The Advantages of Small Dogs

'I HOPE you won't mind," the distinguished guest said as I showed her to the spare bedroom, "I've brought a friend with me."

Reaching into her handbag, she said, "I think you'll agree that Mirabella is a perfect houseguest." And with that she deposited on the bed the smallest dog I had every seen. She had a pointy muzzle, four pointy little feet, and two pointy ears between which a tuft of hair, gathered by a red ribbon, pointed to the sky.

"She is not a puppy," said the guest, in anticipation of the question she must have heard a thousand times. "She is a full-grown Yorkshire terrier. She weighs 3-1/2 pounds and she's spayed," she concluded, eyeing Duke, my 100-pound German Shepherd, who had followed us into the room.

From the center of the bed, Mirabella surveyed her surroundings, looking as if she were perfectly accustomed to being deposited on strange beds. Duke, on the other hand, couldn't believe his eyes. He pranced over to the bed and started drooling on the bedspread. But the expression on his face was not hunger or rage: It was enchantment. It did not last, however, because Mirabella, without even turning to look at him, curled her lip and issued a tiny growl. Duke backed off, and adoration gave way to respect.

That pretty much summed up the whole family's attitude toward Mirabella that weekend. She was utterly well-mannered, ate tiny cans of what looked like pate, sipped water out of her own Limoges bowl, and stayed hard by the side of her mistress.

She did not yap or nip or throw tantrums - the things that we had been taught to expect of little dogs. In fact, what made Mirabella seem so tiny had more to do with her accouterments than with the dog herself. Lose the purse, the red bow, and the Limoges, and Mirabella was just another level-headed female who would suffer no fools of any species.

Although I was impressed by her good behavior and the dignity with which she kept Duke at bay, I was in my big-dog phase at the time and would never have considered getting a little dog.

I had progressed from an Irish setter to a perennially famished, retired, racing greyhound, who in a single morning devoured a bunch of bananas (skins and all) and the cleaning lady's lunch (brown bag and all).

My large-dog career peaked with Duke, but even he was not big enough, and as I wrestled him into sits and stays, my heart longed for the true giants of dogdom - Newfoundlands, komondors, Bernese mountain dogs.

Then life changed in various ways and, finding myself between dogs and remembering Mirabella, I decided to give a small dog a try. But I wanted a truly tiny dog, something that I could carry with me - if not everywhere, at least more places than you can carry a German shepherd.

I was in good company. Contrary to stereotype, it's not just old ladies with blue hair who own and dote on small dogs. Writers, especially, seem to love them. Edith Wharton had a little dog. The comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse was so devoted to his Pekinese that when he was caught in Paris by World War II, he declined to return to England to spare his dog the required quarantine.

The French writer Colette owned many dogs of various sizes during her lifetime, but her favorites were French bulldogs, one of whom was so tiny that she used one of her mistress's cast-off hats for a bed. Like my guest, Colette took her everywhere.

Of course, that was in France, where people take their dogs shopping with them, to the playground, to the restaurant. Accustomed to going everywhere with their masters, the dogs, big and little, behave responsibly. Mastiffs may snooze beneath Parisian cafe tables.On the other hand, the United States is essentially an antidog society.

That is why little dogs are so handy. Airlines allow them to travel with you in the cabin as long as the carrier fits under the seat. Most hotels do not allow dogs, but if yours is well-behaved and you don't plan to leave him alone in the room (where he will probably bark at people walking by in the corridor), you can bring him right past the reception desk in your overnight bag.

Best of all, this convenient creature is not some neurotic caricature of a dog. Size has nothing to do with temperament. I've seen Dobermans try to stuff themselves under love seats during thunderstorms, but a little dog's hearts is as staunch as any lion's. I once saw a 10-pound French bulldog break a stay in obedience class and race the length of the gymnasium to reprimand a mastiff for some impertinence.

The mastiff was lying down, and the little dog, who was aiming for the jugular, kept leaping up to reach it. It took the two owners and the instructor to pull him off his prey.

My own Mojo keeps himself fit by wrestling with the cat, who outweighs him by several pounds, and barks fearlessly at strangers and, for some reason, at bird feathers he finds on the grass.

In this day of portability and miniaturization, of modems and modules, of car phones and laptops, the lap dog is worth a second thought, even for those of us who started out as large-dog types.

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