Good things come in small packages...
When asked to write this article, Lucy Parkin of Cleverpawz was both shocked - and humbled - to think that someone thought her words and musings would be worth publishing for all to see. After the initial shock wore off, the panic began to set in. She had never written an article before and began to wonder if she had enough experience and knowledge to share. Regardless of her trepidation, she put pen to paper, and this is the result.
Training small dogs is a real rollercoaster of a ride. They can be delightful, funny, endearing, incredibly frustrating, stubborn, distracted, very noisy, surprising and amazing - and all that in a one minute agility run!
Just like their stature, every emotion in a Small dog is condensed and intensified which is fantastic if the emotion is a positive one, but can be a nightmare if it is a negative one. Not only that, but every breed has its own individual traits and nuances.
Some small breeds are extremely high energy. I am thinking of the terriers that I train who constantly demand their handlers to issue precise, up-to-the-second commands or face the wrath of the yap-yap-yap. Other breeds such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels seem to have a flip switch which determines whether it is their ears or nose which is taking priority. Then you have the Pugs. This delightful breed can be very successful in agility but can have a tendency to be very stubborn and demand a patient, enthusiastic handler.
Of course, these traits are not set in stone, and every individual dog has its very own district personality, as every dog owner knows. With all that said, I do think that training small dogs has to have one very important element in common.
Play is the key here. It must be fun and rewarding as lots of small breeds have attention spans to match their size, i.e. tiny. Having said that, it is never too late to start playing and developing focus. I also see lots of rescue dogs who simply don't know how to play, but with patience and time this can be overcome.
One of our secret weapons is the squeaky treat bag. It was developed by one of Cleverpawz Pugility handlers and incorporates a bright furry treat bag with a Velcro fastening. In one end is a squeaker. The pugs especially love this and follow it intently around the course as they know a treat of chicken or liver is on its way when they finish.
Another tactic we employ is to use a more experienced dog to teach a beginner the basics of the tunnel. Lots of our beginners were a little wary of going into a tunnel, especially when it was curved, but send a more experienced dog in first and they are more than happy to follow it through. A little unconventional, I know, but it works! It also works in reverse if you get a dog that won't come out of the tunnel - and we have a few - send in another dog to flush them out.
an easy option...
Small dogs also seem to be more cautious when it comes to negotiating a course. You can often see them weighing up the options and deciding how to take a jump or other obstacle. You could say that they literally look before they leap. This makes it even more important to get your pre-cuing and shaping commands correct so as to work in tandem with your dog. I do a lot of training exercises at Cleverpawz which focus on these techniques and it is amazing to see how well these small dogs respond.
Because of their size, they have a tighter turning circle which means you can run further up to a jump without the fear of sending them wide whereas, if you did this with a larger dog, they would land further away from the jump and turn wider around the wing.
Small dogs are definitely not the easy option. Some can get de-motivated easily and pick up on the handler's emotions if they think they have made a mistake. It is very important, in the training stages, to never let your small dog know if it has gone wrong. Praise and encouragement is of the utmost importance.
In conclusion, small dogs can be great fun to train in Agility, but they do require lots of hard work and effort. They are not the easy option, but when focused can be amazing and amusing. If you are prepared for lots of bending, coaxing, cajoling, laughing, running and looking silly, then a small dog is the one for you. If not stick to a proper dog.
About the author...
Her previous dogs were Dylan the Collie and Prince the Cavalier Kling Charles Spaniel, both sadly missed.
First published 17/01/12