I was having coffee with Neila the other day, and she told me about something that had happened that really irritated her. I’ve mentioned before, in Matching People and Puppies the Right Way, that she is very fussy about whom she sells puppies to, even demanding that potential buyers pass a criminal records check.
Anyway, with the last litter, Neila thought she had a buyer lined up. The man had passed the records check, provided references, and, on the phone, sounded like he had a genuine love for dogs in general and Rottweilers in particular. It quickly went south, though, when he came to visit the litter. The first thing he wanted to know was whether or not there were any puppies in the litter that Neila would consider to be abnormally small.
Why, Neila wondered, would he want such an animal? Turns out that he wanted to create a new breed: the Miniature Rottweiler.
I probably don’t need to tell you that Neila kicked him to the curb pretty quickly, and also let him know exactly what she thought of the idea. As she put it to me: “As if there haven’t been enough good breeds ruined by miniaturizing!”
Okay, So I’m Biased
I thought about what she said, and I was pretty much forced to agree with her. If you come here regularly, you know that I have a bias in favor of large dogs, and I don’t make that a secret. It’s not that I dislike small dogs, provided that they’re naturally small. In fact, I have a particular fondness for Chihuahuas, probably because so many of them seem convinced that they’re Rottweilers.
But then consider the poodle. Contrast the noble, intelligent, emotionally stable Standard Poodle with the yappy, high-strung little minis and toys. Whoever originally came up with the idea of “breeding small” did not, in my opinion, do the breed any favors. Then there’s the Yorkshire terrier: a tough, scrappy little dog, about seven pounds, just the right size for hauling around in a purse. However, take him down to teacup size (two to three pounds) and usually you have a nervous wreck with multiple health problems (see Why You Should Walk Away From Teacup Dogs).
Where Does It End?
That’s what Neila wants to know. “What’s next?” she asked. “A Toy Pit Bull? How about a Miniature Great Dane; how’s that for an oxymoron? What would you even call such a thing? A Not-So-Great Dane?” If you miniaturize a Great Pyrenees, is he a Merely Adequate Pyrenees? Would a Toy Bernese Mountain Dog be a Bernese Ant Hill Dog?”
At this point, I was laughing so hard I was spraying coffee out my nose and pleading with Neila to stop. Then I reassured her that I didn’t think she’d have to worry about meeting up with a Toy Pit Bull anytime soon.
It turns out, though, that I might have been wrong. Having, as I have often pointed out, an insatiable curiosity, when I got home, I Googled “Toy Pit Bull,” and discovered that there are actually dogs being sold as Miniature Pit Bulls. One would assume that toys are the next [il]logical step. These dogs are also known as Pocket Pit Bulls, and they stand anywhere from 16 to 20 inches at the shoulder. They are not true Pit Bulls, though, being usually a mix between the Patterdale Terrier and the American Pit Bull. These dogs have a very high prey drive, and are not typically good with other animals. They are trainable but stubborn, and not suited to inexperienced owners.
So, that’s your Miniature Pit Bull, and if the trend toward breeding smaller and smaller dogs continues unchecked, you can probably assume that he will be the forerunner to the Toy Pit Bull and then, God help us, the Teacup Pit Bull.
Are There Advantages to Owning a Small Dog?
Now that the rant about the evils of miniaturizing certain dog breeds is out of the way, let’s talk about small dogs in general. As I’ve said, generally speaking, small dogs are not my thing. However, many people do have a love for them, and the fact is that that both large and small breeds have their advantages and disadvantages. As a Boxer owner, I can tell you that, sometimes, you need a certain level of physical strength to cope with a large dog. Also, a large dog in a rambunctious mood can be considerably more destructive than a smaller dog. I find that, sometimes, I’m also subjected to a certain amount of prejudice. People sometimes assume that because Janice and Leroy are big, they must, by definition, be dangerous. Owners of small dogs don’t have to deal with these issues. But there are ups and downs to having a small dog, as well.
Why Are Small Dogs So Popular?
If you visit your local dog park, you’ll probably notice that small dogs are in the majority. Now, if you’re old enough, think back a few decades. Back then, small dogs were few and far between. In fact, if you saw one, you’d probably rush over and marvel at the fact that a dog could be so tiny. Today, the trend when it comes to dog size has shifted 180 degrees. Why is that?
You can probably attribute some of the increasing popularity of small dogs to breed-specific legislation (BSL). Some jurisdictions ban certain types of large dogs (Rottweilers and Pit Bulls, mainly) entirely. HMOs, trailer parks and condo boards may also restrict the size of dog you are permitted to have. Then, too, there is the fact that people are becoming increasingly urbanized, and more likely to live in an apartment in their town or city than in a house.
Another reason for the prevalence of small dogs is one that I, personally, find distasteful. It’s our culture of celebrity worship. We see famous people with little dogs, and our desire to emulate them extends to adopting their preferences, not just in clothing and hair styles, but in pets. It’s as though we think that if we have the same kind of dog as our favorite celebrities, we will somehow be viewed as being as important and admirable as they are believed to be.
As I’ve said, though, there are ups and downs to having a small dog. Let’s take a look at them.
The Upside of Having a Small Dog
Keep in mind that there can be a lot of differences between one small breed and another, so these are just generalizations. The advantages of having a small breed of dog, though, can include the following:
- A small dog can live comfortably in an apartment or small house, because small breeds do not usually require huge yards in order to get enough exercise.
- Small dogs eat considerably less than big dogs, so they’re less expensive to keep.
- It is less expensive to spay or neuter a small dog than a large one.
- Small dogs are easier to travel with. If you need to travel by air, a small dog might be able to go with you in the cabin, but if you have a large dog, he will have to travel in the cargo hold.
- Small dogs generally live longer than large dogs.
- If the worst happens and your dog bites someone, the damage will be far less significant than that caused by a large breed.
- Small breeds are more likely to be tolerated in restaurants, stores, and other public places than large breeds.
Again, these are not universal truths. There are always exceptions. Just as an example, although the damage caused by bites from small dogs is usually not all that significant, there was a case in California in 2000 where a child was bitten to death by a Pomeranian. Large breeds can often live comfortably in an apartment, provided that they are walked frequently. Some airlines will not allow dogs of any size in the cabin. You get the idea. These are guidelines, not hard and fast rules.
The Downside of Having a Small Dog
Once again, there are always exceptions. However, the following are some things that generally apply to owning a small dog:
- Small dogs are usually harder to obedience train than large dogs. Many of the smaller breeds have a tendency toward stubbornness.
- The same goes for housetraining. Small dogs are usually more likely to “potty” in the house than large dogs, so consistency with house training is an absolute must.
- Small dogs can be more difficult to socialize than large dogs.
- Small dogs often don’t seem to realize that they are small. Thus, they may try to mix it up with larger breeds. There is seldom a good outcome for the small dog in this scenario.
- The fact is that little dogs really do tend to be a lot more “barky” than big dogs, and it can be more difficult to break them of the habit.
- Small dog syndrome isn’t a myth. Smaller breeds can be very snappish and aggressive, especially when it comes to their toys or their food. If you let them get away with it, they will quickly decide that they are the alpha in your relationship.
- Small dogs may not be good with children (see immediately above). Another reason why small dogs and kids might not be a good mix is that small dogs are more likely to be injured during rough play with children who do not understand that the dog is fragile.
- Small dogs are not guard dogs. I don’t care what you have heard about how burglars, rapists and other people who might be intent on robbing you or causing you harm will go away if there is a dog of any size at all in the home, it’s not true. Home invaders are becoming more and more brazen these days, and they know perfectly well that it is very easy to take a small dog out of the equation. If you are considering a dog for protection, forget about Shih Tzus, Toy Poodles, Bichons and the like, and go with a nice, solid Pit Bull, Rottweiler, Great Dane or English Mastiff. In fact, just as a side note, the English Mastiff is the breed I would be most likely to recommend for protection, because these dogs typically weigh in the neighborhood of 200 pounds, minimum – bigger than most people – and they are fiercely protective. All a small dog can really do is bark, and that’s not going to do you much good if your life is in danger.
- Small breeds right now are generally more expensive to buy than large breeds. It’s simply “supply and demand.” They’re more in demand, so they cost more.
So again, we have a lot of generalizations here. Some small dogs, for instance, are very quiet, but Neila’s Rottweilers bark when a leaf falls. Large dogs may generally be said to be better with children, but in Breed of the Week: English Mastiff, I told you about Artie, the Mastiff who just couldn’t get along with kids and had to be re-homed. And I suppose that, theoretically, a small dog could be helpful in a home invasion, if he’s yapping away to alert you to an intruder, thereby giving you time to get your .44 magnum out of the nightstand.
When it comes to dogs, both small and large, nothing is ever etched in stone.
The Final Word
Now you know the ups and downs of owning a small dog, and you know that there actually could be Toy Pit Bulls bred at some point. I really don’t think a Toy Pit Bull would be a desirable sort of dog, but there seems to be no stopping the trend toward miniaturization. A dog that is naturally small is one thing, but one that is bred essentially for flaws, as would be a Toy Pit Bull or a Miniature Rottweiler, to use just a couple of examples, is something else entirely.
If you want to own a small dog, there are several desirable breeds from which you can choose. Taking something that is naturally large and then working to make it abnormally small is the kind of “breed design” that we don’t need. Get yourself a pretty little West Highland Terrier, a French bulldog, a Chihuahua, a Pug, a Maltese, or any one of several other breeds that are naturally small and run as fast as you can from anyone who wants to sell you on the idea of a Toy Pit Bull or other abnormally small animal.
Despite my personal bias, there’s nothing wrong with small dogs – provided, that is, that they’re actually meant to be small.