Toy dogs



Your dog is this type if he:
Loves being with you, sitting on your lap and being picked up for a cuddle. He may also like going for walks – perhaps more to spend time with you outside than for actual exercise – chasing balls and swimming. He loves his home comforts and may be very reluctant to go out in cold or wet weather. Some Toy Dogs are more active and terrier-like, but many just want to be up close and personal with their owners as much as possible.

Exercise and play

Don’t underestimate Toy Dogs. Yes, they are small, and yes, some can be delicate and sensitive, but they are dogs, not babies, and usually far more robust than they look. Some like jumping in muddy puddles just as much as other dogs, so always give your Toy Dog the benefit of the doubt and give him the opportunity to enjoy traditional canine pursuits.

Being smaller, Toy Dogs don’t need as much physical exercise as larger breeds, but they do still need it. Carrying your dog around instead of making him walk is fine, but only if he still has plenty of other opportunities in the day to run, play, exercise and encounter new experiences and mental challenges.

Not only do Toy Dogs benefit from the exercise of running around, they also need the opportunity to socialise. Toy Dogs bond closely with their human family (and often one particular owner), but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are comfortable with everyone and some have a reputation for being snappy with other people and possessive of ‘their’ owner. Lack of exercise or independent movement can result in an unfit, reactive dog that is scared of being put down on the floor and unhealthily over-dependent on you, and that’s not good for either of you.

Avoid picking him up at the first sight of another dog. If there is a real threat to his safety, of course you should intervene, but if you never give him the chance to interact with larger, friendly dogs, he could end up being afraid of them simply because of your over-reaction.

Note: with some brachycephalic (flat-faced) Toy dogs such as Pugs, hot weather and the increased panting it provokes can result in breathing difficulties, so exercise should be limited to the early morning and late evening when it is cooler.

Independent play

Toy Dogs are not particularly independent, with the exception of some of the toy terrier breeds, preferring to share as much of their time with you as they can. Encourage your dog’s independence by giving him a small treat-filled toy to play with at your feet and then, over time, move away into another room or the garden leaving him to chew and play on his own. If it is done gradually, with your dog focused on playing with the ball, then he will soon become less clingy.

Sitting in an elevated spot – perhaps a bed on a deep windowsill with steps (or strategically placed furniture) leading up to it  – will also keep him amused for an hour or two, watching the world go by and snoozing in the sun. Many Toy dogs enjoy having a comforter for when human contact isn’t available – such as a small soft toy that they carry around and snuggle up to sleep with, but make sure it has no parts that might be chewed off and swallowed.

If your Toy dog barks at the slightest provocation, restrict his access to viewpoints while you’re not around (see below for training the ‘Shush’ request.)

Some Toy dogs can be quite terrier-like, so it is worth trying some terrier games with yours, e.g. give him a safe, squeaky toy of an appropriate size, a rope pull to shake around in his mouth, and a paper bag or small cardboard carton with some treats inside for him to rip up.

Teaching your Toy Dog a clear sign that means you are busy and cannot give him any attention will also help foster some independence (see below under Bonding).

Playing with the owner

If he’s with you, your dog will be happy, whether you are taking him for a walk to the nearby park, rolling balls for him to chase and pounce on, or wiggling a fishing-rod toy for him to stalk.

Some Toy dogs have been trained to a high standard and enjoy agility courses (appropriate to their size), rally-O and flyball etc. If you can’t dedicate the time to regular agility training, perhaps enroll him on an initial ‘taster’ course to learn the basics and then pursue the hobby at home in your garden with some purchased or improvised equipment (a tunnel, some low jumps and weave poles, e.g.). Your Toy dog will enjoy running a mini course with you, and as they are so tuned into their owners and their body language, they often learn surprisingly quickly.

Emotional bonding

Spending time with their owner is what these dogs were bred to do – they are ‘professional pets’ that have often earned their living over centuries as pampered companions, warming laps and beds for royalty and ordinary folk alike. If you cannot spend the best part of the day with this type of dog, you should choose another, less-reliant dog type whose happiness isn’t quite so dependent on the amount of time he can spend with his human family.

Making a Toy Dog a part of your everyday life is very important for his happiness, so take him with you on car rides, walks to the shops or trips to the local cafe or pub to meet friends. Luckily his small size makes it easy to carry him on buses or up escalators, and also means he’s not intimidating to people who are normally scared of dogs.

Many toy dog breeds have luxurious coats, sometimes purely to look pretty and to be groomed to perfection by adoring owners. These dogs will enjoy being groomed if they have been socialised from a young age to accept all-over handling and brushing. A casual groom can be very relaxing and enjoyable for your dog when he’s sat on your lap of an evening while you watch television. Toy Dogs thrive on human contact, and regular grooming also lets you spot any changes to his coat and skin.   

Of course, spending a lot of time together can make your Toy Dog rather socially over reliant on you, and if you ever have to go away without him on holiday, to hospital, or even just out for an evening, he could become distraught unless he has been taught to cope on his own and amuse himself without you. It is important that he learns such self-reliance from an early age, as this can lead to separation-related behaviour problems such as chewing. Accustom him to short periods of solitude 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 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 allegedly release synthetic ‘appeasing pheromones’, which are said to mimic those given off by a mother dog when suckling her 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.

Some Toy breeds can become pests in their attempts to solicit endless attention, leaping onto your lap or into your arms at every opportunity. Teach your dog that attention and contact won’t be available when a specific visual signal is put in place, such as a scarf hanging over a doorknob or a particular ornament placed on a table. This really helps with managing the nature and intensity of the bond you enjoy with your dog, as he won’t develop expectations for attention that are then frustrated and he won’t become a nuisance with his demands for attention. He’ll get just as much attention as you want to give him, but won’t become dependent on it for his happiness.

Toy dogs can also become very affectionate with other family dogs and cats, depending on the temperament and social history of all concerned. If a human lap isn’t available, two Toy dogs will often cuddle up with each other, or any other warm body that’s on offer.

Nutrition and health

Toy Dogs are sometimes very fussy about their food, although this is a problem that’s often created unwittingly by an ever-attentive owner who too quickly replaces what the dog is given with something else 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 food instead, he’ll quickly realise that refusal brings increasingly luxurious delights.

Standing and eating a bowlful of food twice a day usually doesn’t hold too much appeal for a Toy Dog, so it is important to be inventive with how food is delivered to him throughout the day. Try scattering a handful of food in short grass outdoors when the weather is fine, or putting some of his daily food allocation in a small treat-dispensing toy so that he can ‘work’ and be rewarded. Hide the toys in your garden or behind furniture inside the home, so he has to search them out. Spoil him a little and maintain that close bond by hand feeding him a little of his daily ration occasionally and use lots of rewards when training both basic obedience and fun tricks which he’ll love to perform for you and your guests. The remaining amount of his food (which won’t be very much) can be split into two meals and given in a food bowl, morning and evening.

Key Facts: Toy dogs

Your dog is this type if he:
Loves being with you, sitting on your lap and being picked up for a cuddle. He may also like going for walks – perhaps more to spend time with you outside than for actual exercise – chasing balls and swimming. He loves his home comforts and may be very reluctant to go out in cold or wet weather. Some Toy Dogs are more active and terrier-like, but many just want to be up close and personal with their owners as much as possible.

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