Post 4.11 - A Matter of Size

No, this post about dogs. Sex is discussed on Wednesdays.

We have three dogs. Two of the dogs weigh more than 50 pounds, but our third dog, the youngest at age 10, is a 15-pound terrier mix named Buddy. We adopted Buddy at age 7, and he was specifically selected by my mother because he was a senior and because of his size, which she believed would make him manageable.

But Buddy has problems.

As a small dog, Buddy was raised to believe that everything he did was cute - jumping, barking, creatively tearing things apart, begging for food, and he has no idea how to walk on a leash without pulling, since he could never overwhelm a human. By contrast, our larger dogs have been specifically trained not to jump, not to get into things, how to walk on a leash, etc., because they are large enough that without training, we'd have difficulty. But the problem that many dog owners do not understand is that little dogs are simply big dogs in small packages.

When Buddy behaves himself, he's an angel and very sweet, but he really doesn't understand when he is doing something wrong or why it is wrong. We have been able to reverse some behaviors, like jumping or begging for food. Unfortunately, he sees his behavior as a route to what he ultimately wants rather than pleasing us or for what we want. Buddy is very reward driven, primarily by food, while our other dogs, both shepherds, are driven by pleasing us as their masters or "alphas".

And I have to admit, it's enormously frustrating. Buddy's bad behavior doesn't rub off on the larger dogs, but he does agitate them with his antics. It isn't his fault. His foster family was atrocious, encouraging all kinds of bad behavior, basically letting the dogs run the house.

But neither Buddy's previous owner nor his foster family are the only ones who do this.

My godmother, until recently, had three toy poodles. The oldest passed away, so she now has two. The dogs have the run of the house, expect to be carried, and lack any real discipline. There are even cubby-hole style openings to allow the dogs to go into whatever room they wish, even if the human door is closed. The dogs are barely even housebroken. They are allowed to jump, beg for food, and as such, have a certain amount of anxiety from being allowed to be so dominant. I had to dog-sit for them at one point, and these behaviors are simply not tolerated in my house -- but these poodles were able to learn within hours what I expected and what was acceptable. So it can be done.

The basic rule of thumb is don't let a small dog do anything you wouldn't let a big dog do. It's really that simple. Don't want your St. Bernard to jump on you? How about letting him walk around on the kitchen counters? Maybe let him bark at your guests when he wants a piece of their food? Do you really need to teach him to walk on a leash? How about carrying him because the ground is wet?

If you picture a St. Bernard, these situations are clearly ludicrous. But when you do this with little dogs, it's just as stupid, if not also annoying. Ironically, I've talked about traveling with pets before, and there is this assumption that smaller dogs will be better behaved or better controlled, so they are more easily accepted at hotels -- yet the opposite is usually true.

And it isn't mistreating a dog to treat it like a dog. Don't get me wrong -- I get down on the floor and play with them and talk baby-talk to them and all that, but they are still dogs. I don't dress them up or carry them around or treat them like people. Yes, small dogs are adorable, and I love them, too -- when they are well-behaved.

A well-behaved, friendly, and well-adjusted dog is welcome most anywhere and in most situations, even by people who aren't particularly fond of animals. Your little dog may be nice to look at, but it reflects badly on all dog owners if you don't take the time to train them properly.

Have a question or a suggestion for a future topic? E-mail me at facetsblog@gmail.com.

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