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Posted on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 5:56 a.m.

Toy breeds can be easy to underestimate, but these dogs have abilities similar to those of larger breeds

By Julia Levitt


Photo by Terry Abrams

I’ll confess — I only owned big dogs. But, as I became older, I knew I didn't have the energy that a big dog requires. Hah! Welcome to the world of toy breeds.

In his article, "Toys Need a Job 2,"  Chris Robinson spoke to breeder Jane Lehtinen of Virginia who states…"The Pom has a larger than life personality. They're spitfire little dogs. My parents first breed was Malumutes and Poms always reminded me of little teeny sled dogs."

George Smith, a Pomeranian owner and agility competitor since 2004, says, "If you don’t train the Pom, the Pom trains you."

Robinson continues: "When you ask most folks to give you their impression of toy breeds, the response is usually something like this: Fluffy little lapsitters demanding your undivided attention, and if they don't have it, they'll yap until they do. The last thing you'd hear from the vast majority of people would be fine little athletes that need a serious job to do."

My friend Barb would back that up; her Bichon Frise, Tate, holds a tracking title and competes in obedience and agility. She told our vet, "Just because he's small doesn't mean he doesn't have to work."

Have you ever seen a Chinese Crested? Often these dogs are born hairless, with a tuft of hair on their heads and a pouf of hair on their feet. They can be in the same litter as a Powder Puff, a Chinese Crested with long fluffy hair. Like so many breeders of these small dogs, Shelley Hennessey found that "these dogs need something to do once they finish their show careers."

Shelley's dogs have obedience and agility titles. "Cresteds are very athletic breed, and they can jump incredible heights for their size."

My best friend Marilyn, a Certified Master Groomer, has had an seen her share of toy breeds. Marilyn says people do not give toy breeds enough credit for their smarts.

Marilyn's toy poodle Penelope could demand her husband give the dog its dinner and then turn on him, growling and snarling, after he fed her. Marilyn says the little 5-pound dog would bow and play, literally herding Marilyn’s husband into the kitchen to feed her. As soon as little Penelope was done eating, she'd turn on Harold. Harold always backed down.

"Penelope," Marilyn likes to say with a laugh, "had no teeth and was five pounds! Little dogs are smart enough to get you do what they want."

"The problem," Robinson says, "with expecting toy breeds to simply sit around and be couch potatoes and be treated like a member of the royal court is that it is frequently royally dull. If your only job is sitting on the monarch's lap tagging along at his or her heels as they parade through the palace, after awhile life becomes nothing but boring!"

As a trainer I often see instability with toy dogs. People want to have them to carry in their purse.

What happens is the dog never gets a chance to be a dog. They don't experience the world, getting out to meet people and other dogs.

My client Nancy has a 2-year-old Chihuaua that, for the first year of its life, rarely had his feet touch the ground. Jose was always carried.

Whenever Jose would come near another dog or person growling would begin. By the time I met Nancy Jose would tremble when he saw another person. Nancy was convinced he was afraid of men.

"When I began to take Jose out," says Nancy, "I moved to back away from people. I thought he was afraid." But soon Jose's behavior escalated into hysterics, especially when Jose was near a man. This didn't go over well in a house that has two boys. The last straw was when Nancy brought the little dog to the vet and a male technician took him from Nancy; Jose peed all over him.

I am a big believer in dogs being on the ground; toy dogs are a lot less frightened and protective when they are not held in your arms.

Next, I am big believer in a dog having a job. It can be as simple as teaching your toy dog to sit while it gets its collar put on or having the dog sit calmly while it waits for its dinner.

Finally every dog needs exercise. I have had people say to me, "I can’t believe you take your dogs for a three mile walk every day." One of my dogs weighs four pounds.

In my previous blog, dog trainer Brenda Aloff gave us a quite a few tips for challenging a dog during the winter months. Every tip applies to the toy breeds.

The only real challenge I see for the toys is tossing their food in the snow. With the winter we’ve had so far the dogs could find their food but getting through deep snow — that is a challenge. It doesn't, however, mean the dog can’t go out and bound and play in the snow.

Winter needs are breed-specific for a hairless dog or a Chihuaua with very little body fat. Like us they need to dress for the cold. Go ahead challenge your toy breeds  —they are dogs after all.

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training ( in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital. A class for toy breeds will be starting in March.



Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

Couldn't agree more! My Bichon (13 pounds), may he rest in peace, was better at fetching than a friend's lab. He would pull my daughter, when she was young, around the block on her "big wheel." He would point as well. Hilarious! I now have another lovely, even smaller dog (Pomeranian mix) that I walk everyday. He needs it and so did my Bichon.

Julia Levitt

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 : 3:33 p.m.

I am so happy to learn that you give your little dog a job-thank you-Julia