My Riley is a little guy: 11 pounds soaking wet. But when his new, bigger “brother” Bruce moved in, that tiny Chihuahua ruled the roost like he was a 110-pound pooch. Bruce is a pit bull/cattle dog mix who looks like a Holstein cow and has the energy of a puppy despite being 4 years old. As time passed, Riley became more aggressive, growling and charging at Bruce when he came near. Despite our verbal scoldings, Riley’s bullying behavior continued.
So we called in an expert, dog trainer Nathan Woods. I first met Woods nearly 10 years ago when I hired him to work with my Chihuahua Simon, who also had Napoleonic tendencies. Our student/teacher relationship was successful, so I’ve called upon him off and on for advice.
When Woods came to our house, it wasn’t long until Riley chased Bruce off with ferocity. Woods then asked for a spray bottle filled with water. The next time Riley took after Bruce, he gave a firm “no” and simultaneously sprayed the charging Chihuahua, which stopped him mid-rush. With calm demeanor, Woods repeated the correction a few minutes later when Riley again went after Bruce, and that’s all it took — Riley stopped picking on Bruce from then on. It was an astonishingly quick turnaround that has stuck to this day.
It was fascinating to watch Woods expertly and effortlessly change our dogs’ dynamic. After our training session, I asked Woods to enlighten me regarding why little dogs often behave so fiercely, how he decides which training techniques to use, and what advice he has for those wishing to curb their pet’s antisocial behavior.
Why do smaller dogs often try to boss around big dogs? I think that smaller dogs are a bit intimidated by a bigger dog’s size, feel vulnerable around larger dogs, and want to avoid getting trampled or injured. A five-pound dog to a 100-pound dog is like a 150-pound person to a 3,000-pound person. For a little dog, their only asset is an inflated personality.
How do you decide which training technique to use to deter the dogs unwanted behavior? My goal with training is to start where the dog can experience success and then build from there. A dog’s sensitivity level ranges greatly. Some dogs are sensitive and require very little to correct their behavior.
On the other hand, a more resilient dog would need a stronger deterrent. If your dog keeps choosing the undesired behavior, you have not yet reached its tolerance level and might want to change your approach.
The key to training is to start with the smallest deterrent possible and build from there. Along with showing a dog what to do, I find it just as important to show a dog what not to do.
A squirt from a spray bottle ended up being the right tool to curb Riley’s bad habit. What would you have tried next if that hadn’t worked? There are multiple different approaches. I have found a spray bottle with water to be a mixed bag. For some dogs, it can be enough of a deterrent for them to stop what they are doing, as was the case with Riley. If that hadn’t worked, I would have put a leash on the dog for clearer communication.
What advice do you have for people who are struggling with their pet’s behavior. I find that dogs don’t necessarily do what is good or bad — which is a judgment call made by their owners. They tend to do and expand on whatever works for them.
My advice to pet owners is that anything your dog does that you call good, keep letting them do it, and use lots of praise! Anything that your dog does that you call bad, make adjustments. It is never too late in a dog’s life to correct unwanted behavior!
Dogs are incredibly good at adapting (much better than people). Dogs are present oriented, so once they find out that a behavior no longer works, they will be perfectly willing to abandon that idea.