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Jan 16, 2003, 4:17 AM

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The dogs we have put in this category may be small, but they have big personalities. They tend to be scaled down versions of bigger breeds, so retain many characteristics of that breed type, and it's difficult to generalise about their characters, except to say that they are all dog, and love being taken for walks by their companions. Small dogs do need particular care with their socialization. They need to learn how to get on with other dogs, large and small, but it's easier if they are socialized first with puppies of smaller breeds and well-behaved larger dogs, since large breed pups can be a little too rough and boisterous with them. Many small breed dogs are, however, very good with other dogs - Cavalier King Charles are good flirts, and rarely trigger aggression. Dachshunds and Yorkies tend to be fearless, able to put bigger breeds in their place if needed. These breeds also need some protection from small children, who may try to pick them up and carry them clumsily, and otherwise take liberties with them that they would not take with bigger dogs. Well-trained small dogs are usually very good companions for older children, however, because they can easily be walked by a child. They are also good companions for older people who may not have the mobility and muscle power they once had. Some small breeds, like dachshunds, can still demand a lot of skill in training, since a lot of willpower can be packed into a small body!

Good manners are best taught from puppyhood, because it's easier, but adult rescue dogs can still learn fast. The best time to teach good manners to a rescue dog is as soon as the dog arrives. That is when the dog is watching you to learn what the rules are. It's tempting to spoil the dog a bit, because you feel sorry for him or her. But it's kinder in the long run to let the dog know gently and firmly what you consider to be appropriate behaviour. Rescue centres usually have their own behaviourists and provide ongoing help for adopters.

The smaller breeds are much less likely to inflict life-threatening bites, or pull their handlers over than are bigger dogs, but this sometimes means that owners are a little lax about training. It's well worth taking small dogs to training classes. A well-trained small dog is a real treat to be with, but small dogs are often perceived as yappy, nippy and unstable. Much of the problem is that they tend to get less training than the bigger breeds, and are allowed to take more liberties when they are pups. Bite inhibition is important for all dogs. Small dogs may not worry their owners when they nip, but they can worry the postman, and small children. Yappy little dogs that rush up to people are much more at risk from being kicked than bigger dogs, and a kick can kill them, so training is very important for their own protection. Little dogs can also be yappier and nervier if they don't get enough exercise. Exercise helps all dogs to behave well, rather than rushing round the room making a lot of noise. You may not be mobile enough to take your dog out every day, or you may be too busy. However, one advantage of a small dog is that it's much easier to find someone to walk the dog for you. Small dogs can also be kept fit and happy by playing games like retrieve in your garden. You can train the dog so that he does all the running, and you just sit and throw the ball. Not all dogs are natural retrievers, but most can learn to play ball, especially if they are taught when they are young. Some small breeds, like King Charles Cavaliers, make excellent agility dogs, with the jumps lowered for them. These breeds are especially suited to active children who understand dogs enough to be gentle with them.

Some small dogs can attach themselves firmly to one person in the household, and may be rude to other people. This is partly a training issue. It may also be that some men feel reluctant to take out small fluffy dogs, yet walks are very good for bonding, so the dogs tend to bond more with the women of the household. One solution is to give the fluffball a butch name like Fang, which is only used when dog and man are out on walks together, preferably without the lady owner. Once little Fang realises that boyfriend or husband is his only ally in the big wide world, he is more likely to see him as a friend in the home, and less likely to sit on his lady owner's lap and growl at her partner's approach.

Common health problems include knee trouble, and bad teeth. The dental problems common to small breeds probably arise because small companion dogs often spend a lot of time at home with doting owners, and are very good at begging for food. Whether or not you let your little dog beg is up to you, but...they are just as happy eating savoury foods as they are sweet food, and sugary foods will tend to rot their teeth! You can use very small pieces of kibble as training treats for some small dogs, though others, especially Yorkies, may need very special treats to interest them. You need to feed commercial treats sparingly, because they can be very fatty, and can sometimes upset small dogs' digestion. Always give tiny titbits so the dog doesn't get too fat, another common problem with small breeds as they age. Many of the breeds with short legs and relatively long backs are prone to back trouble, so are not suitable for households where small children could pick them up roughly and injure their backs.

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