As some of the smallest dogs, there are many ways in which toy dog care is unique – so what can you do to keep your special dog’s needs satisfied? We’ll look at some of the ways you can help keep your toy dog happy, or things to consider if you think you want to get a toy dog.
About toy dog breeds
Toy dogs love being with you, sitting on your lap and being picked up for a cuddle. They may also like going for walks and sometimes chasing balls and swimming, perhaps more just to spend time with you outside than for actual exercise! They’ll be accustomed to home comforts and may be very reluctant to go out in cold or wet weather. Some Toy Dogs are more active and Terrier-like, but many want to be as close to you, their owner, as possible.
Examples of some typical breeds in this group include:
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- Lhasa Apso
- Bichon Frise
- French Bulldogs
- Bolognese Dogs
Exercise and play
Despite being some of the smallest dogs, toy dogs are usually far more robust than they look, meaning they’re ready for adventures all of their own. Some like jumping in muddy puddles just as much as other dogs, so always give your toy dog the opportunity to enjoy all the usual canine activities.
Toy dog exercise is an important consideration for owners. Being smaller, your toy dog doesn’t need as much physical exercise as larger types but they still require regular exercise to stay fit and healthy. Carrying your small dog in busy or crowded places is fine, but they should have plenty of other opportunities to exercise and enjoy new experiences in a safe, fun way.
Your toy dog also needs the opportunity to socialise, just like other dogs. Although they form close bonds with their human family (and often one particular owner), that doesn’t mean they are comfortable with everyone, and some unfortunately have a reputation for being snappy and possessive.
Toy dog care, while being different to larger dog care, doesn’t mean overprotecting your small but energetic friend. Despite your best intentions it’s easy to accidentally teach your dog to be scared of being put on the floor and to be over-dependent. To help prevent this, avoid picking them up at the first sight of another dog. If there is a real threat to their safety then of course you should intervene, but if you never give your toy dog the chance to interact with larger, friendly dogs, they could end up being afraid of them for no reason at all!
With some ‘brachycephalic’ (flat-faced) toy dogs, such as Pugs, hot weather and the increased panting it provokes can result in breathing difficulties, so exercise should be limited
Toy dogs are not particularly independent, with the exception of some of the Toy Terrier breeds, and prefer to share as much of their time with you as they can. Encourage your little dog’s independence by giving them a small, safe treat-filled toy to play with at your feet; over time, move away into another room or the garden, leaving them to chew and play on their own. They will soon become less reliant on you if this is done gradually, and by leaving them for progressively longer periods they will be happy to play on their own.
Your toy dog will usually enjoy sitting in an elevated spot for an hour or two – perhaps on a bed placed on a deep windowsill, or on strategically-placed furniture with a ramp or safe steps leading up if required. They’ll be very happy to watch the world go by and snooze in the sun, but if they start to bark a lot at what they see, restrict their access to viewpoints when you’re not around, and teach them to ‘Shush’ on request.
There are lots of games for small dogs that your friend may enjoy. Toy dogs that are Terrier-like may enjoy games such as playing with a safe, squeaky toy of an appropriate size, a rope pull to shake around in their mouth, or a mini cereal box to rip up with some treats inside to find and consume for their efforts.
Playing with you
As long as they’re with you your dog will always be happy, whether you are taking them for a walk in the park, rolling balls for them to chase and pounce on, or dangling a fishing-rod toy in front of them to stalk!
From Chihuahua care to French Bulldog care, Bichon Frise care and anything else in between, a huge part of looking after your toy dog – whatever their breed - comes from the bond you have with each other. Spending time with their owner is what these lovely dogs were bred to do; they are ‘professional pets’ that have often earned their living over the centuries as pampered companions, warming laps and providing companionship for royalty and ordinary folk alike. With this in mind, it is not surprising that these dogs need to spend the best part of the day with their human family.
Making a toy dog a part of your everyday life is very important for their happiness, so take them with you on car rides, walks to the shops or trips to the local cafe or pub to meet friends. Luckily their small size makes them easy to carry in busy spaces such as on buses or up escalators, and it means they’re less intimidating to people who might be afraid of dogs.
Many toy dog breeds have luxurious coats, and they will enjoy being groomed if they experience it from a young age. Regular toy dog grooming also helps you spot any skin conditions and changes to their coat early on, which makes for more effective treatment of any problems.
An important part of toy dog care, though, is teaching them to enjoy their own company. Bear in mind that although your toy dog adores your company, spending a lot of time together can make them socially over-reliant on you, and if you then ever have to go away without them, even just for an evening, they could become rather anxious alone. Help develop your dog’s self-confidence by getting them used to short periods of solitude from as early an age as possible. You could try separating yourself from them in another room from time to time, even when you are in the house.
Provide a comfortable, den-like indoor kennel (sometimes called a dog crate) or a cosy bed where they can snooze or chew a favourite toy on their own. Put an old, worn jumper or T-shirt in with their bedding to act as a comfort. Always exercise your dog before you need to leave them alone in the house so that they is toileted and ready to relax, then hide a safe treat-filled chew-toy for them to find to keep them busy while you are away.
Although it’s natural to want to pay your loyal dog a lot of attention, some toy dog breeds can be persistent in their attempts to solicit attention, leaping onto your lap or into your arms at every opportunity. Teach your dog that attention and contact won’t be available when a specific visual signal is put in place, such as a scarf hanging over a doorknob or a particular ornament placed on a table. (You can find more about this kind of training in our article). This really helps with managing the nature and intensity of the bond you enjoy with your dog, as they won’t develop expectations for attention that are then frustrated, and they won’t become a nuisance with their well-intentioned demands for attention. They’ll get just as much attention as you want to give them, but won’t become dependent on it for their happiness.
Toy dogs can also become very affectionate with other family dogs and cats, depending on their respective temperaments and social histories. If a human lap isn’t available, two toy dogs will often enjoy cuddling up with each other, or even with the family cat!
As part of your toy dog’s care, why not try training them? Some toy dogs can be trained to a very high standard and will enjoy agility courses (of the right size, of course!), rally-obedience (also known as rally-O) and flyball. If you can’t dedicate the time to regular agility training, you could enrol your dog on an initial ‘taster’ course to learn the basics and then pursue the hobby at home in your garden with some purchased or improvised equipment such as a tunnel, some low jumps and weave poles. Your dog will enjoy running a mini course with you, and as they are so tuned in to their owners and their body language, they often learn surprisingly quickly how to get the best out of their new equipment!
Feeding toy dogs
Toy dogs are sometimes very fussy about their food; because of this, owners can accidentally (but with the best intentions) make it worse by replacing regular food with something more palatable at the first sign of this fussiness. If you instantly replace unfinished food with something fresh-cooked instead, your dog will quickly realise that refusal brings increasingly luxurious treats!
Feeding toy dogs, then, might mean being inventive. Eating a bowlful of food twice a day usually doesn’t hold too much appeal for a toy dog, so it’s a good idea to be inventive with how their food is offered throughout the day.
If your toy dog eats dry food, try scattering a handful in short grass outdoors when the weather is good, or putting some of their daily food allocation in a small, safe treat-dispensing toy so they can ‘work’ for and be rewarded with food. Hide the toys in your garden or behind furniture inside the home, so your adventurous little dog has to search them out. Occasionally spoil them a little and maintain that close bond by occasionally hand-feeding them some of their daily food allowance. Use lots as rewards (if they are food motivated) when training them - just remember to count it as part of their daily food allowance. Their remaining food can be split into two meals and given in a food bowl, morning and evening, so that they will always see you as a food provider. Ask all family members to take on this role on a rota basis, so they can all benefit from a strengthened bond with your lovely dog.
If your dog has wet food, use other more convenient treats as rewards in training, but be careful to include them when calculating your dog’s daily requirements. Feed them in at least two meals per day, but in one main meal of half their allowance and up to 4-5 smaller portions for the other half, placed in various locations so that they have to actively seek out their food.
As long as you are following daily feeding guidelines (look at your dog food packaging for reference) each day and monitoring your dog’s weight, don’t worry if the resulting amount you put in his bowl looks like too little; there’s no need to compensate by adding extra. Provided they’ve had their daily food allocation and you are feeding them a complete diet, your dog will have all the nutrients and energy they need.
Whether you’re caring for Chihuahuas, toy Terriers, or any other adorable and loyal toy dog, looking after them means you’ll both get the best out of your time together. After all, there’s nothing quite like that special bond!