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Are Small Dog Breeds Easier to Train Than Large Dogs?

Based on my experience with my Schnauzer Dusty, I say yes. Am I wrong? School me, please.

 |  May 9th 2013  |   27 Contributions


It's hard to believe that our little eight-pound Schnauzer, Dusty, is now ten months old and smart as a whip. We started working with her on numerous training methods from the time we adopted her at two months of age. We’ve used our own methods, based on years of experience and reading training books from some of the best dog trainers in the business. We’ve also had trainers come to our home and have taken her to various off-site training classes where she can interact with other dogs.

For the most part, the training has been a breeze. She seems to pick up on most of the training easily -- and much quicker than some of the other dogs in her classes. This is especially true when she is in a class with larger dogs. That's made me wonder: Are smaller dogs easier to train than bigger dogs?

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Dusty learns to sit with her favorite chew treat.

It only took us a few days to potty train Dusty. She’ll touch her nose to a set of bells that hangs on the back door to let us know when she needs to go out. She also quickly mastered the basic sit, stay, lay, and come commands. The only challenge we’ve encountered is what I call "selective hearing." This is when she thinks the commands are optional and may or may not listen depending on what else she may be doing that, to her, is more interesting.

Once we mastered all the commands she would need at home, we decided to attend classes at one of the local training facilities to socialize her to other dogs. We wanted to get her used to all the activity and noise around her and to have some fun with other dogs of various sizes. The classes ranged from puppy socialization and scent training to agility.

She really enjoyed being around the smaller dogs and eventually got more comfortable around bigger dogs. Small dogs socialized well with her, but she found bigger dogs a bit intimidating. Maybe they thought she was a play toy. Maybe they wanted to chase her because she moved quicker than they did. Whatever the reason, in the socialization class, the larger breed puppies seemed to cause Dusty more of a challenge.

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German Shepherd waiting by Shutterstock.

I noticed this trend again when it came to the scent training class. The trainer placed three secured plastic tubs inside of some bales of straw. The tubes had vents at both ends. The trainer placed her pet rats inside of two of the tubes, and the third tube was left empty. The tasks were for each dog to locate the tubes with the rats by using their sense of smell. Once the rat was identified, the dogs would place a paw on top of the tube or nudge the tube with their nose. The empty tube would be disregarded, since no rats were inside.

Each time one of the smaller dogs approached the tubes, they quickly identified the ones with the rats and paid no attention to the empty one. However, the Standard Poodles seemed totally disinterested and never seemed to differentiate between the tubes. Dusty always found the tubes that housed the rats. Of course, Schnauzers are known to be “ratters,” as they were bred for that task long ago.

During the agility training class, the smaller dogs seemed to grasp the concept of running through a tunnel, jumping over a bar, and zig-zagging between the posts much easier than the bigger dogs. Maybe it was because they appeared to be more nimble and quicker through the devices. I will say, however, that none of the dogs liked the teeter totter or the unbalanced table that they had to stand on.

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Shetland Sheepdog agility training by Shutterstock.

I know that good training starts with good trainers and training techniques. I also am aware that a lot of the challenge comes from human companions not being consistent. However, for the classes that Dusty has been part of, the smaller dogs always seem to catch on more quickly than the larger dogs.

Of course, Dusty is always at the top of the class. This is somewhat of a biased opinion coming from her doggy daddy.

Have you had challenges training bigger dogs? Are small dogs easier to train? Tell us what you think in the comments!

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