Instructor: Denise Fenzi
In general, training is training and it simply does not matter if a dog is tiny or super sized. But in a world full of big feet, tall people, and large hands, there are some challenges specific to little dogs. Complicating matters, in a world full of large dogs, it's easy for the trainers to feel like their dog's unique needs are being ignored.
If you have a dog who is sensitive to space and pressure, who struggles to work at a distance, or who is intimidated by his fellow canines, this class is for you! We'll focus on making our pint-size partners more comfortable. While this class will teach you relatively few specific obedience or agility skills, it WILL provide a range of foundation skills, exercises, and modifications to allow you to progress more rapidly when you do start to introduce the specifics of your sport.
Join Denise Fenzi and her super star small dog Brito and learn how to make your small dog as confident as possible in this full sized world! Note that some of the video material is demonstrated with larger dogs.
Please Note: This class is also appropriate for larger dogs who are simply extra sensitive and need a confidence boost.
This class is being offered as a "self study" class.
FE260 Self Study
This "self-study" class purchase will add the class's lecture materials to your library.
There are no participation forums included with this purchase.Number of slots: unlimited
For answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.
Week 1: Playing Tug with a little dog
Selecting a toy
Figure eights and good play technique
Vibrate vs pull
Adding external pressure
Where to play
Safety from the environment
Week 2: Personal Play and the small dog
One finger push and turn
Sensitive dogs require sensitive play
Week 3: "What big feet you have!" Desensitization/games for space issues
Pocket hand - how and why
Leg targeting for front
Week 4: "Oh, that's too far away!"
Understanding the challenge of distance
Nose touch, foot target/platform and cone work
Using proofing to increase confidence
Week 5: Understanding the relationship between pressure and confidence
Lessening and increasing pressure incrementally to build confidence
Desensitizing to pressure - how and why
Desensitizing with food - incremental
Desensitizing with work - incremental
Stand for exam
Week 6: Catch up!
(No additional lecture topics)
The following is the actual first lecture from Week 1.
Tug for the little dog - (#1)
Because the topic of toy play is HUGE, I cannot go over all of the details of getting a dog to become engaged with a toy, especially since the process for playing with a small dog is mostly the same as playing with a larger dog. I'm going to recommend the "Building Relationship through Play" class for those who want more information on this topic. This section will only look at specific issues that affect small dogs and suggest possible modifications.
Selecting a toy
With a large dog, I look for a toy that is relatively short and stiff. This is the easiest type of toy to control the dog's movement while retaining handler comfort and safety. With a small dog, though, I'm not really worried about being injured by my dog; I'm more focused on finding a toy that is very easy to bite and grip by a dog with smaller teeth and less jaw pressure. That means I usually work with toys that are either fur, wool, or leather in long and whippy pieces. I avoid synthetic toys that are slippery like riot sticks because small dogs simply don't have the jaw pressure to hang on, and slipping off repeatedly is demoralizing!
When playing with a small dog, feel free to sit on a bed or on the floor! I know that it is hard for some people to get all the way down to the floor, so the bed is a great starting place. Over time, you can try playing with the dog on the floor while you stand, but be aware that this is a big jump for some dogs. It's ideal if you can go from the floor, to the bed, to the floor kneeling, to standing (usually with movement), to facing your dog.
If you play on the bed, make sure your dog cannot fall off the edge! I play with my back against the edge and the toy/dog in front of me, making figure eights.
Figure eights with the toy
In terms of movement, the easiest motion for the toy is a figure eight with your toy hand on the floor. That motion allows the toy to constantly change direction and keeps it in front of you, but also allows you to get the toy fairly far in front so the dog doesn't worry about being too close to your body. To avoid getting your hands bitten, keep the back of your wrist towards the dog and keep up the figure eight motion (like twirling a baton), with the dog on the outside of your arm. With this motion, the dog will be moved around by his whole body once he grabs the toy. The result should be less work for you and more for your dog! If you are doing this correctly, your arm will be moving in and out, first away from and then back towards your body in a figure eight pattern.
Here is Brito practicing figure eights on the bed:
Here is puppy Kindi, practicing figure eights on the floor:
Here is puppy Brito, chasing a toy and grabbing hold. Note the erratic and constant movement of the toy, even after he wins it! Do you see how there is no forward/backward movement? That allows him to feel successful because there are no winners or losers!
Here is Brito four months later. At this point, I can stand up straight when I play and I can pull him along once he has the toy in his mouth. If I had tried this earlier he would have let go and given up! Now he is more tenacious. Note that I am using a small ball on a string for this. I chose this ball because it's easy for him to hold in his mouth and I use the string so that I can play tug:
Vibrate rather than pull
With a dog who lacks jaw strength or confidence, try vibrating the toy rather than pulling it. This video shows this technique in my hand:
While the toy is still continuously moving, it is moving as much within the dog's mouth as being pulled away. Think of what would happen if your dog caught a mouse rather than a tiger; that is the feeling that you are trying to duplicate. What we want is for our dogs to close their mouth and prevent the mouse from jumping out. At that point, think about the direction that you are moving the toy; aim for figure eights with vibration!
Adding external pressure
Adding small challenges that your dog can overcome helps to build confidence. Here are some ideas to try with your young tugger who enjoys the game but isn't too sure yet:
To build confidence and toughness in a smaller or more fragile dog, try pushing your dog back by chest and letting the toy go with the dog. Watch this video carefully; I am pushing BOTH the toy and the dog back so there is no danger of accidentally pulling it out of his mouth:
Sometimes when I play this game, Brito lets go of the toy and goes for my hand. I don't mind because he is careful when he plays with my hands.
Use objects such as pillows, blankets, and your own body to add SMALL challenges to be overcome. In this video, you can see Brito is so focused on the toy that he doesn't really notice how close he is to my body - and Brito is generally very space sensitive. With practice and experience, he gets stronger and more determined all the time. He also was far from a determined player as a youngster, but with eight months of practice (at the time of this video) his improvement has been remarkable.
This is an exercise in counter conditioning. Counter condoning means that I pair something that might be seen as a negative (pressure of my body, objects, etc.) with a positive (playing with me or eating). I spend time on this with all dogs, not just little or less bold ones, but with less confident dogs it is a huge priority. This video shows a few ideas for working on counter conditioning. Build up slowly; don't make it hard all at once! This video shows using my body as an obstacle (over and under legs, gently squishing between my legs, using obstacles such as pillows and blankets, letting him run into objects on the ground). Remember, I built up to this slowly - here's video showing the overall picture:
How rough should you play?
THE DOG DECIDES how rough your play should be. When I first got Brito, he did not tolerate any rough play at all. He would let go and become discouraged, so we played with the toy behaving in an erratic fashion but without a lot of pressure from me. Now that he is older and more confident, he likes rougher play, but not always. I try hard to read him and adapt to what I think makes sense. If he's being intense, then I try to match that. If your dog is giving a 10 then go ahead and give a 10 back. But if your dog is giving a 5, try not to go above a 6 in intensity.
Where should you play?
My preference is always to play on the floor, because I have the most room to maneuver and don't have to worry about my dog falling off the edge. However, not all handlers can get down on the floor (well, most can probably get down; the question is if they can get back up). Two good options for toys are to play on a bed or on a couch.
The advantage to a bed is reduced pressure - it's large and you can sit in the middle - allowing your dog a lot of room to move. But there is the risk that he will fall off, so you need to be very careful!
The other option is a couch. The advantage here is that you can put the dog on the inside while you sit on the edge - that makes falling off very unlikely. But some dogs won't play on a couch because of the pressure; the back of the couch on one side and the handler on the other is just too much for them to be able to relax and feel comfortable.
You can also play on your lap or chest!
This one sure works for me and Brito. I only do personal play this way, not toy play. But it's comfortable for both of us, and I can do it while I watch TV or work on the computer. Notice that the dog's energy level drives the interaction; play can be quiet and is just as effective at building your relationship as wild and crazy play:
Out of good manners, I am careful when I play tug in public spaces with other dogs around. I don't want to be too distracting, so I think about where I am and how others are reacting. But with a small dog I have another, very different concern. A small dog chasing a toy in an erratic fashion LOOKS LIKE THE TOY. The last thing you want to do is make your dog a target. When I play in public, I modify my play to account for this reality.
I only run with my dog if no other dogs are loose, or if they are clearly engaged with their handlers. Here is an example of good toy play in a safe space, but it wouldn't be appropriate for tight, public spaces where my dog could become a target:
In public, I play with him extremely close to my body and inside my personal space (see, all of those pressure reaction and counter conditioning moves mentioned earlier have a practical application!). It is very unlikely that a dog will come after your dog if he is inside of your personal space, because other dogs perceive your dog's size as you AND the dog, meaning that now it's not a 10-pound dog by itself on the end of a leash!
If my dog is under my body and another dog gets loose and approaches, odds are very high that I am in a position to protect my dog from an attack. Note how Brito is often under me in the above video - that position takes training but is worth the trouble if you'd like to be able to use toy play in public.
Pick up your dog if needed! Turn your back on the other dog if that is possible. If not, hold your dog under arms and WALK INTO the other dog yelling "GET AWAY!" as angrily as you can. This is not the time to worry about being positive towards the dog who is accosting you; it is the time to convince the attacking dog that you are not prey and that you are an active threat to their well-being. Walking into another dog literally means running them over - you push into their chest/step on them and make a whole lot of noise all at the same time. Personally, I've never had to do anything like this, but I'm also extremely aware of my surroundings at all times. It's much better to prevent a disaster by seeing the risk than it is to try and stop one.
I have seen very poor behavior and decisions on the part of large dog owners, and I have also seen very poor behavior and decisions on the part of small dog owners. It's no one's fault. Everyone needs to pay attention to who or what is nearby. A catastrophe is a catastrophe. And while it is true that small dog owners have all of the same rights as large dog owners, if the small dog ends up dead, that attitude will be no consolation. Keep your dog safe.
A sampling of what prior students have said about this course ...
So many quirks about my dog were explained here due to how little dogs act differently than big dogs and there was so much specific information about how to train around these while enabling your little dog to still feel safe and respected, which is very important to him and me!
FE26-Little Dogs was fantastic! The weekly lectures introduced topics such as tugging/playing, games to develop comfort when working close to our feet, distance work and pressure. They were just full of information and exercises in working with small dogs.
So happy to find an obedience training geared for small dogs. It's not always easy to transform from training larger dogs to pint size ones.
Really enjoyed class- felt it highlighted a lot of Tex's issues that I wasn't as aware of as I could have been. Kristy K
I found that not only did the class focus on small dogs, which of course was the goal and that was great, but also it allowed us to work on different skills and behaviors, and thus ask many questions we do not often get to ask in more specialized classes. Learning is great, but integrating what we learn helps us to actually become better trainers. Janet A