Over the centuries, humans and dogs have traveled down the same road, side by side. When you think about it, our relationship with canines is a unique and mutual one that serves us both. Today, small dogs are more likely to be just a household pet instead of doing the jobs they were originally bred to do. Like our ancestors, we appreciate the warmth of a snuggling dog curled up next to us on a cold winter night. Some breeds were bred only for companionship, and some are mighty hunters, in a small body.
Even small dogs can hit the trail as a scenthound or sighthound. A newly recognized AKC breed, the Russell Terrier, was originally left behind on hunts because his small size wasn't thought to be useful for hunters. His first role was as a companion dog around the home, and as a ratter to keep vermin at bay around sheds and barns. That was, until it was discovered the Russell's smaller size made him ideal for hunting prey that went underground. The dog was easy to carry over rough terrain in a “terrier” bag or across the saddle of a horse, and he had the desired temperament and drive to handle himself against a red fox and other small prey.
Small dogs were often used to seek out, track, follow and find small prey as a pack. Dachshunds were used to hunt badgers, while Yorkshire Terriers were used by miners to help get rid of rat infestations in the mines. They were also used to hunt fox, badgers and other small prey, and follow them into their holes. Italian Greyhounds chased down rabbits. Dogs bred to work as a pack generally get along well with other canines in the home.
Small dogs are not good guard dogs, but they make great watchdogs. If they see someone who isn't suppose to be in their territory, these alert little dogs will let you know in no uncertain terms. In the old days, small dogs were put up on the top of walls where they would patrol during the night and warn their owners if someone was around. Small breeds like the Brussels Griffon, Pomeranian, Miniature Pinscher, Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso were used as watchdogs to guard the palace chamber of the lady, or guard their owner when they traveled.
Small Prey Hunters
Terriers have long been used as ratters around the home and barns. These tenacious little dogs are willing to go underground after their prey, and were bred with thick tails solely for the purpose of pulling them out of a hole if they refused to leave their prey. They were also bred to work without commands from their owner, and with the courage to stand up to prey bigger than they are. One of the best ratters around is the Rat Terrier. Other breeds are the Jack Russell, Border, Yorkshire, Russell, Norwich and Australian Terriers.
During the Renaissance period, Miniature Poodles found a home with nobility as hand warmers. To help keep themselves warm, people put these small dogs in their sleeves, and as you can probably guess, Miniature Poodles were called “sleeve dogs.” The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was just the right size to warm up the lap of people living in damp, chilly castles. They were also used to help keep their owner warm on carriage rides.
Most companion dogs are small canines with the heart and courage of a lion, but not a lot of muscle or size to back them up. Their one and only job is to be by our side. Chihuahuas were worshiped by the Aztecs, and highly prized because of their size and intelligence. Some other companion breeds are the Bichon Frise, Keeshond, Japanese Chin, English Toy Spaniel, Papillon, Pug and Maltese.
One thing most small dogs have in common is their tenacity and attitude – they're a big dog in a little body. Because of their size, they're able to get into areas larger dogs can't, which makes them ideal to do certain jobs. Never underestimate the drive and commitment of a small dog. As far as he's concerned, he can do anything a big dog can!
Top/middle photos by Rick Moerloos
Bottom photo by tanakawho
Read more articles by Linda Cole