A Small Dog's Cuddling Credo
Small dogs look like little cuddlebugs, but they may not always feel that way. While some small breeds -- like the shih tzu and Yorkshire terrier -- seem to have a penchant for curling up and getting kissy, others -- like the Chihuahua and dachshund -- are naturally aloof.
If you, however, are a cuddler at heart, you can encourage your dog to humor you by following a few ground rules.
- Know the cues that indicate whether your dog finds the way you approach her threatening. If you come in loud and fast, your small dog will feel like she's under attack. She will cower and try to get away -- or she will tense up, stand tall and get ready to protect herself. Stack the odds in your favor: Move slow, speak quietly and invite your dog to approach you. Some greetings that feel natural to humans, such as a toothy smile and direct eye contact, could be the equivalent of fightin' words in your dog's world.
- Respect her personal space. Because she is diminutive compared to your relatively giant self, it can be easy to physically overwhelm a small dog with affection. So don't make her feel like you're Lennie and she's the mouse in John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" (Lennie loved to pet anything soft -- so much so that he literally smothered small animals with affection). Your little dog doesn't want to feel the squeeze.
- Watch for signs that your sweetie is done with cuddling. If she squirms out of your arms, bares her teeth or flattens her ears, she is ready for "alone time." If you dial down your over-the-top affection and if she still reacts aggressively, it's time to call a dog behaviorist.
In general, dogs offer affection by showing you respect. By teaching your small dog some basic obedience skills -- and enforcing every request -- you build respect and its positive byproduct: trust. When your dog respects you, trusts you and has entered a calm state of mind, you can offer him affection.
Your small dog's feelings for you, however, won't be as obvious as a pat on the head or scratch behind the ears. You'll know she's feeling cuddly when she wags her tail, shows interest in whatever activity you're doing (even if it's something mundane, like dusting) or leans against you. According to Pia Salk, Ph.D., a psychologist and animal behavior expert, some small dogs will curl up on your lap or sit with part of their body resting against yours to show their bond with you.
If your dog isn't a natural cuddler, encourage her by playing games during which you rub her tummy or trade kibble for kisses. Dogs are genetically programmed to work for food; earning treats allows your small dog to associate affection with something she already loves, and will reassert your role as the pack leader. Putting your relationship on the right track will create a win/win situation and make you both feel more inclined to cuddle.