Kate Devine and I have known each other for over a decade, and were even roommates the year after we graduated from our respective colleges. Kate has a tiny Chihuahua named Madeline who once was quite the ankle biter (I know first hand, as I lived with little Madeline and Kate for a year). I hope you enjoy this guest blogger post as much as I do. It is so important to train small toy breeds just as well as you would an extremely large breed. All too often people over look important training with toy breeds, because they can simply scoop up their dog and carry it when it misbehaves - this is one of my biggest pet peeves! Toy breeds in particular are very appealing to small children and toddlers because of their petite stature, and as a result it is just as important, if not more so, to have an exceptionally well-trained dog, with no-vices if you own a toy breed.
Taming the Ankle Biter
-Little Miss Madi
We’ve all heard the term “ankle biter,” and I’m sure we all have a pretty good image in our minds of what an ankle biter might look like—a tiny, possibly fluffy, and deceivingly cute little dog. They look so sweet until the yapping and snapping starts. So why are so many tiny dogs ankle biters? And is it possible to have a sweet tiny dog; even a tiny dog who, heavens, LIKES children? The answer is… YES!
4 ½ lbs, tan, tiny, adorably alien looking, and incredibly loving, even with tiny kids
How did a Chihuahua, a breed notorious for cranky bad behavior, turn out so sweet and patient?
The art of socializing a teeny pooch:
Pulling from some psychological attachment theory originally developed to postulate human attachment, I decided when I got this insanely tiny dog two years ago (barely 2 lbs at 10 weeks) to attempt to socialize her as best I could in hopes of her one day becoming a children’s therapy dog for my future psychology practice (or at least in hopes of her being social and safe).
A little quick psych lesson:
Mary Ainsworth, a well-known attachment theorist in the psychology community, theorized that there are three types of attachment: Secure, Ambivalent-Insecure, and Avoidant-Insecure. She tested her theory in her famous experiment entitled “The Strange Situation” in the 1970s (definitely Google worthy if you have some free time). Overall she found that kids with secure attachment are rarely distressed when their parents leave because they are sure their parents will eventually return. They feel sure that they can seek comfort, reassurance and safety with their parents, leading them to feel more comfortable in strange situations. Ambivalent kids are very upset when their parents leave and generally feel like they can’t depend on their parents to be there when they need them for safety, reassurance, etc. Avoidant kids tend to avoid their parents altogether, which could be the result of a lack of care and possibly even a sense of punishment when they seek help or reassurance.
Who’s to say dogs don’t feel this way too? We’ve all seen pets that freak out when their caregiver leaves, who become overwhelmingly excited when their caregiver returns, or who frankly couldn’t care less if their caregiver disappeared. We’ve all also seen pets who are happy to make friends with people and other animals, and who gladly return to their owner when called. We also know that scared dogs are dangerous dogs.
Now I’m sure there are human and animal exceptions to this theory, but it’s worth a shot, right? So my aim was to have a securely attached and happy little Chihuahua who breaks the stereotype of the traditional tiny ankle biter. The day I got her I put her in her car carrier and took her to my mom’s office, letting every employee hold her and play with her. When I got her home I took her to coffee shops and tied her to my chair, letting everyone who wanted to, even tiny toddlers, come up and pet her, pull her ears and her tail (not violently though, and always under my watchful eye). I introduced her to all sizes of dogs, and she actually grew up with a very sweet-tempered golden retriever approximately 40 times her size. She got to play by herself during the day when I wasn’t home, but got to sleep right next to my bed at night, and then in my bed with me when she was “big” enough and not quite so fragile. She walked on a leash instead of being carried everywhere and generally learned to fend for herself, but also learned that mommy would come to her rescue if her giant buddy got too rough or if she got scared.
The results of this socializing were clear last Thanksgiving when my cousin’s 18 month old son immediately grabbed her leash and dragged her around the house and yard all day (which worked surprisingly well to teach her to follow her leash-holder). Not only did she follow that toddler everywhere, allowing him to tug her leash, her tail, and her ears, she would jump up and lick his little face every time he fell down. The final proof came when, at the end of the day, exhausted and napping in her car carrier, the toddler decided it was time to play again and. With no adults within an arm’s reach, but with all of us watching in shock, the toddler reached into Madi’s carrier, grabbed her by her nose, and pulled her out of her lovely sleep and safe haven. I think even I might have snapped at that point, but Little Miss Madi peeped open her adorably gigantic eyes, yawned, and licked that little boy’s hands, letting the games begin again.