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15 October 2008

AskMecha: Why do my neighbors like wimpy little dogs? Mechazens, dog owners, amateur sociologists, lend me your ears![More:]

I live in Queens, in a neighborhood that is about 70% immigrants, mostly from Latin America and South Asia, and 30% old-timey blue-collar New Yorkers, the majority of those being of Irish ancestry. Many homeowners, but many renters as well. Seems to have a lot of people who've worked their way up from rougher neighborhoods and have now arrived at a more respectable position in society.

And they all love these wimpy little lapdogs. Why? Is this an urban thing, with smaller dogs being easier to handle in cramped quarters? Does this reflect the larger society? Are small dogs hip nowadays? Is this a conscious rejection of bigger, rougher breeds as a part of moving up the social ladder?

What do you think?

As always, many thanks in advance.

My first assumption is that it's practical. Small dogs are easier to take care of when you don't have a lot of room or a yard, plus landlords tend to allow them more readily than larger dogs.

On the flipside, though, I'm always surprised here in L.A. at how many people have really large dogs (and I mean pit bulls, German shephards, etc.) -- and not just in neighborhoods where there are lots of houses with yards or anything, but in neighborhoods that are predominantly apartment buildings.
posted by scody 15 October | 14:29
Is this an urban thing, with smaller dogs being easier to handle in cramped quarters?

this, and really nothing more. NYC is toy dog haven for the simple fact that toys make better apartment dogs.

basically if you have hounds/retrievers/collies or any medium-large outdoor working dog, you probably should be keeping them somewhere they can get a lot of exercise on a daily basis; i.e. the suburbs.

note that some toy breeds do not make the best apartment dwellers either (re: min-pins and italian greyhounds, both tend to be flighty & high-energy if not carefully and constantly worked with).
posted by lonefrontranger 15 October | 14:30
oh and I've also overheard the Reverend up the block dismissing people who keep 'pits' or 'rots' (or other common fighting breeds/crosses) as "trashy/gangsta" (note: she was born over sixty years ago in the house she currently lives in, so she probably has a right to that opinion).

Not that this is any more valid or less overgeneralised than any other stereotype. But it does seem to be a current opinion in our lower-middle-class, primarily African-American-and-steadily-gentrifying-neighbourhood.
posted by lonefrontranger 15 October | 14:40
Small dogs are easier in small apartments. They take up less space, and make less mess (a LOT less mess- oh goodness, I go home and have to pick up after my Dad's boxer, and I nearly barf). Also, small dogs are really cute, loyal, lovable friends. And their yippiness is a good crime deterrant- I was at a friend's apartment after it got burgled, and one of the detectives said it's a good idea to get a small, yappy dog to scare away potential theives.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 15 October | 15:12
I have a medium-sized dog... If she were (a lot) smaller, I could scoop her up and carry her in an oversized bag when I needed to, and that would make a lot of things simpler - buses, metro, cabs, stores. For example, my supermarket would be a great little walk for us together because it passes by a park area, and it's just always more pleasant for me when she goes with me when I go out walking anywhere - but I'm afraid to leash her outside the store because someone might decide to steal her because she's just that cute :).

So that's one thing. City people are pedestrians, and they can't bring their larger dogs inside most cafes, shops, etc., or public transport - but almost no one minds a bitty dog in someone's bag. Suburbs people can put the dog in their vehicle and go around wherever they need to go, plus stop at the park or whatever, so they can deal with larger dogs. (aside from also having yards, etc.)

We do have a lot of smaller shops and outdoor (and quite a few indoor) cafes here that don't mind the dog with us, but I'm guessing that's a bit unusual. I like Sky being medium-sized though, because she's not too big for our apartment and small courtyard, and not too small to walk long distances with us. But we can't bag her.
posted by taz 15 October | 15:16
I think it's a space thing as well. That said, I'm always flummoxed at the number of big dogs I see in San Francisco. They far, far outnumber smaller dogs. I can't imagine living in a San Francisco apartment with a lab or golden retriever, but it seems that lots of people do it.
posted by mudpuppie 15 October | 15:17
Nah, it's more the fashion of the city than anything. Budapest has (or at least used to have) the highest number of dogs per capita of any (major) city in Europe, and the majority of those are medium-to-large dogs - shepherd, collie, vizsla, husky, standard poodle, things like that. Dog doesn't need to do anything more than sleep in the apartment as long as you get him outside for some minimum amount of exercise. And you can sleep as well in a small apartment as anywhere.
posted by Wolfdog 15 October | 15:27
They have little dogs because they wish they had a cat instead but are worried they would not be able to cope with the (c)attitude.
posted by essexjan 15 October | 16:35
No way! Who would want a cat when you could have a dog?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 15 October | 16:44
Many apartments have size restrictions, often 25-30 pounds.

My 45-pound trashy/gangsta dog and I live in an apartment. (Though it's an extension to someone's house, and there's a courtyard of sorts.) My landlord tells me that when I'm out at work he -- Crosbie the dog, that is, not the landlord -- mostly snores.
posted by tangerine 15 October | 18:20
Presenting... my fever dream, starring Barack Obama and Bauhaus. || I'm interviewing with the temp agency on campus tomorrow.