Small Dog (Owner) Syndrome

I can't say for sure how many times I've heard self-described dog lovers voice their disdain for small dogs. "They're yippy", "they bite", " they're impossible to house train", or perhaps the most damning, "they're like cats".
 I'm not entirely sure how we got to this point. I mean, to a certain extent, dogs are dogs, right?
 Many smaller breeds were initially bred and developed as hunters of small game and rodents. Others were bred for companionship, but all the same, they are all dogs.
 My completely non-scientific and baseless assumption is that when people bring a dog into their home that is or will be on the larger side they take more seriously the need to train certain behaviors. With the smaller breeds, it seems that the assumption is that since the potential mayhem they can inflict is mitigated by their diminutive size, the need for training is too.
 Pee pads around the house, flexi leads for the walk, and a general no rules atmosphere are things that I commonly see. With that comes dogs who aren't house trained, can't properly walk on leash, are intolerant of other dogs, and usually coddled into constant anxiety. Because smaller breeds are so easy to just pick up and remove from any situation this becomes the default for just about any issue that arises. So, instead of receiving lessons about how to exist in and interact with the world around them they instead get all of their worst behaviors reinforced by generally well-intentioned but misguided owners.
 We ask all of our dogs to live with us in a world that is incompatible with many of their instincts, and as their friends, family, and caretakers it is our responsibility to give them the skills to do that well.
 A 10lb Bichon Friese is every bit as much a dog as a 100lb Bullmastiff. Take them as seriously, and train them as dutifully and you'll be amazed at who they can be.

Dogs, not dogma

Recently, while out running some errands, my pack of three pups and I stopped to check out a dog park that we had never explored before. Normally I avoid dog parks, since when they're busy they generally serve as a good place for dogs to find injury and illness. I reasoned that since it was mid-morning on a Monday the park should be pretty quiet, which it was.
While the pups ran and sniffed and played I started talking to an older man who had had the same idea when he brought his seven year old lab to the park. As usual, it didn't take long before I told him what I do for a living, at which point he explained what he's been working on with his dog.
Whereas most dogs learn the "heel" command to walk right next to their owners, this man had been working on training his pup to walk about 5 or 6 feet ahead of him due to a leg injury that makes having his dog walk beside to him painful and difficult. This deviation from the normal standard served to reinforce something I'm always trying to keep in mind, that while we trainers may feel like there are certain performative standards that all dogs should meet, those standards are not necessarily always needed or even welcome from our clients.
There are many different kinds of dog trainers out there, with vast differences in method and focus. There are those who eschew certain types of equipment as being too harsh, those who look down on the use of treats as being too soft, and those who can't look past whatever ideology they've adopted to find what works best for the clients and dogs in their care.
I started my business with the intention of being an intermediary between people who don't know what to do and a dog being given up to a shelter. Today served as a good reminder that my job is to listen first to the needs of my clients, then to draw from whatever method works to find the best way to ensure the health, safety, and happiness of the dogs I train and the people who love them.


Training and Playing.

 One of my first instructions for owner practice when just starting training is to keep it short and sweet, a few times a day, with ample rest periods between practice sessions. After a few weeks though, I start encouraging the clients to stretch the practice out, mix up the commands, and most importantly, make it fun for your dog.
 That's the part I want to talk about, how do you make practicing commands fun? If the timing of your rewards/praise is on point it should already be pretty fun. But, we can always do some things to make training time indistinguishable from play time.
 Use your time playing fetch to practice recall, retrieval, and drop commands. Use tug to practice out and leave it commands. The point is to use the distraction of wanting to play to bolster the strength of your dog's obedience.
 A couple of years ago I created a new command for my boxer, Otis. The command is called "clean up" and consists of him collecting his toys one by one and bringing them back to drop them in his toy box. This one little game encompassed several skills at once and gave Otis tons of fun to practice.
 Make up some training games of your own and watch how much fun your dog can have while working.