Raising Both Dogs and Kids

Stubbornness is just determination in an opposite direction. –

Me to my daughter  River (age 8) after her Grandma called her “stubborn”

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Here we go.  A combination post, if you will.  A few years ago, I had a friend tease me about my blog.  They tried to tell me that all my blog posts are is a bunch of Star Wars memes.  I was indignant.  They are most definitely not 100% Star Wars memes.  However, challenge accepted. Which brings me to my post for today.  I recently had a comment left on one of my posts.

I love reading your posts! Can you please write more about your approach to parenting? As a dog mom and toddler mom I need to learn your wisdom, because they all can be a$$holes sometimes and I know it’s bc they suck at being (adult) humans. – Hanna

 

“Learn my wisdom”?  Wisdom…well, that comes from experience.  Experience comes from mistakes. Lots of them.  I’m always more than willing to share my mistakes, experience and wisdom, but it’s definitely a trifecta.  So where we go: insights on what I do with my dogs and my kids.  Only, to keep things interesting (and geeky), let’s see what Indian Jones has to say about this.

"Hang on lady, we going for ride." - Short Round

“Hang on lady, we going for ride.” – Short Round

With regard to my blog, I constantly stress the PAW Method for working with your dog i.e., “Dog Training”, although I hate that phrase.  We don’t train kids; why would we train our dogs?  So let’s jump in to how the PAW Method works, and how I apply it to both dogs and my own children. The PAW Method stands for Piloting, Activity and Work.

  • Piloting: Answering your dog’s/kid’s questions
  • Activity:  Exercise Exorcise the demons
  • Work:  Bored dogs/kids are a scary thing. Keep them mentally sated.

This is a tri-pod, folks. You can’t remove a let and expect it to work.  You must make sure you engage in all three aspects every day.  Now, let’s go over what that means…starting with Activity.

ACTIVITY

 

There are plenty of ways to give your dog the activity they need.  Follow this link for some tips. Flirt poles are a wonderful addition to your repertoire. No, I guarantee it’s not what you think.  Give this post a read, and make your own dog toy guaranteed to exhaust them.    Treadmill training, agility (homemade course with just 2 simple jumps), dog parks, play dates, doggie backpacks….those are all great ways to get rid of your dog’s energy.  And the less energy they have, the less they can direct your way.

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The same goes for children, especially toddlers and preschoolers.  They are naturally geared towards movement.  When my kids, Eric and River were toddlers/preschoolers, first thing we did every weekend morning was plan out the Exhaustion Factor.  How were we going to get these two maniacs into a state of calm?  Exercise.  First thing we’d do in the wintertime was a 45 minutes at the indoor mall playground.  Sometimes just hiking around the mall would work.  Membership to the Cleveland Zoo’s Rain Forest was a great way to tire them out without having to freeze their tiny tushes.   We even sprung for a tiny trampoline for the kids when they were little.  The object was to make sure it was never the same thing every day.  The trampoline wasn’t out all the time.  It was a privilege, not a right.  Therefore, whenever I brought it out (roughly once a week), the kids were excited about it enough to play with it till they dropped.  We didn’t go to the mall every day, because then it’s just a routine.  We needed to keep it fresh. Summertime and nice days, it was hikes.  Sometimes just around the neighborhood, up for ice cream.  Or a walk to the local playground.  But it was key that,while yes, we brought a wagon with us just in case the kids got tired, they always started by walking.  The wagon was for a rest break, not for transportation.  It was always expected they would be walking as soon as they had their break.  The object of the activity was to make sure they were pleasantly tired, but not physically stressed out.  So yes, they walked everywhere if the weather was conducive. So dogs and kids have always had their activity early in the day, setting the tone for the rest of the day. I’ve set them up for success.

WORK

Everyone needs a job.  Mental work, if you will.

I have always made sure my dogs and my kids had plenty of the right kinds of mental stress.  For the dogs: agility, silly tricks, enrichment feeders, or scent detection (it’s easier than you think!) are all greats ways to get rid of their need for mental work.  At the very least, every day, my dogs eat their meals out of an enrichment toy.  Most days we go above and beyond that. They always had toys out to play with, especially when they were young, but only 1/3 of the total amount I own were left out at any given time.  In other words, swap out your dog’s toys frequently.  Most likely your dog doesn’t need new toys: he needs to be separated from most of his toys for a spell.  And then, like magic, what’s old is new again.  With dogs under a year, I typically switch out available toys at least 2x a day.  This helps to keep them engaged with appropriate items, rather than chewing the chair leg.

The same principle has always been applied towards my children. Chores are a big one in my house.  My kids have been doing dishes since they were about 3 years old.  Not well.  I knew I was re-washing all those dishes afterwards, but the expectation of doing a job to the best of their ability has always been ingrained into my children.  I simply will not accept less than the best they can do.  Weekends my kids were expected to really pitch in:  by 4 years old, assigned jobs tended to be vacuuming, cleaning the baseboards, laundry, etc.  In other words, these are all age-appropriate jobs for preschoolers, and they did the job, albeit not as well as I would.  But this isn’t a sprint: it’s a marathon.  So yes, doing dishes with my 3-year old could be tedious sometimes, but by 5 they could be relied on to do a good job.

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Nowadays, my kids are 12 and 14.  I can have dog training sessions all day on a Saturday, and come home to vacuumed and mopped floors, and all the laundry done in the house.  These things have been expected for so many years now, it’s about as normal a part of the day as having dinner together.

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Of course, I don’t rely on just chores for mental work. Books were a huge factor.  Playing games with them, but also making sure they understood that I was not their sole source of entertainment.  Occupy yourself, or if you can’t, here’s another chore you can help me with so I have more time to play with you.  Most of the time, they chose to learn to occupy themselves to avoid extra chores.

Doing the dishes

Doing the dishes

And while we didn’t have a tv in our house until the kids were about 9 and 11, they did watch shows.  Specific shows, not just idly switching channels.  We had a specific time we’d look up Wonder Pets episodes on YouTube, or play the favorite Little Einstein dvd.  Sometimes it was a treat for an extra-great job doing dishes.  Sometimes it was so I didn’t lose my mind.  Because Mommy needs a break!

Come up with a recipe box of mentally engaging activities for both your dogs and your kids.  Bonus points for things they can do together (like agility – great for kids and dogs).  Pretty soon when your kids state they’re bored, you can direct them to the box of activities.  Read a Dr. Suess book from back to front, write your alphabet using different colored crayon for each letter, etc. were all a part of my “enrichment” recipe box for my kids when they were bored.  They’d be directed towards the box to find something to do.  If they couldn’t find something there to satisfy them, there was always the chores recipe box.  Usually my kids would self-entertain from the enrichment recipe box ;)

 

Your dog doesn't want to be Pilot.

Your dog doesn’t want to be Pilot.

PILOTING

Okay, I’ve saved the best for last.  Piloting is merely answering your dog’s/kid’s questions.  Dogs and kids ask a lot of questions, but not all of them are vocalized.

  • Your dog stealing food from the counter: “Can I eat this?”
  • Fido pulling on the leash: “Can I lead on this walk?”
  • Your spawn kids tearing around inside the house: “Is this acceptable in the house?”
  • Little Jimmy hits his sister: “Is this how I get the toy I wanted?”

Obviously these are questions that need to be answered. I guarantee this is the part where you are all struggling with both your dogs and your kids.  I see it all the time: I come into a training session to work with an unruly dog, but the parents can’t even work with their own kids.  Kids yelling, shouting, interrupting, and being openly hostile to their parents.

Mom: Sarah, but your toys away.
Sarah:  I don’t want to!
Mom: Sarah, we have a guest here to work with Fido, so please put away your toys.
Sarah: *continues playing with toys*
Mom:  Sarah, please put your toys away, otherwise the nice dog trainer can’t work with Fido.
Sarah: *continues playing with toys*
Mom:  I guess we can train Fido in the other room.

Ouch. So many unanswered, unaddressed questions in this one.  And at no time did Mom Pilot little Sarah.  Mostly because Mom doesn’t want to be “mean”.  So let’s break down Piloting. Essentially, nobody’s flying the plane.   Piloting is a contest, but we all truly want whomever is best to win.  I call that money in your “Piloting Piggy Bank”.  How much money do you have to spend answering your child/dog’s specific question.  From dogs barking to your kid asking for a later bedtime, each question you asked is worth a certain dollar amount. Some questions cost more to answer than others, but essentially whomever has the most money in their Piloting Piggy Bank for that question wins the right to answer that question.

Hint: You won’t always have the most money for that question. For example:
Me to Sparta during a hike: Hey, Sparta, did I get us lost?
Sparta:  Yes, you did.
Me: Can you get us home?
Sparta: Yes, I can.  Follow me.

. ^ ^ ^ True Story: we did get lost.  I definitely didn’t have enough Piloting money to get us home, but Sparta did.  So I let her Pilot me.

But for the most part, you as an adult human, navigating an adult human world, will have the best answers.  So give them.  You aren’t being mean, you’re being a parent to your fur-kid and your crotch fruit child.  And let’s face it:  just like our dogs, some of our human kids have more money in their Piloting Piggy bank than others.  Prime example is my daughter, River. With her, a “because I told you so” isn’t acceptable.  She was constantly trying to figure out if I had enough money in my Piloting Piggy bank to enforce the answers I was giving. And I love and respect her for it.

The most recent bout we had was with her grades.  River is extremely intelligent, witty and very capable.  I consider her above-average.  Therefore, I expect above-average grades from her.  In other words, nothing below a B- is acceptable.

River also happens to be lazy.  If she personally can’t rationalize why something is important enough to put effort into it, then she doesn’t see the logic of why she should.  But here’s the thing:  she’s 12.  By definition, 12 year olds are still children, not adults.  There’s no reason why she should be able to see everything as a logical adult.  So while River is currently writing a book on WWII, and has most of Patton’s speeches memorized (she’s definitely one-of-a-kind), unless it has to do with history or cats, she sees no reason to spend time on it.

That includes math.

Fortunately, her school grants access to kids’ grades parents in real-time.  Meaning, I can see my kids’ current GPAs, test results, and whether they turned in their homework in real time.  So I enforced a rule that if you ever fell below and 80% grade in a class, you lost all electronic devises until that grade was above c-level again.

Meanest. Mom.  Ever.

 

So, River slipped to a 78% in math.  I enacted my rule, and she was without her laptop, phone, video games, etc. I’ll be honest, it broke my heart.  Every day she’d come home from school asking to me to check her grades to see if it had gone up.  But if nothing was graded, then there wasn’t anything I could do.  It took over a week for a grade to be entered that brought River’s average for the class above 80%.  But I’ll be damned, she handled the entire ordeal very gracefully, because it wasn’t the first time she’d be subjected to the consequences of her own actions.  She didn’t balk, nor did she cry foul.  I didn’t make up punishments on the fly.  She knew in advance what the consequences of her (in)actions in math class would be, so there were no surprises.

And of course I wanted to give in.  But again, this is a marathon, not a sprint.  I’m not selfish enough to coddle her or give in simply because I don’t like to be the “bad guy”.  I’m not going to claim it’s always been this easy allowing her to experience consequences, but I realize that the consequences she experiences now will never be this easy for her again.  In other words, holding her accountable now sets her up to have integrity in the future. Plus, I could let her know just how damn proud I was of how she handled herself while she experienced those consequences, as well as how thrilled I was once she brought her grades back up.  Her report card was magnificent, and she was rewarded heavily.

It’s not much different with your dog.  Your dog is sentient, not some dumb beast.  Set your boundaries, and then adhere to them.  You’re not bad, and you’re not mean.  You’re simply the Pilot.  Discourage behaviors you don’t like with a negative, and encourage behaviors/actions you like with positives

Now, the difference between dogs and kids is actually a little bittersweet to me.  My dogs will always require a human Pilot, as they live in a human world.  I’ll always be there to answer their questions.  Our children, on the other hand?  If we raise them well, and do our best, hopefully one day they will soar on their own, able to Pilot themselves.  Our job as parents is to make sure help them learn to soar under their own strength by letting them borrow ours until they can fly on their own.

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

The Most Aggressive Breed?

You’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.  - Benjamin Hoff

Credit: Angelina Litvin

Credit: Angelina Litvin

I posted a photo on the Darwin Dogs Facebook page recently.  I found it excessively humorous.  What do you think?

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

So many veterinarians, vet techs, dog lovers, etc. responded with laughter and a knowing nod of their heads.  Some even countered with “Dachshunds”.  One idiot tried to claim that Pitbulls were on the top of that list.  As usual with anything I post on Facebook, I had a PM sent to me offering dissent:

I would like to ask that you take down and/or address this post. I really don’t find it fair to perpetuate stereotypes about any breed of dog, particularly as someone people look to for advice on these sorts of things.

At first blush,  it would appear that the author is correct.  But what they are confusing is three separate issues, or as I like to put it, Why I Have A Career Dog Training.  Because let’s face it, if it weren’t for these three issues, nobody would need help with their dog’s behaviors. So let’s tease this out:  are Chihuahuas inherently aggressive?

 

ISSUE 1:
YOU HAVE A PUREBRED, BUT UNDERESTIMATED BREED STANDARDS

The dissenter was annoyed that I was perpetuating  a stereotype of a breed standard.  But as I have stated many times, I’m not against breed profiling; I’m against inaccurate breed profiling.  Let’s face it, if I wanted a dog to herd cattle, I wouldn’t be looking at a poodle. If I wanted a dog to clean out all the vermin in my farm, I wouldn’t want a Staffie (honestly, most pitbulls would count them as their new friends).

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So obviously this is profiling breeds.  So is the fact that I will NEVER get another Shepherd mix from the shelter…

I love my Sparta so much, but I long to wear white clothes again without fur.  Or any clothes without fur. Or coffee without fur...or PB&J.

I currently own two Roomba vacuums in addition to my upright vac.

Of course you can state that how much a breed sheds is only a profile of their physical attributes, but let’s delve deeper.

- If I were to mention a dog that likes is obsessed with water, would you be able to come up with a breed off the top of your head? Maybe a Lab or a Golden.

- If I asked what dog is good at guarding flocks, Great Pyrenees immediately come to mind for me.

- What about dogs who tend to have a very high prey drive?  Jack Russells, and Irish Terriers immediately come to mind.

Now, does that mean all Labs love water?  No.  Only the vast majority.  Are they the only dog who likes water?  Obviously not.  But love of the water is what they were bred to have. Pyrenees were bred to be, according to the AKC:

“In nature, the Great Pyrenees is confident, gentle, and affectionate. While territorial and protective of his flock or family when necessary, his general demeanor is one of quiet composure, both patient and tolerant. He is strong willed, independent”

And while I have no use for the AKC due to their love of registering dogs, but disdain for actually stepping  up for animal welfare (**cough cough** PUPPY MILLS **cough cough), they do have a rather succinct description for each  breed’s general temperament.  And honestly, I’ve found most of these to be spot on. Side note:  I love that when describing Pyrenees, they used the word “independent” rather than “stubborn”.  I hate the word stubborn.

So when someone calls me and asks me for help with their Border Collie who is destroying everything in their house, I know to start by discussing Activity and Work.  Are you giving your Border Collie enough exercise to equal herding sheep for 8 hours a day? Are you using the right dog for the right job?  Didn’t think so. What kind of mind games are you giving to your Border Collie, the dogs I call the Hermione Grangers of the dog world?  None?  Well, there’s your problem.

So don’t get a Jack Russell if you enjoy squirrels in your yard.  Or do…just realize you will be spending a lot of time Piloting them (unless you enjoy the sound of squirrels screaming, you twisted monster).  Which leads me to the second, bigger reason why people need help with their dog’s behaviors.

ISSUE 2:
YOU TREAT YOUR DOG AS A BREED RATHER THAN AN INDIVIDUAL

Wait, didn’t I just state that breed standards are important?  Yes, they are.  Especially for purebred dogs that you didn’t get from a puppy mill (sorry, if you got your dog in “Amish Country” or from a pet store, it’s a puppy mill dog). Reputable breeders strive to maintain healthy breed standards.   But there are always outliers.  The Border Collie who is terrified of sheep.  The Lab who hates water (haven’t met one yet, though).  It’s like the kid whose parents are forcing him to major in medicine because he comes from a long line of doctors.  They failed to notice that the child has no brains in their fingers, and will therefore never make a great surgeon.  Plus the fact the poor kid faints at the sight of blood.  But no child of mine will be a writer!  Med school for you, boy!

This is a big reason why I love shelter dogs.  Most of the time they are Frankenmutts.  It’s exceptionally difficult to determine their breed(s) without DNA tests.  And even then, they tend to look like a Pollock painting of different breeds, with no single breed comprising more than 8% of said dog.

 

His owner stated:Boxer/pit/husky??? That's our best guess anyway. He is the #3leggedwonderdog. He runs agility with me and amazes everyone that meets him

His owner stated: Boxer/pit/husky??? That’s our best guess anyway. He is the #3leggedwonderdog. He runs agility with me and amazes everyone that meets him

ISSUE 3:
YOU AREN’T PILOTING  YOUR DOG ENOUGH

Your dog doesn't want to be Pilot.

Your dog doesn’t want to be Pilot.

Lack of Piloting is the huge issue my clients have.  What is Piloting?  Essentially answering your dog’s questions.  For example, my Sparta:

Sparta:  Can I kill our new cat?

Me: Um….no.

Ta-da!  I answer her question.  Now, the more you Pilot, the easier it gets.  When I first got our cat Echo many, many years ago, Sparta did want to kill him.  So I took things easy, and answered every single one of her questions.  Years later, they are kindred spirits and often hang out together.  But it took a while before I felt I had Piloted Sparta enough to start to trust (let alone anticipate) my answers.  Because that is the ultimate goal of Piloting:  to help them anticipate the answer.

About 3 years ago I brought in another kitten.  While I still had to Pilot Sparta around the newbie, it wasn’t nearly as arduous as when I got Echo.  Not only had Sparta and I been through the whole ordeal previously, but there was another three years worth of random questions I had answered for Sparta in between getting those two cats.  Can I eat out of the litter box?  No, Sparta.  Can I play rope toy roughly? Not right now, Sparta.  Is the postman a threat? No, Sparta.  Do  you want me to be calm when I see a squirrel in the yard?  Yes Sparta!  Nice job!

So each question I answer for her is “money” out of her Piloting Piggy Bank.  It goes into my Piloting Piggy Bank.  And remember, whoever has the most money wins.  Let’s also bear in mind what the definition of “anxiety” is:

Anxiety: noun
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

In other words, fear of the unknown…unanswered questions. Start Piloting your dog.  Most people don’t understand that their dogs need to have Piloting.  Or if they have an idea, they don’t understand how to tell their dog that the mailman isn’t going to kill them.  But if your dog actively shirks from new people, or they are inherently suspicious of other dogs, I don’t care what breed of dog they are, or what the breed standard says they should be: don’t force Wally the Golden Retriever to be a therapy dog just because a lot of therapy dogs are Golden Retrievers! Work with the dog you have, not the breed you bought.

Photo: Alice Dote

Photo: Alice Dote

Those are the three reasons why a dog owner parent may call me for help with their dogs behaviors.  So let’s apply that to the original issue:  that meme.

Death by Ankle Biting!!!!

Why Chihuahuas? Why did so many people share this, and laugh and agree?  Because it’s true.  There were some of you who voted for Dachshunds, too…for the same reasons I’m about to write about below.

ISSUE 1:
YOU HAVE A PUREBRED, BUT UNDERESTIMATED BREED STANDARDS

What does the AKC have to say about Chihuahuas?

General Appearance: A graceful, alert, swift-moving compact little dog with saucy expression, and with terrier-like qualities of temperament.

Temperament: Alert, projecting the ‘terrier-like’ attitudes of self importance, confidence, selfreliance [sic]

Meaning, they won’t accept an answer from you Because You Said So. Remember, you need to have a good reason why your answer is better than theirs.  And “I’m The Human” doesn’t cut it.

ISSUE 2:
YOU TREAT YOUR DOG AS A BREED RATHER THAN AN INDIVIDUAL

Fifi is a Chihuahua.  Not a doll. Not the child you always wanted. She is a full grown dog.  Maybe she’s more frightened of loud noises than most Chihuahuas you’ve known.  Maybe she’s not as “terrier like” as the AKC describes Chihuahuas.  That shouldn’t matter.  You aren’t Piloting a breed standard.  You are Piloting Fifi.  Now do your job.  The job you have.  Not the job you want.  I never wanted a dog-reactive dog.  But Sparta has always had a lot of questions about other dogs.  Does that make her bad or aggressive?  No.  It means she has a question that as her Pilot, I’m accountable to answer.  And I do.

ISSUE 3:
YOU AREN’T PILOTING  YOUR DOG ENOUGH

As seen from the general breed standard description above, Chihuahuas don’t need your help.  Fortunately, though, like all dogs, they are logical.  If you have a better answer, they are more than willing to hear it and act upon it…if it seems logical to them.  The beauty of a dog is that they are able to change their minds based upon new information, just like  Facebook arguments no human ever.  So your Chihuahua, Fifi, is asking you if  you need to be protected from your 5 year old grandchild who just came over for a hug.

What you see:

What Fifi sees:

You didn’t answer Fifi’s question, namely, “Is Reagan/Demon Child going to kills us?”, and the absence of “no” is “yes”.  Therefore Fifi is protecting you.  Sure you yelled at Fifi. You ranted at Fifi.  But all you did was prove that you are not in control of yourself enough to answer anybody’s questions.  By default you asked Fifi to protect you, so she did.  Is Fifi aggressive?  Resoundingly no! Fifi merely handled the situation as appropriately as she could, based upon the information she was given.   Learn to Pilot your dog, so poor Fifi doesn’t have to be The Destroyer of Ankles. 

Learn the Piloting position.  If you have Fifi in a position to protect you, on your lap, facing said stranger, then she will protect you.  Don’t ask for protection via body language, because Fifi will indeed protect you.  And she’ll do a good job of it!

Less of this:

Please don't do The Pretzel.

Please don’t do The Pretzel.

More of this:

RuPaul knows: posture counts!

RuPaul knows: posture counts!

But *never* do this:

You look stupid, Riker.

True Piloting from a seated position.


So your posture is truly important, especially in a seated position with a dog on your lap. I have a friend who is a vet.  She introduced me to the term “Lap Shark”.  We all know them.  They aren’t exclusive to Chihuahuas by any means, but are almost entirely comprised of dogs who weigh less than 7 pounds who are always perched jauntily upon their owners laps.  Now, I love hanging with my dogs, and more often than not, that includes lap-time.  But there’s a difference between hanging out for cuddles and a dog who is staking a claim upon me, and letting others know that I’m their human.

Unfortunately, it seems as if Chihuahuas bear the brunt of this.  Are they aggressive by nature?  As a breed, no!  No more so than any other dog.  But if they don’t have answers to their questions about your/their safety, of course they are going to react!

So please, stop asking your dog to protect you!  I’ve never actually met a truly aggressive dog.  There is no such thing.  All there are is dogs who have never been Piloted for the situation they have been thrust in. Dogs who have accidentally asked to Pilot and protect.   A dog who is doing the best they can, and sometimes that means teeth.  Believe me, I’ve been bitten many times, but never by what I’d determine an “aggressive dog”.

If a dog tells you they are going to bite, they are going to bite. The beauty of dogs is that they never lie.  So when little Fifi is sitting on Grandma’s lap snarling, she is telling you that if you come closer, she will be forced to bite you. But since she’s such a small dog, nobody takes her seriously, and the human forces the issue.  Nobody would do this with a larger dog.  Poor Fifi is a victim of her size.

So the bottom line:  are Chihuahuas more likely to bite than other dogs?  Possibly.  I’ve been bit by more Chihuahuas than any other breed of dog.  I work with more Chihuahuas than I do Sharpeis or Borzois, simply because of the popularity of Chihuahuas. However, as far as dog breeds go, who is set up for failure more than any other dogs?  Arguably Chihuahuas.  The numbers alone are against them:  born in a puppy mill.  Sent to a home where they want The Perfect Little Dog, but aren’t willing to Pilot their little Fifi.  Treated like trinkets and dolls rather than capable, independent beings.  Not given activity, mental work.  Never given credit for having minds of their own. And worst of all, being asked to protect themselves from all forms of danger, most of it on an order of magnitude, 50 times their size!!!! So why are Chihuahuas No. 1 on that list? 

Because we put them there.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training In Cleveland, Ohio