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While most large dog owners realize by the time their puppy is several months old that obedience training will be important, small dog owners sometimes neglect the standard obedience training. After all, when your three-month-old Lab jumps up, visitors brace themselves or fall down. When your three-month-old Chihuahua does it, it seems cute and appealing and how would she ever get her head high enough to be scratched otherwise? It is true that small dogs are unable to perform many of the behaviors that make large dogs unruly to live with if they don't have some obedience, but small dogs need obedience just as much as large dogs do.
Without structure to their lives, small dogs can become insecure. If your small dog doesn't develop self-control, she is apt to become yappy and hyperactive. Furthermore, little brains need to be worked just as much as big ones, and small dogs who are left without mental activity will become bored and potentially destructive or anxious.
Whether your small dog is a puppy or is already set in her ways, you can teach her to love obedience training. Soon you will find her performing cute tricks to get your attention, and she will seem so much more respectable when she is holding a polite 'sit-stay' instead of jumping all over your guests like a tiny furry whirlwind. All small dogs can learn basic obedience, but some breeds and individuals will take to training more readily and hold their training better through distractions. Be patient and work with your dog's individual tastes to tailor training to her. If you have a little terrier who loves to shake a stuffed toy more than anything, and is always jumping on or over things, try using the toy as a lure to teach behaviors and focus on active behaviors like "dance" or "circle me" before working on calmer behaviors like "down" or "sit". If you have a couch potato of a Havanese who will only move for treats, reduce food to account for treats, and use low calorie treats, to motivate her into passive behaviors before working up to active ones.
Bring your dog's individual personality, as well as several things that motivate her best, into training with you. Think in small steps. For many small dogs, simply staying still and looking at you is an important behavior to train before you can move on to anything else. Many small dogs are prone to skittishness and are concerned about your hand moving around them and touching their body. If your dog seems concerned by your movements around her, acclimate her to that before beginning training by giving treats for calm behavior while you move your hands around her body and touch her. This step may take some time before you are ready for obedience training.
The Click to Mark Method
Clicks mean treats
Click and give your little dog treats until she is looking up in eager anticipation whenever she hears the click.
Draw out the desired behavior in your small dog. For 'sit', raise a treat slowly over her nose until she is drawn into a sitting position. For 'down', hold a treat in your cupped hand and pull forward until your little dog is on her belly to reach it.
As soon as your dog achieves the desired behavior, name that behavior with whatever command word you choose. Commands should be short, ideally one syllable words that each sound completely unique from each other. They can be made-up words or common words.
Click and treat behavior
At the same time as you name the behavior, click and treat to show your small dog that the behavior is desirable.
Ask for behavior
Once you have elicited, named, and rewarded a behavior multiple times, and your dog is anticipating before you elicit the behavior, try giving the command without eliciting or luring and see if she understands to do the behavior. If so, keep practicing. If not, go back to luring and rewarding the behavior.
The Obedience as a Game Method
Choose some toys
Choose whatever toys your small dogs likes best, whether they are stuffed soft toys, tennis balls, or something else. Have several equally desirable toys available to keep your dog's interest.
Wait for or draw out a behavior
Either wait for your dog to perform a behavior naturally, like she sits or lies down on her own, or draw out the behavior by luring with a toy.
Name and reward the behavior
As soon as your dog achieves the behavior, name it and give a toy.
Get your dog's attention back
Get your small dog's attention back by shaking another toy in her range of view. When you have her attention, keep enticing with the toy until she performs the desired behavior, then name the behavior and give her the toy.
Give the command
Once you have practiced several times and your dog is spontaneously offering the desired behavior, try giving the command for the behavior. If your dog responds, reward. If she doesn't, wait for her to spontaneously perform the behavior and name and reward before trying giving the command first again.
The Follow My Lead Method
This technique works well if your little dog is your constant shadow who rarely leaves your side and is constantly watching you.
Model the behavior you want your dog to perform by doing it yourself. It works well to start with behaviors easily translated from human to dog, like to backing up or walking sideways, before more difficult concepts like 'sit' or 'down'.
Model and name
Model the behavior while naming it. For instance, back up while saying "back". Keep repeating until your dog also backs up a step.
Name and reward
When your dog does the behavior, enthusiastically reinforce the name of the behavior and reward with treats or a toy, or even just your affection if your little dog is sufficiently motivated.
Name without doing
Once your dog is consistently doing the activity with you, try saying the name of the activity without doing it yourself. Reward if your dog performs. If she doesn't, do it with her for some time before trying again.
By Coral Drake
Published: 02/01/2018, edited: 01/08/2021