I’ve been working with dogs in some capacity for about a decade. To this day, the only dog who has ever bitten me out of aggression/fear was a Chihuahua/Terrier Mix who likely didn’t even weigh ten pounds.*
In the BBC article I’ve linked in below, the author examines the theory that some small dogs may actually be more aggressive than big dogs. The author discusses several theories for why this might occur, and finally concludes that no-one can say with 100% certainty how much of the behavior is “nature” and how much is “nurture.”
Now, let me be clear that I am not stating that all little dogs are aggressive – far from it. What I am stating is that despite what some may believe, little dogs can suffer from all the same problems as a big dog – including, but not limited to, aggressive behavior as stated above.
As the article suggests, I tend to believe that dog behavior has roots in both “nature” and “nurture.” When it comes to little dogs, I think the “nurture” portion often takes the driver’s seat. Why? Because our society has a tendency to treat little dogs not as dogs, but as small babies in need of carrying, cuddling, and comforting.
The dog who bit me all those years ago rarely spent any time on the ground, running around, sniffing outside, learning commands, or behaving like a “real” dog – his primary caregiver (who was a child) carried him everywhere he needed to go and treated him very similarly to her baby dolls. She, like so many, would try to comfort him like a child when he was frightened, not knowing that she was having an opposite affect on him and making him even more fearful. Dogs don’t process that type of comforting in the same way a child might. When you hold your dog close, pet it, coo to it, and tell it it’s going to be okay, that dog interprets your behavior as praise for its current state and confirmation that you’re upset, too.
So, when the dog saw me and started shaking (as Chihuahuas have a tendency to do), she held him close, told him it was going to be okay, and told me I should pet him. Being a young teenager myself, I made the rookie mistake of trying to pet an anxious dog in the arms of his owner… and that poor decision led to several bandaids and a pretty painful finger.
But aggression is not the only bad behavior that plagues little dogs because of our own actions. We very often choose to manage the inappropriate behaviors of small dogs because we can. Small dogs jump on people too, but because they don’t tend to knock people over, few owners actually correct it. Small dogs pull on their leashes, but because they don’t have the weight to jerk an arm out of the socket, few owners bother to teach leash manners. Instead, we just deal with it or manage their poor manners by picking them up and removing them from situations where they might bother a guest or jump on a child.
So, small dog owners, let me ask you this – how well does your dog listen to you? Does your dog come when you call it away from the feet of company, or do you simply go pick it up and take it to another room?
Small dogs are just as capable of better behavior and manners as big dogs – you just have to be willing to put in the time and effort to find it! Your small dog has BIG potential – give us a call today and we’ll discover it together!
Chelsea Cutler, Certified Professional Trainer
*In this statement I exclude two scenarios – intentional bite work while in school at National K-9 and a few times when Tucker has accidentally missed a tug of war toy while playing and caught my hand (which has never broken the skin).