How Best to Train Small Dogs

Learn how to build your small dog’s confidence and lessen the chances that she’ll be nervous and barky.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #72

Why You Need to Be Consistent When Training Your Dog

Why should being able to get away with stuff make a dog anxious? Put yourself in the small dog’s booties for a sec. You’ve got a close friend, or a boss, or a parent--someone you’re emotionally attached to, or who has control over part of your life, or both. One day it’s okay if you’re ten minutes late for an appointment; the next day, you’re five minutes late, and she rips you a new one. One day he sees you looking at his flan and immediately puts a spoonful on your plate; the next day, when you ask to taste his risotto, he snaps at you and walks away from the table. If you just knew, once and for all, whether it was important to her that you be on time, or whether he minded you sampling his food, fine! But when you have no way to know when you’re about to press somebody’s buttons, what happens? You’re always off your game around them, a little bit on edge. Irritable, maybe, too.

People with small dogs were likelier to decide that sometimes it was okay for their dog not to follow the set rules.

And this makes evolutionary sense. Of course animals are likely to be more alert, more tense, in unpredictable conditions. Trainers have been saying forever that we need to behave consistently with our dogs, to set clear rules and stick by them. As trainers, though, we mostly focus on how difficult it is to learn a set of constantly changing rules. It’s important to realize that when we behave inconsistently with our dogs we can produce undesirable emotional effects as well. (3)

Punishment May Scare Small Dogs More Than Big Dogs

Why more anxiety for small dogs than for big dogs? Perhaps, the researchers suggest, because small dogs are small, so physical restraint and punishment may be more frightening than they would be to a bigger dog. Other researchers have found an association between an owner’s inconsistent behavior and a dog’s fear of familiar people. (4) From the dog’s point of view, inconsistency may make people scary to be around.

Play May Make Dogs More Obedient

]Another tidbit from this study: Obedience, what I’d prefer to call good manners and prompt response to cues, was better not only among dogs whose guardians trained them more but also among dogs whose guardians played with them more, including games such as fetch and tug.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).