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« Utah becomes the 19th state to prohibit laws targeting specific breeds of dogs | Main | Welcome back, and a bit about Missouri HB 1116 »

April 21, 2014



I see so many owners of small dogs do such a disservice by allowing and even encouraging them to be evil little twits. People are always telling me that they have never seen such well behaved, mellow dogs as my little Poodles and Chihuahua mix. My only secret is spending time helping them be good little citizens. (Of course they do have strong verbal skills and that helps.)

Lis Carey

So, for some reason they slotted a lot of medium-to-large dogs into the "small dog" category, which is odd.

Although the eyes of owners of large dogs tend to glaze over when I say it, the world is in fact a scarier place for small dogs (actual small dogs, not forty-pounders) than for large dogs. There's a lot more things that can harm or kill them, including, of course, uncontrolled large dogs.

Seven years ago this month, I brought home a scared little mess of a fifteen-pound dog, scared of everything, and no training beyond potty training at a year old. Punishment would have been a disastrous approach to "training" her. Positive reinforcement, on the other hand, led to her earning her CGC eighteen months later. Perhaps the fact that reliance on punishment results in more fear and anxiety in small dogs, even though not in large dogs, might be a frickin' CLUE that those of us with small dogs are not being idiots when we limit or avoid use of punishment with our dogs.

With a small dog, it's relatively hard to find a training class that isn't composed entirely of dogs who could crush yours if they stumbled. Not all trainers have any sense at all about the risks to the small dog of being in the training ring with untrained big dogs whose owners think it's funny when their dog knocks your dog over.

And a different part of the problem: Chihuahuas and Yorkies are really popular choices for older people whose mobility may be declining, and they tend to bond very strongly with their people. With limited social contact, the owner can have a dog who is wonderfully behaved and very responsive inside the home, or on short walks--and not realize for months that they haven't taught their dog how to handle visitors or unfamiliar experiences. They may not have an easy way to get to dog obedience classes. They may be able to afford to buy or adopt the dog, and willing to do whatever is needed to get the dog the veterinary care it needs if it gets sick, but not see the flexibility in their budget to sign up for an obedience class that, given how well the dog responds to them at home, looks superfluous.

More outreach without judgment might be helpful to that population.


I agree with both of you.

Lis, I especially agree that I think there was an odd distinction between small and large -- and I think a 35 lbs dog is very different from an 8 lbs one (for a whole host of reasons). I also realize that socialization can often be harder for small dogs because of the threats that exist for them.

That said, being aware that it is the owner behavior that creates a lot of the underlying issues is an important part of helping solve the real (and perceived) problem.

Cheryl Huerta

Personally I don't believe that in the world of natural canine behavior that dogs view themselves as large or small or make any kind of comparison of themselves and larger or smaller dogs in regard to size. Who hasn't seen the chihuahua that is in a stable pack that rules the larger dogs simply by being the one in charge, that delves out corrections and keeps the other dogs in check? A smaller dog can very easily control a larger dog or many larger dogs and it's all with it's attitude, body language and the manner in which it relates to the other dogs (as subordinate or leader). With dogs all we have is observation and perception to rely on to learn about them as a specie. Until dogs can speak our language or until we learn theirs better there is absolutely no way for any of us to really know and/or understand what goes on in the minds of dogs and/or what causes their behaviors however from my own personal observations it appears as if size truly does NOT matter to dogs when it comes to how they relate to one another.

When it comes to size for sure it is we humans, not the dogs, that divide them into groups of large and small and that is why owners of smaller dogs tend to treat them much differently than they would treat a large dog. They view smaller dogs as less able to defend themselves, as more delicate, as being more easily harmed, as more puppy-like regardless of their age and at risk for harm of all kinds and so I see small dog owners much more in a protective mode that includes viewing aggression by the smaller dogs as cute and harmless.

It is my personal opinion that our society, in regard to the human-dog relationship,for the most part believes that how we control our dogs and their behavior is purely through physical means (this is why the 'reward based' training is considered to be the best way with so many...we are physically rewarding a dog for it's following our instructions by feeding it a treat; we are controlling the dog through physical means). I think that many people who choose the smaller breeds of dog do so because they believe that because the dog is small they will be easy to handle and to control which we all have seen is sometimes a recipe for disaster because dogs are controlled by a leader that they look up to and respect whether that leader be a human or another dog regardless of how well the human can control the dog physically. To be clear 'control' of a dog through purely physical means can control the dog physically and may have some long lasting effects (often negative in nature as the dog becomes fearful of the physical punishment) but typically won't net the long term results that so many of us desire when it comes to our own dogs behavior.

As for the training issue you mentioned Brent I want to point out here immediately that punishment is NOT wanted when training our dogs or when handling them on a day to day basis. However that is not to say that our dogs should not be 'corrected' when they are exhibiting behaviors that we don't want them to exhibit. One of the biggest misinterpretations about training methods is that some methods use punishment which is certainly true of some methods but not all methods and one of the most famous of those 'not all Positive Reinforcement' methods is very often claimed by it's critics to use punishment when it does not use punishment in any way, shape or fashion. Punishment and correction are two completely and vastly different things. Punishment punishes whereas a correction advises the dog, while the dog is exhibiting the unwanted behavior, that sort of behavior is unwanted by the superior to the dog whether that superior be another dog or a human being. A 'correction' is pretty much the same as if a child was about to step off a cliff and the parent told the child NOT to do that. No punishment involved at all but only contact with the child advising the child that what it's doing is not wanted, is unsafe, is dangerous or whatever. I could go on and on and on about the misconceptions about different kinds of training methods but that's not what this is all about so I'll remain quiet on that issue. However when a human being is a calm, confident person capable of using rewards and corrections together to lay out the rules, boundaries and limitations for a dog the dog will respond because that is what a mother dog would do or a pack leader would do and is how the dog will most easily understand what is expected of it. This way of being with our dogs, when used properly by the human being with understanding about the importance of their own attitude while handling their dogs, works for all dogs of all sizes.

Not suggesting that there is only one way to train/handle dogs because there are many humane ways that are successful and that help dogs conduct themselves in an acceptable manner when living among human beings and other animals. Unfortunately there is a group of people who do believe that there is only one way who clearly don't have a sufficient understanding of some of the other ways and who campaign endlessly to force others to stop using the method that they don't like.

In the end it's a great thing to see that we all can agree on one thing and that is large or small regardless of what breed the dog is that it is we humans and how we handle our dogs that dictate a dogs behavior.

Thanks for the info Brent.


I reckon if we compared small to large on an even playing field of owner practices and training--agility dogs, say--the differences would vanish in a puff of Sheltie, Corgi, Pap and Poodle smoke. And though folks may be less likely to slap a choke chain on lil Muffy, IME, many Toy breeds are subjected to stuff they find aversive at a high rate--being snatched up every time they want to do something interesting, shoved into sweaters without conditioning 'em to like it, reached for by strange Godzillas everywhere they go while being restrained and waved like snacks in front of larger, not-always nice dogs. I see so many little guys who are trapped in lives of quiet desperation, never really allowed to be dogs and then blamed for getting crazy from it. So sad, because they're just dogs. Real dogs in small bodies that need real dog lives.

Lis Carey

Preventing "friendly" strangers from rushing in to pet your little dog or even snatch her up can take constant vigilance. And of course there are the idiots who think that a chihuahua can't tell that a GSD is bigger than he is, and that therefore there's something wrong with the small dog if he isn't eager to have that great big dog bounding up to him.

The thing about dogs in a stable pack is that they, wait for it, all know each other very well. That's not the same thing as meeting a stranger dog, when you're on a leash and can't get away if your human doesn't share your sense of Danger! in this unfamiliar giant.

There is also the sad fact that too many big dogs, if they haven't been well-socialized with small dogs, don't necessarily recognize small dogs as DOGS, especially not when running and playing off leash. Small fluffy dogs can unfortunately trigger a big dog's prey drive, looking and sounding, with higher-pitched voices, too much like prey.

And it doesn't take too many bad experiences before the owner of the small dog has a major rehab project on their hands, even if there is no actual injury.

But, hey, it's all the fault of the owners of the small dogs, right?


I used to think that small dogs were yappy little nightmares because their owners didn't bother to train them. And then I got one. I train her the exact same way I've trained my other larger dogs, and in fact often train her alongside my pit mix. The only punishment I ever use with either of them is time outs, and the little one gets them more often, because she earns them.

Although she doesn't seem to be stupid, and she does seem to know what she's supposed to do, she has very little self control. This is something I've been working on with her, and she's making some progress, although it's been slow. As an example, when she sees me go to the food container, she gets excited because she thinks she's getting fed, and starts jumping around and making noise, even though she knows I won't feed a jumping squawking dog. I know she knows this, because I no longer have to give the "sit" cue - even if I don't say it, she'll eventually pull herself together to sit, at which point she'll be sitting and whining, and eventually she'll stop with the whining, and she'll be sitting and quiet, at which point she gets food. She knows she won't get food until she's sitting and quiet, but she has so little self control that it can take her several minutes to get to that point.

After 6 months I've finally gotten her to stop nipping when she's excited, and I consider that an enormous triumph. This dog is much harder to train than any other dog I've ever had. Of course I'm not entirely sure if that's because she's a small dog, but it does seem consistent with the behavior I've seen in other small dogs.

Jen Brighton

Ironically, I just congratulated a small dog owner on the trail who let their 8-lb. dog share treats w/ my two pit mixes. I told them it's nice to see dog owners treat their small dog like a dog rather than snatch it up when they see me coming. Great study. Thanks for sharing.


I now own small dogs and really don't see much difference except for size (I've owned quite a few dogs in my life of different sizes).

They are quick and agile and have high metabolisms and also tend to be more alert. My guys are highly intelligent and responsive to both mood and language - as all dogs tend to be. They have a high prey drive making them lethal to rodents.

There are people on the street who try to pick my dogs up, smother them with pats on the head, etc. I don't allow that sort of behaviour because I don't want my dogs harassed by strangers. If the dogs get a good vibe and want to interact with someone, I'm fine with it.

I took my puppies to the vet's puppy play time and was dismayed to see 7-month-old Labs and 6-month-old St Bernards galumphing around the playroom. Needless to say, my 13-week old puppies, at about 2.5 lbs each, were glad I brought the crate to use as a safe place. They acquitted themselves very well but we didn't go back because the play was much too rough. I didn't want them to possibly be stepped on and become fearful of large dogs. For the same reason, we don't go to dog parks.

People think owners of small dogs - mine average 10 lbs - are overly protective, but the fact is that they can be hurt easily by big dogs.

I am happy to let my dogs meet polite, leashed larger dogs and try to encourage it. They are not shy but I don't want any negative interactions with strange dogs or people if I can avoid them. My gang is pretty balanced overall; in fact, Rupert was on our table at a trade show Easter weekend getting pats from hundreds of people and enjoying it. While we spread awareness of our noxious "pit bull" ban, we also dispel the snappy-yappy little dog myth. Multi-tasking ha ha ha.

I agree with some of the observations here. It is true that when smaller dog acts aggressively we look at it as cute that's why we don't do anything about it and some people even give their pets treats for it, Thus enforcing those dogs to behave that way.

-Carl Williams


I recently got my third puppy, a dutch shepherd and I own two smaller breeds, so now I'm struggling with the small ones teaching the puppy bad behavior . He motivated me to start my own blog. Check it out & please tell me your comments @

Lis Carey

Maybe you should have trained the first two before adding a puppy?

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