Sunday, January 11, 2015

Little Dogs, Big Problems

When I worked in a small animal hospital, mad little dogs were likened to Piranha. Interestingly, small dog breeds are under-represented in the statistics for biting. It's a blessing the damage they cause is typically limited, but that’s not for lack of trying. Why are these micro dogs so intent on chomping? It’s because owners don’t listen to their pets’ pleas for respect.

As a tiny dog, people disregard your boundaries. I recently saw a Chihuahua who bit everyone in the household. Why you might ask? Because no one paid attention when he barked or growled.  He fell victim to kisses when he wasn't in the mood, carrying him when he'd rather of walk, and coddling when he was more than capable of going it on his own. Personally I’d find it frustrating too! Eventually he found the solution: I’ll bite and you’ll leave me alone – Hurray! It worked flawlessly, so biting became a daily default occurrence for all things he didn't like.  Needless to say, the owners became VERY concerned that the pet had turned into a meandering chainsaw and decided to seek help. Our first conversation was a lengthy explanation of how dogs are allowed to have a choice. The only time you HAVE TO pick your dog up is when there's a distinct danger to having the pet on the floor. Otherwise, the dog should have a choice to be picked up or not.

Affection isn't something all dogs want. It’s like being a kid, victimized by big sloppy smooches from distant Aunt Mable during a family reunion. You’re expected to let it happen out of civility, but inside you’re retching with aversion. Even if many dogs don’t dig this interaction, we still kiss our pet on the head, pet them whenever we want or hug them. All these actions are intimidating in dog terms, though humans are clueless to stiffening, the look away or lip licking while they’re receiving ”lovin’s”. Little dogs fall victim of this more often since strangers can’t be convinced not touch them. To this, I offer them my sympathies. Owners of large breeds often have people cross the street to avoid them. Conversely, small dogs have a gravitational pull which sucks in kids and adults alike. Even when warned, strangers (often self-proclaimed “dog people”) persist in attempts at approaching and then are strangely offended when they feel teeth on their appendages. How many of you would feel great about someone on the street walking over and suddenly kissing you on the cheek? I mean, really!

How do we avoid making small dogs big problems? The ideal would be to treat them like a 200 pound dog. Let them explore the world on their own four legs. You should keep in mind that a small dog isn't too dissimilar to a prey item with other animals, but as much as possible – keep them on the ground. Listen to them. Watch body language! At the very least, if your dog growls, he’s telling you he's uncomfortable. Don’t get mad - STOP! Analyze the situation to determine why the growling occurred and find a way to make it positive for both of you. Want to pick your pet up? Always let them know your intention (Let’s go up!) and if they stiffen, struggle or walk away –STOP. Offer treats or toys at the same time you pick your pet up. The positive emotional response will create a dog who LOVES to be moved about. Lastly, be your pet’s guardian. If a stranger wants to pet your dog, and either of you are concerned, offer for them to toss a treat instead! It’s a much better option and will create a favorable response to people approaching in general. Now, if my family only thought of doing that during visits with Aunt Mable…

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