Small Dog or Large? Which Should New Owners Choose?

Updated on June 26, 2012

Most people considering dog ownership for the first time already have a handful of specific breeds in mind. Before choosing a breed though, your own lifestyle should be considered above all else. The size of dog you choose should be largely based on your activity level, living space, and any physical or financial limitations you may have. Only after looking at the big picture can you finally settle on the appropriate breed.

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Small Dog Appeal

There is, of course, the cuteness factor. Though many people find the facial structure of pugs and Pekinese unattractive, but small dogs tend to keep an almost puppy-like appearance simply due to their size, which many soon-to-be pup parents find irresistible.

A smaller sized dog is easier to handle and manage. You can pick him up when you need to, and take him traveling with less hassle than a medium or large dog. Regardless of coat type, they are easier and faster to groom. You can get them in and out of the tub quickly, and nail trims seem effortless when compared to the giant, rock-hard toe nails of large breeds.

Pet products for small dogs are cheaper. Smaller size accounts for less money spent on things such as food, grooming supplies, crates, and bowls. These products are also more readily available at local grocery stores instead of having to go to a specialty pet store, and take up a lot less space in your home.

Bad behavior in a small dog is a lot less bothersome. An example is jumping on owners or guests for attention. A tiny Chihuahua leaning on his owner with his paws up on her shins is barely noticeable. Compare that to a lab doing the same, or a mastiff. Small dogs can get away with a lot more without their owners getting frustrated.

Less exercise is required for a dog with shorter legs. All dogs need exercise, both mental and physical, as well as a daily walk, but smaller breeds require less activity and effort from their owners. You don't have to go running with a dog with small strides, making these breeds a better fit for people who cannot be as active.

The Downsides of Small

Because misbehavior in small dogs gets ignored or goes uncorrected more often, larger problems can arise more quickly. It's easier for behavior in a small dog to get out of hand, leading to aggression issues.

Many small dogs never get the structure that larger dogs get. Their size makes their presence less intrusive and destructive habits result in small amounts of damage if any at all. So they are permitted indiscriminate access to the entire home, furniture, food, and other resources. This makes house training extremely difficult. Possessiveness of food, treats, and chews develops more often when a dog is left to manage his own resources in this way.

With all that said, it is extremely important to realize that small dogs are not, in fact, more prone to bad behavior. They behave the same as large dogs. It is that their owners are more likely to offer little or no training and guidance, especially those new to dog ownership.

Small dogs are easily injured. You must be willing to keep your dog on a leash, no matter how friendly he is towards other dogs and animals. If he is permitted to run up and greet another dog (whether that dog is leashed or not) you cannot predict how they will react to each other. A quick corrective nip from a large dog can turn into an immediate trip to the vet and the accompanying expense. Dog parks and other off-leash scenarios are acceptable, but simply be aware of what can happen. It is an owner's responsibility to keep her dog safe. Injuries occur not only with other animals, but in jumping down from furniture, running down stairs, being loose in a neighborhood, etc...

The Beauty of Big

Owners of a large breed are in for big fun. Many say they enjoy the special relationship found in having a "real" dog. Owners feel they have more of a canine partner instead of a canine "baby." Although all dogs require supervision, large ones do not require the constant watchfulness and concern for injury that small dogs do. You don't have to worry about accidentally stepping on them.

Behavior problems are easily noticed and can be corrected before they become bad habits. Owners are more likely to get help (from literature or professionals) in their correction because of their dog's size and many large dogs become well adjusted and pleasant to be around in general for this reason.

Because lack of exercise contributes to so many behavior issues, a large breed can offer a healthier lifestyle and motivation in owners looking for a jogging partner. Knowing your dog needs his daily walk can help get you off the sofa. Exercise becomes a team effort and is part of properly caring for your dog. And there are consequences for not getting out and getting it done. Your dog will let you know when he should have been walked. He can be a very helpful personal trainer.

The issue of personal safety is a factor when choosing a large breed. These dogs can help their owners feel safe inside and away from their home with their size. An evening run or stroll is suddenly safer with a canine bodyguard, and a Doberman's head peaking through a window at a potential burglar is a definite deterrent.

Large Problems

Most large breeds have additional health problems caused by their size. They also have shorter lives, some as few as only five years. Owners must be prepared to accept this possibility when choosing these breeds.

More health problems mean more expenses, but that's not the only aspect in which cost increases. Everything costs more with a big dog. Food, even the economy brands, becomes a significant monthly expense. Appropriate chews and toys are as much as $20, which you may replace up to three times during a month. Most supplies must be purchased from specialty pet stores instead of a local grocery store.

These dogs require a lot of space. Every room seems suddenly smaller with a large dog even just standing in it. Dog beds, bowls, and other supplies take up a lot more real estate within your home.

If behavior issues are left unchecked, a large dog can be extremely destructive and dangerous depending on the problem. Their size magnifies everything. They require more vigilance and observation of rules. The required amount of attention to follow through, time investment, and exercise can be extremely frustrating to newer owners. Every small problem can seem enormous and can result in a new dog being surrendered or re-homed.

Middle Ground

Of course, medium sized dogs should not be forgotten. They share traits from both extremes, requiring a lot of exercise (often more than large breeds,) training, space, time, and money. Size is not the only area in which they offer compromise.

Research is extremely important when choosing the right breed to fit into your life. Hopefully, some issues that have never occurred to you before are now a consideration. Although, you can't know every possibility before you become a first-time dog owner, you're better prepared to make a responsible decision.

If you've owned a dog, what breed or size did you enjoy (or dislike) and why? It will help those considering their first dog to hear your story.

What size dog do you prefer?

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    • trainerlex profile imageAUTHOR

      Lex 

      6 years ago from Denver, CO

      Oh yes, there are well behaved small dogs out there. I should mention my grandmother has had three Chihuahuas and all have been perfect little buddies for her. She never babied or coddled them, but treated them each like dogs. They were very pleasant. LDS is definitely cultivated by dog owners, though unintentional.

    • katesaidan profile image

      katesaidan 

      6 years ago from Maine

      I have had two American Staffordshire Terriers and a Golden Retriever/Samoyed mix. All three have been medium dogs. Average life spans and average costs.

      Dogs with LDS (little dog syndrome) have it because their owners treat them like children or accessories instead of like dogs. Small dogs still need walks, still need structure and I think that may have been a better direction to go in. Though I have yet to meet one I'm sure there are well adjusted small dogs out there with good owners.

      It's the owner, not the dog.

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