How to Train Small Dog with Big Success: A Pint-Sized Guide

How to Train Small Dog

Having a small dog is like having a cute little ball of energy bouncing around your house. They’re full of life, full of love, but let’s be honest, they can sometimes be a handful, right? That’s where training comes in, and I’m here to walk you through it, step by step.

Understanding Your Small Dog’s Needs

When it comes to our pint-sized pals, it’s important to remember that their needs and behaviors can be quite different from their larger counterparts. Much of this comes down to their size. Imagine being a Chihuahua in a world where everything seems gigantic. Scary, right?

That’s the world for our small dogs. They constantly find themselves in situations where they are the smallest ones in the room, and this can certainly influence their behavior.

I learned this firsthand with my little pooch, Daisy. For her, being small in a world of larger dogs and towering humans was initially quite a daunting experience. I’d watch as Daisy strutted around, barking at dogs triple her size, or jumping high to get a glimpse of what’s on the table.

At first, it was a bit perplexing why she’d want to make such a ruckus. But then, it hit me – it wasn’t about being naughty, it was about being seen and feeling secure.

Small dogs often put on a brave face as a way to assert themselves. This ‘big dog’ behavior from our little friends can sometimes be misinterpreted as being headstrong or stubborn. But it’s just their way of navigating the world, much like how we humans put on a brave face in challenging situations.

And it’s not just about behaviors; their physical needs are unique too. Their tiny bodies mean they can feel the cold more intensely, need smaller and more frequent meals, and can be prone to certain health issues.

Daisy also taught me about the importance of understanding her fears. Because of her size, she was naturally more cautious. Regular socialization from a young age helped her gain confidence. We gradually introduced her to different environments, sounds, and experiences.

Every small step Daisy took towards overcoming her fears felt like a massive victory. It required patience, but watching her grow from a timid puppy into a more confident dog was incredibly rewarding.

Getting Down to Basics: Small Dog Training 101

Training a small dog can seem like a Herculean task, but I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be. The journey to a well-behaved small dog begins with basic obedience training. This lays the foundation for everything else, from simple tasks like behaving during meal times, to more complex ones like performing tricks or being comfortable around other animals.

Start with easy commands like ‘Sit’, ‘Stay’, ‘Come’, ‘Down’, and ‘Leave it’. These basic commands are the building blocks for more advanced training and can really help in managing your dog’s behavior. With Daisy, we started with the ‘Sit’ command.

I would hold a treat close to her nose, move my hand up, allowing her head to follow the treat and causing her bottom to lower. Once she was sitting, I’d say ‘Sit’, give her the treat and share affection to reinforce the action.

Within a week, Daisy got the hang of it! It was like unlocking a new level in a video game – a game changer! She started behaving better during meal times, and her overall manners improved.

Related post: How to crate train a rescue dog?

Breed-Specific Training Tips

Dogs, like humans, come with their own set of unique traits and temperaments. This becomes evident when we look at different breeds. Terriers, known for their tenacity, are stubborn but incredibly intelligent. Poodles are often a bundle of high energy and are always eager to learn new things. And Shih Tzus? Well, they’re known for their stubborn streaks, just like my Daisy!

A Shih Tzu, came with its own set of challenges. Shih Tzus are often characterized as stubborn. While this can make training a bit challenging, it’s important to remember this trait stems from their intelligence and independent nature. They want to understand the ‘why’ before they follow a command. So, how did we work around this?

First, we used positive reinforcement. Whenever Daisy followed a command, we rewarded her with a treat, a toy, or praise. This built an association in her mind that following commands led to good things. Secondly, we made sure our training sessions were short and fun to keep Daisy interested. Long, monotonous sessions didn’t work with her – she’d quickly lose interest.

And finally, patience and consistency were key. With a Shih Tzu, you can’t expect results overnight. We had to be patient, consistent with our commands and rewards, and understand that there will be good days and bad days. But the progress Daisy made over time was definitely worth the effort.

Remember, the key to training any breed is understanding their individual quirks and traits and tailoring your training methods accordingly. It’s all about working with their nature, not against it.

Positive Reinforcement: The Key to Success

When it comes to training small dogs, I swear by positive reinforcement training. But what is it? Simply put, it’s the method of rewarding the behaviors you want to see more of. In our case, it became the winning formula that unlocked Daisy’s willingness to learn and follow instructions.

Here’s the science behind it. Positive reinforcement operates on the principle that dogs will repeat behavior that results in a positive outcome. So, every time your dog does something good, you reward them, creating a positive association with that behavior. It’s all about ‘catching them in the act’ of doing something good!

For Daisy, we used a mix of rewards – treats, toys, praise, and even belly rubs. Each time she followed a command correctly, she would receive one of these rewards. The trick is to immediately reward them, so your dog connects the good behavior with the reward. Delayed rewards can confuse them, and they may not associate the reward with the correct behavior.

With positive reinforcement, we noticed a significant change in Daisy’s learning speed. It was like flipping a switch! She started picking up commands much faster. ‘Sit’ which had been a struggle initially, became her default pose whenever she wanted a treat. Even complex commands like ‘Leave it’ became easier as she understood that good things happen when she listens.

Another advantage of positive reinforcement is that it builds a bond of trust and respect between you and your dog. Instead of fearing punishment, your dog understands that you are rewarding good behavior, which encourages them to behave better. This kind of positive relationship between you and your dog can make the training process much smoother.

One important tip to remember: while treats are a great motivator, be cautious not to overdo them, as it can lead to weight gain, especially in small dogs. Use small, low-calorie treats or consider using pieces of their regular kibble. Remember, the reward doesn’t always have to be a treat. Affection and praise can be just as effective.

With Daisy, using positive reinforcement training wasn’t just a method to teach her commands, it was a way to communicate, bond, and establish a loving relationship based on mutual trust and respect. So don’t underestimate the power of a treat and a good belly rub!

Addressing Fearful Behavior: Small but Mighty

Despite their tiny statures, have you ever noticed how small dogs often seem to have the courage of a lion? While their bravery can be endearing, it can also be a sign of fear or anxiety.

This ‘Napoleon complex’, where small dogs act tougher to protect themselves, is often a response to the scary, oversized world they find themselves in. My Daisy was no different. She’d puff up her chest and bark at the larger dogs as if she was a German Shepherd and not a little Shih Tzu!

But understanding that this bravado was driven by fear and not pure guts changed the way we approached Daisy’s behavior. Our focus shifted from reprimanding her for her ‘bad behavior’ to addressing her underlying fear. And the solution lay in socialization and positive experiences.

Regular socialization was key in reducing Daisy’s fear. We started by gradually introducing her to other dogs and different environments, always making sure these experiences were positive. We’d go for walks in the park, visit friends with dogs, and even attended local dog events. Initially, she’d be nervous, but over time, as she met more dogs and experienced diverse situations, she became more confident.

Positive experiences played a significant role as well. For instance, we’d arrange playdates with larger but gentle dogs. We made sure Daisy had an escape route or a safe place if she felt overwhelmed. Treats and praises were given liberally to reinforce her good experiences with larger dogs. Soon, she was running around and playing with her bigger buddies, without the need to put on a tough facade.

We also used desensitization techniques. We’d expose Daisy to things she was afraid of but in a controlled and minimal way, and reward her for staying calm. This helped reduce her anxiety over time. For example, if she was scared of a larger dog, we’d start by watching the dog from a distance. Once she was comfortable, we’d gradually decrease the distance, always ensuring she was at ease.

Related post: Seperation anxiety training for dogs

Addressing fear in small dogs isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Each dog has their own set of fears and pace of overcoming them. With Daisy, it was a journey of patience, understanding, and consistent positive reinforcement. And the reward was a more confident, less fearful Daisy who could enjoy her doggie life to the fullest!

The Role of Diet in Training

Often overlooked, a proper diet plays a significant role in training your small dog. Just like humans, dogs too need the right fuel to learn, grow, and perform at their best. In my experience with Daisy, her dietary changes had a noticeable effect on her training sessions.

Why does diet matter so much? Imagine trying to run a marathon after eating a bag of chips – not the best idea, right? Similarly, feeding your dog a balanced diet is essential to ensure they have the energy and focus required for training.

Foods high in sugar or fillers can lead to energy crashes, and dogs may struggle to concentrate during training sessions. On the other hand, a balanced diet can boost your dog’s physical and mental energy levels, making them more receptive to learning.

When we switched Daisy to a balanced diet, we noticed a significant difference in her performance. Her energy levels were more stable, she was more focused during training, and her overall health improved. She was no longer sluggish or easily distracted but more engaged and eager to learn. Plus, her coat looked better than ever!

So what does a balanced diet for a small dog look like? First and foremost, it needs to be appropriate for your dog’s age, breed, and health status. Puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs have different nutritional requirements.

Generally, a good diet should contain a mix of high-quality protein for muscle development, carbohydrates for energy, fats for a shiny coat and skin, and a variety of fruits and vegetables for essential vitamins and minerals. Always consult with a vet or a pet nutrition expert to understand what’s best for your specific dog.

Remember, while treats are an integral part of training, they should make up only a small portion of your dog’s diet. Too many treats can lead to weight gain, especially in small dogs. Choose healthy treats and use them sparingly. I sometimes use pieces of Daisy’s regular dog food as treats during training sessions. She doesn’t seem to mind, and it helps keep her caloric intake in check.


Training your small dog might be a handful, but with patience, consistency, and lots of love, you can certainly turn your tiny terror into a well-behaved companion. It’s a journey, so buckle up, and remember to enjoy each moment as you and your pup learn together.

You might wonder: What are the easiest dog to train?

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best age to start training small dogs?

Start as early as possible, ideally when they’re puppies. Puppies are like little sponges, eager to learn and explore. The earlier you start training, the better foundation you can establish.

How long should each training session be?

Short and sweet is the way to go when it comes to training sessions for small dogs. Their attention spans are shorter compared to larger breeds, so keeping the sessions around 5-15 minutes is ideal.

What if my dog is not food motivated?

Not all dogs are equally motivated by food treats, and that’s perfectly okay. If your small dog is not food motivated, it’s important to find what they love. It could be a favorite toy, a game of fetch, or even your praise and attention.

How can I socialize my small dog?

Socializing your small dog is crucial for their well-being and behavior. Gradual exposure to new people, places, and situations is key. Start by introducing your dog to a variety of environments, sounds, and smells. Encourage positive interactions with other dogs and people by organizing playdates or attending dog-friendly events.

Are small dogs harder to train than large dogs?

Training difficulty can vary more with breed and individual temperament than size alone. Some small breeds are incredibly intelligent and eager to please, making them a joy to train. The key is to understand your dog’s personality, adapt your training techniques accordingly, and be patient and consistent in your approach.

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