Training Advice for Aggressive Small Dogs

By Langley Cornwell

A friend of mine has a long-haired Chihuahua mix named Mimi, and the two are inseparable; this dog goes everywhere with her. Most of the time, Mimi is a friendly bundle of personality, happy to greet anybody who wants to say hello. But when another dog is in the vicinity, Mimi goes crazy. She challenges every dog that crosses her path.

I have medium-sized dogs and one of mine acts the same way, so I’m not saying aggressive behavior towards other dogs is a size-specific issue. However, we’ve all heard of fearless small dogs that challenge large-breed dogs with reckless abandon. What causes this type of behavior?

The majority of experts believe this small-dog attitude is a combined result of nurture and nature. In other words, Mimi and other fearless small dogs have learned this behavior through interactions with their humans and the outside world.

People relate to small breed dogs differently than they relate to larger dogs. For example, when my friend walks Mimi and she barks or show dominance towards another dog, the other dog owner may giggle or say something like “that’s cute.” I can guarantee that if the aggressive, barking dog was a larger breed, say a German Shepherd or a Rottweiler, nobody would be smiling.

This same type of thing happens when small dogs jump up. Nobody wants a Shepherd or a Rottie jumping on them, but oftentimes if a small or toy breed dog jumps up, the dog isn’t appropriately corrected. Undesired behavior is often tolerated when it comes from small dogs; it’s viewed as less of an annoyance and less hazardous than if the behavior was displayed by larger-breed dogs. The result? Little Mimi is allowed to practice inappropriate behaviors over and over with no repercussions. The behaviors become a habit and gradually Mimi turns into a scrappy, aggressive small dog.

What Can a Small Dog Owner Do?

To train a small dog to get along with larger dogs, you’ll have to help her feel confident around them. Practice reward-based training tactics. With your small dog on a leash, determine how close she can get to another dog before she demonstrates confrontational behaviors.

Once you know the distance, ease closer to a big dog as you capture your small dog’s attention by feeding her a few Bakery Snacks or another favorite CANIDAE treat. Continue offering treats the whole time she’s near the big dog, and reinforce this with soothing words of encouragement. Your goal is to show your small dog that the presence of a big dog should not be feared.

When the big dog has moved past, stop giving treats and talking sweet. Continue your normal walk. Every time you come across another dog, however, be ready to repeat the process. Eventually, your small dog should be able to walk near large dogs without barking and going crazy.

As for other areas of your life with a small dog, make a conscious effort to treat your pet the same way you would a big dog. Correct your dog if she jumps on other people, even if they think it’s cute. Do not allow her to pull while she’s on leash, even though she’s not big enough to knock you off balance.

The truth is, small dogs are no different than big dogs. Some have an aggressive “small-dog temperament” because we treat them differently. We allow them to do things we would never allow large dogs to do. If we gave small dogs the same socialization we do larger dogs, we could avoid behavior problems caused by fear and aggression.

Remember to socialize your small dog carefully. Keep her diminutive size in mind, but don’t coddle her. Don’t always carry her; allow her to walk on her own (with a leash, of course). The ability to explore her surroundings on her own is good for her confidence and her health.

Many common small-dog aggression problems can be successfully managed or eliminated through reward-based obedience training that emphasizes fun and inspiration.

Top photo by j.sanna
Bottom photo by Dan Bennett

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One thought on “Training Advice for Aggressive Small Dogs

  1. I have a small dog (16 lbs) who always goes after “BIG” dogs too. You need to inform your readers that this behavior can be very dangerous to the little dog. We where camping in the Sierra’s when my dog broke loose from his collar and went after a large dog. The large dog grabbed him in its mouth and shook him like a rag doll, breaking one of his leg (the bone was literally snapped off and his leg was hanging freely) and punctured his abdomen with it’s teeth. Our dog was lucky he survived. His leg healed nicely and the puncture wounds where superficial. BUT… it could have been worse. It is so important to train little dogs not to go after big dogs.

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