Internal Injuries

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.


6 Responses to Internal Injuries

  1. Robin Layton says:

    I’ve been through this. Both of my older dogs have been in fights and gotten hurt and are very distrustful of other dogs. One is uneasy even with puppies. Mitzi, one dog, will attack first. I never assume anything any more although their problems were with bigger heavier dogs.

  2. Hazel says:

    My small dog was rolled as a puppy by a lab puppy. Did it scare him or make him mad? I don’t know but it did something to cause him to chase the lab puppy all over the yard. It was quite clear to me if he could have caught the pup he would have hurt him as the lab was a dopey kind of pup and mine was one angry pup. To this day he wont give a big dog as much time to be in his space as a small dog.

  3. LisaH says:

    I have wondered about this. I read (and respect) a lot of Ian Dunbar’s work so when I got my 1st dog in 2007 I worked really hard to socialize him to 100 people, dogs in x amount of days when very young …. but I was also naive enough then to believe what anyone in “authority” said (I am much more discriminating now). So, when we went to a 6 week puppy training class and weekly the trainer would put all 4 puppies in an single 4 ft. by 4 ft. X-pen (it was at a Petco) to socialize – I was uncomfortable with it, but was told they were playing & dogs will work it out. Now I know it was a mistake. One was a large boxer that mauled the others, a larger golden that was just big, then my skinny little BC and an even smaller breed was in the mix. My dog hated it -being mauled and no escape- and has never been friends w/another dog. Not aggressive, but doesn’t interact with any other dog but my other younger, smaller BC female. Maybe his temperament would have been reserved regardless, or maybe this early experience was detrimental to him. I do wonder.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Lisa,

      I’m really sorry to hear about the experience you and your dog had. I’m not sure exactly what Ian said on the subject, but I too have great respect for his work, and it IS common practice to socialize dogs to many, many new people, places and things at a very young age so they will not fear those things as they grow up. That said, the introductions should be careful and not overwhelming for the pup. It sounds as though the group class instructor overwhelmed the dogs and put the less enthusiastic ones into a bad situation that had the exact opposite effect. I hate to hear about this kind of thing; you were trying to do the right thing to help your dog, and instead, the situation was made worse.

      I’m glad your BC has your female to interact with, and I also want to mention that there are many dogs who just want to play with others, and that’s fine; they can still have a rich and wonderful life. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      Take care,

  4. JerryI says:

    Couple years ago we had a pitbull we were trying to help. It was touch and go about whether he was going to be able to continue coming to play group. For what ever reason it hit me one day that he always jumped smaller dogs, never bigger dogs. When I mentioned this to the daughter of the owner, she said, yea my mom has a miniature poodle that hates him and is really mean to him.

    DUH! this is not information I need to know about?

  5. hrosez says:

    This reminds me of a client I had, and we were doing a puppy program. In between sessions, the puppy was attacked while on a walk. A dog who was off the leash, attacked and caused some damage on the puppy. 3 sites needed to be stitched, and the puppy started showing aggression towards the owners, and whenever the owner would try to take the puppy on a walk. This case became too severe for me to handle (because I don’t handle aggression yet), and I recommended the puppy to a more experienced trainer. Unfortunately, due to the puppy attacking their youngest child (lack of supervision on the owner’s part), the puppy was given up at the shelter. Horrible situation all around. 😦

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