Many of us (ourselves included) have considered acquiring a smaller breed of dog as we move into our senior years. Little dogs are easier to travel with, easier to walk, and in many ways easier to manage as our own physical capabilities change. But there are some things you should know about having a smaller dog that you might not have considered. In the next few articles we’ll talk about some important issues surrounding small dog ownership.
First is breed selection. There is more to consider than just size, coat, and grooming requirements. As you probably already know, different breeds have different temperament traits and predispositions. Small dogs are in several different breed groupings so their behavioral characteristics can be quite different. Knowing what a breed was bred to do can give you a heads-up about what to expect about your little dog’s behavior.
The Terriers (Yorkshire Terriers and Miniature Schnauzers), spaniels (Cocker Spaniel), hounds (Dachshunds), were all bred to chase, stalk or hunt small game. These breeds may become particularly excited around small critters including birds, cats, or rabbits.
Terriers in general have a hard time getting along with other dogs. So even little terriers may bark and lunge at much larger dogs or be grumpy with other family dogs.
The Havanese, Pekinese, and Pugs and others in the Toy Group were bred mainly as companions to people, and although they may require less exercise, actually need more attention, because they aren’t particularly good at amusing themselves.
Research from way back in the 1950s that compared the behavioral traits of 5 breeds found that the variation within a breed was great enough such that none of the breeds were completely distinct in their traits. In other words, some terriers can get along quite well with other dogs, while some toy breeds do not, despite what we might expect from general breed tendencies.
While it’s good to know about the origin and function of a breed so you can make the best choice for your family, breed generalizations are just that – generalizations. Not all members of the breed are going to behave according to the generalization. On the other hand though, small size doesn’t mean the personalities of all little dogs are all similar.
Behavior is also influenced by the experiences a dog has, so it’s important that little dogs, like all dogs, receive the kind of socialization and training that allows them to be behaviorally healthy and the best companions possible.
Before you choose a small dog, talk to breeders and owners, and spend some time visiting. Make a list of the behavioral traits you want in a dog such as the ability to get along with other dogs, and their exercise needs. By matching your knowledge of the breed with your requirements, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about the canine partner you’ll spend the next ten to fifteen years with.
Dr. Suzanne Hetts and her husband Dr. Dan Estep are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. They provide professional behavior education services online, and resources to prevent and resolve pet behavior problems to both pet pros and pet owners. Coral, their diva-dog Irish setter provides daily inspiration. www.AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com.