Friday, June 28, 2013

Small Dogs vs. Big Dogs

Some dogs are small and some are big. The end.

Just kidding.

Today’s post is less about actual size and more about how small dogs are treated compared to their larger canine friends because how we treat small dogs has, in many ways, facilitated the widespread notion that all small dogs bark a lot and are aggressive.

As a TAGS volunteer, I have met many fantastic dogs who are up for adoption. When I’m in pet stores doing outreach, I often hear families who are looking for a dog say that they don’t want a small dog because they are known to be aggressive and therefore not good with kids. While it’s true that we have dogs up for adoption who we would not recommend to a family with small children, this is not a blanket statement for all of our small dogs. Some of our larger dogs are also not suited for a life with kids, and some of our small dogs would be great with anyone and everyone.

Every small dog I have ever met is yappy, and you want me to believe that it’s just a stereotype?

It’s a common assumption that because these dogs are little, they bark more and act tough as compensation when they feel the need to defend themselves against strangers and larger animals. Being defensive is unfortunately common for some dogs depending on what they have experienced in their lives, but that said, it’s not all about size. Dogs probably don’t even know that size means anything in the human world. Big or little, a dog who is taught or encouraged to be defensive, protective or dominant is going to display that behaviour. Moreover, any dog, regardless of size, can feel intimidated by another dog or animal or human. Why else have so many large dogs been put in their place by a cat? Why do I know a Lab who is afraid of pugs?

Sheldon is a small breed, and yet he didn't make a peep
when he visited students at UOIT and Durham College. 
But I trained both of my dogs and my terrier barks all the time, while my husky is quiet. 

Whether you are aware of it or not, the way humans treat small dogs compared to large dogs is a major factor in the way that smaller breeds conduct themselves. Even if they were trained in the same obedience class as a large breed, their “yappy and aggressive” behaviour can emerge over time based on day-to-day interactions. For example, when a small dog growls or tries to “act tough,” it is common for people to think this behaviour is not a concern because the dog is small. Some people even think it is cute that the dog is trying to “act like a big dog.” If your German shepherd were to bare his teeth and growl at your guest, too, would it be so cute? I doubt it.

 Other ways we treat small dogs differently than large dogs

At the TAGS dog park, all dogs wait nicely
for a treat, no matter what their size is! 
Giving attention/Greeting new people: When small dogs are looking for attention or for a treat, they might go up on their hind legs and rest their front paws on their owner’s legs, some even jump up into this position until they are told to sit for their treat. However, it’s likely that you trained your large breed to go straight into the sitting position or else risk being knocked over.

Going on a walk: While on a walk, large dogs who are considered to be good at walking on a leash are not allowed to pull and generally walk beside or behind their owner. Smaller breeds pull, too, but because they are small and easy to scoop up or otherwise control, owners do not worry as much about their little dog leading up front.

Playing: If you wouldn't feel comfortable letting a large dog  nibble on your hand during playtime, then don't let the little one do it either!

So what does all this have to do with small dogs being yappy or aggressive? 

While pulling on a walk is not necessarily a sign of aggression, it is similar in the mind of the dog. If your Chihuahua is allowed to jump up, pull on a walk and otherwise do anything he wants, then why isn’t he allowed to bark at everyone? Why can’t he growl in the dog park when he’s allowed to growl at home? These are all types of dominant behaviour, but “yappy” and “aggressive” have become the buzz words for small breeds because these are the habits that are most noticeable to others.

Help break the cycle!

Rocky at PetSmart a few months ago.
Rocky has since been adopted
Dogs bark, it's true, but learning how our actions can affect our dog's behaviour is key, especially if they are little and often allowed to get away with negative behaviour. Take note of when you might be treating your little dog differently, and work on correcting your own habits. In time, the dog's habits will improve, too, and people will notice: During a PetSmart shift with Rocky, a customer commented on how quiet he was "for a little dog." While the ultimate goal is to not have it be assumed in the first place that Rocky would be loud just because he's part Chihuahua, part miniature pinscher, maybe that woman has a slightly different perspective on small dogs now.


  1. Very wise post! I feel that you hit the nail on the head. As always, it isn't the breed. It is how the owner raises the dog. I always cringe when an owner of a small dog picks up and pets their small dog after charging and yapping at someone. Talk about reinforcing negative behavior. Your post is perfect to educate small dog owners. Kudos!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Laura! I am glad you enjoyed this blog post. The picking up example is a very common one, I also see it all the time.

  2. This blog is truly awesome in all aspects. small dog breeds


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