I have always wondered why many owners of small dogs don’t bother to train them. Not that all big dogs are well trained; most of them aren’t. It’s just that I rarely see small-dog owners disciplining their dogs even a little. In general, small dogs just get away with so much more than big dogs.

Reasons for this are simple. Big dogs create bigger, more noticeable problems. That’s why we hear about rottweiler attacks, not pug attacks. A dominant black lab that pulls its owner down the street is different than a dachshund acting the same way.

If a great dane jumps up at me, it could knock me over, scratch me or nip my face, even if the dog meant no harm. The great dane’s owner has to discipline her dog if she wants to avoid hurting an innocent visitor. A Pomeranian jumping at me is a little different. But the problem is, most of us actually encourage this behavior in small dogs. We think a small dog jumping on us is cute, even if the dog is barking or growling. Petting and talking to a dog that acts like this is only encouraging the behavior. After the dog learns it’s OK to growl at people, it might take it to the next level and bite. This is just one example of what we let our small dogs get away with and why it leads to larger problems.

When I worked at a boarding kennel and grooming shop, I had my fair share of dog bites (always my fault). I can remember being bit by two yellow labs. The others that bit me were small dogs such as bichons, toy poodles, cockapoos and Cocker spaniels. I don’t blame the dogs for biting me. They were acting out of fear, stress or frustration.

Certain breeds of small dogs can be territorial, dominant, high strung and full of pent up energy. With these breeds, it’s important not to allow the dog to show dominance by yapping at everyone, climbing all over the furniture and guests, pulling on a leash or growling. How many small dogs do you know that heel? I can think of one, a shih tzu in Ace’s obedience class. All other small dogs I know walk several feet ahead of their owners. If a dog is walking ahead and pulling, then she is walking her owner and thinks she is the leader.

The dogs aren’t to blame. Like big dogs, the little guys just don’t get enough exercise. A lack of exercise is the biggest reason behind dog behavioral problems. Even a small dog needs a long walk every day, but most don’t get walked at all. Little dogs need proper socialization, and they often don’t get that either. Little dogs are encouraged to be fearful, because an owner will scoop her dog up and cradle him, saying “it’s OK,” when there is no real reason to be afraid. If a chihuahua barks and growls at strange men and her owner holds him close, pets him and says “it’s OK” every time, the dog will be conditioned to fear men. It will only be a matter of time before the dog bites a man’s hand when he tries to pet him. Imagine what would happen if the dog feared children. It happens too often. A chihuahua might not cause as much damage as German shepherd that bites, but it could still require a child to get stitches.

It is a dog owner’s responsibility to train her dog, no matter what the breed. If more people educated themselves about dog behavior and training and actually followed through on training throughout the dog’s life, so many behavioral issues could be avoided. Unfortunately this is not the case, especially with small dogs that are more likely to be bought by a naive owner, looking for a cute accessory.

What are you doing to train your small dog?