There are a set of behaviors
that often show up in small dogs. Everybody knows it, most
people think it's just a small dog thing. And, it's true.
Small dogs often act in stereotypical ways.
Aggressive in many
ways--make aggressive threats to outsiders, bite their owners on
a regular basis, very aggressive when meeting other dogs.
Guard their stuff,
Bark a lot. All
the time. At everything. If the wind stirs a blade
of grass in the yard, it's OMG STRANGER DANGER STRANGER DANGER
Don't listen to their
Now before you think I have
something against small dogs, be aware that I love small dogs.
During my time playing flyball, small dogs were a valuable
commodity, serving as "height dogs" for the team, and I learned
during this time that small dogs absolutely ROCK. I was
surprised, though, because the small dogs I saw at flyball pretty
much acted like big dogs--very differently than my experience with
small pet dogs that I had encountered during my life.
So, why would all the little
guys in flyball act like "real dogs" instead of how I had seen
other small guys acting my whole life? Let me give you a big
clue. Small dogs have all the same instincts and behavior sets
that big dogs do...they are not born with a tendency to do all the
things in the bullet point list above.
So why do a lot of small
dogs turn out to have a Napoleon complex?
There are two reasons.
People tend to hold the dogs in their arms a LOT.
People tend to have a very different emotional connection
with small dogs, which causes them to have a different attitude
about raising and training them.
So, the bottom line is that
small dogs start out "normal" genetically--they are born with
all of the same possibilities as larger dogs. It is how they
are raised and trained that causes the stereotypical "little dog"
So how does it happen?
Puppy comes home. It's
tiny and sweet and cute. It's easy to hold, and sparks an
emotional response of "it's a baby" when people hold it. So,
puppy gets held--a LOT.
The owners "show" the dog
everything while the dog is being held. The dog has absolutely
no way to do a normal investigative approach to things, like a big
dog would because it is literally ALWAYS in someone's arms. A big dog puppy would be on the floor or ground,
maybe on the leash, maybe not.
Let's compare the learning
A big dog puppy sees its
first adult dog, a stranger dog. The puppy uses all the body
language that it learned from its mom and littermates to make the
situation as calm as possible, to convey to the new dog "I'm not
sure, wait a minute." The puppy takes its time slowly
approaching and getting to know the big dog, coming close, moving
away, lying down, bouncing around a little maybe--but the puppy has
a chance to learn, through its own actions, how to approach, gets to
see how the strange dog reacts, and usually within a moment or two,
the puppy has learned that strange dogs introduced by his owner are
kinda fun, and usually safe.
Now let's compare and
contrast how a small dog gets "introduced" to other dogs. The
owner is holding the puppy and invites the stranger dog (who is
probably intensely interested already and possibly a little excited)
to come close and sniff the puppy. The puppy is prevented from
using any body language to control the situation. But despite
how the puppy might be feeling (a little unsure), that new dog comes
straight up and sniffs him all over.
The same is true of how a
small dog is presented to people. Often, owners hold the
little puppy all the time and then either permit people to just come
up and touch and coo over the puppy, while the pup is restrained,
and sometimes the owner just hands the puppy to the strange person.
Just imagine this situation:
you are at my house and I tell you that I have discovered Bigfoot,
and he's my friend. I then put you in a full nelson,
restraining you with your whole body exposed as Bigfoot approaches,
and Bigfoot rushes up, puts his face close to yours, sniffs you all
over while touching you with his nose, hands and body.
What kind of attitude do you
think you would have? Would you be happy, feel safe, or trust
me? No. You would be terrified, frozen, with adrenaline
rushing through your body and experience a massive episode of
drastic fear. You might scream, or try to kick or struggle.
This is kind of a silly
example, but it perfectly illustrates how small dogs learn to see
their world. Nearly everything they see is "shown" them while
they are being held. They have no opportunity to withdraw,
take it slow, and check it out in a way that makes them comfortable.
This happens to them multiple times a day for LIFE. So what
does this teach a puppy?
Invariably, the puppy gets
scared enough at one point or another to growl or bark. The
person holding the dog usually then pets and cuddles the dog, cooing
"it's ok baby." Worse still, the person holding the dog
flinches back (distancing the puppy from the Scary Thing), and even
worse still, the thing approaching (a person or dog, etc) flinches
back when it happens.
So the dog learns the
New things that come at
me are to be dreaded. After all, my owner forces me to let
them touch me an manhandle me no matter how I am feeling.
When I use aggression to
make things stop, my owner thinks I am right. Look at how
she looks at me--she's concerned about the thing too! Just
look at her face! And, she pets me and praises me and
tells me I'm right and that I did the right thing to act like
Since little acts of
aggression work, over and over, to get the things to stop coming
at me, I will start using aggression over and over and from
greater distances--and guess what! That works too!
The puppy's instinctual
and learned body language fades, because he's not getting to
practice using it. So even when he's approaching things on
his own, he chooses an offensive aggressive technique, because
his non-offensive techniques haven't worked for him at all in
the past and he's had great success with noise and aggression.
So now we've got a dog that
has basically been well-trained that aggression, bluff charging,
snarky barking, are the things to do.
Now let's talk about some of
the other stuff that happens in our original list.
Guards their stuff,
vociferously--When they display hints of resource guarding (food
aggression, toy aggression, bed aggression, "that's my person"
aggression), people think it's funny. Often a small dog owner
will set the dog up to guard stuff, just to laugh about it with
friends. Over and over the dog learns that guarding its stuff
Housetrained--People often use pee pads for small dogs, and do
not take housetraining as seriously as people with big dogs. A
small dog pee accident is the size of a silver dollar. A poop
accident is the size of one and a half Tootsie rolls. These
are a far cry from a Border Collie accident--pee the size of a paper
plate or bigger, big ole poops that are REALLY smelly and gross to
pick up. The pee pads, whether for a small dog or a big dog,
usually are used by the dog...but the side effect of using them is
that the dog learns to pee on things laid on the floor. By the
time the dog is 6-8 months they have extended this understanding to
include mats lying on the floor, a piece of paper, or a coat or
purse that someone has left down. Small male dogs begin
marking everything they feel like marking (lifting their leg) and
aren't often seen doing so--usually the owner discovers the marking
spots long after the dog has done it. So the dog learns that
it can basically pee and poop whenever and wherever it feels the
Barks a Lot--Some
small dogs tend to be genetically barky--dogs like Pomeranians,
Maltese, terrier breeds, etc. But this is true of many larger
breeds that do not end up as barky as their smaller counterparts.
Small dogs are often free-fed. It's boring to be free-fed.
Also when a dog is free-fed it blunts their desire to chew and
dissect which are important pieces of mental stimulation for a dog.
They aren't often taught a lot of obedience or taken anywhere to
have mental stimulation, spending most of their time freewheeling
around their house or backyard--and they are bored spitless.
So they start obsessing about activity, anything to relieve the
boredom, and they start watching at windows, being really reactive
to new activity like visitors, and they look for any reason to get
excited. Combine this with an owner that isn't actively caring
whether or not the dog barks, or worse yet, makes a big fuss when
the dog barks, and you have a dog that has slowly but surely learned
that getting over-excited and turning himself inside out barking is
WAY MORE FUN that just being calm.
Don't Listen to Their
Owners--Small dog owners can easily control their dog by simply
picking him up. Plus they emotionally react to him as if he's
a baby. Nowhere in this conundrum is there a good reason for
the owner to set up good boundaries and rules, despite the fact that
if the dog was behaving like this and was also a large dog, the
owners would see the need to take action for training. By the
time the dog is 7-8 months old, it has developed a set of routines
and habits through its own choices. He has no experience of
following direction, and has often learned that trying to push
through and around his owner works really well. This means the
dog ignores the owner when the owner is trying to direct him, nearly
How do I prevent all of
The single thing that is
different about small dog raising and big dog raising is that small
dogs do need to be protected from big rowdy dogs overwhelming them.
This can be easily done through judicious use of leash and control
of the OTHER DOG.
Other than that, here's the
Pretend your dog is a Bull
Mastiff, and raise and train your small dog with his feet on the
floor. Avoid picking him up unless you are at home and
cuddling--train him to navigate his world on his own two feet.
Socialize him freely with
dogs that will not bowl him over constantly and that will allow him to act
like the dog he is in these encounters.
Train him all the obedience
behaviors you would teach a big dog.
Feed him twice a day and
make him sit/stay/wait to be released to food.
Give him excellent chew
items like stuffed Kongs, butcher bones, and the like.
Teach him a great recall so
you can free run him.
Teach him to retrieve so you
can have a fun and stimulating game to play.
In other words, pretend he's
a Bull Mastiff, raise him exactly the same way, and he will be a
"real dog" with none of the "small dog" traits. Pretty simple,
If you have a small dog that
shows a lot of the traits I listed above already, fortunately
there's a quick fix. Start treating him like a big dog.
For a period of two to four weeks, keep him on leash in the house
and get the housetraining and leadership issues under control. Stop
holding him all the time. Stop using "scoop and hold" to cut
off problem behaviors, and train him like you would a big dog if the
big dog were doing all that stuff.
Four on the Floor Gets You
More when it comes to small dogs.
Plus, how would you like it
if you were the pet of a giant and were constantly physically
manhandled and grabbed? Nope. Nobody would like it.
He may be little, but he's a
dog. Let him be one!