I recently received a training inquiry from a woman with a four-month-old toy poodle. During our chat, she mentioned that she was expecting some friends to visit the following week. Although they wouldn’t be staying with her, they would be spending a lot of time at her home—them and their four adult teacup Yorkies, that is. When I asked whether she knew whether the Yorkies were friendly toward unfamiliar dogs, she seemed surprised. Her response was along the lines of, “Why would I worry? She’s much bigger than they are.” A conversation about size, aggression, management, and introducing dogs ensued.
That woman is far from being alone in her beliefs. There are many people who assume that if their dog is larger, damage couldn’t possibly be suffered. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the Yorkies scenario, four on one is not good odds; but even in a one on one situation, depending on the breed and temperament of the dogs, a smaller dog could certainly physically injure a larger one.
The bigger issue, though, is that injury doesn’t just happen to the physical body. As anyone who has been attacked physically can attest, the emotional scars linger long after the physical ones disappear. It’s the same with dogs. A dog who starts out with a stable, trusting temperament can easily become fear-reactive toward other dogs. Whether that shift takes one encounter or five, and how intense of an encounter, depends on the particular dog. Some puppies can have one unfortunate incident and their attitude is forever changed. There is a desperate need for owners to be made aware of this fact. So many take very young puppies to dog parks, unaware of how much harm can be caused on both physical and emotional levels. I would even argue that dogs who are taken to the dog park when they clearly don’t want to be there, who are forced to be in a contained area with beings who scare them, are suffering some level of emotional damage each and every time.
When we expose dogs to others as play partners or even just hanging out buddies, we must consider temperament as well as size, and monitor stress signals closely. If the worst happens, even if the larger dog doesn’t suffer much physical trauma, emotional trauma can sometimes do more, and more lasting, harm.
By the way, on the topic of body language, I’ll be premiering a brand new seminar “Talk to the Paw! Understanding What Dogs are Really Saying–and What We’re Saying to Them” in Burbank on April 7. Earlybird reg. ends March 6. Check it out here.