“Small Dogs” Are Still Dogs

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“Small Dogs” Are Still Dogs

“Small Dogs” Are Still Dogs

Plenty of people, and I’m sure you know at least one person like this, make excuses for their small dog’s poor behavior. And let’s be honest, a growling Chihuahua is definitely less threatening than a growling German Shepherd.  It’s also a little less weird to see someone toting around a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in a bag than a Golden Retriever.  However, is it right that we treat dogs differently based on size?

For me, this is a complicated question that deserves some thought and explanation.  In general, a dog should be well socialized and mannerly regardless of size.  However, large breed dog owners have an added responsibility to ensure that their dog is exemplary and almost never makes a misstep or mistake. Why do we put added onus on large breed dogs? Primarily because their mistakes have larger consequences. A “nip” from a Standard Poodle can do more damage than one from a Toy Poodle simply due to jaw and tooth size.  Along the same lines, we are fairly used to seeing a Pomeranian walking far ahead of an owner on a tight leash, but if a Mastiff does the same thing, they are pulling their owner and could potentially cause harm.  Large breeds need to walk calmly on leash and are expected not to jump or pull, but is it okay that we don’t expect the same of our small or tiny dogs?

For starters, it’s important to understand why people get a little dog opposed to a large dog. Popular reasons are because they are adorable (biologically designed to incite neotony or baby like features that appeal to people) and easy to transport, can live in smaller spaces, etc. People love to spoil their tiny dogs and treat them more like tiny people. (If you need proof just search Pinterest for “small dog accessories” http://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=small%20dog%20accesories).

Is it okay to spoil your small dog? Absolutely. Of course you want to put your little dog on your lap, or in a cute carrier, or even an adorable outfit for photo ops. And that’s not to say people don’t spoil their large dogs- I for one have a Bullmastiff who loves to lay in my lap and get quality belly rub time on a daily basis. However, people are far more likely to coddle their small dogs and unfortunately pay less attention to things like rigorous exercise and obedience.

Now is it okay for a small dog to snarl and pull towards another dog or snap at people who approach their owner? Absolutely not.  It may be more manageable than a large dog with the same intention and behavior, but it is inappropriate and potentially dangerous regardless of size. In these cases, I defer to the temperament and personality of the individual dog.  If a small dog cannot handle sitting on their owner’s lap with a docile and sweet disposition, then no, it is not okay to coddle them on your lap and use their size as an excuse.  Plenty of small dogs are quite happy to be coddled by owners and approached by strangers. They relish in attention of any form and deserve to be somewhat spoiled as it does not negatively impact their behavior.  These dogs do not need as much exercise as a German Shot Hair Pointer or Border Collie and were often bred specifically to be a companion type dog.  For example, while a Papillion can excel at agility and often enjoy a good game of fetch, they are often just as happy laying on their owners lap in front of a computer with less exercise for a few days than a Malinois who would probably find their own diversion by day two of inactivity.

Every dog deserves an owner who will teach them good manners in the house, on leash, and around people and dogs (see: http://perfect-pooch.com/what-the-leash-should-and-should-not-be-used-for/ if you are not sure about walking your dog).  In this sense, size does not matter. Classes for tiny dogs only do a disservice in teaching dogs their size and strength and increases the cases of “Napoleon Complex” that many trainers see with tiny dogs.  Many of these small breeds were already genetically engineered to be fearless and non-reactive to pain. Think of Dachshunds bred to fight badgers or Jack Russell Terriers who actually go to ground to fight and kill vermin in their dens and now put them in a class where they are never taught to respect other dogs and interact safely with larger dogs.  It often doesn’t work out well.

While a dog is a dog regardless of size, culturally we are more permissive of poor behavior in small dogs and expect perfect, almost impossible, behavior from large dogs.  While this is not fair to either large or small dogs, the reality is that a small dog with a great temperament can afford to be treated a little differently while a small dog with behavior issues or insecurities needs to have those addressed before they snowball into a pint sized terror.

Happy Training!


Tamar Paltin

Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch

BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator