Teaching Consent with Small Dogs

Posted by Savy Leiser on

Welcome to the newest member of the Furever Home Friends team: Jordan Kendrick! We've decided to bring a professional dog trainer to our team to create some blog content and resources for our readers, especially those who have young kids or are considering adopting for the first time.

Jordan has been training dogs in her own family since childhood, and later went through a dog training certificate program. She now specializes in training dogs in counter surfing, barking, reactivity, and pulling on the leash. 

Happy Chihuahua Appreciation Day! 

Chihuahuas, among other small dogs, tend to get a bad rap as being unpredictable and aggressive. They tend to growl or snarl or snap when people extend a hand towards them but it's not a "Napoleon Complex."

It's fear. It's discomfort. 

People tend to ignore the signals which they would respect from a larger dog. A small dog snarling doesn't command the same respect because they aren't capable of doing the same amount of damage to someone. People will back away from a German Shepherd who is growling, snarling, and stiff but approach a Chihuahua doing the same. 

The more times a dog has their more subtle, mild signals they need space or are uncomfortable, the quicker they escalate to bite threshold. 

These subtle signs include:

  • Tension around the eyes
  • Yawning in the meantime while you work on cooperative care. 

This type of handling, known as cooperative care, has been used in zoos, aquaria, and  farms for decades. It involves thee handler teaching the animal "tricks" which help make husbandry tasks easier. One of the more common actions they're taught is to open their mouth to allow the handler or vet to inspect their teeth and they are able to do this without any additional stress on the animal. Without this technique, a mouth/tooth check would require at minimum a sedative (smaller animals) or full anesthesia (larger animals) and those carry significant risks. 

To dogs, we must be incredibly unpredictable. We expect them to let us manhandle them to  cut their nails and groom them. We expect dogs to tolerate everything on our terms. That's an outdated idea.

The more modern take is a partnership between owner and dog where they both are working towards the same goal. To accomplish this, it is necessary to teach the dog a "place"/"kennel" or a "not now" cue to let the dog know you aren't available at that moment.

On the other side of the equation, it's necessary for the owner to teach your dog that you'll ask before touching them or lifting them. If they back up or display any of the signs listed above, unless they are in immediate danger, they should not be touched. It may sound bizarre to essentially let your dog be the one who makes decisions but allowing them bodily autonomy where possible and getting consent before leads to a far more confident dog. It leads to a dog who is far less likely to bite. It improves the bond between human and dog. It makes you more aware  of the ways your dog communicates to you. 

We'll have more dog training and adoption advice posts coming in the next few weeks! Hope you're all having a great start to your spring!

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