Do Little Dogs Get Away With More?

Young chihuahuaScrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, this headline caught my eye: “Pet Pomeranian Kills 6-Week-Old Baby Girl.” Now, any incident where a dog kills a child is horrific, but this one was also unusual. I mean, cute, fluffy Pomeranians aren’t exactly known to be a menace to society. It’s always particularly shocking when small dogs cause extensive harm since they are, by definition, less capable of inflicting physical damage than their larger, stronger counterparts.

Too many times, I’ve heard some version of, “He’s bitten me a few times; he’s bitten my daughter once, and my son’s friend, too. Oh, and then there was the neighbor…” The subject of these confessions are almost always small dogs. I can’t help think that had the dog been a hundred-plus-pound mass of muscle, the problem most likely would have been—excuse the unfortunate pun—nipped in the bud after the first occurrence. These situations are perpetuated too by the fact that fewer people will report a bite from a smaller dog than one from a large dog. Men in particular seem to be reluctant to walk in to their local animal control department, roll up a pants leg, and say, “Look what that mean Chihuahua did to me!” It’s unfortunate that aggression in small dogs is sometimes not taken seriously until it’s too late. What “too late” often looks like is someone outside the family getting bit, the family getting sued, and the dog being euthanized.

The paradigm of small dogs equaling small problems is also apparent when it comes to potty training. I’ve lost track of how many homes I’ve visited where the Maltese, Bichon, or (insert your favorite small dog breed) has been soiling the house for… wait for it…years! Yes, actual years. I’ve wanted to loan some of those people a 120-pound Rottweiler to see how quickly their vigilance increased. Again, with small dogs, some issues just seem…smaller.

Then there’s the flip side, the many wonderful owners I see walking their little dogs in the park, because yes, small dogs need exercise too. Let’s hear it for those responsible people who train these dogs, rather than saying, “Oh, he’s so small, he can’t really pull on leash anyway,” and actually teach the dogs not to run out the front door, jump on visitors, or use the house as their private urinal. These are no doubt the same owners who, if their small dog were to have an aggression issue toward other dogs or people, would address it immediately. So, do small dogs get away with more? They shouldn’t—and they don’t, if owners understand that where behavior is concerned, a dog is a dog no matter the size.
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24 Responses to Do Little Dogs Get Away With More?

  1. I so agree with you. A bite is a bite, no matter how big a dog the teeth belong to. All dogs need training and discipline, again no matter what their size. I have never particularly liked small dogs and refer to them as rats on sticks. Most I have come in contact with have been yappy, snappy and crappy!

  2. I really like how you contrast the (stereo?)typical small-dog owners with the responsible ones. Yes, I think small dogs tend to get away with more, but maybe if we show more people what responsible small-dog ownership looks like and highlight those responsible owners, others are more likely to train their little dogs instead of ignoring their problems because of their size?

  3. Laura says:

    I’m one of those that does exercise and discipline my small dog. We have done lots of training and practice everyday. She still is nervous around people she doesn’t know, despite me asking them not to approach her.
    She can be aggressive with one specific treat. I walked close to her once and she snapped at me. I immediately gave her come and sit command. Got her to stay and took that treat away. Then we practiced me holding it and using “settle” and she calmed down. Now if she has a treat and I call her, she brings it to me and hasn’t snapped since.
    Most things are play aggressive with the cat, which despite good exercise and training, she continues to do. At least the cat teaches her a lesson.

  4. Stu Canavan says:

    I agree to an extent, it does seem to be the case that alot of smaller dogs do get away with more. The cause, I find, is owners not understanding that EVERY dog, regardless of size or breed needs training and guidance. Small dog syndrome that is often associated with the unacceptable behaviour of smaller dogs is just a label for a lack of training. It’s not a ‘syndrome’ but an indication of lack of understanding on the side of the owner. I have three dogs, one GSD, Frenchie and a Reh pinscher (he is the size of a chihuahua). All are trained and all are owned and handled with equal responsibility.

  5. So I am one of those owners that have two very large dogs that are well behaved and i have a Jack Russel Terrier. The JRT is not the best behaved dog she does have the little dog syndrome. She will come out growling at other dogs. If I am taking the dogs out all three are muzzled not being sued by anyone. The JRT is a hunting dog so I do not want her fight gone. She doesn’t hurt any of the big dogs but they let her think she is boss. I have come out of the house and one of the big boys will have her butt in his mouth and the other have her head in theirs. None of them hurt each other but they all love each other. The JRT is also more spoiled now because she broke her back leg. She broke it when she was in the yard all by herself. She got it caught between two boards at a run

  6. Karen says:

    I really hate these pieces, even when the author makes a point of saying that responsible toy breed owners exist. There always seem to be a flood of responses from people with no understanding of training a toy breed using insults like ‘rats on sticks’ as in the first comment above.

    I have a 1.5kg (3.3lb) dog who is getting treatment from a Veterinary Behaviourist for his fear issues that include barking and lunging at dogs and running away from people. I also have a 2.2kg (4.8lb) with multiple dog sport titles so I think I fall in the responsible category.

    What anyone who has never trained a dog under 3kg (6lb) doesn’t understand is that it is harder to keep these guys safe and not scared during their socialisation period. A happy Lab can break their bones just running up to say hello and not realising to slow down in time. My toy breeds dog life is in danger *every time* I take him into the real world, yet I do it anyway.

    It’s harder to toilet train them because sometimes you miss the pee puddle as big as a five cent piece. Unless you are a good trainer and understand management and prevention the dog is randomly rewarded for urinating in the house and you don’t even know that’s happening. I can understand why pet owners give up.

    The other thing is that generally they ARE less intimidating to people and do much less damage than even a medium sized dog if they do bite – That’s just how it is. The best way to inspire people to train toy breeds is for those of us that do it to lead by example and to share our knowledge.

    To that end, a piece on training challenges for toy breeds with some solutions would be more useful than the emotive ‘Do Little Dogs Get Away with More?’

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Total agree with you, Karen. There were many good points in the piece, but I too wish that the title hadn’t been so inflammatory, encouraging people to diss small dogs and the people who care for them. I also wish more tips to help people who want to do right by their small dogs but may not know how had been included.

  7. Great post! My husband grew up with GSDs and Lhasa Apsos – two guesses which one gave him a scar and an adversion to similar dogs all these decades later? Yep, the Lhasa.

    I’d be curious if you (and others) also encouraged the myth that so-and-so small dog breed *can’t* be housebroken? That’s what my dad told me about his Yorkies. They are 16 years old and still have frequent (to my mind at least) accidents in the house.

    In contrast, there is a wonderful dog owner with Lhasas that comes to our club’s classes. Her girl, Jedda, is “personality plus” but in all the good ways. She’s so good, I forget that I don’t really enjoy little dogs.They remind me not to lump little dog and little dog owners into one big stereotypical category.

  8. repoleon says:

    I have 2 big dogs and just adopted 1 small. Same rules and expectations. The small dog is much more cautious in new situations, but responding well with positive training methods. One problem I notice is that people respond to small dog differently. If she is nervous and puts her ears back or growls, people are much more likely to ignore her signals and say “oh it’s ok sweetie” and reach for her. That tends not to be the case with a 60 lb. dog, who people take very seriously when it growls! I step in to intervene and ask people to respect her space and help in our training/socialization. If I didn’t intervene, I suspect she would increase her aggressive displays over time to get the message across to people who ignored her warnings that she was uncomfortable…. I wonder if a lot of small dogs have felt backed into a corner and learned to “up the ante” to be taken seriously.

  9. philospher77 says:

    I come from the experience of having a 56-pound greyhound and a 9.5-pound miniature rat terrier. To give an idea of size, I often put it as the rattie is “a sheet of paper long, and a sheet of paper tall”. And my experience is: Owning a small dog is different than owning a big one. Do some owners let them get away with things that they wouldn’t let a larger dog do? Yes, I’m sure. But some of the bad habits that smaller dogs have is at least partly due to how the public treats them. And it’s not just the “clueless public”… experienced dog trainers and owners treat them differently.

    For example, I have pretty much given up on teaching “4 on the floor” for greetings, because Every. Single. Person who wants to pet my dog starts by patting their leg so that she will stand up with her front paws one their leg. And I understand why. She’s all sorts of cute, and it’s a lot easier to pet her when her head is at your knee level, instead of having to bend down to mid-shin. So I discourage her actually jumping on people, but let her do the paw thing, since it is going to be reinforced more than I can counteract.

    Another time, I had to leave a dog park I was at, because two young tween girls were going around picking up every single dog there and hugging and petting them, regardless of what the dog was doing at the time. I figured I ran a pretty good chance that Pixie would at least snap at them if they tried it with her, so took her out of the situation. But the parents were just watching while this was going on, because of course all small dogs are really just like toys for kids to play with.

    And another time, I asked one of my trainers to do a body score assessment on little Pixie to see if I should adjust how much I was feeding, and the trainer went and swooped her up! Which startled Pixie, who nearly jumped out of her arms but was caught before she could do so. You wouldn’t pick up a lab to do a body score, and there was no need to have picked up Pixie to do one, but people just don’t think before doing things like that, because it is so much easier to have the dog come up to your level rather than you have to go down to theirs.

    So I do think that a lot of small dog aggression is because people don’t give small dogs the respect that they do bigger dogs. Would the parents of that baby have left the child (I assume unattended) with a lab? Probably not. But a Pom? Sure. And the fact that people ignore small dog body language, especially about being picked up, makes the dog have to put on bigger displays in order to protect themselves. And even that doesn’t always work, because people are still able to pick up a small dog even if it is growling and snapping.

    I like dog training, so I have worked with Pixie a lot and her manners are pretty good. But even doing that has made me aware of how big and scary the world has to seem to these dogs. Working on loose leash walking has made me realize that there are curbs that I step off of and onto that are nearly her height. Can you imagine what it would be like if crossing the street meant you had to step down 5 feet and back up? And yet I expect Pixie to do the equivalent multiple times on a walk. So I cut her some slack if she wants to go out a ways to where the curb is lower. And she doesn’t like to sit or down in grass, which makes slightly more sense when you consider that it can be knee to chest deep on her, depending on when it was last mowed. And, while I work on having Pixie sit and concentrate on me when other people with dogs walk past, because she can be a bit over-exuberant in her greetings otherwise, people with large dogs tend to think nothing of allowing their dog to come charging up to her, where even a friendly dog could accidentally cause injury just because of the size difference.

    So… as I said, it’s different owning a small dog. I don’t think I let her get away with “more” than I do my greyhound, but she gets to get away with different things, because it makes life with her easier _on me_. And if you want people to have better behaved small dogs, one thing that will go a long way is to teach people to respect the dog and its need for personal space. A lot of small dogs are very cute, and it is extremely easy for people to put their desire to pet and cuddle the dog over the dog’s desire to not be petted. One of the hardest skills I had to learn (with both my dogs) was to respect the fact that sometimes they did not want to be petted when I wanted to. Occasionally I still slip up on that, but I do try and follow their lead.

    • wildewmn says:

      Thanks, Rebecca for such a thoughtful comment. You make a lot of great points about how things are from the little dog’s point of view, and the difficulties owners of small dogs face from the public.

  10. juliabarrett says:

    My husband and I always say… If our GSD behaved like most of the little dogs we meet, the police would have been called, we’d have been fined, and most likely our dog would have been put down. I’ve been bitten by little dogs, never by a big dog. My GSD has been attacked by packs of little dogs. He and big dogs seem to understand dog social mores and avoid violent encounters.
    Fortunately our GSD has shown great restraint and he’s well-trained so he has not responded in kind. If he did respond, even though he was the victim in these situations, he’d still get blamed.
    I think the difference is this – owners of big dogs, not all, but most owners of big dogs realize that they must control their big dogs because people are afraid of big dogs, whether that fear is warranted or not. Owners of aggressive little dogs all say the same thing – he’s just a little dog. He can’t hurt anyone. Not true.
    I’ve owned a series of GSDs. They seem to set little dogs off worse than any other dog. All of my GSDs have been bitten, not one has bitten back.
    I get so frustrated because I can’t even walk my dog down my own street- on a leash – because of two vicious terriers allowed to run lose at the end of the block. To take my dog for a neighborhood walk I have to drive around the corner and park outside of the terriers’ territory. The older people who own the terriers think they are so cute and so funny. The two dogs go after every other dog on the street. They chase cars as well. I’m waiting for them to get squished. No amount of discussion with these people has changed this issue and animal control doesn’t respond.

  11. philospher77 says:

    You know, the more I think on this, the more I wonder if there isn’t observer bias behind the impression that small dogs are more ill-behaved. At the heart of the issue is the failure of the owner to train their dog, yes. But it is a lot easier to take a small dog out when they aren’t well trained, as opposed to a big dog. So the general public sees more badly trained small dogs, because the badly trained big dogs are living lives confined to the back yard or in the house, out of sight.

    Plus, what exactly is a “small dog”? My Pixie and the under-6-pound dogs described earlier are definitely small dogs. And a 100-pound mastiff is definitely large. But there is a huge amount of grey area between those two extremes. So how are we defining it? By weight (under 10 lbs, or 20, or 40)? By size (under a foot, or 18 inches)? Only dogs in the AKC Toy group? It’s easy for people to bash a group, and yet have very different ideas of who or what is in that group.

    • wildewmn says:

      The point of this post was not that smaller dogs are ill behaved. It was that aggression issues are taken less seriously when they manifest in smaller dogs, rather than in large dogs. No one is bashing small dogs.

  12. Sarah says:

    As the owner of a small dog,(6# Chi) I agree w/ the article. We need to train and socialize all dogs regardless of size. I do take offense to all the derogatory comments however. “Rat on a stick”” “Yappy, snappy and crappy” They are dogs after all. Would you label a small person that way?
    I also feel we need to treat them like dogs. I try and educate people I meet, For instance, why do people feel the need to pick my dog up? Would you do that to an 80# Lab? I think not.

    • wildewmn says:

      Thank you, Sarah. I appreciate that as a responsible small dog owner, you realize the post was not intended to bash small dogs. I would encourage anyone commenting to please refrain from the types of comments Sarah cited above.

  13. juliabarrett says:

    Dogs are dogs. Little dogs are every bit as cute and lovable as big dogs. But there is a double standard applied.

  14. philospher77 says:

    If the question being raised is whether people take aggression in small dogs less seriously than they do in big dogs, then I will say definitely yes. Because, statistically, aggression in small dogs is less serious than in larger dogs. It’s like asking people to take being hit by a bicycle and a car with the same degree of seriousness, even though people have been killed in bike/pedestrian collisions. It just doesn’t happen with as much frequency as with cars, and so no one gets upset at the mixed pedestrian/bike paths the way they would if you asked them to do that with cars!

    Having said that, I really don’t understand the people who let the dog bite multiple times. If nothing else, you would think that they would learn that if they do X, the dog bites them, so don’t do X.

  15. I usually enjoy reading your blog posts and comments, but some of these comments are extremely rude and insensitive! Seriously, “rats on sticks” and “I’m waiting for them to get squished by a car”!

    While I agree with some of the issues being addressed in your article, I think a few of your readers misinterpreted the entire point of this post.

    As the parent of three small reactive dogs, I have dedicated the past seven years (basically, their entire lives) to rehabilitating them and it has been an uphill battle! I realized early on that my dogs were displaying inappropriate behavior and I began reading and researching for ways to help them. They are still reactive, but much more manageable. My blog minpinmoments.com details the enormous amount of time and energy that I have spent in an effort to have “normal” dogs.

    Do I wish that all dog owners were as commited as me? Of course, I do. But the fact is that some people do not know any better. They may truly believe that little dogs are supposed to be tiny terrors and that there is nothing that can be done about it.

    Have I seen dogs of all sizes behave badly? Yes. Do I refer to those dogs with derogatory names or wait for them to be hit by a car? Absolutely not! Do dogs want to be reactive or aggressive? Probably not. But you cannot hold them any more responsible for their actions than you would a two year old child. Judge the owner, not the dog!

    • juliabarrett says:

      I apologize – that was me – and I didn’t mean I was ‘hoping’ the dogs would get squished, I mean I’m expecting it to happen and it will be a tragedy – a preventable tragedy. What I mean is this- it will happen eventually. The owners will be heartbroken, whoever hits the dogs will be traumatized, and the dogs will be dead or injured and it will have been entirely preventable. I love dogs. I do not want to see any dog injured or killed.
      Is it fair that I have to drive around the corner in order to safely walk my dog? No. But do I wish those dogs dead? Of course not. I wish the owners would be responsible dog owners.

      • Thanks for the apology. I have also had to take detours and avoid certain locations due to inconsiderate dog owners. For a couple of years, I did not walk on a certain street in my own neighborhood because two large dogs escaped their house while I was walking by with one of my Min Pins. I quickly picked my dog up while one of the dogs jumped all over me trying to get to my dog. One of the owners finally ran up and gained control of his dog. By then, I had gouges down my back. I cannot imagine what may have happened had I been walking more than one of my dogs. Later, I went back to the house, without my dog. I wanted to discuss what had happened and pass along the name of a trainer who might be able to help. I was told that the owners were not home. I went back the next day and left my name and phone number, but never did receive a phone call. I feel sorry for dogs who belong to people who have such little regard for the well-being of their pets and the safety of other people’s pets.

  16. gewanita says:

    Totally agreed. My friend has a little yorkie who is very cute but gets away with a lot of annoying habits, such as excessively jumping on people’s legs for attention, pulling on the leash, and wriggling around when he is instructed to sit and wait by the door. So one day when she said, “Oh but he’s so cute, I can’t tell him no”,I told her “Imagine him as a giant Burmese Mountain Dog. Would you let him get away with all of that stuff then?” And she got it. haha

  17. Frances says:

    I have two toy dogs – both of them are just as well adjusted, well socialised and well mannered as the bigger dogs we meet. But I can quite understand why many small dogs struggle. Firstly, there is the frequent assumption that small equals lap dog – very few of the small terriers fit that description (I would take a small bet that the majority of bites and other attacks involve terriers). Then there is the sheer difficulty of safely socialising a puppy weighing around half a kilo with other dogs – it is rather like setting your toddler down to play with a herd of elephants. Add in people who want to scoop up the pup willy nilly to cuddle it, or who loom over it in the most discourteous way, children who grab at it like a soft toy, the minority of owners who see a small dog as a fashion accessory rather than a living, sentient companion; then consider how frightening the world can be for an animal that small, and how often fear leads to aggression, and it almost becomes surprising that there are any well-adjusted small dogs at all!

    Owners of large, well-socialised, puppy friendly dogs could do the canine community a huge service by offering to help socialise puppies of all sizes. And dog owners in general can help each other by avoiding stereotypes – such as all Pit Bulls/Staffies/German Shepherds/Rottweilers/Small Dogs are aggressive/unpredictable/snappy. It would also improve my life considerably if I was no longer subject to such “jokes” about my dogs as “Leave it alone, Basher, you’ve had your breakfast” and “I wonder what Prince would make of that – one mouthful I expect”. Rant over!

  18. Run A Muck Ranch says:

    Our home is an equal opportunity “get away with it” residence. That said, we do seem to watch the big ones more than the little ones in public, which is wrong since the little ones are more likely to act up. Though our dogs are fine in public, it’s still insufficient parenting on our part that the little ones are able to push the boundaries.

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