When I decided to get a Boston Terrier, I had no idea I was joining a radical revolution in dog ownership. Small dogs are now by far the most popular dogs in America. Workblog reported in 2015 that there are now 27.5 million small dogs in the United States. There are 24.5 million big dogs and 19.7 medium sized dogs.
I had no idea the era of the large American dog is coming to a close.
These figures have reversed a century-old trend in this country, small dogs used to be seen as a poofish affectation. Today, much of the country is crazy about them. I think the more disconnected we got, the greater the need for something that loves us up close.
We have fewer and fewer chances to nurture in our intense world, small dogs are Nurture Machines.
So, I am also learning that some people do not like small dogs, and are disappointed in me for getting one.
A border collie owner accused of of betraying the breed, a friend told me he was "horrified" that I got a small dog, my sister, who is nothing but honest, and who breeds Newfoundland dogs, said "yuk, why did you do that?"
I've also gotten a small but vocal series of text and e-mail messages expressing various layers of disappointment and disapproval at our choice of a small dog. Although nothing should surprise me about social media any longer, this round did catch me off guard.
Mostly, people have loved the idea of Gus, and Gus himself is a major personality.
But many people feel strongly about them. "Lord, Jon, how could you get a "furbaby?," messaged Jim from Sacramento. " Next thing, you'll be dressing him in booties and cashmere sweaters and swaddling him on cold nights."
Jeanine, who trains border collies to herd sheep, said I was a "disgrace" to working dogs, "you have a dog that is good for nothing but eating canine bon-bons and sitting in your lap being adorable." Others thought of small dogs as loud and poorly trained, "they are too adorable for people to train. They would probably have nervous breakdowns."
Tough stuff, once again, I seem to have crossed over to another side I didn't know existed.
I didn't quite realize the intensity of feelings around small dogs until I got one, but when you think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense. People feel strongly about their dogs and their breeds,I have always identified myself as a lover of Labs and border collies.
Some border collie people have attacked me from the first moment, accusing me of lacking the pure and very special traits, credentials and instincts necessary to own one or work with one. They are, of course, correct. I stumbled and bumbled around for years before I got some help, but living outside of the tent is my natural place.
I admit that I have fallen victim to small dog snobbery too, I love the outdoor and loving mystique of Labs, beautiful dogs who love so much to wok with people. I love the storied working dogs with their great stamina and drive and eagerness to work. And for years my favorite breed was – is – the border collie, I love them for their intelligence, enthusiasm and profound sense of responsibility.
In the animal world, people are inherently fascistic. They are always attacking other people for doing things differently. Everyone should do precisely what they would do.
I never thought of a small dog as being controversial, I never really thought about it at all.
I never once wanted a small dog or thought of getting one until this year,and I am still figuring out why, apart from wanting to write about them.
Small dogs have often gotten a bad name, tarred by some small dog owners who see their dogs as babies of one kind or another, dress them up as children, push them in strollers. It is true that small dogs often seem spoiled, yippy and nippy, cosseted and emotionalized. They are in many ways, evocative of human babies, they often do trigger similar nurturing instincts.
Many small breeds were created to land in the laps of royalty and gentry in Europe, they often appear snooty and spoiled. They do seem full of themselves sometimes, perhaps that is a genetic survival trait. Maria's helldog Frieda was terrified of small dogs, she would tremble when they approached.
A lot of my friends rolled their eyes and gagged a bit when I said I was getting a Boston Terrier, small dogs are much loved by the people who own them, jeered at by people who don't. People love their own dogs so much they can't imagine owning any other kind.
Some of us big dog people may have missed the small dog revolution underway in America during the last few years. The number of large dogs has dropped by more than a million, says the American Kennel Club, the number of small dogs has risen by more than 15 million in a decade, says the AKC.
French bulldogs, who can't even breed naturally, are one of the most popular, along with Yorkshire Terriers.
My own perspective on my small dog is to see him and treat him and train him as a dog, just like any other. We rarely pick him up, will not transport him in a stroller or dress him up in winter finery, and resist baby talk. We expect him to come, sit and stay just like any other dog.
And he is a dog, after all, he is not a baby.
I'm sure there are people who are drawn to the baby thing about small dogs, they do bring out our most intensive parenting and nurturing instincts, they sometimes are a lot like babies, at least for a few months.
My big observation about small dogs, based only on Gus, is that they do have a function, and they do have work: they make us smile, quite often. They fit easily into the corners of our lives, and they seem to assume larger than life personalities. It's a strange thing to say, but they do seem to have a sense of humor.
I love border collies madly, but they are serious dogs, and I don't often laugh when I see them. I laugh 100 times a day when I see Gus, and so does Maria. Red is the best dog I will ever have, but great herding and therapy dogs don't make you laugh.
Gus has brightened up our sometimes intense and serious existence. Sometimes we just sit and watch him and laugh. In our intense and conflicted country, that is no small thing.
If I didn't always grasp what the small dog is about, I never judged anybody else for having one. I do not tell other people how to get a dog or what kind to get from where. If the border collies and Labs are exterior dogs, whose identity derives from nature, small dogs like Gus are interior dogs, they are drawn to house and family, their ambitions are not to chase sheep or forage for dead birds all day, but to hang out with the members of the family, cuddle up where possible, and lighten things up whenever they can.
For me, it's a good balance. I never see getting a dog as one choice, but many choices. You can have a big one, and you can have a small one, they all seem to get along here. My best advice about getting a dog is always the same: get the dog you want, not the dog somebody else tells you to want.
I can't say I really care what other people think of my small dog, I often do things most people wouldn't do or don't agree with. When my incredulous sister asked me for the third time why I got a small dog, the same answer came out for the third time: "it's fun."
I think it's a good idea to not denigrate anybody else's choice of dog. For some years now, our changing world has asked dogs to provide emotional support to messed up and frightened humans. Small dogs may be the front line warriors in that war.