Why Is My Small Dog Aggressive Towards Big Dogs?
It's not unheard of: Rotties, great Danes, and Saint Bernards are out for a stroll when pint-sized dogs gather, trying to attack these larger dogs who come in peace. What gives? How can these itsy-bitsy tiny dogs have the courage to attack dogs who are multiple times their size? It's a question worth pondering, as it goes against survival instinct. No human would chase a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and if he did, he better have some type of weapon that he could entirely rely in order to take down such a larger opponent!
Sadly, we all also know stories of small dogs with big attitudes who attacked a larger dog and within seconds the larger dog was able to subdue the little one often with dramatic results. All it takes is one bite and a head shake to kill the little ones. It's therefore imperative that small dog owners keep their little dog always under control if they have a tendency to attack bigger dogs. This means as well giving up retractable leashes which put the small dog in a vulnerable position ahead giving little control in case of an emergency.
So why do small dogs try to attack bigger dogs? Because we can't put ourselves in a dog's mind or interview these small, feisty fellows we can only make assumptions. In the next paragraphs we will look at some possibilities.
It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.— Mark Twain
5 Reasons Why Some Small Dogs Are Aggressive Towards Bigger Dogs
If you own a small dog who tries to attack larger dogs, you may be interested in learning why your pampered pooch may engage in this activity. The intent may vary from one dog and another, and and as with many other doggy behaviors, there are really no rules set in stone. These are therefore just assumptions. If your small dog is aggressive towards larger dogs, you may want to consult with a behavior professional to help you out. Don't assume that just because a dog is small, there's no need to seek for help because a small dog can only do so much damage. Consider that many small dogs are often anxious and hyper vigilant which puts them in a constant state of stress that lowers their immune system making them more prone to disease. Following are some reasons why your small dog is aggressive towards larger dogs.
1. The Dog Thinks He's Bigger Than He Is
This hypothesis comes from veterinarian Marty Becker who claims " I sometimes wonder if little dogs think they are big dogs because they’re always looking down at other dogs from the relative safety of their owners’ arms or purses." There may be some truth in this, as small dogs may gain "strength" and feel more potent when they are in their owner's arms.
2. The Way You Play With Your Dog Is Reinforcing Aggressive Behavior
Dogs tend to repeat behaviors that have a history of being rewarding or providing some sort of advantage. If your small dog once tried to put off a dramatically offensive display towards a bigger dog and the bigger dog retreated, the small dog will feel compelled to use the same strategy next time. As the small dog rehearses this, soon a behavior pattern establishes and eventually becomes the standard modus operandi.
3. Because It's Easier to Attack From Behind
In some cases, the other dog doesn't intentionally leave because he was intimidated by the small dog's display, he just leaves because he was just heading somewhere else. What happens here is that some small dogs take a cowardly approach by attacking other dogs from behind. These dogs do nothing when the dog is in a frontal position; rather, they stealthily wait for the big dog to pass by and once his hind quarters are in plain view, the small dog goes on attack mode. From the small dog's perspective, he has just "sent the big guy away." Mission accomplished. You can almost see them proudly patting their backs.
4. Breed Predisposition
This in particular applies to the small terriers. The term terrier derives from the Latin word "terra" which means "earth". This name was given to them because these dogs were often used to work in burrows to capture quarry. Terriers were selectively bred for "gameness". This led to determined dogs who would persevere despite challenges. In the case of small, working terriers this meant being blessed with courage and initiative necessary for dealing with life/death situations in their encounters with vermin. The low arousal threshold typical in these dogs, allowed them to go from completely calm to full-blown fight mode quickly and with very little provocation, explains Dawn Antoniak-Mitchell in the book "Terrier-Centric Dog Training: From Tenacious to Tremendous" She adds that terriers "have no real sense of their physical size and will tackle a larger animal in the blink of an eye, under the right circumstances." Additionally, once a working terrier is aroused and ready to chase, fight or kill, it's very difficult to get him to listen to you.
Sounds familiar? Well, this same genetic wiring that made this breed so tenacious and courageous may not exclusively apply to vermin, but larger animals as well including dogs, especially those who approach too fast. Dawn-Antoniak- Mitchell indeed explains that this gameness fad was so very popular, that in the past terriers were expected to get aroused at the sight of other dogs in the showing ring and this was the ultimate "proof" of correct terrier temperament!
Other than terriers, Chihuahuas are also known for being "tiny in size but large in spirit." Indeed, many find their behavior to be similar to terriers: spirited, confident, feisty and brave.
5. Unsolved Behavior Problems
When small dogs develop behavioral problems these problems are often overlooked for the simple fact that there's belief that they're not capable of causing harm. Small dog owners often fail to socialize their small dogs enough and they may be over protective, picking their dogs up the moment a big dog approaches. These under socialized dogs therefore turn to be good candidates for fear aggression directed towards other dogs. It's important once again to seek help for any form of aggression/reactivity whether displayed by a small dog, medium dog or large dog.
As seen, whether it's genetics, poor socialization or a case of "small dog syndrome," small dogs are vulnerable if they are not under control and have a tendency to want to pick up fights with the larger fellows. If you own a small dog, keep him safe. That means always leashed on walks (avoid retractable leashes) and at home in a well-fenced property he cannot escape.
If your small dog is attacked by a large dog, have him see the vet, even if you do not see visible injuries. It's like just seeing the tip of an iceberg. There are always chances for internal injuries such as brain and spinal cord injuries, and even severe damage to internal organs, according to Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital.
Is your small dog aggressive towards bigger dogs?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
How do I stop a small dog from acting aggressive and barking at big dogs?
The best way is through desensitization and counterconditioning.Helpful 29
How do you train a small dog from acting aggressive and barking at big dogs?
One of the best ways is through desensitization and counterconditioning.Helpful 52
Why does this article assume the fault is with the small dog? What about big dogs who can’t read the signs that the little dog doesn’t want to play? Or, owners with big dogs that can’t keep their dog under control. That’s why my small dog is now wary.
I am sure you own a small dog and have encountered rowdy large dogs who are not respectful of your dog's space. I hear you and you are right, so many small dogs become aggressive due to wrong encounters with larger dogs. Your case follows my generalization of "The intent may vary from one dog and another, and and as with many other doggy behaviors, there are really no rules set in stone." I am a big advocate for play groups divided in base of size, large dogs play with large dogs and small dogs play with small dogs, for the purpose of avoiding physical and emotional scars.Helpful 5
My little dog used to love being around big dogs, but now he doesn't. He doesn't attack; he's just nervous. How do I get him to socialize with big dogs again?
Many dogs get more discriminative once the reach social maturity at 2-3 years of age. It's just part of them maturing and no longer feeling in the mood of playing with all the dogs they meet. If socialization is important to you, you can try to just restrict his contact with a few good friends that he plays well with rather than meeting a bunch of dogs who engage in rude behaviors at the dog park. Most likely, these dogs are those who also may have contributed to him being nervous in the first place. Pick dogs who share his play style and who your dog seems comfortable with. Have a behavior professional help monitor the first days to ensure a good match.Helpful 4