It didn’t take me long to realize that small dogs, 21 pounds or less, were different. My littleYorkshire Terrier brought that lesson home to me right away.  He fit into my hands when I first met him and snuggled into my neck. So tiny that on a cool day, he walked out of his father’s sweater. 

While training a small dog it is important to understand that their needs are much different than that of a bigger dog. Photo by Kevin

Small dogs are so small as puppies that the world is huge to them — and the world stays huge. In order to get an idea of what my dog’s life was like, when I brought him home I didn’t just hold him, I got down on the floor to experience life from his vantage point. It not only made it more fun for him to play with me and for me to train him, but it also gave me a great education.
When someone spoke to me while I was on the floor, I would have to look up and up and up, craning my neck to see the person. That hurt! Asking a tiny dog to give you eye contact is very different from asking a bigger dog to do that. It’s probably not very comfortable for them, either. It seems rather cruel once you’ve experienced life from the level of a small dog.

Little dogs lose body heat quickly, so they need a coat, sweater, or tee shirt depending on the weather. This little dog enjoys a more sophisticated look. Photo by Pets Adviser

Little dogs have little bladders, so expecting them to “hold it” as long as a larger puppy would just isn’t fair. Nor is it fair to think that the little ones will housetrain as quickly as a larger puppy. They develop at different rates. It takes, on average, a full year before a small dog puppy is fully, reliably housetrained. And where you take them to eliminate makes a big difference. If there’s a choice, they’d rather do it in a more secluded area, especially the girls. They need to squat to eliminate, and if they smell another dog in the same area they’re not going to want to “go” there because squatting makes them vulnerable.
It’s no secret that the little ones have smaller body area and lose their body heat faster. This means that they need a coat, sweater, raincoat, and T-shirt depending upon the weather.  
It’s important to remember that little dogs really are dogs and need to be trained, but remember to use the gentlest methods possible, and use a harness instead of a collar. A collar pulls on the trachea, and most little dogs have a collapsing trachea or are predisposed to the condition. Pulling on the trachea can injure that area of any dog of any size, but it’s especially risky with a little one.

Harnesses are recommended for little dogs as they are better for their safety. Photo by Joshua Kehn

These little companions pack a lot of love and fun into a small body. Just remember that like every dog, they need exercise for their bodies and their minds. Find a safe dog sport like canine musical freestyle, Treibbal or Rally-O to do with your little friend.
These little ones live longer, so remember that your commitment is for the life of the dog, and it can be anywhere from 12 to 20 years. But as every dog lover knows, even “forever” wouldn’t be long enough. 
Darlene Arden is a certified animal behavior consultant, an award-winning author, and a popular speaker who has written columns and articles for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Find her on the web at

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