“Just a Little Nip”

“It was just a little nip.”

This phrase was uttered by a woman at the park the other day, as she explained to me that a dog on leash had nipped one of the men in her morning walking group. The dog in question was a small terrier mix who was afraid of dogs and people, and the man had reached toward her to pet her. I wonder what the turn of phrase would had been, had the dog been a 150-pound Rottweiler.

It always strikes me as both fascinating and frustrating that so many people downplay or even excuse the behavior of smaller dogs. It’s true that the bite of a small dog is not going to do as much damage as one by a dog with larger, stronger jaws, but that doesn’t mean it’s not significant or important to address.

I’ve encountered many families over the years whose small dogs have bitten (or “nipped” as they put it) multiple family members, and even visitors. The issue had been going on for some time, but the bites to strangers were never reported. People are much less likely to report a bite by a Min-Pin, for example, than they are one by a Doberman. And so the issue doesn’t get taken seriously until the dog bites a child or someone who does make an issue of it.

The excusing of behavior issues of smaller dogs seems to extend to other problems as well. I’ve met many families whose Bichons or Chihuahuas are pottying all over the house—never mind that the dog is two years old and they’ve had him from a young pup. How quickly do you think Buddy would have been potty trained had he been a Great Dane?

Leash pulling is another area where size seems to matter. After all, being pulled down the street by an adolescent mini-poodle is not quite the same experience as being dragged by an adolescent Lab.

It’s easy to understand how the behavior problems of smaller dogs don’t get taken quite as seriously as those of larger ones. But the dynamics of the relationship between dog and owner are exactly the same regardless of the size of the dog. And for all of the same reasons that large dogs should be trained and their behavior issues taken seriously, so should those of our smaller canine friends.

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11 Responses to “Just a Little Nip”

  1. laura h says:

    I so agree. Often I have been appalled at the behavior of folks’ little dogs! Rather mind boggling.

  2. I fully agree 100%! I have also heard people down playing “nips” from small dogs, I’ve only seen once where the owner of the dog was very, very concerned. My mom tried picking up her dog so she wouldn’t escape outside while they were moving furniture for a yard sale, the dog was very nervous and when my mom went to pick her up she bit my moms lip, breaking the skin. The dogs owner freaked out, but my mom took the blame for the accident for trying to pick up the dog knowing she was nervous.

  3. Sarah says:

    I do agree that people tend to down play or allow inappropriate behavior from the smaller of dogs.Which I do not agree w/ whatsoever. However as the owner of a Chihuahua I am also shocked @ how many people try and pick up my dog. She gets very frieghtened and does try to bite to defend herself. You would not walk up to a strangers Lab and try to pick it up? It’s an unatural and unnerving position for most dogs .I am trying to educate people that all dogs need to be treated w/ the same respect.

    • Little dogs get away with murder, whether it’s biting, jumping on people, or even (not) getting potty-trained. The myth that “yorkies” are particularly difficult to potty-train, which I hear from their owners all the time, always gets the same response from me: “If he was a Great Dane you’d have potty-trained him by now”.

      That being said, I frequently see small dogs under assault from inappropriate greetings by strangers who apparently take for granted that they all have the temperaments of puppies…or stuffed toys. It is requisite that the owners of these dogs be more pro-active to protect both their dogs and the boneheads their dog might take a piece out of, however small. “Nipping” escalates to more serious biting unless the fear-reactivity is addressed.

  4. Thank you for writing this article. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve expressed these sentiments as a dog trainer.

  5. I am so agree with you. this kind of behavior dont get any attention form the owners with small dogs..people dont realize that only with a small effort the can improve the life quality of there dog and there own.

  6. chimaera87 says:

    Completely agree that small dogs should be trained, socialized and held to the same behavioral expectations as large dogs. As the owner of a large dog (a 7 month old Ridgeback) I find the attitude of many small dog owners incredibly frustrating. We make sure our pup is trained, well socialized and we work through his behavioral issues. We would still do the same if we owned a small dog.

    Our neighbour’s dog resource guards its owner and is aggressive to visitors and other dogs. She thinks it’s adorable that her little dog is “protecting” her. I think it’s incredibly worrisome. Thankfully we’ve made sure our yard is secure because if their dog ever got in, it would almost certainly attack our large puppy but we all know which dog would be blamed and labelled dangerous should he defend himself.

  7. Barry says:

    Little, obnoxious barkers have their place in my world (or my neighborhood)..there are great fodder for desensitization and counter conditioning of my training charges making them eventually oblivious to the erratic, neurotic ill behavior of the ‘cuteys’. I have fallen out with neighbors by my graduation ceremonies performed at the end of the ‘cutey’s’ driveway with lasting sit/stays and tossing the occasional treats to the graduates..and yet we are deemed the problem..love it, laughing aloud all the while. Use them for what their worth…

  8. Tfergie23 says:

    I completely agree! So, we just rescued three Chihuahua mixes from a shelter last week and need to find homes for two of them. We’ve had them for a week and one has nipped at two visitors’ heels enough to make a mark. Can you provide some recommendations of things we can start doing with her? We have started with basic training, like sit and intend to start an OB class soon. We do have your book on the Fearful Dog, so would you be able to direct us to pertinent portions of the book as well. Thanks for your help!

    • wildewmn says:

      Since you have the “Help for Your Fearful Dogs” book, just turn to the chapter on Fear of Visitors. Because most likely the heel-nipping is fear-based. Of course I’m not there to see it so I can’t say for sure, but in the vast majority of cases it is fear-based. Either way, the recommendations in the book will help. Good luck with them and with the class, and I’m hoping the instructor uses positive, gentle methods; if not, find another class! 😉

  9. DogFond says:

    Little dogs can be aggressive as larger breeds do. This is definitely a great read knowing that a lot of people treat smaller dogs differently and that their behavior issues are never taken seriously.

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