Training & Behavior: Big Dogs & Small Dogs: Making Life Comfy
Ace, a 10-year-old Shih Tzu, had a problem. He always enjoyed napping on the bed in the afternoon while his best friend, Alexandra, was away. As soon as he heard the keys in the door, he'd hop down, run full-speed, and greet his two-legged best friend with yips of excitement. But lately it was getting a little uncomfortable to jump off the bed. In fact, some days, even though Alexandra welcomed him on the bed, it was hard getting up there.
Lucky for Ace, Alexandra was smart and always attentive to his needs. Using just a few pieces of plywood, a little foam, a glue gun, and some fabric, she built a ramp for Ace that was not only effective in easing his transition from floor to bed, it matched the comforter that she and Ace shared.
The size of our love for our canine companions doesn't change with the size of the breed. We love them all—the big ones, the small ones, and the pooches that fall somewhere in between. They're our roommates, our best friends, and our protectors. But it seems like the world we live in isn't always adapted for big dogs and small dogs. Whether your best buddy is a great little Chihuahua or Great Pyrenees, with a little creativity you can help make the world your companion lives in even better.
If your dog is a gentle giant, you know what it means to have the world not quite scaled to his needs, which is why it's wise to use strong grip tape if you have area rugs on hardwood or tile floors. Big paws slide more and come down faster than middle-sized and little dogs, and given his center of gravity, your big dog is more prone to slipping.
Then there's his feeding. You already know that big dogs are like big people—they love to eat. But it's not completely natural for big dogs to bend as far down as they do if you're using a regular feeding dish on the floor. Several dog specialty stores and gadget stores offer feeding tables (some are even adjustable) that are geared for your dog's height. The tables help prevent unnecessary strain to your dog's neck. Be sure to choose the tables with feeding and water dish trays that can be removed for cleaning, but still sit into the tabletop to provide stability, no matter how much gusto your furry Paul Bunyan brings. And use stainless steel or ceramic food bowls only—plastics may leach chemicals into food and water over time.
This brings us to the delicate matter of toilet bowls. Yes, we know he's interested, but it's a habit you'll need to help him break. Problem is, your big dog is probably smart—so he knows how to lift the seat. At almost any baby store you can get a plastic lock that will keep him from nosing the toilet seat open. Similar child safety locks for ground-level cabinets are a smart idea, and it's a given that your trash can should be covered.
Your big pal also likely has a shoulder and hip height equal to most tables. And since he's a happy dog, he does a lot of tail wagging. Think about moving fragile knickknacks and lightweight lamps to a higher plane.
Another thing to consider—it's likely that a regular dog collar and leash aren't really made for a buddy with the strength yours has. You're outside a lot with your big boy—big dogs need lots of outdoor exercise and play time—so the last thing you want is him getting separated from you because the lead broke or the collar couldn't take his strength.
Along these same lines, car seat restraint systems made for regular-sized dogs just aren't good enough. Your gentle giant needs extra-wide straps and stronger restraint anchors to accommodate his comfort, girth, and weight. A number of companies make big dog harness seatbelt systems, and they aren't any costlier than traditional dog seatbelts. Some even double as a great walking harness.
Toy breeds bring unique joy, and there are plenty of things you can do to return that happiness. Like Alexandra, think about the places you want to share his company that may be out of his reach—couches, day beds, or the master bed. Even if he's capable of jumping up and down, these proportional heights can put a strain on his knees and joints. Since toy breeds are prone to knee problems as they age, it's best to ease the burden early. You can do anything from building him his own ramp or stairs to simply lining up a footstool in a strategic position by the bed or couch and then teaching him to use it going up and down.
Something else to consider in regards to your Lilliputian lap dog—while no doubt you and your diminutive buddy are well-choreographed (you and he know exactly how to walk around each other without ever tripping each other up), guests in your house may not be as adept. It's not a bad idea to get a bell you can attach to your pal's collar when you have visitors so everyone knows where he is.
Speaking of collars, most toy breeds have delicate bodies. Rather than a standard collar, invest in a figure-eight harness or figure-H harness. That way, when you're walking your buddy on a leash, the pull is evenly distributed over his shoulders instead of directly to his neck. And many companies make leashes specifically for smaller dogs—the lightweight, retractable lead is much easier for him to handle than traditional leads.
Little things mean a lot, so give some consideration to a few basics. Most store-bought dog treats are made for standard-size dogs. If you give them to your small dog on a regular basis, he'll gain weight. And while people love the idea of a big, luxurious bed to relax in, toy breeds feel more comfortable in a nice, little space, so be sure the bed you buy is scaled to size. The right-sized bed will make him feel secure.
Finally, pet toy manufacturers have kept your little buddy in mind. Plenty of pet stores carry miniature, puppy-safe tennis balls that are comfortable for games of catch.
Sure, you live in one of the extremes. Your best friend is either a gentle bear of a dog or a snuggly little teacup. Take time to make your best friend's world more conducive to his size. For all he gives you, it's a labor of love.
About the Author Trey Garrison's two Chihuahuas, Harley and Cody, are co-signers on the mortgage.