Have you ever wondered if your small dog thinks she’s bigger than she is? Sometimes small dogs seem to have more attitude than seems sensible, given their size. And this begs the famous stereotype – that small dogs are more aggressive than big dogs.

Small dogs have the reputation of being ankle biters, yappers, and more excitable and anxious than big dogs. But is small dog aggression real? Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital explores this common thought.

The Napoleon Complex

Sometimes small dog aggression is referred to as a napoleon complex, or even small dog syndrome. One hypothesis is that breeding plays a role in personality. Many small dogs are terriers or terrier mixes, and this breed was developed specifically to keep barns rodent free – a job that needs a hefty dose of attitude. But if that’s true, what about Chihuahuas, Lhasa Apsos, and other small dog breeds that are also commonly thought of as aggressive?

Research studies have confirmed that there are other factors at play besides breed and genetics when it comes to aggressive tendencies. It’s the age old “nature versus nurture” debate.

The Owner Component

Small dogs can tend to be a bit indulged, so to speak. Undesirable behaviors such as biting, jumping up, urine marking, and growling may tend to be ignored or worse, thought of as cute. People tend to let their little dogs get away with things, and owners may even think it funny when a small dog goes after a larger dog.

Small Dog Aggression

Some other common problems that can cause aggression in small (and big) dogs include:

Not getting enough exercise – Dogs are dogs, and they all need exercise. Aggression and anxious energy can be dispelled by exercising your dog of any size for at least 45 minutes per day. Sadly, small dogs are often left indoors without any exercise at all.

Never socialized as a puppy – Small dogs can be really tiny as puppies, and as a result, some owners don’t properly socialize them when they are young to new experiences and people. This can spell big trouble as the adult dog does not know how to handle new situations.

Inconsistent training – Researchers discovered that small dog owners tend to be more inconsistent in training methods than owners of big dogs. Inconsistent training behaviors include:

  • Not always giving commands in the same way
  • Not maintaining fixed rules for the dog
  • Not responding to a specific misbehavior in the dog in the same way each time

The data show that the more consistent the owner, the better behaved the dog – regardless of size.

Lack of shared activities – Owners of small dogs tend not to spend as much time in activities with their dogs. Shared activities can be agility or obedience training, but also as simple as a daily walk or game of ball. The more engaged a dog owner is with their dog, the more obedient the dog tends to be.

If you’re a small dog, the world can seem very, very big. Many undesirable behaviors are a result of fear, so small dog owners would be wise to be consistent in interactions with their pets and engage regularly in play activities and training behaviors with them.

If you are worried about aggression in your dog, please give us a call. We can recommend a certified professional dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist to help. As always, Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital is here for you!