As man’s best friend, many small dogs were bred to be companion animals and are very loyal. Like other pets, small dogs have basic needs that are the responsibility of their owner. Pet care tips for small dogs requires an owner to pay attention to the dog’s health, their happiness, and their well-being. While dog ownership is a big commitment, it is very rewarding!
Meeting Basic Dog Needs
1. Research the unique characteristics of your pet’s breed.
We use the term ‘small dog’ to refer to dogs that are typically less than eighteen inches tall and weigh less than twenty pounds. This includes toy, miniature, and small breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, Miniature Poodles, and Miniature Pinschers. Each breed has their own temperament, appearance, characteristics, and needs.
- The American Kennel Club is a great first place to begin your research on dog breeds. Each breed recognized by the AKC (which covers the overwhelming majority of dogs) has a guide and information about grooming, temperament, care, and medical needs.
- Dogs have their own personalities that can vary greatly from dog to dog. Your dog may or may not have the same temperament that is described as typical for a certain breed.
2. Feed on a regular schedule.
It is important to feed your dog on a regular schedule to maintain consistency and to establish a routine. The amount of food your dog will need to consume each day will depend on their age, size, and activity level. Incorporate training into your feeding schedule by having your dog practice certain obedience commands before you let them eat.
- There are a number of different dog brands that cater exclusively to small dogs. While you do not necessarily need to feed them a special kind of food, some owners prefer to purchase these brands.
- Talk to your veterinarian to determine how much food your small dog will need. A small dog that engages in a lot of physical activity may need more food.
3. Avoid feeding small dogs human food.
It can be very tempting to share bits of your meal or to give human food to your pet as a treat. However, there are a number of foods that are very harmful to dogs. Feeding your dog human food also encourages negative behaviors, such as begging or bothering people when they are eating.
- Alcohol, chocolate, caffeinated foods and drinks, dairy, garlic, grapes, onions, salt are all harmful to dogs.
- Even small amounts of some foods, like chocolate, have significant negative health consequences for small dog breeds.
4. Always provide access to clean water.
Along with food, dogs need water to stay healthy. Always leave a bowl of clean and fresh water for your dog to enjoy.
- Some toy or miniature breeds may be unable to reach into standard bowls to drink water, so you may want to consider buying a shallower bowl for them.
5. Limit treats to healthy amounts.
Treats are a great way to praise your dog or to reward them for good behaviors. However, they are a source of additional calories for your dog and even a small weight gain can be significant for small dogs.
- Small dogs are at risk of becoming overweight, which can put a lot of stress on their joints and bones and impact their overall health. Dogs that maintain a healthy weight can increase their life expectancies by up to two years.
6. Provide a comfortable place to sleep.
Whether you decide to crate train your dog or have them sleep in their own dog bed, your dog wants to feel safe when they sleep. Small dogs sleep an average of twelve to fourteen hours a day as adults, and puppies will sleep even more.
- Many owners choose to let small dogs on their furniture and in their beds. This is a personal choice, though most dog trainers agree that crates and dog beds are the best place for dogs to sleep.
Keeping Small Dogs Healthy
1. Schedule routine veterinarian visits.
Like humans, dogs need routine medical care to stay healthy. Different small breeds are at higher or lower risks for certain conditions than other breeds.
- Veterinarians will do a full physical on your dog and monitor changes in their weight, heart beat, blood pressure and more.
- Small dogs tend to be more fragile and easily hurt than larger dogs. Small dogs are at a higher risk for fractures and concussions because their bones are much smaller than large dogs. They can be easily hurt by rough play by children, are at risk of being stepped on, and may misjudge distances when jumping off stairs and furniture.
2. Spay or neuter your dog.
Unless you are planning to breed your dog, neutering or spaying your dog has health benefits and can improve temperament. On average, dogs that are spayed or neutered live up to two year longer than dogs that have not undergone these procedures.
- Spaying or neutering your dog can also help lessen aggression, especially in males.
- Dogs that are spayed or neutered are also at a lower risk of developing certain diseases, like uterine and testicular cancers.
3. Vaccinate your dog.
Your veterinarian will administer vaccinations to your dog, and the number of vaccinations that your dog needs will depend on their age and the area that you live in.
- Depending on where you live, there may be additional vaccination requirements for your dog. For instance, most states in the United States require dogs to be vaccinated for rabies.
- Do not let your young puppy interact with other dogs until they have received all of their vaccinations.
4. Consider a microchip.
An ID microchip contains your identification information as the dog’s owner and stores this information in a database. They can be very helpful, especially if your dog is lost or stolen.
- Microchips are very small and are implanted either behind a dog’s shoulders or the scruff of their neck. Your veterinarian can implant the chip during a health checkup.
5. Groom your small dog regularly.
Some small dogs will require more complicated grooming than other breeds. Small dogs that need frequent grooming, like Pomeranians and Maltese, should be taken to a professional dog groomer.
- Small dogs do need to be bathed on occasion. The majority of breeds can be bathed once a month, unless the dog has become muddy or dirty from playing outside.
- Keep their nails clipped to protect them from breaking or chipping.
- Brush your dog’s teeth two or three times each week. This is important for oral hygiene and can reduce the risk of oral and gum diseases.
Training and Socializing Small Dogs
1. Exercise frequently.
Some small dog breeds have more energy than others, though all small dogs need to exercise to stay healthy. Their exercise needs will depend on your dog’s age, their health, and their breed.
- Small dogs that are younger will tend to have more energy and need more exercise than an older dog. This is especially true if your pet begins to suffer from age-related health problems, like arthritis.
- Most small dogs will need at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Many small breeds, like terriers, have a high prey drive and enjoy games like fetch, tug of war, and finding hidden treats.
- Dog parks and dog daycares are good environments for small dogs to socialize and exercise with other dogs.
2. Provide mental stimulation.
Much like physical exercise, small dogs need to exercise their brains to stay stimulated and engaged. Dogs that are not stimulated often exhibit destructive behaviors, like chewing on furniture and digging, because they are bored.
- Food puzzle games are sturdy containers that hold a few treats inside and require the dog to work to release the treats. Dogs have to learn how to move, shake, or paw at the toy and these puzzles can keep them entertained for hours.
- Some small dog breeds, like Jack Russell Terriers and Bichon Frises, were originally bred to hunt and maintain a strong prey drive. These small dogs enjoy games that require them to ‘hunt’ for a toy or treat. You could hide small treats around a room and let your dog use their scent tracking instincts to find the treats.
3. Train your dog.
Many small dog breeds have stubborn and independent temperaments that can make training difficult. However, small dogs need to be trained to follow basic obedience commands and to walk on leashes.
- The owner must be firm and consistent in their training and correct bad behavior. Many people have the tendency to excuse bad behavior in small dogs that they wouldn’t tolerate in large dogs, like jumping up on people.
- Reward based training, either with praise or small treats, can help condition small dogs to behave properly. Never punish your dog with force or violence.
- Obedience classes can help owners to train their dogs, whether they are puppies or adults.
- Many small dogs are considered yappy and bark excessively. Discourage this behavior by withholding treats and verbally correcting the dog when they bark without a reason.
- It is important to maintain healthy boundaries in your relationship with your dog. You will need to discipline them at times to maintain your position as the leader of the household.
4. Socialize your dog.
Proper socialization helps your dog to react appropriately to new environments, people, and other animals. Small dogs that have not been socialized can be aggressive towards other dogs, strangers, and children. They can also be fearful and anxious in new situations, which puts unnecessary stress on the animal.
- Small dogs become socialized through new experiences. Taking your dog to new places, like dog parks and on walks through your neighborhood, will expose them to new environments and people. Positive reinforcement, like small treats and praise, will encourage your dog to behave properly.
- Some small dogs will do better with children or other pets in the home than others. It is important to introduce a new pet into your household slowly and allow the animals to become used to each other. Always monitor small children when there is a dog present.
5. Bond with your dog.
Many small dogs were bred to be lapdogs and companion animals. They become very attached to their owners and want to spend time with you.
- Playing and exercising encourages healthy relationships between owner and pet.
- Pet and love your dog. Most small dogs enjoy belly rubs, pats on their heads, pets, and even cuddling. Physical contact between dogs and their owners has been shown to release a hormone called oxytocin, making both feel calm and happy.
- Small dog breeds typically have longer lifespans than larger dogs and are a significant commitment.
- Since small dogs are bred to be companion animals, they are more susceptible to separation anxiety. Try to ensure that the dog is not left alone all day by hiring a dog sitter, taking them to a dog daycare, or having a neighbor check on them.
- Never let your dog bite or nibble on your hands, even when playing.
- Small dogs can be just as aggressive, if not more aggressive, than larger dogs. You must correct your dog and train them to not display aggressive actions.
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