Macho Small Dogs

Buzzy as a Macho Small Dog

My Buzzy can be quite a pistol. I saw this when I took him in for his last eye check. As the vet approached him, Buzzy fixed him with a bright, intent eye.

“Doesn’t bite, does he?” asked the vet.

“Oh, no, not at all,” I said. And Buzzy was fine. Just wanted to let the vet know that he could do something if he wanted to. Buzzy has never even lifted his lip to a stranger, but he is an alpha, macho male who by his very presence demands respect. Like a US Marine strolling into the room, Buzzy says, I could do something if I wanted to, but since I’m a nice guy, I won’t.

The fact that Buzzy only weighs about 12 lbs. and can’t bench press 150 like a Marine is immaterial. And a lot of small dogs are like Buzzy. Small dogs were often bred to be highly courageous and to think independently. For example, Yorkies were originally bred to kill rats. North England publicans in the mid-1800s bred them to make money in rat pits. Small, extremely scrappy terriers were thrown into pits with 20 or 30 rats. The customers would bet on how fast the dog would dispatch all the rodents. Not if the dog could manage, mind you, but how fast. The smaller the terrier the more vigorous the betting and the more money the publican made.

I think we often forget, in today’s chase for smaller and cuter dogs and then even smaller and cuter ones, that small dogs were real dogs long before they were fashion accessories. We think that all small dogs are natively shy, sweet, and cute. But while a Yorkie can’t take a chunk out of you like, say, a German Shepherd, a small dog on a rampage can be a real problem.

People naturally respect a 120 lb. Shepherd or even a sweet-faced but broad muzzled Pit Bull. But the fact is that my Buzzy carries the same swagger they do. More important than anything else, to be able to live with a canine macho man it is vital to give them the respect they deserve. “You da MAN,” I tell Buzzy. And he looks up at me and grins.

Of course, I also want him to be a citizen. To accomplish this I use a three-step program.

Training. Macho dogs, big or small, are alpha. If you in turn are not higher on the food chain, they will run — and ruin — your life. Basic obedience work is an absolute must. However, the work must be based on positive reinforcement and not in a spitting contest to see which of the two of you is bigger, taller, or meaner. Perhaps a meeker dog would accept such rough handling but a macho dog will never back down. Ever. Given good training, they will enjoy working with you because macho dogs enjoy being partners. My Buzzy liked working with me in the show ring. He had real pride in his accomplishments.

Distraction. When your dog is in a circumstance that might cause him to stress and react inappropriately, train him to do something that distracts him. This can, for example, be a trick. The simplest way to train a dog to do a trick is:

  1. watch him as he goes about his daily business. When he does something that is extra cute or distinctive
  2. NAME the trick, tell him the name, and praise him. For example: Gimme paw! Good dog!!
  3. Whenever he does the trick, name, and praise. Once he knows the name, you can tell him to do the trick and he will.

The idea too is to overtly ignore any signs of incipient bad behavior. Distract instead. Jumping down the dog’s throat right away, yelling at him STOP THAT will tend to reinforce the behavior rather than mitigate it.

Removal. If your dog is too stressed by the circumstances, don’t wait around for something bad to happen. Remove him, put him in his crate, and cover at least the front with a cloth. This is your dog’s signal that he is truly out of that situation and can relax.

Macho small dogs can be wonderful companions, as they generally want to care for you as much as you want to care for them. They tend to be extremely intelligent and they certainly keep you on their toes! But they demand that you are an intelligent, knowledgeable owner who trains them well and more than anything gives them the respect they so richly deserve.

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