Expert tips for productive play with your small dog
With the introduction of two new toys for small-breed dogs -- the Mini Hurley and the Mini Zisc -- we wanted to provide our customers with some expert tips and great ideas for playing with small dogs. We stopped by Paws and People to talk with Nancy Tanner, CPDT-KA, PDT. Based in Bozeman, Montana, Nancy and her team of certified trainers work with dogs (and people) of all sizes and they also host a weekly "sweet petite" playgroup.
If you prefer not to watch the video, we've tried to do our best to summarize the conversation below:
Tips for small breed dog owners:
Question 1: Do you need to treat small dogs differently than large dogs?
Nancy's Answer: You train them the same; you play with them the same, but everything is micro. Shorter sessions for shorter periods of time. And the only special consideration for small dogs is safety, just because of their size.
Question 2: When playing with small dogs, do you have any tips to share with us?
Nancy's Answer: When playing with small dogs, it is actually the same play as with large dogs, but you just downsize it just a little bit. So for small dogs, we still play tug, we still play fetch, still play frisbee, and we do a lot of water sports. We do agility on small obstacles. So it is everything (we do with large dogs), but sized down a little bit. So it is engaging them in play with you using a toy for them to interact with you. Sitting on the floor with them, it is actually a little easier with a small dog because your living room is a virtual playground for them.
Question 3: Are there "good games" to play (and bad games to avoid) with little dogs?
Nancy's Answer: I actually don't consider any games bad. What's not appropriate is rough-housing. You don't want to rough-house with a small dog or a large dog. You don't want to rough-house with any dogs because you teach them inappropriate handling by humans. So what we always say is, "All human hands are friendly hands." So when you are playing with your dog or have games with your dog, it's engaging them with tug and making it a mutual holding game - and having a lot of fun with it. It's a real bonding relationship game. When you play fetch with a small dog you can do it in the hallway of your house. Teach them how to run down the hallway and get a toy, and then bring it back. You can play hide and seek in your house, which they absolutely love. And so it is all interactive and all for relationship.
Question 4: We are introducing the Mini Hurley and want to know if you suggest any games to play with the Mini Hurley specifically?
Nancy's Answer: This summer will be the first time will be using the Mini Hurley with the small dogs here, but we have the full size Hurley that we've been using with our large breed dogs and we love them because they float. So we start them off in the kiddy-pool over there and teach them how to be water safe in shallow water, before we start in big water. We love to play hide-and-seek with these as well because they are big enough and bright enough that they are easy to find when you're teaching that game.
West Paw Design: And do you do that outside or inside, or both... and how much do you hide when you are playing hide-and-seek?
Nancy's Answer: So in the winter time, if I'm starting hide-and-seek; I'll take my dog's favorite toy and I'll put it right next to me where they can see it. And then I'll tell my dog, "Where's your toy, go find it!" And they can see it, so it makes it really easy so they learn the words "where is it, go find it." Then as they get really good at it, I might move it to the end of the couch... and then to a chair... and then I might move it to the hallway. Then when they get really good, I'll start hiding it in different rooms. When we play it outside, I want to be sure they know the game first. Because there are so many distractions like grass, smells, other dogs, and other objects.
Question 5: So how do you recommend choosing the appropriate size toy for the appropriate size dog?
Nancy's Answer: So what I usually do is look at the size of the dog and look at the size mouth, and I don't want something that is going to wrench their mouth open. I want it to be "ease of picking up." So I look at the size dog and then take a whole bunch of toys and put them in a pile. I'll start playing with the various toys and let them choose the toy out of that pile. Because what I want is for my dog to pick the toy they find most rewarding, not pick a toy I want them to find rewarding. So I take a bunch of toys that I think will be fair for their mouth to grab, that's not going to crank it open, and then I let them choose.
Nancy's Answer: Right, so if I had a medium to large size dog I would never use a toy this size (Mini), because this could fit inside their whole mouth. And so what you are looking at is the bite part right here (the narrow center area), where they are going to grab it up. For a Lab, this would be an appetizer. For our small size dogs here today, their mouth size is really appropriate to grab right in the middle.
Ryan: So you're almost looking at where the plastic of the packaging is going around the toy right here (the narrow center area)?
Nancy's Answer: Correct. You don't want to look at it from end to end, because you don't want them to fit the whole thing in their mouth.
Question 6: When you are giving training lessons, is there a reason you give "sweet petite" training lessons like today, where you separate the small dogs from the large dogs?
Nancy's Answer: Yes, because of all of the owners saying to me that "I would like my small dog to meet other small dogs."
Ryan: So, that's driven by the owners?
Nancy's Answer: It is. Because I think everyone we have here tonight has said, "I would like to meet other dogs, the same size as my dog." But you have more mutual play or fair play because they are relatively the same size. All of our small dogs here have been introduced to large size dogs. So you don't want to keep them away from large size dogs, but for mutual play where size can help them negotiate each other it is kind of fun to have all the small guys together. But, you do not want to never introduce them to large dogs. It is really good for them to meet all sizes. But, this will let owners feel real comfortable with common size.
Qutestion 7: What other advice do you have to share for small dog owners?
Nancy's Answer: This is what I tell all of you guys (the owners), so because you are all watching I'm going to tell you all right now. Small dogs are still dogs, and you need to treat them like dogs. So, when you take them places don't feel like you need to carry them. And they should be able to walk on their own four paws into stores and around stores and explore trails with you safely. But they are dogs, just small dogs, and so they still need to be dogs.
For more videos, you can visit Paws and People. Thank you so much Nancy for the great tips!!