For over 30 years now I have had big dogs. My serious, macho, very focused and very biddable German Shepherd Dogs are just my thing. I like their strong build and high work ethic. I like their noble good looks and the way their beautiful gait covers the ground. I like having their big heads right at hand level. I am a big dog person!
Then one of my children left home and gave me her Papillon to dog-sit. “It’s only temporary, mom … just till the semester ends!” It turned out to be that semester, and the year in Spain, and while she hunted an apartment … well, you get the idea. When she walked in the door with him, all I could think of was “here comes happy meal!” Now Teddy appears to be a “resident alien.” I may be a big dog person, but I have learned a lot about him, learned to appreciate him, and toys as a group.
Naturally, being a male toy owned by a student who lived with multiple roommates, Teddy was not housebroken. That became my first challenge, and I knew it had to be something I accomplished or he couldn’t stay, beloved daughter or not. As a trainer, I have worked with many clients and their toy dogs. I knew that housetraining, particularly of the boys, could be problematic. I knew too many experienced people in toys who couldn’t housetrain, kept their dogs kenneled, belly-banded, or just put up with it. Although I always thought that they just didn’t try hard enough (blamed the owners), living with Teddy taught me some surprising things.
I noticed that Teddy, at 7 pounds, was not like my 90-pound Shepherd. Yes, an amazing observation! Everything about him was faster; his movements, his heartbeat, the way he breathed, panted and barked. He was definitely “busier,” and more alert. While my GSDs could easily go long hours during the day without a potty break, Teddy seemed to need to go far more frequently. It was as if his metabolism was running at a faster speed, and he reminded me for all the world like a little bird. Early on I knew that I was not going to use pads or a litter box; no poop and pee in this house! Teddy was going to learn to go outside like the big dogs. I discovered that taking him out to potty more frequently was essential to success. I also learned that he didn’t like to “go” when the grass was wet, it was raining, or even when it was dark. That problem was solved by carrying him out into the far corner of the yard, putting him down, and making him walk back to the patio. On the walk, he would potty!
Teddy also needed to fit into the feeding schedule around here, if possible. I feed my large dogs once a day. Generally, they take about three minutes to eat, and nothing is ever left. I learned that Teddy was used to having food and water down 24/7 (no doubt this contributed to his lack of housetraining). When he moved in here, he quickly learned that food was available for a short time only, and if he wanted it, he needed to eat it then. It didn’t take many feedings for him to figure this out, and although he still takes longer than the Shepherds to eat, he does chow down. When I looked back over my case files dealing with clients who had toys, it was obvious that this one change could have helped many of them to housetrain successfully.
Another little dog problem I see a lot of in our classes is snappiness, especially when being carried by their owners. Although I wasn’t Teddy’s mistress, as soon as my daughter was out of the picture, he latched on to me big-time! If anyone approached and he was in my lap or on my bed, became a miniature Cujo, and wouldn’t hesitate to bite. Fortunately, his little teeth and jaws weren’t capable of doing much real harm to an adult human, but the behavior was anything but cute, and could have been dangerous to a child or older person. Worse, this jealous/protective/guard behavior really pushed the GSD’s buttons. Being typical herding dogs, their job in life is to micro-manage every aspect of the household that I allow them to manage, and Teddy was just what they needed. Since I really didn’t want the GSDs to discipline Teddy, I figured that I’d better get on it myself. Keeping a house-line on him solved the bed and sofa issue, and if I had wanted to, I certainly could have just made those areas off limits to him. One big problem was barking. I discovered that Teddy was very alert, and little got past him. He was always ahead of the GSDs at telling me who was in the driveway, at the door, who belonged and who was new, what new squirrel was in the yard, or which cat had jumped from the lounge chair to the window sill. And while the Shepherds alerted with one or two throaty “woofs,” Teddy just kept on and on until the intruder or the distraction was gone. Even though I have electronic bark collars and don’t mind using them, the very low-tech water bottle method worked like a charm with him (remember he didn’t like rain)! On the down-side, the Shepherds did teach him their annoying habit of running the fence and barking at dogs, but I guess you can’t have everything.
Now that he was housetrained and didn’t bite people, I could take Teddy on to obedience training. Like most Paps, he did great, and even got his CGC in short order. I have made some concessions to his “littleness,” one being that I carry him many places just for safety. When you have a dog smaller than a housecat, you sometimes won’t get a second chance if another dog or even a toddler tries to hurt him. The true test is in the making as I write, as my daughter has returned to claim her dog. Will all my remedial work go down the tubes? Will Teddy be just another convict who is slapped back in the pen? Will I be able to train my daughter? Stay tuned!