Why Do Small Dogs Pick Fights with Big Dogs?

April 22, 2013

By Linda Cole

I wasn’t expecting to adopt another dog until one day my neighbor came over with a tiny puppy tucked under her arm. As she explained why she was there, the pup stared at me, her bright eyes sparkling with personality that would have melted any dog lover’s heart. Before I knew it, the pup was nestled in my arms, giving me kisses. Riley is a Rat Terrier/Chihuahua mix, and she’s the smallest one in my pack of much larger dogs, but her attitude is definitely “Don’t mess with me.” One would think a small dog would show a little respect to a dog towering over her, but that would be ignoring the tenacity of most little dogs. So why do some small dogs pick fights with larger dogs?

One theory posed by vets is that a lot of small dogs tend to spend more time in their owners arms, giving them a higher position where they can view a larger dog from above. We have a tendency to be more protective of a small dog, especially if there are larger dogs in the family. To prevent small dog syndrome, I treat Riley just like my other dogs, and I don’t let her get away with doing things I wouldn’t allow the bigger dogs to do. We don’t pick her up and carry her around, and we let the dogs resolve minor disagreements themselves. The alpha dog in a pack isn’t always the biggest dog; sometimes it is the smallest one.

Like larger dog breeds, small breeds were bred to do a specific job. Some were developed to be companion dogs, happy to lounge away their days in the lap of the one they love. But most small breeds were created to hunt vermin or prey. These little canines had to be feisty, tenacious, brave and independent. They needed a fierce attitude to stand up to sometimes larger prey, with an equal amount of attitude. As far as the little dog goes, his size has nothing to do with it. It’s his super sized willingness to fight that’s important.

Some small dogs were bred to be watchdogs and warn their owner of strangers or wild animals. Tibetan Spaniels, tipping the scale at 15 pounds, would lounge around on top of monastery walls where they could see vast distances with their keen eyesight. If they saw someone approaching or wild animals roaming about, they sent out an alarm to the monks below. Regardless of their size, all dogs take their job seriously.

Smaller dogs can also be a bit more nervous, and may feel scared around much larger dogs, which causes them to overreact in a defensive manner. After all, a dog is still a dog no matter how big or small he is. If we found ourselves around giants capable of pushing us around or trampling on our toes, we’d be nervous and defensive, too.

Poor socialization skills add to a defensive attitude. When any size dog doesn’t know how to greet another dog in a calm and respectful way, it can quickly escalate into a fight. If the dog is little, he’s more likely to be the one that ends up needing to see the vet. It’s important to make sure your small dog is introduced to all kinds of environments, people and other dogs or cats, so they can learn how to properly deal with situations that may arise.

A canine with small dog syndrome is sending a signal to his owner that he’s nervous, scared, not sure how to react and not sure who his leader is. He does what’s natural to him and lashes out with aggression, thinking he’s on his own and has to take care of himself. The best solution for avoiding problems with small dog syndrome is to treat a little dog as if he’s the size of a Great Dane.

It’s important to understand what small dog syndrome is – it has nothing to do with being jealous or protective. If your small dog sits on your lap snapping at other people or pets, is constantly jumping up on your legs, or whines and barks to get your attention, those are signs of small dog syndrome.

One of the best ways to protect your small dog and keep him from picking fights with larger dogs is to make sure he sees you as his leader, and follows your commands. Teaching your dog basic commands, and rewarding him with his favorite CANIDAE treat, will strengthen the bond between you. Positive reinforcement also builds trust and respect. Most dogs, regardless of size, just want to be a dog, without the responsibility of leadership.

Photos by Out.of.Focus

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. Vy says:

    My 3.5 months old shih tzu boy got attacked by a large dog at the dog park. When the other dog approached him and started sniffing him, there were some tension and my one started barking and growling and the other dog started snarling then he started attacking the pup so I quickly grab him up high and the other dog jumped up on the table and was lashing on to my back trying to take a bite at him.

    I’m still unsure who initiated but I made a mistake by turning my back onto the other dog, I should have faced him and told him to back off. My shih tzu was fine with the other big dogs.

    It bit him on the leg and I was scared but remain calm and assertive. Nevertheless, I hope this first outing experience doesn’t affect him too much. I don’t know if it’s small dog syndrome. But I do think he was overreacting in a defensive manner. Meaning he doesn’t quiet feel like I’m the pack leader yet. Although, I was at the back and he was surrounded by kids.

  2. Loving Max says:

    Always have to be mindful of that since Max is small 🙂 thanks!

  3. Brian says:

    That really was good, but I’ve heard the same thing happens in other species too!

  4. Marg says:

    That is some interesting info. I have never had a small dog so don’t know the goings on. Good post.