Toy breeds are so called because all of the dogs within this group are small. Many people believe that toy breeds suffer from ‘small dog syndrome’ as they are often seen barking and behaving aggressively towards people and dogs. I believe that rather than a given trait it is primarily a result of poor socialisation and training. Toy breeds require specific handling to protect against unwanted behaviours, your temperament, as a toy dog owner, greatly influences your dogs’ reactions.
Do not be fooled by their size, toy dogs do require daily exercise in the way of a walk. Walking your dog is just as much about physical exercise as it is about mental stimulation. A toy dog still has a brain and muscles, and loves using them. Your walks with your toy dog can be a combination of on lead and off lead walks throughout the week. Teaching your toy dog to ‘come’ when called will be a vital skill, not only for when you have your dog off lead at the park but toy dogs can have a habit of escaping out of the house or yard. A reliable recall will keep your toy dog safe.
Much of your toy dogs emotional well being will be dependent on your ability to build their confidence. Toy dogs often suffer from a lack of confidence that can result in barking, growling, jumping and biting. Training and appropriate socialisation will help give your dog confidence to face the world without the need to exhibit unwanted behaviours.
Training with the use of food and/or toys will help build your toy dogs’ confidence. Shaping is a great way to train a toy dog. In order to ‘win’ the reward your dog has to come out of their shell and try new behaviours, this requires confidence. The difficulty in training toy breeds is often they are not terribly food motivated, they can be quite picky eaters. Combat this by feeding all of their food through training, if your toy dog is grazing from their food bowl all day they will not be driven to work for food. Place their daily intake of food in a bowl on your bench, and take from this bowl whenever you want to do some training, and when you are going for a walk. Toy breeds have small stomachs, and will become full quickly so feeding this way allows them to ‘graze’ but gives you the opportunity to train them.
Appropriate socialisation will also help build your toy dogs confidence around people and other dogs. Special care must be taken when socialising your toy dog with other dogs. Toy dogs can become overwhelmed very easily, particularly around big dogs. When you visit the off lead dog park have a good look around at the kinds of dogs that are there. The best dogs to have your toy dog around are older calmer dogs. Toy dogs often do best playing with other toy dogs or gentle, quiet, bigger dogs. These dogs will build your toy dogs confidence around larger dogs.
Often toy dog owners have a fear around socialising their dog with other dogs, and I can understand that having such a small dog would contribute to a feeling of vulnerability. If you remain vigilant and give your dog lots and lots of positive experiences with other dogs, if the worst happens, and your dog gets a fright from another dog they will recover because they have had many other good experiences to draw from. Closely monitoring dog to dog interactions for the first few years of your toy dogs life is a vaccination against insecurity.
Building your toy dogs confidence around strangers will also go along way to averting unwanted behaviours. Have your toy dog meet all manner of people in a positive way. People with hats, beards, sunglasses, men women and children, people with walking canes and wheelchairs are all foreign things to a dog.
Educate people about the way your dog likes to be approached. Toy dogs often hate being patted on the head (most dogs hate it actually), imagine being a tiny dog and having a huge person approach you with their hand coming over your head, scary. It is best to have people crouch down and allow your dog to approach, then a nice chest or belly rub is very non-threatening. Become familiar with canine body language to understand how your dog may be feeling so you can respond appropriately.
Toy dogs often bark. They bark at people, dogs, objects, passers by, and other animals. Appropriate socialisation will help decrease the need to bark, so too will teaching your toy dog to ‘quiet’ on cue. When your toy dog is barking offer a treat, as soon as they sniff the treat say ‘quiet’, and reward them. Eventually you can say the word ‘quiet’ to make them stop barking. Once this has been learned it is important that you do not reward them every time, just every so often. Giving your toy dog proper stimulation will also limit the noise they make.
You should also teach your toy dog to sit and focus on you when people who are likely to elicit a barking response pass you on a walk. If you reward your dog often enough for this they will see someone approach and look at you rather than barking being their first response.
If passers by your home are an issue limit your dogs access to hearing and seeing these passers by. Keep your toy dog inside with a radio playing and/or restrict their vision to outside. You can provide them with better stimulation by stuffing their food in a hollow dog toy, walking them regularly, and enriching their environment.
Toy dogs do not have to suffer ‘small dog syndrome’, often our insecurities lead to their unwanted behaviours. Be mindful of creating many positive interactions for your toy dog and you will find their confidence will grow, as will yours.