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Small Dog Aggression: Is it Real?

Small dog showing off teeth

If you’re the proud owner of a small dog, you know that big personalities often come in the tiniest packages. There are plenty of memes, YouTube videos, and other anecdotal evidence that shows tiny dogs bossing around bigger dogs, cats, and people.

However, while this may be funny to watch online, small dog aggression can cause real problems for both pets and their owners.

The team at West Park Animal Hospital wants all dogs to live in harmony with their families, regardless of size. That’s why we’re tackling the issue of small dog aggression head-on!


The Gift of Fear

One popular theory regarding small dog aggression is based on the idea that these dogs are aware of their small stature and are reacting out of fear. The term “Small Dog Syndrome” is used to describe characteristics that may be compensating for size, including:

  • Overly-excitable behavior
  • Jumping up on owners, other people, or larger dogs
  • Growling at people or dogs
  • Lunging or snapping at perceived threats
  • Avoidance or fear of larger dogs (hiding, running away)
  • Failure to obey commands, difficult to train

Not every small dog will display these behaviors, but dealing with even a few of these characteristics can make life difficult for both people and pets.

Nature vs. Nurture

Studies of animal behavior, such as the C-BARQ Profiles (developed by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Interaction of Animals and Society), show that small dog owners report more behavioral problems than owners of larger dogs. This could be due in part to genetics – because aggression in little dogs is a lot less damaging than in big dogs, it’s not a trait that’s “bred out” of smaller breeds. As a result, there may be a higher percentage of small dogs exhibiting these behaviors.

On the other hand, a more likely explanation is that small dog owners simply let their pets get away with things that aren’t tolerated in larger dogs. Their small size and extreme cuteness makes it easy to ignore (or even unintentionally reward) undesirable characteristics like growling, lunging, jumping, and more. However, allowing a dog to be disobedient or aggressive will only encourage more bad behavior in the long run.

Dealing with Small Dog Aggression

Although a toy poodle probably can’t do any serious damage with those little teeth, small dog aggression can make life miserable for dog owners. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help combat these behaviors:

  • Set clear expectations for your pet and stick to them. Make a list of rules and boundaries, and get the whole family on board.
  • Do some training with your dog at home or sign up for an obedience class. Consistency is key. Be sure to reward your pet with treats or praise for a job well done.
  • Small dogs need daily exercise and play to burn off excess energy and keep them mentally engaged. Commit to a daily exercise and play session to help your pet stay focused, improve behavior, and to help encourage healthy interactions with other animals and people.
  • If your small dog is aggressive toward larger dogs, try slowly introducing them to a large dog who’s friendly. This should be done under close supervision with at least one adult per dog to control the interaction.

If you’re concerned about your pet’s behavior, please give us a call. We can help you develop a plan to get your pet back on track!

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