Small Dog Syndrome
One of the most important things we aim to instil in our clients is an understanding of how human behaviour can interfere with our dogs’ learning, and one of the most common things we see is small breeds being picked up and carried around. There are a few main issues with this behaviour:
- If dogs are seeing the world from a height, they’re not having true interactions with others. It can be for this reason that little dogs can be very reactive where other dogs are concerned; because they’ve always met other dogs from the safety of their owner’s arms. Whisking a dog away also suppresses the flight or fight instinct. Dogs are not given the opportunity to fight their own battles.
- Dogs, whatever their size, can fend for themselves on all four paws, and must learn how to do so in order to develop into stable, balanced, sociable animals.
- Picking a dog up elevates its height
It is the last point that’s perhaps one of the most important and is one that can be responsible for causing a whole wealth of problems. When communicating with each other, dogs perform many behaviours in order to gain height, for the benefit of asserting their authority, and generally appearing bigger than other dogs. Dogs will cock their leg to mark higher up a tree or a post than the previous dog that marked there and they may even lift both back legs to wee in order to elevate the mark even more. A dog that wants to assert its authority over another and demonstrate its high status will cock its leg in front of others and hold its tail up high and possibly curled over. Other behaviours include jumping onto the sofa and the bed and even jumping up at people. Whilst a dog may initially curl up on the sofa to seek comfort, allowing this behaviour may cause the dog to assume that it’s allowed to put itself in a position of height, which may, in turn, elevate its perceived status of itself. The dog is allowed to have what he wants when he wants it. Similarly, by picking a dog up, we are adding that height artificially. A dog who sees the world from a superficially high vantage point is a dog that may also start to perceive itself to have an elevated status. This can then go on to cause problems with how a dog responds to other dogs. The term ‘Small Dog Syndrome’ suggests that the dog believes its far bigger than it actually is, therefore is willing to take on those around it.
Not only does picking dogs up elevate their status, but it can also deny them opportunities to grow in courage and independence. Dogs learn quickly and well through association. However they behave, we as their owners have two options. We like the behaviour, therefore we reinforce it, perhaps by giving the dog a treat, or we disapprove of the behaviour, in which case we might choose to verbally reprimand. One of the most common mistakes we see being made, and this applies to all breeds and sizes of dog, is how their owners react to negative situations. A hesitant, anxious or nervous dog is so often met with strokes and hugs and encouragement from the owner. This is a very human, and therefore a very natural response to seeing our pets upset. But this is where the line becomes blurred. Although we run the risk of reinforcing fear by comforting a frightened five-year-old child, they do have the capacity to understand comfort and encouragement from a parent, but a dog does not. To a dog, hugs and strokes are seen as a reward, and therefore a reinforcement of behaviour.
To a dog, hugs and strokes are seen as a reward, and therefore a reinforcement of behaviour. To a dog, it hides behind a chair and gets a fuss for it, so this must be something its owner approves of, and thus the behaviour is more likely to happen again. Pandering to a dog’s fear may actually only exacerbate a lack of confidence, thus making the dog more reliant on their owner and less independent as a result.
What people tend to forget, is that a small dog is loaded with just as many drives and instincts than a much bigger breed. When we start to behave like this, we start to try and humanise our pets. We love our dogs, but they’re not human babies. A Yorkshire terrier may be small and cute, but it and all other small breeds are loaded with just as many instincts and drives like a German Shepherd or a Great Dane, (and I’d like to see anyone attempt to pick up the latter)!
The bottom line is, little dogs do not need to be picked up and carried around. They do not need to see the world from the safety of their owner’s arms, they need to see the world from the ground, just as bigger breeds do. A dog with coping mechanisms that is allowed to handle its interactions with the interference from its owner will be a happier, more stable dog
Teaching an “old” dog new tricks
I have been taking my Labrador Willow to Nij and Jo’s training classes since she was a puppy, and when she passed 2 years old and was fairly well behaved I considered her ‘trained’. I kept going to the classes for enjoyment and to meet all the lovely people there, but I wasn’t really expecting her to advance further. So it was a surprise when around her third birthday there was a sense of things clicking into place for her and her performance suddenly improved.
Willow has grown up alongside my two grandchildren, and a long-running battle has been trying to teach her that she is not allowed to eat children’s food, even when it is waved under her nose or dropped at her feet. This met with limited success. Well, she is a Labrador! However, at recent classes, we have done an exercise involving two treats in which the dog is not allowed the treat they first notice but gets the other one. I discovered to my delight and astonishment that Willow, while still taking up position under the table at meal times, has stopped diving on any bits of food that might drop to the floor. I can now remove it, and give her a dog treat as a reward.
I’m daring to hope that in time I will be able to take her to Brocks Hill after a sunny weekend without losing her to the call of the overflowing bins!
- Read what clients have to say about Puppy PartiesMembers who have attended these regularly report the following problems:
“My dog runs off to see other dogs”
“My dog doesn’t come back”
“My dog snaps at other dogs when approached”
“I was informed by a veterinary nurse just the other day that if a pup gets too boisterous she asks the owners to place their dogs on chairs. She then went onto say you have to be careful not to reinforce behaviour” – Surely putting a puppy on a chair is reinforcing the behaviour. JAN SPACIC
“It seems regular puppy party visits can create wrong expectations in the participants (dogs and owners) – instilling the idea that every dog wants to play, which can create very rowdy, boisterous adults with very little self-control and an owner who expects another dog to be as ‘friendly’ as their own dog is.
This is what I have seen and the reason why I would not attend puppy parties – quite often excitement is far too high during these sessions, the emphasis is on playing with the other pups rather than working and fun with the owners, they only experiencing their own age group, puppies are not allowed to practise their skills, conflicts are disrupted, only play is allowed, sometimes this ‘play’ isn’t even play.
These are the things I can think of now, but there is more.
I don’t want my puppy to be highly excited, I would rather they got the chance to deal with all age groups, not just youngsters and it is really important to me that they practise their communication skills, part of that are conflicts. Somebody who hasn’t experienced these, will not know how to deal with/ or avoid them.” – BEVERLEY APPLETON
“I only do the one-off vet’s puppy party as I am lucky enough to have a great agility club and breeder that allows my pups to have social time with a large pack of dogs in a safe and controlled manner. My worries were with the vet’s behaviourist who didn’t recognise or advise on a very fearful GSD with first-time dog owners, advising on early spay or castration, and the chop their bits off solves all problems” – ELAINE JONES
Please send us our views on your experience at Puppy Parties
Due to advances in research, it is now widely recognised that routine boosters for Parvovirus and Distemper should be given every three years after the first annual booster. It is worthwhile discussing the merits with your vet whilst also checking the drug data fact sheet online. Details of the vaccine used will be on a label given to you on completion of the first vaccinations on a card. Regarding Leptospirosis, the recommended period for vaccinating is annually, but again you should discuss this with your vet and ascertain how many cases they experience each year. It is also worth discussing obtaining a prescription from your vet and related charges so medicines can be obtained cheaper online from reputable sources.
More to follow about Titre Testing – watch this space