so important if they know how to sit, stay and down because they do not get in the way. I should do a study to determine if little dogs are born with this natural instinct to charm the socks off of everyone and convince them that they are already perfect and therefore need no training.
They need to be taught the basics however, just like the rest of their species. Every living creature needs to be taught some discipline. Wild animals teach their offspring and the whole extended family enforces the rules. Children without discipline tend to be unhappy, insecure and miserable to be around.
These little guys need to learn the rules. Otherwise they will quickly come up with their own and expect the people in their world to follow them. All dogs, no matter what size, need to learn the sit, stay, down and come. Teaching proper manners in the beginning is much easier than trying to change them. And one cannot overlook the need for thorough house training early on. Some little boy dogs can get pretty cocky and as they get older, will want to mark their territory. If all puppies are neutered at around 6 months, generally, these bad habits can generally be avoided.
Training needs to begin when the dog first comes into your home, no matter what his age. Very gently, let the dog know what is expected and insist that he follow the rules. Help him learn to be by himself for short periods of time and provide toys and chew bones to keep him entertained. But also spend time playing with him. Dogs will not always learn to play on their own. Chasing a ball or tug games are great exercise and help form strong bonds.
Insist on the sit, down, stay and come when called. Work on those every day. Have some simple, small treats on hand. Hot dog slices cooked in the microwave make delicious treats. Ask for the behavior and then treat. Do not expect any dog to sit and stay for long, but do expect him to sit when you tell him. When you call him to you, you want him to come at full speed and when he does, reward him well. A dog that will not come when called can find himself in danger and can be a real pain.
And even little dogs need to be crate trained. One that has spent most of his life on someone's lap, and then suddenly that lap is not there, that dog needs a safe place with his own cozy blankets and snuggling place to find comfort until the lap comes back. If he is crate trained, this cozy, comfortable place can go wherever he might have to go.
This little dog in my care does not much care for the crate (that is a significant understatement), and he cries nonstop when he is in it. Not only does his screeching drive me crazy, it drives my other dogs crazy. Megan hides in the bathroom with her paws covering her ears. It upsets her to hear the dog cry and more so, it upsets her that I yell at this little guy. Yelling, hitting the crate with the rolled newspaper and the spray water bottle do not faze him. When he is not pleased with what is happening to him, he screams. He has an interesting assortment of sounds. Sometimes he sounds like a newborn puppy, whimpering in a sorrowful wail. But most of the time, it is shrill. He does not stop long enough to breathe. And he does not seem to get hoarse or tired from screaming.
I must admit that he is getting better. He is even beginning to learn that the crate is a safe and secure place. He wants to be the one who decides when he goes into the crate, however. We are working on that. He is learning that he will not be let out of the crate unless he is quiet.
The value of crate training becomes clearer to me all the time. Many people do not like crates and see them as cruel and unnecessary. But so often, an emergency comes along and the dog must spend time away from home. With the crate, he can bring a little of the comfort of home, no matter where he has to go. And the fostering person can maintain a little sanity.
Little dogs are great companions. But both the dog and his human will be much happier with a little discipline and training.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.