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Training Tips for Small Anxious Dogs

Is your small dog anxious? Does he bark uncontrollably when a visitor rings the doorbell? You’re not alone.

Whether you have just adopted a small dog who is exhibiting anxious tendencies or you have had your dog since puppyhood, dealing with an anxious or aggressive dog can take its toll emotionally. It can limit where you take your dog and who comes to your house. But it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dog. It will take some work to adjust these to more desirable behaviors, but with a few tips, you could see a happy, more confident dog emerge.

training small dogs with anxiety
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Why is my small dog anxious or aggressive?

Any number of things can cause anxious behavior in dogs. It can start as a puppy if a dog has a bad experience with a neighbor or another dog from the dog park. From that point on, the dog may associate unfamiliar humans or dogs with negative consequences.

We, as dog owners, can be the source of the anxiety. ¹A group of scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna surveyed 1,300 dog owners in the area to better understand human and dog behavior. Led by Dr. Christine Arhant, the research looked at whether or not the dog owners used punishment or reward methods to reinforce behavior, how often they played with their pets, and how consistent the dog owners were.

Believe it or not, the biggest factors in contributing to anxiety were consistency and the amount of playtime. The research says that owners of big dogs were more consistent with enforcing rules, and small dog owners were more relaxed about enforcing rules. For example, sometimes small dog owners would let their dog on the couch, and other times, they would get upset and punish the dog for getting on the couch.

Training your small dog
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To relate this with a human experience, what if you had a boss that allowed you to be ten minutes late to work one day, but chewed you out for being ten minutes late the next day. The inconsistency might create some anxiety around what’s allowed and what’s not. The same thing can happen with your dog.

If you’ve noticed anxious, yappy, or aggressive behavior in your small dog we’ve got a few tips just for you.

Tips to correct anxiety or aggression

Be consistent – As a household, decide what is allowed and what is not and stick to it. All members of the family have to be on the same page. Just like with children, dogs will thrive with boundaries and learn how the world operates.

Learn which rewards work best for your dog – Does your small dog respond better to affection, words of adoration, or treats as a reward system? Stay away from punishment as a training method as this will promote aggressive and anxious behavior.

Training your small dog
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Tell your dog what you DO want versus just saying “no” – We’ve all said “NO” to our dog. It’s impossible to eliminate that word entirely, but try to show them a wanted alternative behavior when training instead of just simply saying “no.” For example, if your dog is jumping on you instead of saying “no”, you can ask him to sit. If you see that your dog is walking to something that will hurt him, ask him to come back to you.

Show your small dog your community – Socialize your dog at every opportunity. Small dogs often get the short end of the stick as far as exercise goes. We know large dogs need to get out and run, but small dogs do, too. Show them the bank, restaurants, local parks, your workspace, people in uniform, children, people of other ethnicities…the possibilities are endless. As you take your dog out, reinforce the experience with rewards so your dog associates positivity with these new experiences. This will noticeably reduce anxiety.

Play with your dog more – The amount of playtime was also a factor. Researchers think that the more time spent playing, the more positive interactions will be built with your dog which reinforces the bond between human and dog and reduces anxiety!

Small dogs are wonderful pets! They are an excellent choice for families, aging couples, and the young 20-something looking to adopt their first pet. But if you’ve let your dog get by with not following the rules all the time, and your dog is anxious or yappy, you may have some work to do! Train with rewards, train consistently, and make time to play with your pet! Do you have advice for small dog owners? Let us know on social media!

¹Arhant, Christine, et al. 2010. Behavior of smaller and larger dogs: Effects of training methods, inconsistency of owner behavior and level of engagement in activities with the dog. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 123: 131-142.