Spitz

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Introduction

Your dog is this type if he:
Has a great willingness to go running, even in cold, wet weather, although some breeds strongly dislike swimming or baths. Spitz are generally quite confident and perhaps even a bit stubborn  at times. They can also be quite vocal when active. Spitz types usually have short, erect ears, a bushy tail that often curls over the back (though not always), and a thick, profuse, double coat.

Exercise and play

Spitz dogs are usually very energetic and need long walks, although this obviously varies with size and breed: no Pomeranian is going to trek the wilderness with you like an Alaskan Malamute. The smaller Spitz breeds that are bred to be companion dogs do not have the strong working instincts of their larger ancestors who were bred to hunt (e.g. Norwegian Elkhound), herd (e.g. Finnish Lapphund - the reindeer herder) or draw sleds (e.g. Siberian Husky). As you would expect, these Toy-Spitz types share many characteristics with Toy Dogs, so we would recommend also reading that article if you are a proud Pomeranian person.

With their thick coats to protect them in very cold conditions, Spitz dogs love wintry weather, but many of the larger breeds hate being in water and become very unhappy when bathed or if they slip into a pond. They will quickly try to rub themselves dry against anything available, from grass to carpet, a behaviour that harks back to their Arctic days when a wet dog was quickly a cold and then a dead dog.

Be careful that this type of dog doesn’t overheat in warm weather under; exercise them only in the cool mornings and late evenings of summer. The rest of the time a shaded area in the garden or on some cool kitchen tiles will be appreciated for a lazy snooze in the heat of the day.

Independent play

Spitz dogs enjoy the company of their family and can soon become destructive if bored or lonely. Small companion breeds such as the Pomeranian and German Spitz are especially close to their humans and need encouragement and good facilities to play independently. Roll an appropriate-sized ball or mini-stuffed rubber treat-dispenser for the dog to chase and pounce on at your feet. Over several play sessions, extend the distance between you and the dog, working towards you being able to leave the room for a few minutes before returning. This will help boost his confidence and ability to play independently of you.

Toy Spitz dogs often enjoy small, dog-safe soft toys that they can cuddle up to if a human lap isn’t available. Larger Spitz breeds also love human company, but they are usually more than happy to amuse themselves with their own games for short periods. Tough, rubber, treat-dispensing toys can be hidden around the garden and they will enjoy hunting them out and playing with them.

Spitz dogs also enjoy digging, so hiding treat-toys and balls in a doggie sandpit or a dedicated digging patch in the garden will help channel his innate need to dig away from your lawn or vegetable patch.

If your Spitz doesn’t like the bed you provide, he could well dig his own, especially on warm days when he will enjoy rolling in the dust and lying in a shady hollow of freshly dug cool earth. Make sure your fences are high (larger Spitz dogs are renowned for their climbing abilities) and deep (and for their tunnelling abilities). Angling the top of the fences inwards and avoiding trellis fencing is also advisable. When not playing, Spitz often love to relax at ‘look-out posts’ from elevated areas where they can survey their territory. You might consider constructing a solid platform for him, sited well away from fences, where your dog can enjoy surveying his domain.

Playing with the owner

Spitz dogs need active owners who have the time and energy to dedicate to a ‘full-time’ pet. Smaller Spitz don’t require the same level of exercise but, being companion dogs, require a great deal of attention. They love playing with appropriately sized toys, chasing balls and a good rope-tug. They often love learning simple tricks and revel in the praise and adulation that this can earn them. Quality time and a good cuddle from someone they love is often more appreciated than a simple food reward.

Keeping the larger Spitz breeds busy and occupied is a hobby in its own right. These dogs need a good deal of exercise, particularly those breeds who enjoy pulling sleds, which means a safe area where they can run free. Care must be taken with off-lead walks for many of these dogs, as their hunting instincts are strong and they are likely to take off after a squirrel or cat and can run for very long distances, oblivious to roads and other dangers.

Canine sports can provide adult Spitz dogs with a safer opportunity to run. Canicross is an increasingly popular pastime and is perhaps best described as cross-country running with the dog wearing a padded harness attached to the owner’s belt via a bungee lead.

CANICROSS

You will need:
A padded walking belt with a 2m bungee line attached to your dog’s padded shoulder harness

Canicross is an ideal sport for dogs with strong pulling instincts, but control is needed or you could find yourself chasing cross-country after every rabbit or squirrel you pass. It’s important to keep the right amount of tension on the line between you.

Spitz rarely need to be encouraged to pull ahead of you, but if your dog does need a helping hand, find a narrow track for your first runs and ask a willing friend to jog ahead of you. This will encourage your dog to run ahead of you, and, once you start running, say, “Hike” or “Let’s go” or whatever training request you choose to use. Keep the runs short initially and, with practice, the dog will begin to associate the command with the action.

Further requests can be trained as your dog progresses – with “Gee” being the common command for turning right, “Haw” for left (words that originate from Arctic sled dog racing) and “Straight on” for, well, straight on. “Whoa” means stop, “Easy” means slow down, and “On by” is to encourage your dog to keep going when you think he is about to be distracted by something.

Give gentle guidance with the line if your dog isn’t sure of which path to take. As his confidence grows, vary routes to ensure he listens to you and isn’t just repeating the usual run.

End training sessions before you’re both exhausted and increase your distance and duration as you both get fitter. If you have any concerns about either, consult a vet and doctor.

Take water and a foldable bowl with you. In the summer months exercise only in the late evening or early morning.

Join a Canicross club for personalised training plans, advice and safety tips, competitions, and to add a social side to the sport.
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Sled breeds enjoy ‘mushing’ – even in non-snowy conditions with wheeled rigs. Two or more dogs are usually attached to a sled, but there are plenty of pulling sports for one dog, like scootering (where the dog is trained to pull you on a scooter), skijoring (where you ski, attached to your dog), or bikejoring (where the dog pulls you on a bicycle). There are various training clubs for these sports to help you learn how to train safely and build your dog’s fitness levels.

Emotional bonding

Toy Spitz breeds enjoy sharing all aspects of your life including car journeys, walks, being carried and even sleeping in a bed under your desk if your employer allows. Snoozing on your lap in the evening and being groomed is often this dog’s idea of heaven. If human contact isn’t available, the Toy Spitz enjoys cuddling up with other friends: another dog, a cat, or even a soft toy ‘comforter’.

There is a risk of your Toy Spitz dog becoming socially over-reliant on you if he spends a lot of time in your direct physical company, so it’s important to teach him self-reliance right from the start to prevent separation-related problems from developing. Accustom him to short periods on his own from as early an age as possible, separating yourself from him in another room from time to time even when you are in the house.

Provide a comfy, den-like, indoor kennel (sometimes called a dog crate) or a cosy bed in a dog-proofed room where he can snooze or chew a favourite toy on his own. Put an old, worn jumper or T-shirt in with his bedding to act as a comfort; it should smell of you, so something from the laundry basket is much more preferable to a fresh, clean item of clothing. You could also install a plug-in pheromone diffuser for added reassurance, available from your vet or better pet stores. These release synthetic ‘appeasing pheromones’, which are said to mimic those given off by a mother dog to her suckling pups to calm and comfort them. Always exercise your dog before you need to leave him alone in the house so that he is toileted and ready to relax, and then hide a treat-filled chew-toy for him to find and work on to keep himself busy while you are away.

The larger Spitz breeds might seem aloof sometimes, but that’s usually only with people that they don’t know. With their family and familiar friends they bond very closely and are very much a full-time social occupation. They not only need considerable exercise and mental stimulation but also lots of human contact and interaction and may become vocal and destructive if left alone for too long.

At home, the larger Spitz types enjoy being groomed and petted, provided they have learned that grooming is a pleasurable, rewarding experience. The thick, double coat will shed twice a year and the amount of hair that comes out has to be seen to be believed. Daily or, better, twice-daily grooming during this period will help to control the amount of hair on your floors, clothing and furniture.

All Spitz dogs can develop close relationships with a family cat or other dog, but the larger breeds also have quite strong hunting instincts. They can usually learn that the carefully introduced family cat is a friend, but a great deal of work and vigilance is required when introducing a new cat. The standing rule is to take great care supervising and ensuring safety with all other pets if you have a larger Spitz breed. Unfamiliar cats, birds and small furry animals seen in the garden and out on walks will usually be considered fair game, so it is best not to take risks on walks where you might encounter small toy dogs. On-lead walks are usually advised in public areas, with off-lead exercise restricted to private, enclosed, well-fenced land.

As Spitz types can be rather vocal, it is useful to teach them to ‘Speak’ and ‘Shush’ when asked. When mature, larger Spitz breeds often howl rather than bark. If you teach your terrier to bark when asked, it will not only mean he can have a good ‘shout’ when it’s convenient for you both, such as outside on a walk, but also that you can silence him more easily when he barks indor.

Teaching your dog ‘Speak!’ and ‘Shush!’

It may sound strange, but to teach your dog to stop barking on command, you should first teach him to bark on command.
• Ask your dog to sit and then show him a tasty treat, but keep it out of reach.
• As he gets frustrated, he should eventually bark, at which point you should immediately say “Speak” and then give him the treat and lots of praise.
• Repeat and your dog should soon learn that he should bark whenever you look at him and say “Speak”.
• Practise little and often, in various locations, in order to generalise his learning.

Now that he’ll bark on request, you can train him to stop when asked.

• Ask your dog to “Speak” and reward him as usual.
• Next tell him to “Shush” and distract him with a high-value treat, such as a new squeaky toy or a very tasty treat. When he stops barking, praise him and give him the treat.
• Repeat little and often, and you’ll soon be able to control your dog’s barking.

Nutrition and health

Most Spitz dogs love their food and will enjoy hunting it out and working for it. The smaller, Toy Spitz dogs, however, are often renowned for being fussy eaters. In common with other Toy Dogs [link to article], this situation is often created unwittingly by an over-attentive owner who is too quick to replace food with something more palatable at the first sign of indifference. Perhaps the dog just wasn’t too hungry one particular day, but the instant he leaves his food unfinished, and his owner gives him some fresh-cooked chicken instead, he’ll quickly realise that refusal brings increasingly luxurious delights.

Scatter about a quarter of his daily food allocation outside for him to nose out, feed another quarter in treat-dispensing toys that he has to agitate and move, use a handful for training rewards throughout the day, and split the remaining amount into two meals, morning and evening, so he continues to bond with you as a parental food-provider.

Key Facts: Spitz

Your dog is this type if he:
Has a great willingness to go running, even in cold, wet weather, although some breeds strongly dislike swimming or baths. Spitz are generally quite confident and perhaps even a bit stubborn  at times. They can also be quite vocal when active. Spitz types usually have short, erect ears, a bushy tail that often curls over the back (though not always), and a thick, profuse, double coat.

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