Examples of some typical breeds in this group:
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lhasa Apso, Chihuahua, Bichon Frise, French Bulldog, Bolognese
Your dog is this type if he:
Loves being with you, sitting on your lap and being picked up for a cuddle. He 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. He’ll be accustomed to his 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 their owners as much as possible.
Exercise and play
Despite their small stature, Toy Dogs are usually far more robust than they look. 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.
Being smaller, Toy Dogs don’t need as much physical exercise as larger types but still require regular exercise to stay fit and healthy. Carrying them as required in busy or crowded places is fine, but they should have plenty of other opportunities to exercise and enjoy new experiences in safe, fun places.
Toy Dogs also need the opportunity to socialise. 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 have a reputation for being snappy and possessive. Exercise and socialisation are therefore crucial if you are to avoid having an unfit, reactive dog, who is scared of being put on the floor and unhealthily over-dependent. To help prevent this, avoid picking him up at the first sight of another dog If there is a real threat to his safety then, of course, you should intervene, but if you never give him the chance to interact with larger, friendly dogs, he 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 to the early morning and late evening when it is cooler.
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 dog’s independence by giving him a small, safe treat-filled toy to play with at your feet; over time, move away into another room or the garden, leaving him to chew and play on his own. He will soon become less reliant on you if this is done gradually, and by leaving him for progressively longer periods to play on his own.
A 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. He’ll be very happy to watch the world go by and snooze in the sun, but if he starts to bark a lot at what he sees, restrict his access to viewpoints when you’re not around, and teach him to ‘Shush’ on request.
Some Toy Dogs can be quite terrier-like, and may enjoy terrier games such as playing with a safe, squeaky toy of an appropriate size, a rope pull to shake around in his mouth, or a mini cereal box to rip up with some treats inside to find and consume for his efforts.
Playing with you
If he’s with you, your dog will always be happy, whether you are taking him for a walk in the park, rolling balls for him to chase and pounce on or dangling a fishing-rod toy in front of him to stalk.
Some Toy Dogs can be trained to a very high standard and will enjoy agility courses (appropriate to their size), rally-obedience (also known as rally-O) and flyball etc. If you can’t dedicate the time to regular agility training, perhaps enroll him 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 into their owners and their body language, they often learn surprisingly quickly how to get the best out of the equipment.
Spending time with their owner is what these dogs were bred to do; they are ‘professional pets’ that have often earned their living over centuries as pampered companions, warming laps and beds 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 his happiness, so take him with you on car rides, walks to the shops or trips to the local cafe or pub to meet friends. Luckily his small size makes it easy to carry him on buses or up escalators, and also means he’s less intimidating to people who might sometimes 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 grooming also helps you spot any skin conditions and changes to his coat early on, which makes for more effective treatment of any problems.
However, spending a lot of time together can make your Toy Dog socially over-reliant on you, and if you then ever have to go away without him, even just out for an evening, he could become rather anxious alone. Help develop his self confidence by getting him used to short periods of solitude from as early an age as possible by separating yourself from him 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 he can snooze or chew a favourite toy on his own. Put an old, worn jumper or T-shirt in with his bedding to act as a comfort. Always exercise your dog before you need to leave him alone in the house so that he is toileted and ready to relax, and then hide a safe treat-filled chew-toy for him to find to keep himself busy with while you are away.
Some Toy breeds can become 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. To read more about training, click here. This really helps with managing the nature and intensity of the bond you enjoy with your dog, as he won’t develop expectations for attention that are then frustrated, and he won’t become a nuisance with his demands for attention. He’ll get just as much attention as you want to give him, but won’t become dependent on it for his 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 with the family cat.
Toy Dogs are sometimes very fussy about their food, although this is a problem that’s often created unwittingly by owners who replace the dog’s regular food with something more palatable at the first sign of indifference. If you instantly replace unfinished food with something fresh-cooked instead, your dog will quickly realise that refusal brings increasingly luxurious delights!
Eating a bowlful of food twice a day usually doesn’t hold too much appeal for a Toy Dog, however, so it is important to be inventive with how his food is offered throughout the day. If feeding dry food, try scattering a handful in short grass outdoors when the weather is good, or putting some of his daily food allocation in a small, safe treat-dispensing toy so that he can ‘work’ for and be rewarded with his food. Hide the toys in your garden or behind furniture inside the home, so he has to search them out. Spoil him a little and maintain that close bond by occasionally hand- feeding him some of his daily food allowance. Use lots as rewards (if he is food motivated) when training him. The remaining amount of his food can be split into two meals and given in a food bowl, morning and evening so that he will always see you as a ‘parental’ food provider. Ask all family members to take on this role on a rota basis, so they can all benefit from the resulting strengthened bond with your dog.
If feeding wet food, use other more convenient treats as rewards in training, but be careful to include them when calculating his daily requirements. Feed him in at least two meals per day, but in one main meal of half his allowance and up to 4-5 smaller portions for the other half, placed in various locations so that he has to actively seek out his food.
As long as you are following daily feeding guidelines (see dog food packaging) overall each day and monitoring your dog’s weight to keep him in ideal body condition [link to body condition video], don’t worry if the resulting amount you put in his bowl looks small, and certainly don’t add more. Provided he has had his daily food allocation and you are feeding a complete diet, he will have all the nutrients and energy he needs to help him stay happy and healthy.