Are Small Breed Dogs Less Obedient?

May 22, 2014

By Langley Cornwell

One of the things I rally against is breed generalizations. Having shared my life with many different types of dogs, I have experienced first-hand how uniquely individual each animal is. That said, I also understand the nature versus nurture debate, and believe the truth is a combination of both.

Andrea Arden, Animal Planet expert and author of several books on animal behavior and training, notes that during the last 150 years the number of pure-bred dogs in the world has tripled. When you add mixed breed dogs into the mix, you can see how the range of dog behavior and physical characteristics within Canis lupus familiaris would be so diverse. I am of the opinion that if you want to know a dog, you should evaluate his behavioral tendencies and personality, and leave blanket generalizations on the doorstep.

Because of all that, I was surprised to learn of a recent study from the University of Sydney that reported a connection between a dog’s size and his obedience level. The study, based on 8,000 dogs and their human companions’ accounts of the pet’s conduct, concluded that smaller dogs have worse, less obedient behavior than larger breed dogs.

What did they mean by “worse, less obedient behavior?

The small dogs’ companions listed snapping at friends, leg-humping, begging for table food, urinating inappropriately, displaying overblown fear of other dogs and being impossible to train as reasons for the “less obedient” designation. So if the study was conducted correctly and the conclusions are accurate, then you’ve got to wonder about the nature versus nurture question. In other words, are small breed dogs actually born being less obedient or do their dog owners somehow teach or at least reinforce undesirable behaviors?

In Dogster magazine, certified dog trainer Marthina McClay states that she doesn’t buy into the small dogs are less obedient  theory. She believes there is too much emphasis given to the notion that you can predict a dog’s behavior by his breed, and thinks you must observe each dog individually before you get the whole picture.

McClay cites cases where pets have actually been cloned yet the personality and behaviors of the cloned pet are very different from the original pet. Because of this, McClay urges people to understand that dogs are profoundly influenced by socialization, human interaction, training and environment. Breeding and genetics are a factor, but only a small part of the dog’s overall personality.

Another expert in the field is Mychelle Blake; she’s the CEO of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers as well as being a professional dog trainer herself. Her point of view aligns with McClay’s. Blake acknowledges that some small dogs may feel vulnerable because of their size but in most cases, a small dog’s lack of obedience can be traced to the dog’s human companion. She said that owners of small dogs generally don’t put as great an emphasis on training as owners of large breed dogs do, primarily because they don’t think it’s as important. In fact, many times the owner of a small dog will simply pick her dog up when he misbehaves instead of using the moment as a training opportunity.

Some generalizations are obviously true. A small dog has a small bladder, so he’ll probably have to go outside more often than a large breed dog. Small dogs have shorter legs so it’s likely they’ll tire out quicker on a walk. Keep these things in mind but feel free to dispute the generalization that all small dogs are less obedient. With proper training, nutritious food such as the CANIDAE grain free PURE formulas, and plenty of love, any size dog can be well behaved.

For more information, you may be interested in reading my recent article, Training Advice for Aggressive Small Dogs.

What about you? Do you think there’s a correlation between a dog’s size and their temperament?

Top photo by Hammerin Man
Bottom photo by Retrograde Works, LLC

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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  1. we don’t have a dog, but mom has walked many a dog in her rescue days. so, here is her two cents – it isn’t the breed or the size of the dog that creates the behavior….it is how they are trained (or not). Treat a dog like an accessory and it isn’t going to listen to you