Love 'um and Lead 'um!
Having worked with everything from mutts to Mastiffs to Maltese, it's the little ones that have literally left their mark on me. Tooth marks that is! I've never been bitten by anything weighing more than 20 pounds.
Partly my own fault as I'm just more comfortable with big guys, but I find little dogs are just more prone to bite. At little fault of their own.
I met a woman last summer who asked if her daughter could pet my dog. The daughter loved dogs but had been bitten repeatedly by the family dog and so she was a little apprehensive. And rightly so! Mom was slightly taken aback when I stated "it must be a small dog." How could I know? Well because big dogs that bite repeatedly don't usually last long. Yet small dog people seem to be more tolerant of such behavior. The mother seemed slightly embarrassed to admit the dog was her "first baby" and it was easier to train the daughter to avoid the dog than to train the dog. I beg to differ.
If I'm generalizing it's because this is more common than you may imagine. Most recently it's the story of a beautiful Pomeranian that arrived at the shelter in the arms of his tearful owner. I'll call him "Paul." As a tiny puppy, Paul's aggressive and bossy behavior was considered cute and his family assumed he'd grow out of it. When it progressed to biting the kids, it wasn't so cute anymore.
Paul reminded me so much of my first biter years ago. A tiny Maltese named Andy whose owners brought him to the shelter with a story of how playful nipping had evolved into painful biting. When asked how they had tried to correct him the reply was, "He's our baby, we don't want to hurt his feelings." I can't imagine how hurt his feelings were when they walked out of the shelter leaving Andy behind.
So just like Andy, I took Paul home to learn more about what made this little guy tick. First came welcoming him into my home and pack, which meant introductions to six dogs weighing in from 25 to 110 pounds. And from the first moment, Paul was a congenial pack member. He never raised lip. I even took toys from him and petted him as he ate without incident. Both big no-no's in his prior life. How could this be?
Well, from the moment he arrived, the message was clear about who was the pack leader. Me! In fact, my dogs probably told him more about my role as leader than I did. And while I'm not adverse to verbal and physical corrections and unlike Andy who found himself on his back more than once for obnoxious behavior, Paul never warranted more than a firm "no."
This isn't magic and isn't restricted to small dogs. Setting rules and consistently reinforcing them is an absolute necessity for every single dog! And while my dogs may occasionally break them, they know what the rules are and respect them and me! They are simple and I rarely deviate from them. For instance, I don't step around my dogs. They move out of my way. They aren't allowed to jump on me or use their mouths in play EVER. No pulling on the leash. And they eat where and when I say. But please know they are spoiled and pampered creatures that sleep in my bed, lay on the furniture, get plentiful treats and are loved unconditionally. Yet they know, without question, exactly who is the leader of their pack.
Some may think this approach isn't nearly as fun as just letting dogs be dogs. But too many dogs end up in shelters because of a lack of leadership and too much freedom is dangerous to them and us. Sort of like giving a six-year-old the keys to your car.
Surely had Paul's owners given him the leadership he needed, he'd still be with them. Avoiding the painful task of bringing him to our shelter and the worry of not knowing whether he was sleeping each night in a cage and whether he would ever find a home.
Sometimes I actually feel sorry for people who think love will conquer all and are naive to the realities of raising a dog. And it was very sad when I called Paul's owner to learn about his past and his "mom" burst into tears. She obviously loved him but was afraid for her children. Thus why it was so wonderful to call her a few weeks later to report that Paul had found a new home. Was it fate the man who had adopted Andy, my first biter, contacted me a week after Paul arrived looking for a new friend?
Maybe, but fate or not, Paul not only found a home with a man who loves him but leads him too.
Just what he and every dog needs.
Carrie Roe is president of the Humane Society of Parkersburg.