How to Train Your Small Dog

It can be a little challenging to train a smaller dog, but it's doable

Middle aged man getting licked by a Chihuahua at an outdoor party
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Training is just as important for small breed dogs as it is for larger ones. Dog owners don't always put as much time and energy into training their small breed dogs, often writing off any bad behavior as inevitable.

Unfortunately, a lack of training actually can lead to a number of behavior problems, including aggression and incessant barking. It can also be dangerous for your small dog; if it doesn't learn to come when called, for instance, it could get lost or hurt. And no matter its size, a well-trained dog is a much more pleasant companion than one with bad manners.

Try the Nothing in Life Is Free Philosophy

Their size means many small dogs are afforded privileges that larger dogs are not. For instance, small dogs are more likely to be allowed to sleep in your bed and sit on your furniture.

While this is fine as long as it is acceptable to you, it can lead to pushy dogs who think owners are there to cater to their every whim. In other words, allowing your dog to do as it pleases all the time can lead to sharing your home with a tiny tyrant.

To let your small dog know you are in charge, get it started on a Nothing in Life is Free program. This type of program, which many dog trainers follow, is designed to teach your dog that it has to work for things.

Give your dog a command which it must obey before it gets access to anything it enjoys. For example, ask your dog to sit before it gets fed and to get down before being allowed up on furniture. Your small dog will quickly learn that pushy behavior gets it nowhere.

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Train on Your Dog's Level

Training a small dog can be hard on your back and scary for your dog. Especially in the early stages of training basic obedience commands, it can intimidating for your small dog if you are towering over it.

To put the dog at ease (and to save your back), start at the same physical level as your dog. You can do this by getting down on the ground with your small dog or bringing it up to your level by putting it on a table or step.

Once the dog is comfortable with training and learning new commands, you can begin to work on training while you are standing and it's on the ground.

Keep It Positive

Positive reinforcement training is a great way to train small dogs. Techniques like clicker training and other reward-based training can be very effective.

On the other hand, since they are so small, punishment-based training can be harmful and frightening. It is too easy to accidentally hurt a small dog by giving it a leash correction. And being so much smaller than you is intimidating enough without adding punishment to the mix.

Keep things positive and upbeat, offering frequent praise and treats to reinforce your approval, and your small dog is sure to learn to love training sessions.

Problems and Proofing Small Dog Behavior

Dog trainers often hear complaints from the owners of small dogs when it comes to housetraining. Owners can find that the recommended techniques for housebreaking, such as crate training, just don't work for their small dogs. It's not true. The same techniques that work on large breed dogs will work on your small breed dog, with one notable exception.

Small dogs often have smaller bladders than larger dogs. This means that they aren't physically able to hold it for as many hours as a larger dog. Your small breed dog may simply need a few extra trips outside each day. Owners whose schedule don't allow them to walk their small dogs every three to four hours may need to hire a dog walker or choose to teach their dog to use housebreaking pads or a litter box indoors.

Sports, Advanced Obedience, and More

Don't underestimate your small dog's ability to learn new behaviors and to excel in a wide variety of activities. Small dogs can do well at dog sports, such as agility and Earthdog, as well as advanced obedience.

If these competitions don't appeal to you, you may still want to consider training your dog for AKC Canine Good Citizen certification. With proper training and socialization, small dogs make wonderful companions who are welcomed wherever you go.

Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT