Small Dog Privileges? Yes or No?

Let me begin with full disclosure: I have my own answer to the question above. I don’t begin to treat Tootsie, my King Charles Cavalier, like I treat Willie the Border Collie. Not just because she was a mill dog, and not just because she is spaniel instead of a Border Collie. But simply because she is small and adorable and docile, and I can spoil her all I want without it causing the slightest problem.

Not so Willie. He, as many of you know, is one of the loves of my life, but he arrived as a pup with a myriad of problems, and even at the age of seven he sometimes needs managing because his reactivity and lack of emotional control can get the best of him. The only result of Tootsie’s occasional lack of emotional control is that she sometimes begins to whine piteously while I’m fixing her dinner. If that happens I just stop what I’m doing and freeze, after which she gets quiet and I continue. Otherwise, she is a remarkably docile and friendly dog, and I consider it a win-win that I can give her all the privileges she wants. It makes us both very happy. I call her my “oxytocin pump,” and I absolutely love that I can have a small, docile dog who I can spoil to my heart’s content.

But oh, (and you know there’s another side to the story coming here….), isn’t giving her “small dog privileges” the road to trouble? We all know the stories, perhaps you’ve lived through one yourself, of someone’s benevolent Golden or Aussie or Newfoundland being attacked by some tiny, little monster dog whose owner thought it was all so very funny, because their little dog was well, so little, that one couldn’t take it seriously? All except the poor dog being attacked (those little teeth can do LOTS of damage after all) and the larger dog’s owner who is stuck trying to defend their dog while the other owner chortles in amusement? Or the tiny dog who barks and barks and barks until even the most dedicated dog lover begins to look for an escape hatch. Or a weapon?

Those cases illustrate why I would argue, that to some extent, size doesn’t matter. Yes, of course a large dog with the same motivation and intent as a small dog can do more damage, but little dogs can bite and bully and it’s not so much fun on the other end of it when they do. What matters most, I would argue, is behavior rather than size. I can coddle Tootsie, and even talk baby talk to her (don’t tell anyone) not because she is small, but because she is as sweet and docile a dog as ever lived. And the fact is, like many other small dog owners, part of what I love about having a small dog is that I CAN get away with treating her differently. I’m not alone in this; lots of sheepdog trainers and handlers have a small lap dog that they bring to competitions simply because it is a joy to not have to always be “on” as a trainer. If their Pom or their Chihuahua jumps up onto a handler who is walking across the field with a cup of hot coffee, no one cares, because they hardly notice.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that Willie doesn’t get his own set of privileges. Willie gets cuddling and belly rubs every night, and he and I share more joy together than I can express. He and I just took a long walk in the deep snow, a project as good for me as for him, but one I never would have initiated if he didn’t need the exercise. I love his responsiveness, his brilliance and the mental and emotional connection that he and I have. My relationship with Tootsie is very different in that all she really wants is food and safety and a really warm lap. My lap needs her too, and it works out very nicely for all of us.

Here’s my question to you: What do you think about “small dog privileges”? Always troublesome? (As some I’ve talked to have suggested.) Do you agree it depends on the dog? Do you find yourself treating small dogs differently than others, in part because of their size? I’m all ears…


MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Last Saturday Tootsie and I made our first visit to American Family Children’s Hospital as part of the UW Vet School’s Pet Pals program. This program takes carefully screened dogs to the hospital two times a week to brighten the days of the patients, as well as their parents and siblings. It is not “therapy” in the strict sense of the word, given that there is no structured program or evaluation of progress, but few doubt that it is good for everyone involved. Participants have some compelling stories to tell, like the little boy who told his mother he could only bear going back to the hospital if his friend the huge, white dog was there. (He was, bless him.) The hospital’s Volunteer Coordinator told me about a child who had not spoken or smiled in years until someone wrapped her hand around a fistful of fur and her face broke out into a huge smile. Tears ensued all around.

The dogs in this program are carefully screened for the obvious (good with other dogs, friendly, docile, stable, etc.) but unlike in many other settings, a premium is put on dogs who are quiet and slow moving. About half of the patients we saw on our first visit had IVs attached to poles, and the slightest bit of over enthusiasm could wreak havoc. That is why Tootsie is such a perfect dog in one sense: she is docile and friendly and passive. However, as should always be the case, my attention was split on ensuring the patient’s safety and good experience with my responsibility to my dog. Every minute I asked myself: How is Tootsie doing? Is she enjoying herself? Is she frightened?

The answers were clear: First, Tootsie was 100% appropriate. She trotted down the hospital corridor with enthusiasm, she never once threatened to knock anything over or disconnect an IV, she greeted the other dogs cheerfully, and she allowed the children to pet and cuddle her. On the other hand: Did she love it? No. No tongue flicking or yawning, or even turning her head away, but she looked in my direction far more than she looked at the kids. She was clearly a tad bit uncomfortable in the laps of unfamiliar children, and I worked hard to find ways for them to pet her while she still felt secure. Overall, I was especially aware that this was her first time in such an environment, and that it will take her some time and conditioning to feel comfortable. But I was pleased that she enjoyed parts of it and only slightly uncomfortable at other times.

One veteran of Pet Pals said it always took her dogs about 6 visits to settle in, and that sounds like a good time frame to see how she does. We go again next Saturday, I’ll give you a report. Meanwhile, we’ve had quite a bit of company here at the farm and since it is a treat friendly zone, Tootsie has been in innumerable laps and gotten vast quantities of treats while being there. (You can read more about this kind of conditioning in the booklet Cautious Canine.)

Here are Tootsie and I in our Pet Pals outfits. I put part of this photo on Facebook last Friday and got lots of comments about how grumpy she looked. One person said she looked mean. Poor Tootsie. It is true that she is not completely comfortable being held up in the air (no child will ever be allowed to do that at the hospital, needless to say), and I wouldn’t describe her as overwhelmed with joy in this photo, but the poor thing’s facial expression is overwhelmed by her Andy Rooney-like eyebrows. Remember that this is the dog that no one would adopt, we think because the set of her eyebrows made her look grumpy. (Cover up her eyebrows and see the difference in her face!) I am considering getting her her own “Grumpy Dog” website and Facebook page. But no, poor Toots, she is the about the sweetest dog you have ever met in your life, and although no dog is virtue personified, I just can’t attach the word “grumpy” to her. Maybe I should get eyebrow extensions to match and we can go viral together as the Grumpy Girls?


Pet Pals outfits



  1. betsy says

    Hi Patricia,
    Heard you at a seminar in Naples a couple years ago. I hope you’ll return!

    I totally agree about “it depends on the dog”, not that you need my voice for validation, but I get aggravated at the way when we’re out for a walk, and my (fear-reactive) big dog barks, people frown and get upset…(we’re a work in progress) but little dogs can bark, lunge and generally act crazy, and their owners seem to think it is cute. (probably those same folks who frown at us!)

    However, being the parent of 4 human kids, and a retired teacher, I know that with dogs, as with humans, every one is different! We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. I like a saying I read somewhere years ago:
    “be kind….God isn’t finished with me yet”.

  2. Dave says

    I don’t think small dogs should be able to bite or bark at a big dog. In some cases the small dog could get hurt real bad. My boarder collie would think it would be a challenge to fight. So then it is my fault because I have a larger dog. The small dog should be handled the same way the large dog is. I for one don’t think it is funny at all, it makes it harder for me to handle my dog.

  3. Jane says

    My dog Jovie is the same way in the Petpals Program as Tootsie. When we are on together sometime, I can show you some tricks….

  4. Petra says

    I have both small (papillons) and larger dogs (aussie, standard poodle and bc). Yes, smaller dogs are in some ways different and I treat them differently when need be. The smaller dogs need more protection as they are physically at a disadvantage. I don’t risk their lives by getting dogs I don’t know get close to them or letting them play with larger dogs. I take them on my arm if a strange dogs runs towards us, bit I teach them not to provoke or bark at others either of course. They don’t get more cuddles but more “ahs” and “ohs” simply for being so cute in whatever they’re doing. I work with them in agility and obedience and boy can they work, but: they never take work as seriously as other dogs. They may take off for an extra round or simply greet the judge wiggling all their body, no matter how well trained and proofed (all positively of course). Still they are very trainable and size should not be an excuse for not training. But other people should keep in mind that aggressive behaviour of large dog might end the life of a small dog, never the other way round. And then it’s not a question of whose fault it is but whether you could live with this.

  5. Kay Stephenson says

    Just because a small dog doesn’t hurt me or knock me down when it jumps up on me doesn’t mean I like it or think it’s cute. My 70 lb female Black Lab isn’t amused by it either. Any dog over the age of six months needs to show good manners or she will tell them off in a hurry. With a large dog she grumbles her displeasure. With a persistent small dog, she is likely to grab him and give him a bit of a shake, if I don’t intervene. Then of course the small dog owner is horrified, because my dog corrected hers. For that reason we tend to cross the street and avoid small dogs when out on walks. I wish it wasn’t necessary, but far too few people properly train their dogs, and unfortunately this goes double for small dog owners. Of course, my black lab thinks she IS a lap dog, so there’s that :-)

  6. Sara Branch says

    I have the opposite personalities in my dogs. I let my friendly, calm greyhound get away with whatever he wants because he doesn’t jump up or push the envelope. He doesn’t even take food from my baby or preschooler. When he sees other dogs fence fighting or starting to get rough, he walks away. However I also have a very dominant small terrier. He tries to get away with murder and to get into it with much larger dogs, so I can’t let him have “small dog privilege”

  7. Judy Norton says

    My two miniature poodles have small dog privileges. They can be on the furniture, can jump up on me, can lick the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Because the big dogs were older and already knew the “big dog rules”, all was fine, until I got a Labrador puppy that will be a service dog. Her rules are different because she is a puppy in training and because she will be a big dog. It’s hard for her to not do all the “naughty” things she sees the poodles do. Monkey see, monkey do!

  8. Rich says

    I don’t think it depends on the dog, but rather the owner. Often, people with small dogs fail to teach the dog manners and give him boundaries. The result, too often is a little terror that tries to intimidate other dogs and even people. These owners think it is “cute” when their dog goes after a bigger dog or a person. This is not the dogs fault–it’s the owner’s.

    I was recently attacked on the street by just such a dog while out for my morning walk. The dog had escaped from its home (which it does from time to time) and I was forced to defend myself by kicking at the dog. This dog seemed totally intent on biting me. While I was trying to scare it away, and do no serious harm, I would most certainly have escalated my response if it had been necessary. I wonder what the owner would have thought if the dog had been injured in such an attack. I blame the owner for allowing that kind of behavior to perpetuate. Their irresponsibility is not fair to the dog, or to me–who would have to live with the fact that I had injured their dog.

    My Golden was attacked by a Dachshund on the patio of a winery that we were visiting. My dog was on her leash. The Dachshund was off leash and not under the control of the owner. He thought is was hilarious that his little terror was attacking a dog weighing 9 or 10 times his. Fortunately, I was able to place myself between my dog and his. My Golden, Jolie, is the sweetest girl around but she will brook no ill manners from any other dog. I wonder what the Dachshund’s owner would have thought if he’d had to take his dog to the hospital for stitches?

    I guess what I think is that if a dog is raised with boundaries and understands how to behave in public, I see no reason to not give them privileges. I certainly spoil Jolie–though she isn’t a “small” dog. She’s even earned herself the nickname SWMBO. But then, she isn’t a danger to anyone unless she leans against them too hard while trying to get them to pet her.

  9. Vicki says

    For me, it is a yes. My 5 pound Pomeranian is super duper friendly, doesn’t hurt me when he jumps, doesn’t intimidate or frighten people, so yes, there are things he does that I couldn’t let, say, my cattle dog do. For one thing, their temperaments are very different, but also their size. I’m not saying that I don’t train my small dogs (I do), or that there aren’t boundaries for them (there are), but they are differently and partly it is due to size.

  10. says

    I have collies and a small pom/chi one-eyed mill dog that I spoil shamelessly. She’s the only one allowed up on the couch or bed (at least in my seeing). I pretend not to know that the collies get on the furniture when I’m not home.

    Still, I would never blame a big dog (mine or anyone else’s) for defending itself if she gets all crazy snappy in its face. It’s NOT cute, it’s dangerous, and it makes me nuts when I see people allowing little dogs to behave badly just because they’re tiny. If a dog fight starts, anyone in the vicinity could get hurt – handlers, children, etc. – and then innocent dogs wind up paying the price…

    I think owning a dog of any size should convey responsibility to be reasonably sure it can behave in public without causing trouble.

  11. Bre says

    Kay Stephenson, not to start a disagreement, but the opposite can also be said. Especially when big dog owners are not psychically strong enough to restrain their poorly trained dog. A playful paw swipe from a big dog can mean death for a small dog. I would never allow my small dogs to invade another dogs space (large or small) but I am particularly wary of big dog owners who believe their dog is well socialized and teaching another dog a lesson. Woe betide that big dog owner when his or her big dog kills a small dog when “teaching a lesson”. I also cross the street when big dogs approach!

  12. Kat says

    Hooray for you and Tootsie. Therapy dog work is very rewarding. It does take the dog a visit or more (depends on the dog how many) to understand what the job is and how it works. I remember the first time I took Ranger to the nursing home he was concerned about all the people that weren’t like the people he meets everyday, they couldn’t pet him the way he’s used to, some of them couldn’t move, the place smelled funny (I suspect it smells a bit like the vet’s office), and the spaces he’s asked to go into are very confined (not much room between the bed and the wheelchair. He went out of his way to greet all the staff because they behaved and moved in ways he was used to. I actually wondered if he would ever want to go back and took him the next time with the clear understanding that if he showed any hesitation about going in we’d simply turn around and go home. He practically dragged me to the door on the next visit and aside from having to keep an eye on whether he’s getting tired of being thumped on the head/face by too many arthritic hands (if that happens we make sure to position him so they can only reach his back) and that he backs into the small spaces we haven’t had to make any adjustments.

    As for small dog privileges, I think what most matters is that the dog have nice manners but all too often the people with small dogs let their dogs behave inappropriately just because they are small. I have big dogs and if my dogs behaved the way some people let their small dogs behave, animal control would come and remove my dogs as dangerous. Keep your dog under control regardless of size, that should be the rule. And yes, I’ve had the experience of the nasty little Yorkie pair trying to attack Ranger while their person looked on laughing. She didn’t think it was nearly as funny when I verbally gave 90 lb. Ranger permission to deal with the Yorkies as he saw fit; that’s when she finally called her brats and, shooting me poisonous looks, left the park.

    Personally, I really dislike the term spoiling since actual meaning of spoiled is destroying the value and harming the character. I prefer to use the term indulged and fortunately for me Ranger is one of those dogs that can be indulged a lot without any negative consequences so he gets lots and lots of privileges that I wouldn’t even consider offering Finna. To me temperament of the dog is much more important than size in how much “spoiling” the dog can take. Of course size matters in what privileges can be accorded, Finna gets to sit on my lap since she’s much smaller than Ranger but she doesn’t get to sit on my lap just because she’s smaller. She’s earned the privilege of sitting in my lap by behaving appropriately when she is there. I’m not sure I’m expressing that as clearly as I want but hope the idea is getting through.

  13. Terrie says

    I don’t believe in small dog privileges. I do believe in well-behaved dog privileges, no matter if “well-behaved” is by nature or nurture. My Papillion is an bossy little terror. I work with her constantly to make sure I stay in charge. I love her lots, but I’m not about to let her take over my house. And she’d do it if I let her. My late doberman was so mellow that I pretty much let him do as he saw fit. What he saw fit to do was snooze by my feet or on the couch.

  14. Amy Saletta says

    Perhaps you should consider dying Tootsie’s eyebrows! Sometimes a good dye job is all girl needs to feel (and look) a little happier! :) As far as small dog privileges, “it depends” is always to best answer -all dogs are different, no matter the size.

  15. Barb says

    I absolutely agree. I have been blessed throughout my life with being able to live with dogs of various breeds and mixes, sizes, and energy levels. It bothers me when people say they are buying a puppy for agility, or therapy work, or search and rescue, etc. I hope that it works out for them. But I also hope that if the dog does not have the temperament or structure to compete at the level that they are aiming for, that they will reassess their goals and either be willing to enjoy the dog they have or rehome it. Dogs work their hearts out for us. Sometimes to their detriment.
    Each dog has given me the opportunity to learn something new about living with and working with dogs. I learned to track because I had a 10 week old GSD puppy who needed a job. I learned herding because I got a rescue Aussie who had had her prey drive beaten out of her. I learned clicker training because I had a very soft dog who needed a new approach. And I hope that I will always be open and willing to learn whatever new skills I need to enjoy living with dogs.
    I like your posts about your visits to the hospital. I miss my little Bambi who absolutely loved therapy work. She loved kids, teenagers, and old people. She liked meeting new people and could easily roll with whatever new experience came along. Crowds of kids were fun. At the rural nursing home, she reminded the farmers of their farm dogs. She was “on call” dog at a camp for grieving kids. She played frisbee with the young people who were getting intensive therapy at the local treatment center. But her very favorite was reading with kids at the library. I think she heard “Go, Dog, Go” at least 20 times. When I said casually to my husband “It’s library day.” she would run to the door ready to go.

  16. Sharon says

    As a child we had a St Bernard, gentle mild lovable, My doe got me a toy poodle from a friend. They appeared to be best friends. Th St let the poodle,eat from his bowl, the whole thing. One night she got too grumpy woth him and he apparently has enough and swatted her. Fatal. I make sure to always supervise or separate my large and small dog.

  17. EmilySHS says

    First, congrats to you and Tootsie, that’s awesome! Here’s hoping that she makes a brilliant adjustment and begins to love it as much as the folks love her. My over-sized Welsh Corgi was a therapy dog with Delta for a couple of years… Fox was a sweet, well-mannered dog, but cuddly he was not, and being petted by a bunch of strangers was never his gig. He could have been a bust in some situations, but it happened that we got assigned to visiting psychiatric patients at our local VA hospital. That particular group wasn’t really into petting or interacting closely with a dog–many of them were nervous about it. But they did love to be entertained, and Fox loved doing tricks. So he found a niche where he could do something he genuinely enjoyed, and the vets were way more comfortable (and very tickled) to be able to interact at a less intrusive distance. It took a few visits, though, for us to find the match that played to his strengths.

    Toy breeds are a pet peeve of mine… for simple reasons. As a shelter person and trainer, I don’t “care” if the dog is spoiled rotten or given special privileges. For tiny dogs, I don’t always even “care” if they’re wickedly, badly behaved. What I care about is–is the dog happy, relaxed. comfortable and having a good time? And what bugs me is when owners and others fail to appreciate that the little guy or gal is growling, snarking, charging or alarm barking because he or she is flat out terrified, miserable and unhappy too much of the time. I see far, far too many Toy breed dogs whose issues are entirely related to fear, fear and more fear, and fear is such a crummy emotional state…. I don’t care if the dog is too small to “really hurt” anyone, the dog is in a crummy emotional state. I think that deserves to be fixed whether the dog will ever do damage or not.

    So for me, the first small dog concern is quality of life: is the dog enjoying him or herself most of the time or spending a good portion of their day in High Anxiety? The second small dog concern is… I know not all of them, but I’ve met so many incredibly brilliant, bright-minded, just plain ridiculously smart Toy breed dogs… I joke sometimes (not really joking) that the little guys get treated like the “dumb blonde” stereotype–all cute looks and no brains, and I just find that so wrong :) Like taking a bunch of gifted kids and not teaching them how to read or write–a waste of talent and opportunity. And then all their twisted Toy breed genius :) has nowhere to go but into socially manipulating their owners into wet noodles… So, my vote is–by all means, loads of special privileges IF they enhance the dog’s quality of life and happiness…

  18. Trisha says

    Quickly (cuz time to feed the dogs, as Tootsie is explaining to me): Kat, I love the term “indulged” rather than spoiled. You are so right that “spoil” is inherently a negative term. Time for me to go indulge both T and W with a yummy dinner, but keep those comments coming in, I love reading them.

  19. Cindy Maloy says

    Guilty as charged. Even tho my papillon mix is still considered a small dog, the queen of the house is my tiny 7 pound Chinese Crested. I was very slow to train her (the pap went thru puppy school and Obedience 1 and 2). She got terribly car sick so going to the local classes was out of the question, and I couldn’t seem to do anything. She definitely has big dog complex.

  20. says

    I feel that, regardless of size, dogs should be trained. Really, I’m sure to intercept if any dog is coming our way, again, regardless of size. I have a Doberman, and am acutely aware of perceptions many people seem to have of them, up to and including the lady walking the Chihuahua who’s doing an Exorcist impression at the end of a Flexi.

    I run into a LOT of small dogs who don’t have nearly the handle on their emotions as your Tootsie. This includes a Min Pin whose owner beelined to us at the park, and then when her MinPin snarled in Elka’s face, the owner sort of laughed and said “Oh, he isn’t good with other dogs.” She seemed a little upset herself when I said “Then get away from me.”

  21. LisaW says

    Do other dogs react to Tootsie’s eyebrows or what looks to be a scowl? We talk a lot about body language and subtle dog-to-dog signals (I’ve read that some dogs with docked tails may be harder to read and less accepted by other dogs.), what about facial features? I personally think she is quite fetching and being a curmudgeon myself, would love to have a dog that reminded me of Andy Rooney :-)

    I agree with Kat 100% on the term spoiled (managing with looks or find its or treat and retreat has caused some people to remark that our dogs are “spoiled,” I didn’t bother to correct at the time, too busy managing the dog!). The smaller of our two is seriously cute and that may afford her some leeway from time to time but does not give her a pass for certain behaviors.

  22. Anne Copeland says

    As the lucky one who shares my home now with four Cavaliers (yes, I have a full “set” – one of each color) I am also guilty of giving priveleges to my current dogs that I did not allow for my former dogs – Samoyeds, Rottweiler, and Bernese Mountain Dog. Some of my reasons are that the Cavs do not take advantage of my permissiveness. Also, those that need a little more control are required to spend some time in formal training classes so they learn how to behave in various situations. My benefits are the nearness of soft, warm bodies to keep much of the winter chills away, companions to take on various errands, and ambassadors to many new friends that I would never have met if I didn’t have such sweet, cute, cuddly dogs. My two 13 year olds still participate in therapy dog visits and bring a little joy into the lives of folks who no longer can live on their own. Just as each of my two legged children have different personalities and are loved in different ways, so are my fur “kids” but none are loved less than the others. So glad that Tootsie is doing so well. All mine are either rescues or rehomes.


  23. Sherron says

    I have to be a little bit protective of my little dogs (a cocker spaniel and a brussels mix, both >20 lbs) because my big dogs (lab mixes) are so rambunctious. I never thought about whether they have different privileges or not. I will have to observe this week and see!

    Ohmygosh! THANK YOU for the tip on how you get Tootsie to stop whining while you’re fixing her dinner. My foster dog, a 2 yr old husky mix, barks at me while I’m fixing his dinner. It drives me crazy!! I really hate being barked at. I will try your technique with Frankie!

  24. Deena says

    Oh, poor Tootsie – of course it is her misplaced eyebrows that make her look less than happy; I’m sure in person her sweetness shines through!

  25. Anne Copeland says

    BTW, my tricolor also has funky eyebrows but they make him look diabolical rather than grumpy.

  26. Rose C says

    I’d say it depends on the small dog how we would treat and manage that dog, not to give ‘small dog privileges’ just because of its size but more depending on its personality and drives. Agree with Rich, too, that it depends on the owner. However, some dog owners may be clueless as to his (or her) actions and the effects of them on his dog while some may just not be aware of it. Sometimes, even experienced and dog-savvy owners may need another person to point things out for them because our love and fondness to our own pets often cloud our better senses or judgment.

    Happy to see you and Tootsie venturing into something new together. And to the FB commenters, I’d like to say, “Y’all lay off Tootsie’s eyebrows (thank God, at least, it’s not a unibrow!)” :)

  27. Katy says

    I think 6 visits sounds about right. Yuki loved doing his nursing home and juvenile detention visits but it definitely took a little bit for him to settle into that strange environment. He truly enjoyed going, though, once he got used to it and would whine with joy when we pulled into the parking lot.

    On the small dog privileges topic – I think that sometimes small dog privileges reflect laziness on the part of the owner. I know my one neighbor had small dogs that were not trained but she could easily pick them up when they were misbehaving so she did not have as much incentive to train them better as I had with my 72 lb hound mix. I cannot pick him up if he barks or pulls. My one colleague is a horrible pushover as a dog owner and had to put his German shepherd to sleep when it injured some one. He now owns two King Charles Cavaliers and they are every bit as ill-trained but they cannot pull him anywhere so it’s “okay.”

    That said, my foster dog is a very small cattle dog (not even 30lbs) and she definitely has some small dog privileges in my house. I let her stand with her feet on the ground and her upper body in my lap when I am working at my desk, something that the other two are never allowed – but they can easily rest their heads in my lap and often do. I guess I consider it an equivalent behavior. And all three have to get out of my lap when I ask. She’s also the only one allowed to ride in the front passenger seat when I have a passenger (she rides in their lap, with their permission). But Yuki would never fit in that situation and at 72 lbs, he’s just too heavy. Claire, frankly, is not interested in sitting in some one else’s lap (mine would be another story, but that’s too dangerous when driving). And despite those indulgences, I still expect Allie to not pull on leash, not jump on people uninvited, etc. Yeah, it might not be dangerous but it is annoying and rude.

    So I guess my opinion is that the indulging depends; I really like what EmilySHS said: if it enhances the dog’s quality of life and happiness – like Allie being allowed to sit in the lap of a willing passenger – than I have no problem with it. But when the dog acting out and potentially endangered by it, then small dog privileges are an issue.

  28. Milissa says

    So many good responses about the issue above, I won’t add anything except that as the handler of a dog that thinks her job is to keep order in my entire life, I appreciate small dogs with lovely manners. My dog listens when I tell her, “leave it,” and generally doesn’t respond much to other dogs except sometimes she might still try to get between me and any (unknown)dog that tries to be overtly affectionate. Sometimes she requires a second request to, “leave it,” but in any case I can tell it stresses her and she would prefer other dogs to mind their own business as it were. I realize she is resource guarding, and I really don’t mind well intentioned attention from any dog, but my own dog does, and to some degree I feel like I owe it to her to respect those feelings. It has taken me years to build a trust with her and whether she views me add a resource, or it just offends her sense of organization doesn’t matter too much to me, the fact is she works her heart out for me whether it is on out home field or the trial field, so as my own way of maintaining that trust, I won’t accept much affection from unknown dogs. To that end I try to speak kindly to the friendly creature, assure my dog that all is well, and extricate myself as gracefully as the situation allows. It isn’t that I don’t want my dog to learn to cope, it is just that, as a working dog, I expect tremendous amounts of self control and respect when she is on the field, whether it is daily chores or work, and I feel like the least I can do, for the amazing dedication to her work that she gives me, is to make her life off the field as pleasant as I can. I still expect her to mind her own manners, but I will always put her first. So please don’t be offended if I don’t coo and fuss over your small dog if we ever meet at a trial…unless you are carrying it, then my dog doesn’t seem to recognize them as dogs, and I can coo and fuss to my heart’s content! :-)

  29. Milissa says

    Oh, and kudos to you and Tootsie! What a wonderful thing to do! Love the grumpy dog idea, but perhaps some strategic eyebrow dye would help? 😉 (Joking!)

  30. Kay Stephenson says

    Bre you are absolutely right. It’s not really the size of the dog that’s at issue for those of us that must walk our dogs in areas where we are going to meet lots of other dogs. The first priority is to keep your own dog safe, and if that means crossing the street to avoid a dog that you think might start something, then that’s what you need to do. Fortunately, my dog often senses trouble before I do and will indicate her desire to cross the street while the other dog is half a block away. I think sometimes she remembers the dog and sometimes she just senses something about them that puts her off. Anyway, on this one I trust her instincts and never make her meet a dog on a narrow sidewalk if she doesn’t want to.

  31. Pike says

    Yay Tootsie! She is fabulous and looks wonderful with her grumpy/cute eyebrows.

    Oh yes, to small dog privileges… Before my almost 7 lbs Pom I had a somewhat snotty attitude towards little dogs and tended to notice the few nasty ones while ignoring the many great ones.

    Now, all of this has changed. Part of it is indeed a smaller-dog = smaller-problem aspect (house breaking comes to mind immediately). Another part is that Pixie, too, is very sweet, gentle and looks at any living being with a quiet “I don’t want any trouble” attitude. And then there is the indulging part…

    I am too embarrassed to go in any details of what she eats (more to the point: what she turns down) – let’s just say a combination of her being almost always underweight, having severe health problems and being on meds all the time has led to a somewhat ridiculous feeding routine, with me falling for beginner mistake # 1: Shaping the behavior you don’t want! By always supplying better offerings when she declined she initial food, she has now trained me perfectly to offer at least three kinds of food during her four feeding times.

    I have never had any problems with saying “tough luck” if any of my 50-60 lbs dogs didn’t like to eat their food, but I just can’t bring myself to do the same with the small, skinny, sickly, old Pom.

    Did I ever build an outhouse-connecting-to-the-kitty-door for the big dogs? No! Then again they don’t get blown through the yard during the winter storms with currently 75 mph wind gusts here on the Oregon coast either.

    And did I laugh when Pixie bit me in the nose one day? Yes, I did – because it was my own stupidity to put my face in front of hers when she awoke all startled (that was early days) from a deep sleep and because she only has two or three teeth left anyhow. Also, for small dogs screaming and/or biting really are the only defenses in a world of most everybody being so much bigger that they can very easily be killed and not just annoyed or injured. So, I am all for Pixie defending herself when she feels threatened.

    Oh yes, I am indulging Pixie – but I feel that she deserves to be indulged and I know that it makes both of us very happy and I can’t really see any downside of it.

  32. Beth says

    To a certain extent, small dogs will inherently have certain privileges. Four on the floor is a matter of public safety for an 80-pound lab, but truly mostly a matter of manners (muddy paws, runs in clothes) for an 8-pound Pom.

    I am often surprised by the vehement dislike for small dogs by large-dog owners, and the broad perception that small dogs are often badly behaved. Perhaps it’s all due to personal experience in individual neighborhoods, but I see at least as many poorly-controlled barking growling big dogs as small ones, and yes the big ones scare me more. My dogs are medium by weight but small by height and have been targeted for death more than once by a large dog who was too much for its owner to control and broke free for the express purpose of attacking my dogs who were walking on leash, dutifully avoiding eye contact and sniffing the ground in a vain attempt to remind the other dog that they are peaceful and mean no harm. I will fight off 100 nipping Chihuahuas gladly before I again frantically fend off a 60-pounder who is trying to kill my dogs, while it’s owner cluelessly and wrongly shouts that he won’t hurt us….. And I know many little dogs who are sweet and lovely and polite with dogs of all sizes. Of course I am seeing those that are out and about on walks on a regular basis, so there’s that to consider.

    To the person whose lab grabs small dogs and shakes them as “correction”: I sympathize and the small-dog owner is in the wrong for allowing their dog to approach yours presumably without being under control and without permission. I am not so sure that picking up and shaking is a “correction” though– sounds maybe like prey drive is turning on there? My thirty-pounds dogs can and do play with 5 pound dogs on occasion, and while I watch carefully due to the size mismatch, they correct little dogs exactly the same way they correct big ones: warning bark, air snap, paw over shoulder, etc. They don’t try to pick them up and shake them. Indeed, I have watched a 90 pound GSD successfully play with, and correct, a confident Yorkie the same way he plays with a much larger dog. Honestly, I too would be horrified if another dog picked mine up and shook it, unless my dog had actually started a real fight with the other dog.

    As far as privilege in other regards, I think that size is a factor: I let my dogs on the couch but would not let a larger dog up for practical matters; a ten-pound dog who sometimes pulls a little on the leash might be tolerated by a Mastiff who pulls is in real danger of getting loose or dragging its owner. It is also true, though, that many of the lap dogs (as opposed to, say, small terriers) were bred to be docile and that is the key. I haven’t seen too many Shih-tzus trained to a high level of obedience, but to a dog all the ones I have met are sweet and accommodating and not inclined to make a nuisance of themselves. Most terriers, on the other hand, have “big” personalities and if they aren’t given rules to live by can be a bit much.

    My two dogs are about 6 pounds apart is size but acres apart in disposition. Maddie gets a lot of privileges that Jack does not because she is sweet and people-pleasing. Jack would be more than happy to make the decisions in 90% of cases. So he has lots of rules and knows lots of commands. In addition to being assertive, he has a tremendous desire to connect mentally and understand what is going on, so the rules not only keep the peace but result in a happier, more relaxed dog. Maddie just wants to be loved and rarely resists or misbehaves, and is treated differently as a result.

  33. Beth says

    And Kay, lest you think I’m singling out your lab girl, once my two were playing herding games (their favorite) with a little white dog who was running for the joy of being chased, when I saw something I didn’t like in my two— their eyes got just a little hard, their jaws started to set, and their eyes got a little too gleaming bright instead of sparkling bright, if you know what I mean. Corgis are herders of a sort but also all-purpose farm dogs who are often excellent ratters. To my eye, something about the sum total of their expressions told me that just maybe the game had changed from “herd the other dog!” to “catch the rabbit!” and I immediately broke up the game. I think any dog, in the right circumstance, can come to see a dog much smaller than himself as a prey animal. And I think that if we have dogs who are inclined to behave this way, it’s our duty to warn small-dog owners that our dogs “don’t like” small dogs, even if we have to grit our teeth a bit because the small dog is the one who is out-of-control.

  34. Leda Van Stedum says

    Oh, those eyebrows! She is cute as can be…the person who spoke of a dye job though may be right.

    I have to treat every dog differently depending on their temperment. As “dog people” we are usually able to keep both large and small dogs well behaved. As I get older though, I don’t spend as much time as I should on my 3 small dogs.

  35. Esmea says

    My min pin needs more management than I’m willing to impose. He’s wonderful, highly trained and has worked through a number of issues including dog reactivity and fear of strangers. That said he’s just much harder in lots of ways than my bigger-dog mixed breed. Some people act nasty because a terrier type dog isn’t a lab or a border collie. Sure no one should let their dogs run amok but lots of small dogs are not docile easy going breeds. Just living life without acting like a drill Sargent has them getting away with too much

  36. cathy kuehnert says

    HaHa! This question, I fear, will never be answered! I so appreciate your feelings (quilty as well). You allow your small dog leeway, because(with this dog) you can. I trained horses for 40 years (rescue dogs as well). When I finally understood that behavior was behavior, good or bad, and size DID matter, my training methods changed. What the average person allows a pony to do, pulling, walking through you, etc. becomes unacceptable when it is a 1800 lb draft horse. It is never about muscle or force. If you can’t work through issues with your brain to come to an understanding…..your in trouble (or the poor animal is). I have had ponies that are wonderful, however more drafts with the disposition (thank God), to be so much more conciliatory, or more people would be in a whole lot of trouble. It is never written in stone, and I think the human desire for that type of companionship is good and normal no matter the size! Love your books and articles. So down to earth.

  37. Lori says

    I treat Teddy, my cocker spaniel differently than my lab Chuck also. Teddy is my dog who loves to lay next to me (not on me–he doesn’t like to be picked up and held), he sleeps late in the morning, he makes me laugh every day at his gooffy cocker personality, he plays ball with me. Teddy hates belly rubs and hates being on his back or going in the down position. He is also a bossy dog to my dog and to others at the dog park, but he doesn’t bite, although barks at them especially the big ones and doesn’t want them to come near me. He will get on the picnic table and cruise it to keep dogs away and barks or licks them. I then have to tell him to get off because I don’t think that good behavior.

    Chuck, on the other hand is my main guy. I love him to death. He’s my service dog and he helps me out every day doing chores like pulling a laundry basket for me to the laundry room, picking up anything on the floor, bringing me the phone, light switches, and the list goes on what he was trained t do. When he’s a “dog” and not on duty, he loves belly rubs and ear scratches. He’s not a dog who seeks out to be petted and will even side step me when I want to pet him, but we have a special bond and he is so mellow and easy going and love all dogs and people.

    I have different bonds with my 2, but I still think of Chuck as my “soul mate” dog, but I love Teddy with all my heart too. It’s hard to explain, but I’m sure anyone who has a dog or dogs knows what I am saying. They each bring something different to my life and I can’t expect Teddy to do all the things Chuck can do and I can’t expect Chuck do the things I like that Teddy does, but he doesn’t (like play ball, which I get a kick out of more than they do or a squeaky toy). They both are food lovers and they would be in doggie heaven if I gave them treats and fed them 24/7 :). Makes them easy to train. I just taught Teddy how to twist around to the left that took weeks and it took Chuck about 10 minutes, but it’s so cute when they do it!

    Thanks for the great article once again, Dr. MConnell!

  38. Kerry M. says

    Loved Terrie’s comments about “well behaved dog privileges.” I am much more a fan of that than small dog privileges.

    Anyone else see this article about “why do small dogs have so many psychological problems?” Assuming the premise is true, this could relate to over use of small dog privileges to the ultimate detriment for the well being of the dog and their potential progeny.

  39. says

    Ah, the ever-popular “small dogs get away with everything” post.

    I have two Chinese Cresteds. The older one had an unfortunate first owner, and arrived in my home at a year old completely unsocialized will the other dogs. That was not her only issue, but it was a serious one that required a lot of work. Early on in the process, one neighbor’s Rottie got out, and happily dashed across the street to say hi.

    My dog did not know how to cope with this. She was scared, she thought she had to defend herself–and because the other dog was off leash, I had no way to remove her from the situation.

    So I picked her up so that at least the other dog was not within her reach.

    Owner of the Rottie was in hot pursuit, and very apologetic about his dog getting loose. He became one of my best allies in rehabbing my little dog.

    Too bad another neighbor devices I needed a Lecture on the Evils of Picking Up My Dog. Also, how my dog’s reactivity was entirely the result of being overly pampered. Um, no. Really not.

    About 18 months later, after a lot of work and progress, I had her out at a local nature preserve where dogs are allowed ON LEASH. And she was on leash, and doing really well.

    Then the family with the off leash Golden arrived. The Golden was Very Friendly. He Loved Everyone. And he saw my little dog from fifty yards away, and decided he HAD TO SAY HI RIGHT NOW!!! And suddenly he’s running for us atvthigh speed. My little dog is alarmed, but, hey, she’s learned to use dog body language. She does what has worked with overexcited dogs before over the past year: she goes flat on the ground.

    Dimbulb Golden keeps coming until he’s right over her and then stops, happily expecting a cheerful greeting.

    My little dog, having failed to get her space by asking politely, leaps to her feet and starts barking furiously. Note:barking. Not attacking. Not even growling. Barking. Idiot Golden finally backs off, and my girl settles down, still eager to meet any person not with That Dog.

    Guess who got to listen to comments about her badly behaved dog and “jokes” about her “Tasmanian devil dog” until she finally got sick of it and left.

    Oh, and probably necessary clarification: yes, there were other dogs present, mostly closer to my dog’s size than the Golden, and all of them in leash. We had no problems before the Golden.

    But there was a conflict between a big dog and a small dog, so the small dog must have been at fault. Never mind the breaking the rules, never mind the big dog rushed us, never mind my dog made no attempt to bite despite being rushed like that and being scared, never mind the idiot owners of the idiot Golden not bothering to call their dog till after he incident was “over.”

    How about a list on Big Dog Privilege? The presumption that big dogs are “real dogs” and if there’s a conflict the little dog must have been at fault no matter hat your lying eyes tell you? The insistence that those of us with little dogs are NEVER JUSTIFIED in handling them differently even though, in some circumstances, “letting the dogs sort it out themselves” can so easily have fatal consequences for our little ones, whether or not they are “at fault”?

  40. Juliet Whitfield says

    I have a Zen Buddha Chihuahau. He is one with the world, so yes, he does have small dog privileges. I also have a JRT that requires more management. The more challenging dogs push you and are usually a lot of fun because they make you think and you learn a lot. The easy dogs are fun because they can go anywhere. It’s fun to experience it all! Good on you Patricia for doing the pet therapy program!

  41. ABandMM says

    Oh, I think Tootsie is cute. I like “pouty” dogs :).

    I guess my issue is with small dog owners who don’t train their dogs. I live in a 16 story pet friendly condo and there are many small dogs, most of which are not very well mannered. I hate how they bark in my dog’s face (Abby is a 70 lb hound mix), I hate how owners have them on long leads (like Flexi leads) and at the end of those leashes and in my dog’s face. These dogs are also allowed to bark and bark.

    Fortunately Abby is a laid back hound girl and doesn’t not get bothered by this; she remains calm, composed and has a “Really” look on her face. I am VERY emphatic in my “you are such a goooood dog” praise to Abby and I probably give the small dog owners a “not so nice” look.

    Apparently where I live, just because you can pick up your dog, some people seem to think you don’t have to teach it manners, like not to get in another dog’s face. I also get frustrated when people, just from looking at my dog (who is standing calmly at my side) make comments about her being a “big, scary dog”. Yes, she is big, but she isn’t lunging at her leash yapping away like a maniac.

    And don’t get me started about the “accidents” that dogs leave behind in the elevator and walkways that the owners don’t clean up, though based on the size of some “packages” it is from a small dog.

    On the other end of the spectrum, where my parents live, most of their neighbors have small dogs and their dogs are so much better behaved. They keep their dogs on leash and keep their dogs close to them and don’t let them approach other dogs who are out and about (unless the dogs are buddies). So this is definitely a “human problem”. Unfortunately, the irresponsible owners are doing their dogs a disservice and yes, has made me more leery of small dogs.

    All of our family dogs are very much indulged. We have always had large dogs and they have always been welcomed on the couches and beds. They are very well behaved at dinner time, and when the humans eat, they all have their assigned spots around the table and they know if they behave, “Daddy/Grandpa” will give them treats from his dinner plate. Maybe spoiled is the correct word in this instance :).

  42. Jennifer says

    I carry spray for the little dogs in my neighborhood and I don’t hesitate to use it anymore. I don’t find them charming in the least as they lunge and snap and bark at my big dog. And it makes me VERY angry thinking if that were MY dog, it would not be okay. It’s not okay out of any dog of any size. I had to poke a yorkie in the eyes to get her OFF my dog’s muzzle because she clamped down and would not let go. Her owner laughed as my dog was frantically shaking her head trying to get the monster off. But it wasn’t funny when I had to physically hurt her little monster to get him off of my poor dog. I don’t like little dogs because I’ve had nothing but negative experiences in my neighborhood when I walk my own dog (we’re talking seven years of hell). She’s gone from tolerant to dog aggressive thanks to all the negative experiences. I feel horrible when I cross the street only to watch the little terror dart out after us (one got hit by a car and the owner screamed at me that I killed her dog – because I, with my LEASHED dog, crossed the street to get away from her unleashed “friendly” dog and I should have stopped walking). I think that training should be required for ALL small dogs and their owners. Just tonight I had a woman tell me that her chi “loves the big dogs” as he pulled her toward us (and really, who can’t control a 5 pound dog?!) with his teeth bared and a growl coming from his throat. That’s NOT a friendly sound. He was on a flexi and I had my dog jump up onto a wall to get away, but he jumped up and bit her on the paw. I just let her react. I’m tired of it. She told him off and sent him running. Naturally, she told me that I had a ‘psycho’ dog. I have yet to meet a small dog that I feel should have more privileges than a big dog. I abhor them and do not trust them in the least.

  43. Triangle says

    I think you’re actually combining two different issues. Dogs, cats, and people should be treated as individuals to the greatest degree possible. I treat my two cats very differently, because they are indeed very different. For example, I routinely wrestle roughly with Robin because she’s a big sweetie with excellent bit inhibition. She’ll ‘chew’ on me, but would never break skin. She’s also proven she knows when playing rough is NOT appropriate, and would never use claws or teeth on my elderly disabled mother. Because Jonas was a feral kitten who missed the window for crucial socialization, I would never play roughly with him (and anyway, I like my skin intact, than you very much.)

    Doing things that Dog A enjoys with Dog A, but not with Dog B, just makes sense. But all dogs, cats, and people should have basic manners, and those manners shouldn’t vary by size. Small dog privilege isn’t treating small dogs as individuals…it’s letting them get away with ignoring basic manners. So treating Tootsie differently and cuddling her in different ways isn’t small dog privilege…but letting a small dog jump on someone because ‘no one notices’ IS, and THAT shouldn’t happen. It’s plain bad manners, and there people who do notice and do care, but are just polite to say anything. And for people heavily involved with dogs, it’s failing at being doggy ambassadors and showing less experienced people good canine manners and social expectations.

  44. Ashley says

    I have a medium sized cocker gentleman so we live a little in both worlds. In some ways he does get small dog privileges, people see him as less threatening so he can go places and have experiences that a larger dog might not but he is not so small as to be a despised “ankle biter”.

    I have to agree with the person who says their dog gets “Good behavior privileges”. My dog is dog reactive so any dog off leash bounding up to him rudely is in for an attempted throw-down. Big dog owners don’t shoot the dirty looks though like small dog owners do though. It’s as if a small dog is supposed to get a behavior pass to be a brat, which doesn’t happen in my world.

    I do not love tiny dogs just for being tiny dogs nor big dogs for being big. I have seen a little dog (yorkie/poodle mix) do serious damage to a big dog and I have seen a Dobe do unintentional damage to a small dog. Common sense should rule these interactions. Would I love my small dog and big dog equally as much? Yes, but differently and no one gets to be a jerk. Until then, I’ll stick to my cocker and not have to worry too much. :)

    Congrats on therapy work! Tootsie will be great!

  45. Nicola says

    I have a small dog, a kelpie x and a border collie. Of the three, the kelpie x gets the most privileges, because she has the best temperament. My small dog is one of those which attacks bigger dogs – I have to work constantly to keep her from doing so. Why does she do it? Well, a bigger dog picked her up and threw her over 6 ft. Before that, she was fine with all dogs, after that, it took 4 years before she wouldn’t immediately attack any dog of that breed, and at almost 15 years old, she still doesn’t like bigger dogs. I don’t find it funny, nor do I excuse her behaviour because she was attacked. Just as my border collie isn’t allowed to play with strange dogs because he herds them and nips them on the flank, my small dog isn’t allowed to play with strange dogs because she is aggressive (not that she wants to – she is scared and often in pain). The dog which gets the privileges in my h0use, as in yours, Trisha, is determined by behaviour, not size.

  46. Jo says

    It’s all priorities, isn’t it?

    With a big dog, physical boundaries are much more important than with a small dog. When I had a Golden, I was scrupulous about enforcing “no jumping up”, because the consequences were greater, and I therefore was much more invested in training a solid four-on-the-floor greeting.

    Now that I have a Min Poodle, I am lazy about four-on-the-floor but scrupulous about reinforcing and rewarding a calm response to inappropriate touching/handling by kids, because poodles seem to be magnets for kids, not all of whom are supervised effectively or know the first thing about polite greetings.

    Space is an issue, too. A big dog on a sofa is a different proposition from a small dog on a sofa! My ‘no dogs on the furniture’ rule lasted a nanosecond once I got a small dog.

    I do agree, though, that there are many people out there who should be training, socialising, managing their small dogs better. That said, as the owner of a small dog, I am less worried about a small dog with bad manners/behaviour than I am about a big dog with bad manners/behaviour, purely because the former is less likely to do permanent damage to my small dog.

  47. Anne Blohm says

    I love this article! As the owner of miniature Pinschers, this article addresses what I feel about them. Yes, they are small dogs, and small dogs can be annoying. I train my pins to have good public manners, but they sleep under the covers with us at night, and of course are under the blankie while we are watching TV. Invited, of course! We would never encourage this with our Aussies, or our cattle dog (although she occasionally tries with the famous cattle dog creep), but as long as they are well behaved good canine citizens, I see nothing wrong with a few perks. They are so good they deserve it in our eyes. I look on it as one of the endearing qualities of a small dog.

    I also love the eyebrows!

  48. Frances says

    My two get many small dog privileges, such as sharing my bed, chair, cushions in the small space right by my feet, going with me to stay with friends and relations who simply would not be able to cope with two big dogs in the house, going out in the car with me even when I have several passengers because there is still room for two tiny dogs, and many other indulgencies that simply would not work with two large dogs. I considered all these things before deciding on toy dogs! What they do not get is permission to be rude or obnoxious to humans or other dogs just because they are small. Sophy is nearly always polite, reading dogs and humans well; Poppy copies what everyone else is doing, so a barking or running dog can quickly get her wound up and silly. We have a cue phrase, “Don’t tease the big dogs”, which I have found works well, especially around those dogs that are wary.

    I think part of the problem is the difficulty of socialising small breed puppies safely. Many puppy classes round here are full of sweet, rambunctious labradors, springers, danes, etc, etc. If there were smaller pups they tended to be terriers, and much more robust than my toys were as puppies – it simply was not safe to let them play together. When out walking, there is a great temptation to sweep the tiny puppy up and away from anything that might be in any way a threat or a risk, reinforcing fearful behaviour (and triggering jump and snatch from other dogs as well). I taught mine that the space between my feet was safe – I would fend off overwhelming dogs and people, and do my utmost to make them feel safe, so that they have very rarely felt the need to defend themselves. I also had the huge advantage of neighbours with kind, well mannered big dogs, who would self handicap to play with the tinies, and taught them good dog etiquette. I have often thought that owners of really well socialised adult dogs could provide a wonderful service, helping to socialise puppies of all sizes, but especially very small or nervous ones!

  49. em says

    Yay Tootsie! For such a new experience, I think ‘not distressed’ is a terrific response. I think she’s cute as a button, too, eyebrows or no. (I confess to being partial to Cavaliers. I don’t know that I’ll ever be in the market for a truly small dog, but if I were…)

    As to small dog privilege, I don’t know that I have much to add that hasn’t been said. I like dogs, both small and large and much as I hate it when owners disregard dangerous or aggressive behavior (in any size dog…some of the worst cases of owner denial I’ve ever seen involved 100# golden retrievers), I confess that I can’t quite treat big and small dogs equally.
    I do tend to indulge small dogs in some behaviors that I wouldn’t tolerate from a bigger one (and so, honestly, do my large dogs).

    Mostly it has to do with social balance. A chihuahua who explodes into a barking, snarking, frenzy when my great dane ambles by gets ignored (or in extreme cases, nervously avoided) by my dog and pitied a bit by me. (Provided that he doesn’t actually bite or charge after us). A labrador who reacted the same way would find himself the object of an epic staredown, at the very least. I just can’t hold the small dog’s reaction and display (provided, again, that it is actually somewhat inhibited) against him the way that I would a larger dog- he IS in real danger, he’s right to be afraid, and if he doesn’t make some noise and assert his claim to his personal space, he runs the very real risk of being hurt by accident. There is a difference, of course, between dogs who just want to make themselves heard (and almost always warm up and relax within seconds when it becomes apparent that Otis has no intention of stepping on them or mistaking them for a rabbit) and those who have learned that they can bully bigger dogs with impunity, and I have considerably less sympathy with the latter. Dangerous and mean behaviors are dangerous and mean, no matter the size.

    I also confess to having a terrible time trying to remember to discourage tiny dogs from jumping up on me. I do try, especially if their owners are working on it, but it comes unnaturally to me because again, I (sucker that I am) sympathize with the tiny dog who wants to be noticed and just can’t command the same sense of presence that a bigger dog can. After all, his snoot is still further from my hands and face than my dogs’ are, jumping or no. Once again, there are limits, though. There is a polite way to jump and and impolite way, I’ve always felt, and I just can’t muster the same disapproval for the little dogs who delicately rest their paws on my leg as they stand up for attention as I can for those who are bouncing and slamming all everywhere.

    On the other hand, though, on the few occasions when I’ve had charge of a tiny dog (my brother’s fairly robust and lovely-tempered 8lb Chi), I have to admit that I found the whole experience nervewracking in the extreme. Since he is beautifully behaved and experienced with large dogs, and my big dogs are themselves quite indulged, I didn’t find myself extending him extra privileges so much as enforcing ‘small dog restrictions’. In instances where I would have let a larger dog with the same behaviors off-leash, I kept him on. Where I would have let a big dog with his temperament socialize and play freely, I scooped him up, held him back, and kept him out of the game. I spent a lot of time with him fearful- afraid of stepping on him, afraid of sitting on him, afraid that he’d disappear into the grass, get snatched by a coyote, get hurt by a dog, get hurt by a cat, afraid that he’d fall off the furniture or hurt himself jumping down from the car. Part of it was ‘somebody else’s dog syndrome’, I’m sure, but I decided after that experience that I am just not cut out to own a really small dog. I found that I couldn’t reconcile what I wanted for him (and what I want for my own dogs) in terms of play and freedom and social interaction and what I felt I needed to do to keep him safe. And the worry. The constant worry. I couldn’t take it. Just for my own peace of mind, I need a dog that is big enough to be difficult to kill by accident at the very least. :-)

    One last point before I end my ramble- on fairness and treating small and large dogs differently in the same household. I find that Otis doesn’t much seem to notice or care if a tiny dog tries to climb into the front seat of the truck to sit in the passenger seat (or passenger’s lap), but Sandy is the queen of ‘me, too!’ and when we were dogsitting the chi (her former housemate), it drove her around the bend. She’d whine and creep forward, break her down (dogs lie down in the back when the truck is moving- that’s the rule) and try to clamber into the front. It was the only difficulty we had- he did NOT want to stay in the back, he was difficult to block and we had him for too short a time to invest in a travel crate or establish a really firm training foundation, and Sandy’s rebellion at seeing him flaunt the rules meant scrambling to manage them both. Otis was willing to accept different rules for himself and the chi, but Sandy was not- it clearly upset her to see him getting what she wanted and again, my own sucker tendencies keep me from blaming her- why SHOULD that little booger get to sit in the front? I think it would be hard for me to have both large and small dogs in the same household, because it would be hard (if not impossible) to treat them the same, but just as hard not to- I’d always feel guilty about something.

  50. LK says

    Good for you and Tootsie! I like her “grumpy eyebrows” :)

    Regarding special ruled for small dogs: I need to begin by saying that I consider all undisciplined/uncontrolled dogs a potential hazard. This especially so when they are off-leash. The fault is not the dogs’.

    I resent both myself and my dogs being mugged by off-leash so-called friendly dogs over whom owners have absolutely no control. Why do their owner thinks that yelling “it’s ok he’s friendly” is the total panacea for my muddied clothes and my leashed dog’s discomfort. The worst offenders are often the tiny dogs whose owners think the scenario of their little froofroo harassing a larger dog are funny beyond belief.

    Years ago my leashed male husky (champion show dog + CDX + Tracking) was attacked by a tiny off-leash terror. My dog was reliable and friendly and would have sniffed the little dog if it had actually approached in the manner of a normal dog seeking to greet another dog. No such behavior! The little monster ran around under him, growling, while his owner laughed as I struggled to capture her dog. In the process I dropped my leash to give my dog the ability to get away from this little horror. My poor dog was bitten in that place where you oh so do not want to have your best pedigree breeding boy bitten. A moment later there was a solid “crunch” and the attacker was dead. The monster’s owner was suddenly very upset and blaming my dog. Unfortunate that her dog paid the ultimate price – and what did she think might happen if/when the bigger dog has enough already? I have been much more distrustful of small dogs owners since this experience.

    Proper way to discipline a dog:
    When your dog misbehaves, roll up a newspaper and smack yourself with it. Repeat as often as necessary.

  51. Beth says

    Triangle, I carefully taught both my short (but not small) dogs NOT to jump on people. Guess what? PEOPLE actively encourage short dogs to jump up so they can reach them to pet them. All. The. Time. So my dogs, whose arses hit the ground whenever I so much as look at them, jump on everyone. And honestly? At this point, I mostly just ignore it because I can’t spend every day of my life patiently explaining to people that I don’t allow that behavior, and I am tired of correcting my dogs while they are simultaneously getting rewarded by someone else. It is confusing to them.

    So the next time you see a small dog jumping, don’t blame the owner: blame society.

    I am also honestly a bit taken aback by the lack of empathy for people whose small dogs have been killed right in front of their eyes. Yes I have had small dogs be rude to my dogs (and big dogs too. A lot). But I always make extra effort to be careful of MY dogs when this happens; if my dogs are the larger, I make sure the little dog does not get hurt because I’ve been on the other side of it. The thing about owning 30-pound dogs is I get to experience both sides of the divide. Sometimes my dog is the one who weighs 3x as much as the other, and sometimes my dogs are the ones who are tiny compared to the 100-pound giant they are saying hi to.

    I wonder maybe if some people who only have had big dogs don’t see the other side of the coin, and what often causes little dogs to act as they do. So as the owner of two 12-inch tall dogs, let me tell you what I hate about BIG dogs:

    I hate when people laugh when an 80 pound dog tries to hump my 28 pound bitch and persists despite her barks, air-snaps, and frantic maneuvering while I try to haul the lummox off before he breaks her back. “Oh, he humps everyone” is not an acceptable answer. Yes, my male has tried to hump dogs much smaller than himself, but I always intervene right away and prevent him from doing so. It’s just not funny when the size difference can result in injury.

    I hate when big boxers come galloping over and paw my dogs over and refuse to back off when they are reasonably corrected, repeatedly, by my dogs.

    I hate when big dogs run right over the top of the backs of my dogs in play. MY dogs used to be big-dog-lovers til they got trampled a few too many times and now neither one of mine likes to play with dogs much taller than themselves.

    And as I mentioned, I really, really hate when a bigger dog tries to pick my dog up by the back of the neck to kill him.

    There are some other things. So yes, there are small dog owners who let their dogs do things they should not. And there are big dog owners who let their dogs do what they should not as well.

    Like em, my well-socialized dogs generally sort of roll their eyes at me when tiny dogs act aggressively towards them. They certainly know the difference between a dog who is a real threat and one who is not and react accordingly. And while a small dog owner should be aware that their dogs can get unintentionally hurt when interacting with large dogs, I also don’t expect my dogs to kill a little dog for jumping on them or even nipping them. Goodness. I would have been bawling on the spot regardless of the circumstance if someone’s little dog died before my eyes. And I’d be crying again every time I recalled the story. My dogs have been actively attacked and never actually made hard tooth contact with anyone else. I just don’t think they have it in them.

    I have had many more issues with big dogs than small ones. Yes, if you live in an apartment with size restrictions you will have a certain idea about “small dogs” because that’s all you see. If you lived by a park where lots of people take their big dogs to exercise, as I do, you would see the other side of the coin. “Big dog privilege”, if you will.

    Despite having had many not-so-nice experiences with large dogs, I don’t hate them. I don’t think of boxers as “big horrors” because they like to play with their front paws and don’t recognize size differences. I don’t think of labs as “awful monsters” because they tend to not be mindful of where their bodies are in space and run over the tops of things. I don’t think of humpers as “terrors” because they don’t know how to take “no” as an answer. I think the number of people who hate small dogs because some of them can be on their toes is a bit unfortunate.

    Big dogs, small dogs, and everything in between have to live together in society and since they are DOGS they don’t always get that the dogs they are interacting with don’t respond as they would. It’s up to the people at the end of the leash to have some empathy. When I see little dogs acting aggressively, I tend to think “fearful” and respond accordingly. I don’t think of them as little monsters. Poor things.

  52. says

    A few months ago, I was walking my two Cresteds and my foster dog, a chihuahua pug mix pas the end of a side street where a family with a Doberman and a chihuahua live. The chi is territorial about his yard, and can be loud about it, but that’s it. He doesn’t really want to leave his property.

    The Doberman, though, he does not see a reason to stop on his property if the gate opens.

    And as we were walking by this time, he got out, and cane running, right at me and my dogs.

    I’m holding three leashes and my cane. The Dobe is chasing my dogs, who do not want to meet him and are trying to avoid him, around me.

    Idiot owner is ambling comfortably toward us, no rush. Calling his dog, no effect.

    By the time he reached us, I was completely wrapped up in my dogs’ leashes. He grabbed his dog’s collar and took him back home, without a word or a look for me, not even an apologetic glance. I was irrelevant, and my getting untangled from leashes which were not a problem prior to his dog deciding to chase mine, definitely no concern of his.

    Big dog privilege: Not one single person I’ve told this story to has suggested that the problem here was Big Dogs, and the people who own them, who don’t bother to train them. No. Everyone recognizes that the problem was THIS DOG, and this owner, not any larger class.

    And I bet, based on past experience, that he now has a cute story about the out-of-control little dogs–who weren’t, until they found a dog big enough to kill each of them except the pug mix with a single bite barreling at them at high speed. But hey, nothing important about that detail, is there? Clearly, the important thing is Little Dogs, who shouldn’t have provoked the Real Dog by existing.

  53. Robin Jackson says

    I agree that all dogs should learn good manners, regardless of size. As a physically fragile person, a small dog jumping on me is dangerous. And more than one senior has broken a hip from tripping over a small dog underfoot.

    According to one statistic, every year more than 80,000 fall injuries are caused by a dog or cat! And those are just the ones severe enough to be reported.

    It’s not cute if a 3 year old child starts stabbing his older cousin with a fork. Little dogs who act aggressively should be regarded as equally in need of education.

    @Frances, I have mentioned this before, but a pop up umbrella held like a shield can be very helpful with little dogs. Use an umbrella with a button, not a spike, and train your own dog to wait comfortably behind it. I first learned this in a wheelchair Orientation & Mobility class before I had my own dog, but it can help a great deal. It’s both a visual and physical barrier and it signals very clearly to the little dog’s owner that they should remove their dog, we’re not looking for a play session. Some people are more worried about their dog damaging my umbrella than my dog, but whatever works. :)

    the umbrella won’t deter a dog determined to attack, but it can help a lot with overly friendly or simply socially clueless dogs. It’s good with grabby toddlers, too.

  54. Nic says

    One evening at the park, my two labs greeted a man’s small, fluffy dog. The dog proceeded to bite and chase my bewildered duo. The man yelled, “Get away or I’m going to kick your dog!” It’s amazing how much dogs can be like their owners :)

    The question of privileges depends on individual dogs, big or small. My two are littermates but have vastly different personalities and so we tend to treat them differently. Our girl dislikes even mild cold, so she gets to snuggle on the couch on a winter day. Our boy couldn’t care less about the cold and can be found sprawled belly up on the wooden floor at the same time. He’s a gentle boy and is indulged with the occasional wrestle with the human males in the household, a game I wouldn’t like to encourage with our more excitable girl.

    The most important thing is that they are happy with life and we are happy with how they behave. Any privileges that don’t disturb that harmony are icing on the cake!

  55. Mireille says

    oh Beth, how I do agree. Chenak, my former Siberian & dog who loved puppies and small kids, once to our horror grabbed a Yorkshire terrier puppy. Because he was leashed and sitting next to my hubby, we were able to rescue the pup. But it was really a “grab the little brown squeaky rabbit resembling thingy”, I truly think he did not realise it was a dog. The owner was late for puppy class and just opened the gate to the training area and let het dog run inside off leash, all happy yapping…. (hubby was watching me train our then Siberian puppy Janouk).

    Made me very careful with all my sibes with interacting with small dogs. Especially when Spot also tried to grab a small Shi Tzu on the end of the flexi who came bouncing up to him just after he saw a couple of rabbits bouncing of just outside his reach….

    You know, I really don’t mind small dogs privileges in the way that small dogs jump up to people or love lying in laps etc. I do get annoyed at the people with the flexi leashes who are not aware how annoying it can be that they just let their dogs run op to mine, yelling “He is friendly” while their dog is staring, growling and yapping. Small dog privileges does not mean that the dog does not need to control him or herself. Actually, I do not think that that is in the dogs own best interest. Small dogs should be aware that storming up to big dogs is not a good way to survive. Sorry tot put it this harsh, but if Chenak had shaken the pup a bit harder, it would not have survived.

    One other thing: the ” do not lift your dog” mantra: if I owned a toy breed and two big dogs came chasing, well… I still hope that any small dog owner who sees my two approaching at full speed, is wise enough to lift their dog up to safety…

    Funny anecdote: Spot is an avid hunter and at times could be very annoying when he smelled or heard wildlife. He quickly figured out what a pheasant call was all about and would start scanning the environment and pulling his leash like crazy. Sometimes he would really get out of control, and the only way to calm him down was to lift him up and carry him. Yup, I regularly walked around carrying 20+ kilo of somewhat silly looking sibe. One day Spot spotted a pheasant when we were walking a small country road and a man with a dachshund and a car were approaching. Not wanting to wrestle with him in the mud next to the road, I decided to lift him up and carry him until the car passed. You should have seen the amazed look on the man face. He truly thought I was afraid his dachshund – an elderly gentle dog – was going to harm my sibe ; -)

  56. emdee says

    My good friend has a tiny elderly, mostly toothless, super dog aggressive Boston. When she sees another dog, she goes bananas — but it’s so ridiculous that no one takes it seriously, and she just gets scooped up by the faux fur collar of her winter puffa jacket and carried away from those three German Shepherds she was going for. My dog is a 2 y.o. rescued lab/border collie mix who, as I discovered (heart:break) after bringing her home to my not-conducive-to-aggressive-dogs-life, is also dog aggressive. But when she gets going, it’s a totally different story — I have 50 lbs of border collie laser-focus and flashing white canines to contend with. While my friend hasn’t even had to address the issue with her Boston, I have undertaken the resource- and time-draining process of trying to improve my dog’s behavior so she doesn’t hurt anyone or anything. And rural western Wisconsin isn’t exactly a hotbed of industry, so everything is a significant drive away. But it feels like a matter of urgency to me; it’s nothing of the sort for my friend. So while I’m disapproving of small dog privileges on principle, in practice it does seem that the owners of misbehaving dogs have a responsibility which increases in a direct relationship to the size of the dog.

  57. Marjorie says

    I have two Cavaliers and I have to say that in regards to “special privilegs” it depends on the dog and the situation. I do take special care that mine are not overwhelmed by larger dogs (what is it with people with large dogs that keep barging into your small dogs space saying “don’t worry, he’s friendly” that they don’t get about the size difference? So, if I come across this situation I do make sure my dogs are at a comfortable distance for them. However, I would do the same if they were large as well. Likewise, I also make sure that they do not invade the space of others, big or small. Regardless of size, we aim to have good manners.

    Special privilegs that my dogs do get just because of their size is sleeping on my pillow above my head, access to my lap, being picked up and down into the car, and access to shopping areas & cafes that bigger dogs might not be allowed (because they are cute, small and docile). However, there is also a big drawback to being cute and small (especially, if you are also timid). Strangers are always reaching and grabbing for you, looming over you, staring and getting into your personal space, hugging and squeezing you.

    I Love Tootsie’s “grumpy” little look, gives her character. She also has her heart melting lovebug look too.

  58. Marjorie says

    I have had both big and small dogs and I love all dogs regardless of size, they are all amazing. I wish that were true for all dog owners, but unfortunately, it is not. There are those who love to hate small dogs, and they project a great deal of negativity onto them. I’m not sure why this is. How one can have compassion for one and not another. Big or small, they are dogs!

  59. says

    I think that small dogs do get a pass and special privileges as a general rule, but it does also depend on the dog. Three of such creatures live with us now.
    My once upon a time foster dog, Percy, a 15 lb Tibetan Spaniel mix, would not be alive today if he had been a larger dog. He totally failed the behavior test given to him by the shelter. He’s not fond of people, especially children, and when he gets excited (happy or upset) his reactions continue to build up steam instead of an initial burst and then calmness. But over time we learned his body language, the best ways to manage him and work with him and he became a permanent part of our family.
    One of my other dogs became reactive to black labs – it only took one to snark at him for this. When one reacts, all three react. I can tell you there is nothing cute about three little guys yapping and acting like they’re going to bite off the toes of another dog.
    I remember when a neighbors black lab got loose and came running over to us. She ran over saying the infamous line, “it’s ok – she likes dogs” and in the meantime mine are all acting like they’re going to tear her from limb to limb. After treats were thrown into the air for all to enjoy, I had to explain to the woman that even the nicest dog isn’t immune to the reactions of others. Case in point, before I had it raining treats, I could see her entire body shift. Her hackles were up, her tail was straight, her brow looked furrowed, etc.

  60. Beth says

    In defense of those yelling “It’s ok, he’s friendly!!”: my dogs are generally either leashed or under voice control but have gotten away from me a handful of times due to various things that can happen. Jack LOVES other dogs and yes he runs to see them.

    And yes I have yelled “It’s ok, he’s friendly/ good with dogs” because if he is charging full speed I want people to know that they should not be afraid of being attacked.

    It does not mean I think it’s ok he’s approaching uninvited. But I just want people to know they don’t have to be afraid. He will run full-speed til he’s about 10 yards away and then stop and assess the other dog’s reaction before approaching if he is off-leash in any situation.

    I see a general consensus that yelling “He’s friendly” means the owner does not care that the dog is loose. Believe me, I have yelled “he’s friendly!” while a string of cuss words and panicked thoughts ran through my head because I had a loose dog who decided just at that moment to blow me off. Imagining all the awful things that can happen to my dog, the other dog, etc doesn’t mean I think it’s fine but really if a dog is running towards me, I would want to know if he’s friendly or grumpy!

    And yes, I have on countless occasions helped people round up loose dogs. Unless my dogs are being attacked I will do what I can to try to safely contain the offender even if he’s being a bit bratty. Then again, I have the luxury of having dogs who are not easily ruffled.

  61. Trisha says

    Wow. I knew that this issue would tap into a controversy, but never expected passions to run quite so high. I’ve read every comment, some of them more than twice, and believe more strongly than ever that it is not size, but the dog’s behavior that is the most important factor in how much we “indulge” our dogs. Included in that, indirectly but importantly, is how respectful owners are of others. The fact is that huge dogs and small ones can be equally annoying. Yes, it is indeed true that large dogs can injure small ones much more easily, and I would suggest that if you’ve never had a tiny dog it’s hard to imagine how vulnerable you feel when some massive animal is running toward your snack-size best friend. On the other hand, if you’ve only had small dogs it might be hard to imagine that just because your dog is large doesn’t mean you don’t’ feel vulnerable when someone’s else dog begins to threaten or attack it.

    After twenty five years, I can tell you that I’ve seen it in all directions. I’ve had massive dogs dance into my office and leap up onto my desk and trash my computer while the owners laughed about how “friendly” they are. I’ve seen little dogs terrorize benevolent large ones while their owners chuckle about how cute it is that their tiny little “X-poo” thinks he’s a “big dog.”

    Thus, there really are two issues here that have come up since my post: 1) Should small dogs get a bit more leeway than larger dogs just because of their size?, and 2) Should owners of small dogs have different expectations of their dog’s behavior around other dogs? My opinion, as I said in the post, is that size doesn’t matter, what matters is the personality and behavior of the dog. I can indulge Tootsie much more than I can Willie, because she is so docile and unreactive. If Tootsie begs to come up on the couch or jumps up and puts her paws on my leg for attention, there really is no down side of giving her what she wants. Willie, on the other hand, struggles with impulse control and reactivity, and so giving him everything he wants at the time that he wants it is not in his, or my, best interest. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get a lot of loving; I imagine that Tootsie would argue it’s not fair that Trisha lays down on the floor every night and cuddles with Willie. Tootsie, on the other hand, probably feels that it’s horribly unfair that she is not allowed to interfere with our cuddle time, and has to wait for Trisha to get back on the couch and let her crawl back onto her chest and snuggle in.

    The point is that I do treat them differently, but as many others have commented, not because of their size, but because of their personalities. What I have learned from this is that maybe everyone with only large dogs should borrow a small dog for awhile, and vice versa, to walk in one another’s paws. Should we start a movement?

  62. Trisha says

    After saying, in the comment above, that size doesn’t matter… I have to say that I also agree with em’s comments, that in some contexts it IS hard to not respond to size. I too have a hard time not petting a little dog who jumps up. I’m lazy, and I love not having to always squat down to pet a tiny dog. I have never taught Tootsie not to jump up, in part because she IS tiny and everyone seems to want her to and especially because she was a mill dog and I am thrilled each and every time she greets people with so much joy instead and running and hiding under a chair like so many mill rescues do. And I also admit that a few times in my office some tiny dog has launched at me and I’ve had to squelch a laugh. (“Ha!” I’ve said internally. “I just worked with a very aggressive Rot/Lab/Saint/GSD/Mastiff cross who bites people, and you, you tiny little thing, just aren’t very impressive.”) However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel an equal need to change either dog’s behavior, because the little one can hurt someone badly, get its owner sued, or get itself killed. So again, we’re back to behavior…

    And to Lis Carey, who said “Ah, the ever-popular “small dogs get away with everything” post,” I think you might want to read what I wrote again. But sorry your little dog got bad mouthed for a social appropriate response. Be sure read the posts by ‘large dog’ owners who feel like they are the ones who always get targeted.

    Perhaps “large dog” and “small dog” people should hire a negotiator? Or sing the song from Oklahoma about farmers and ranchers being be friends? Sorry, I don’t mean to disrespect the frustrations that so many of dog owners feel; sounds like we all need to be ambassadors of “good dog behavior’ and “respectful owner behavior.” Just remember that positive reinforcement works better than punishment, right?

  63. em says

    I am always surprised by the vitriol whenever a big dog/little dog discussion comes up. Maybe it’s just the place I live and the people I hang out with, but despite the fact that the dogs at my local off-leash park skew large (very large, in fact- 75lb Sandy is the smallest of our regular walking group), whenever we encounter a small dog, oohs and aahs and indulgent smiles and comments about’ how cute!’ and (obviously joking) threats to hide the little guys in coat pockets and smuggle them home are the norm. Only the most extreme antisocial behavior on the part of the little dog raises disapproving eyebrows. At least some big dog owners who appreciate a little dog are out there, I swear it!

    @Beth, great point about not all dogs being socially appropriate or desirable playmates for one another! I so agree that this is something that we should be able to understand without immediately leaping to the conclusion that ‘that other dog and all dogs like him are BAD because he can’t interact appropriately with mine’. Fortunately, my dogs are very reliable self-handicappers, but I know from experience that the play styles of certain types of dogs are not a good match. For my large, short-coated dogs, herding dogs tend to be the ones to watch out for. Big, fast-moving Otis in particular is irresistible to a dog with a lot of herding instinct, and because he’s so big and fast and difficult to control, herders often get frustrated, and frustrated herders sometimes get toothy.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with these dogs or their play style- with a different playmate they might play for hours and hours without a problem, but both Sandy and Otis have near-identical scars in exactly the same spot on their ribs where two different young male German Shepherds, four years apart, got overstimulated in chasing play and snapped too hard at skin with not enough fur to protect it. A viszla playmate (another big, short-coated, fast dog) from the park has the same scar- yet a different young male Shepherd, same scenario. That doesn’t mean that I think German Shepherds are bad dogs, heck Sandy IS half-shepherd. I just know that I need to be extra careful about how I let my dogs interact with them, because it’s not necessarily a good match.

    The same goes for other herding dogs, too. I know it can be a problem, so I watch closely for signs of inappropriate behavior and often end up seriously limiting my dogs’ exposure to dogs who can’t play without getting nippy. I don’t do this because I think that Sandy and Otis are going to be seriously hurt, but because it isn’t fair to them to put them in a position to get hurt and expect them not to retaliate BUT if they (especially Otis) DID retaliate- if he whipped around and landed a hard nip on a border collie or cattle dog, or god forbid! a twenty-five pound corgi who had been biting and harassing him, the results could be catastrophic. I would feel beyond awful.

    My point (wait, did I have a point?-oh yes!) is that it is perfectly all right for Beth to be cautious about her corgis interacting with boxers, and just as perfectly all right for my dogs to be glad to see boxers and cautious about corgis without anybody making a blanket judgment out of it. I think that we can all agree that certain OWNER behaviors (letting your dog run up to a strange dog without permission, ignoring provocative behavior or aggression in your own dog, ignoring signs of fear, pain, or distress in someone else’s, ignoring the physical danger posed by rough play across a huge size differential, etc.) are both rude and foolish no matter which side of the equation we are on.

  64. Nic1 says

    LK I’m staggered to read on this blog that the death of another dog is somehow justified by a reader because it was your ‘best pedigree breeding boy’. Did I read that right? Being bitten on the genitals must be awful, but if that was my dog who had killed another person’s pet dog, irrespective of the reason why, I would be absolutely distraught, quite possibly forever. I wonder if you continued to breed from that dog knowing it had killed another dog?

    Nothing much more to really to add except that size really matters when it comes to aggression. Being jumped up on by a friendly Pom who wants to say ‘Hi’ and a over aroused Lab who wants to play are two entirely different scenarios. The first I really wouldn’t mind,the second would pee me off. Better to teach the Lab an alternative behaviour. I probably woldn’t worry so much about the Pom as the risk of damage or irritability is probably lower all round. Common sense? More about managing safety for both dogs and owners than anytng else.

    Love Tootsie and her eyebrows are THE best I have ever seen .

  65. Marjorie says

    My response to those who ALLOW their dog to come barreling into another dog’s space while yelling “don’t worry he’s friendly” (regardless of size or breed) is that they may be friendly, but they are Not polite. It would be much more helpful to have trained for a good recall and have their owner save their breath on the “he’s friendly” and actually call their dog back. I find most problems arise from people letting their dogs off leash before they have adequate training and socialization.

  66. says

    @Beth… I know that a lot of times when owners say their dogs are friendly, they truly are. As I said, my point was that even nice dogs have limits. My dogs were the ones reacting to the loose labs approach. Her approach initially was friendly looking, but then you could see her mindset change as she got closer. Her change was in response to my dogs. I don’t think I ever felt they were in danger, but I did know that there could be trouble if something didn’t diffuse the situation. I’m also happy to say that after working on my one dogs reactivity its gotten much better.

  67. Beth says

    em, you nailed it on the head. I love watching boxers and labs rough-house. I keep my dogs out of the fray, unless there is only one of that type of dog and it’s relatively submissive. Why? Because mine attempt to engage and then get flattened. Boxers and labs are (usually) terrible at self-handicapping, but that’s not their fault; they’re just slap-happy. Conversely, my Corgis nip HARD when they play and I am careful to watch the reactions of the dog being chased, and even if that dog is ok I will step in if mine are getting over-aroused. One herding dog chasing is ok, two is manageable, but get three together and it can get ugly fast, especially if they all targeted the same victim. Mine can also sometimes be the “fun police” and while I will let them jump in to calm down out-of-control behavior by other dogs, I stop them if they are just being obnoxious.

    When it comes to little dogs or any loose dog, unless mine are in danger I try to protect the loose dog. Yes, I’ve had one of mine bolt the door once and run into the street to say hi to a buddy. And gosh was I glad that the other dog’s handler stayed exactly where he was, off the side of the road, til I could make sure the coast was clear of cars and call him back. Unless my dogs’ or my own safety is at risk, I treat other people’s dogs exactly as I would hope someone would treat mine, if the role were reversed. My dogs are part of my family, and other people’s dogs are part of THEIR family, and even if the behavior is wrong I don’t want to see the dog hurt. I love all dogs, not just mine. And anyway, I never assume that one bad moment reflects the totality of the dog/owner combination. My dog got out the door once; that doesn’t mean I routinely let them charge out at people.

    I know so many people with small dogs who have been attacked and badly hurt while walking on leash. I think people with large dogs with high prey drive need to be mindful and careful of that. It’s instinct and the dog should not be condemned, but should be handled in a manner at all times that is respectful of the possibilities. Any one of us can have a dog get loose. We hope they don’t die because of it.

    I also am very respectful of the needs of people whose dogs are fearful or shy. And while it’s easy to get angry at dogs being, well, normal dogs when yours is afraid of everything, I’m not sure why some people with shy and fearful dogs are so openly hostile to friendly dogs. I have one of those dogs who, given the chance, would just barge right up to a shy dog who kept trying to back away. He’s usually so dog-savvy. I’ve watched carefully to see what happens, and the honest truth is that many shy dogs keep giving appeasement signals that say “I’m no threat! I’m no threat!” so Jack just says “Got it, you’re no threat. Me neither. Hi, I’m Jack… whoops, you seem to have moved away again.” Jack won’t go anywhere near a dog who gives “back off” body language, but the truth is many shy dogs DON’T. They give “I won’t hurt you” body language. So dogs who love other dogs are inclined to just walk right up to them. And to add to the confusion, many shy dogs initially give “Hello, I want to see you!” body language which makes the other dog want to approach, then turn to appeasement at the last second. This is not the shy dog’s fault— after all, it’s the social ambivalence that tends to make them reactive to begin with. But it’s equally unfair to get upset at the friendly dogs who DO just want to say “hi.” And while I don’t expect to encounter loose dogs when walking on leash through neighborhoods, there are many areas where loose dogs are likely to be encountered. Shy dogs probably shouldn’t be walked in those areas. If your dog gives socially confusing cues, you can only expect other dogs don’t always read them correctly. I am blessed with one dog-savvy dog and one who sometimes gets confused and goes up to greet another dog and then decides to stare and bark at its face. I can hardly expect other dogs to respect what she wants when she does not know what she wants!

    As Trisha says, we all really just need to take time to see things from the other point of view.

  68. says

    Trisha, I have read the other posts. I’m not sure why you would think this the first time I’ve heard how owners of Big Dogs feel targeted. The idiot owners of the idiot golden, after all, sincerely believed my little dog was the problem.

    It’s also not the first time I’ve seen a Big Dog owner justify their dog killing a little dog. In this case, the big dog did have something to be unhappy about. In other cases, though, it’s been Big Dog owners who passionately believe that if their dog mistakes a small dog for a squirrel, it’s the fault of the small dog or the small dog’s owner. Then they’ll rant and rave that there’s no justification for splitting the dog park into small and large sections because, well, just because. I think what they don’t quite come out and say is that outside play space is only for big dogs, and little dogs enter only at their own very considerable risk.

    I get tired. I love my dogs. I have friends with large dogs and with small dogs. I’m friends with people who are sensible with their dogs. Either the big dogs are good with small dogs, or their owners know that they are not and take appropriate precautions.

    But outside that circle, I hear a lot of idiocy, and much of it means that my dogs are held to a higher standard because if anything happens, facts won’t matter. My dogs WILL be at fault, because the big dog couldn’t possibly have been at fault.

    Unless it’s a pit bull. People hate on pit bulls too, and sometimes, faced with the choice, they’ll choose to blame the pit bull instead of the little dog. Still won’t have much to do with the facts, often.

    I love my dogs, and people who have not even met them feel perfectly free to call them to my face overgrown rats or “yappy little ankle biters.” And I’m supposed to have infinite reserves of patience and good humor for responding to that.

  69. elle says

    A lot of the anecdotes involve dogs off leash. Maybe that’s worth a separate blog entry. I live in a typical residential suburban neighborhood, and I have noticed a tremendous increase in the number of loose pet dogs in the last few years. My dog is friendly, but I hate being charged by strange dogs, which have ranged in size from an aggressive German Shepherd to a friendly Chihuahua, with many dogs, some of which intended to bite or succeeded in biting, in between. I blame the popularity of the invisible fences, which dogs can cross if so motivated, which sometimes aren’t functioning, and which also give others the impression that dogs don’t need a real fence. Near me, just about every new development now has a restrictive covenant prohibiting fences except when required for pools. When I grew up, homes with dogs tended to have fenced backyards. I am also seeing an increase in the number of dogs off leash in parks that by the rules require dogs to be on leash. Any thoughts on this? It’s getting so bad that I am leary of walking anymore without a second person, and I used to love walking with my dogs. I know this is off topic, but reading the comments, it seems as if a lot of the problems are caused by the offending dogs being loose, regardless of size or temperament.

  70. Nic1 says

    My own medium sized dog-reactive terrier/corgi/spaniel mix is now reactive around little dogs, where she used to be pretty inert, compared to some other types of dogs she doesn’t like.

    She has, on a small number of occasions this winter, been set on/attacked by small dogs who have ‘escaped’ (open fences/gates onto roads – what are you thinking humans??) from their yards. As there has been no serious altercation during these attacks, she seemed to shake it off at the time. I remember one owner’s reaction when I mentioned to him that his dog had just attacked us – total indifference.

    It has affected her and she has learned exactly what I don’t want her to do, as yesterday she lunged at a little dog who came running towards her on a flexi lead. So now my dog definitely needs some BAT work this spring around smaller dogs, setting back the many hours, weeks and months of training and progress we have made.

    She definitely has a low genetic ceiling for reactivity though, so it’s up to me to ensure that around any dog, she doesn’t make any silly decisions. However, I’d never blame another dog for my own dog’s social ineptness and we really need to quit labelling dogs anyway and focus on the behaviour observed within the context, regardless of size, breed etc.

    However, it’s the other end of the leash every time isn’t it?

    When are going to insist on educating the pet parents??

  71. Frances says

    Oh so much I agree with! There does seem to be a group of dog owners who consider small dogs “not real dogs”, and are almost amused if their own dogs treat them as prey. If I get the comment “What do you think Fido would make of that? – One bite!”, or “Come along, Rex, you’ve had your breakfast!” once more I am liable to bite the human myself! And the “He’s friendly!” comment, when the dog is an out of control adolescent labrador and I have two dogs under 10 pounds, and a carefully leashed reactive Border Terrier with me tends to get the short response of “She isn’t, and if he gets too close she will bite!”. On the other hand, Sophy’s tricolour colouring reminds some large dogs of Jack Russels, which are notorious for getting their retaliation in first, and they are understandably nervous – the same group of owners is likely to laugh at a big dog that is afraid of a small one. Fortunately Sophy has outstanding dog manners, and knows to give such dogs a wide berth.

    Like others, I’ve found that careful early training to keep paws on the ground was quickly undone by the number of people who waved treats at waist height- I now don’t bother to ask for good behaviour unless frailty or clothing demand it. But I keep telling myself it is only a minority of owners and dogs that are a problem, and there are always the moments when someone says “I don’t usually like small dogs, but…” when you know you have made a breakthrough! But I suppose the bottom line is that small dogs are more easily hurt – accidentally or deliberately – than large ones, and at the same time are less capable of inflicting really serious damage (I am thinking of toy breeds, and not mid size terriers here). Small dogs are far more likely to have been hurt in play, or been run over by a larger dog, or actually been treated as prey – it’s not really surprising that so many of them have learned that it is safer to keep other dogs at a distance.

  72. LisaW says

    Whoa, aside from still wanting to know about dogs’ reactions to Tootsie’s facial features and also how people respond to her when they meet her, the big lesson I’m taking away from this discussion is I never want to leave the house again with my dogs! These stories are truly frightening. So many stories of bad encounters and fights and killing another dog! Yikes.

    I’m sorry, but if you’re in an area with people and dogs and your dog won’t come when called and runs up to a strange dog as Beth described, that’s no different than a “clueless” owner, the results are the same. You don’t know what will happen and when you are out in “public,” your dog is your responsibility. There might be DINO’s (Dogs in Need of Space), there might be fear reactive dogs, there might be people who really just wanted to walk their dog on a leash calmly and do a little work with them. Big or small, we’re responsible for our dog and that includes their ability to respond, come when called, and everything in between without carnage. We used to take our dog-reactive, high-prey-drive dog to very remote places to let her run, and now that we have a shy/anxious dog, it’s hard to find places to walk her that have leashed dogs only signs up everywhere, and yet people somehow don’t think it pertains to their dog and anyway their dog is friendly! Your dog may be friendly, albeit non-responsive, but maybe it’s not about just you and your dog. I prefer the more remote places anyway and now I have another few reasons why.

  73. Trisha says

    To Lisa W: Remember that we are pre-programmed to remember the bad and forget the good! It’s not all a battle field out there, but our brains hold onto negative experiences more than positive ones, because well, it’s the negative ones that could kill us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not demeaning some of the traumas that people have gone through related to other dogs, just pointing out that once we all get started talking about our troubles they can seem to overwhelm everything else.

    To Lis Carey: I probably, in hind sight, should have been more clear in my suggestion to re-read this post. What I took from your first comment was that this post was going to be another “damn those little, badly behaved dogs anyway,” when in many ways I was saying just the opposite. Perhaps that is not what you meant. More importantly, here’s my suggestion to you when someone calls your dogs “overgrown rats.” I’d answer: “Yes! How did you know? They ARE rats actually, they been carefully bred to look like dogs, but they are derived from the white laboratory rat. Isn’t genetic engineering amazing?” You could go on: “I only have to feed them stale cheese, I save SO MUCH on food and vet care…” You get the point. A little humor can go a long way.

    Speaking of humor, here’s my last comment on this thread: The best antidote I know to anger is a good laugh. A friend once counseling me, when I was dealing with a slightly crazy person who had a lot of control over my life, to just laugh every time she said something irritating. Of course, if there had been real aggression involved–either to me from her, or to your dog from another–you have to take protective action. But if there is no real physical threat, try bursting out laughing and saying “I can’t believe you said that!” to someone who calls your dog “not a real dog” because she is small, or your black lab a stupid oaf, because she is not.

    That said, do remember my commitment to keeping this blog thoughtful and respectful. I always admire passion, but in the words of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus from Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”

  74. Beth says

    LisaW, one of the occasions where Jack ran up to someone (who he DID know), I had come home at lunch to check on Maddie, who’d just been spayed. I don’t often come home at lunch. I took her out alone because of the spay, which I don’t normally do. I was struggling with the door because the dog was sore, which I don’t normally do. Jack was anxious and confused and then looked out the wide open door and saw someone he knows well and decided to do a runner, which he never does. (This is a dog who normally stops on his own and looks back at me if a leash drops). And since I was struggling with a sore post-surgery dog, by the time I realized he was past me it was too late. So yes, dogs get loose. Even good dogs get loose. Even well-trained dogs with good recalls get loose. Otherwise, we do hike in state gamelands and the like where dogs ARE allowed off-leash, and on one or two occasions over many years I have accidentally dropped a leash.

    As to parks and unofficial dog play areas and over-restrictive leash laws, that is the topic for a whole other post.

  75. Marjorie says

    I walk in many off leash parks and I find most small dog owners that we come across are more conscious of where their dog is and what they are doing than the large dog owners. I think this is because they have to be to keep their dogs safe. Also, it’s not just physical harm that can be done, but it is the psychiological stress that the dog goes through, big and small. Many owners of bigger dogs that we come across seem to be much more lackadiasical about their dogs interactions and I wonder if this is not because they feel that if there is a scuffle they can pretty much take care of themselves. When there is a big size difference small dog owners cannot take this chance. I have to say that in the many years that I have been walking in off leash parks I have only ever seen one small dog (terrier) cause a problem and yes he caused major problems and started many fights with dogs both big and small. The real problem was his owner who refused to manage him. When he was muzzled he got along well, but his owner would not keep him muzzed or leashed, even though he was under a muzzzle order. However, I cannot tell you the number of problems that I have seen and had personnally with larger dogs whose owner was checked out. I have seen a mastiff knock down an elderly woman (owner of the dog did not apologize or help this person which is amazing considering the same dog knocked down a woman a few weeks earlier and she broke both arms!). I have been knocked off my feet when I stepped in front of a charging ( supposidly friendly) Burmese who was about to slam into my small dogs (he may not attack them, but lrg dog owners need to understand that being slammed into and jumped on is no fun either). I often see and experience large dogs jumping up on people (this is more prevelant than bad small dog/big dog encounters in the park I go to). This is when size really does matter. The root of this problem is not actually the size but the checked out/ignorant/ uneducated owner.

  76. LisaW says

    Beth, of course things happen. I understand that, some things slip beyond our control that is one thing we can count on. I remember someone saying that management works until it doesn’t. I wasn’t thinking about your dog bolting out the front door. What I was responding to was you saying: “In defense of those yelling “It’s ok, he’s friendly!!”: my dogs are generally either leashed or under voice control but have gotten away from me a handful of times . . . And yes I have yelled “It’s ok, he’s friendly/ good with dogs” because if he is charging full speed I want people to know that they should not be afraid of being attacked.”

    I’m sure your dog is friendly but my point was maybe mine is not or maybe a dog rushing her is very anxiety producing. Assurances yelled from afar don’t hold much sway to an anxious pup.

    Thanks, Trisha, I needed that reminder that we do hold onto the negative more than the positive. It reminds me of a joke: The optimist and the pessimist were taking a walk. The pessimist said: “Oh things are bad, so very bad, they can’t get much worse.”

    The optimist said: “Oh, yes they can!”

  77. Beth says

    Lisa, thanks for the clarification and the point I was trying to make— but maybe didn’t— is that it seems a lot of people assume an owner yelling “He’s friendly!” means the owner thinks his dog’s actions at that point in time are perfectly ok, which may be far from the case. And secondly that it’s easy to assume, if we see a dog running right to us, that this is normal allowed behavior for this particular handler/dog combination, which again may not be the case. When we have special needs dogs we tend to get very sensitive and sometimes perceive lack of caring or permissive behavior where it does not exist. If your dog recalls 99.5% of the time when off-leash, one day WILL be that one-half of one percent day. The poor person whose dog is terrified by that approach may very well imagine the dog is poorly trained or the owner clueless.

    True story: we were hiking in an on-leash park and obeying the leash laws when we hit a very narrow, rocky ledge with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop on the other. I have limited mobility in my neck and can’t see my feet very easily. There was no way it was safe for me to make the passage with a leashed dog, and doubling back was out of the question. So, I unclipped the leash and sent Jack ahead and picked my own way through (feeling that life-or-death is more important than a leash law), and wouldn’t you know it, that was exactly when someone came around the curve with two leashed dogs. I yelled for Jack to “wait” but the path was narrow and the dogs right in front of him. They stopped and he did too but they were more or less on top of each other. And yes I yelled “He’s friendly!” Might the other dog owners have thought I was ignoring the law and walking the whole path off-leash? Perhaps, but that was not the case. I’ve also unclipped for stream fording.

  78. LK says

    @ Nic1, yes I continued to use the dog in my breeding program. He was an excellent specimen of his breed and a working dog as well. He was even tempered and polite to all dogs and encountered many smaller dogs who were not rude and acting out a scene from the Exorcist while their owners did nothing. He sired several litters of balanced working dogs after the unfortunate event and never showed any animosity toward other little dogs.

    I consider an attack on my leashed and under control dog to be just that – an attack. As I said, it was unfortunate that her little dog, whom she chose to not have under control, was a victim of it’s actions and her lack of involvement. Like other contributors, I do not want nor choose to have my dogs involved in these sorts of altercations.

    I like and agree with Trisha’s quote from Hill Street Blues.

  79. Kerry M. says

    I have thought of one more example of a small dog privilege. I have a friend with a 4lb chihuahua who I think has near perfect manners even though she can be a growly little thing at times. If the dog ignores her, she ignores the dog. As soon as a new dog gets in her face, she will give a light warning growl. If the dog persists, she will do an air snap. All she wants is to be left alone and I think she asks pretty nicely all things considered.

    My friend hates that her dog does this, but I think it’s just fine. She is a 4 lb dog dealing with my dogs who are 10x-15x her size. If she wants to get the first word in on how she wants to be treated, I’ll definitely support that.

  80. Nic1 says

    LK – thank you for taking the time to reply. Indeed it pays to be careful out there. There are some people who lack empathy for people and their dogs.

    Interesting to note that what you learned from that experience of your dog’s attack, was that you were much more distrustful of small dog owners. Imagine what the owner of the dead dog learned? Exactly the same in reverse and worse, quite possibly. That large dogs can and will kill small dogs and their owners don’t try to stop it. Of course, neither of these perceptions are accurate and should be extrapolated. But it’s understandable to feel that way after such an awful encounter (neurobiology at work). It’s exactly how dogs learn after all but having the ability to rationalise and moralise separates us from our dogs and allows us to think it through for what it is. We seem to be happy to attach labels to dogs and people after we have bad experiences don’t we? Guilty too! IS it human nature to do this? It’s certainly not helpful.

    No sane person relishes an attack by a strange dog, but size matters when it comes to aggression. It could be that you and your dog were the victims of an uneducated and thoughtless owner as opposed to being attacked by a little doggy monster. Quite possibly well meaning, but totally naive or ignorant. I think it’s helpful to take the lead when you are clearly more knowledgeable than people and step in and step up. Act like a responsible adult, as opposed to a helpless victim. None of us like dog space invaders, or ‘clueless’ owners. I hate it, having spent a lot of time and money trying to help my dog make better decisions around other dogs. When this happens (which it does and will do in the future), we relapse a bit and go back a few paces….my dog isn’t a prize winning pedigree though, she’s an adopted mutt, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love her any less because of it. And if another dog killed her for making a rubbish decision, I’d be heartbroken at my loss because I would have let her down and perhaps caused very real problems for someone else and their dog.

    Perhaps the owner in your situation didn’t intervene because they had an amygdala hijack and literally froze with fear, overcome with emotion and unable to rationalise? Perhaps the owner didn’t care about the dog, hence allowing the dog to attack yours? Perhaps there was not enough time for anyone to intervene, as there often isn’t in dog fights or predatory attacks, and it was all over in flash? I guess I could needlessly speculate but your post concerned me deeply because it honestly came across as a thoughtless boast, as opposed to a compassionate confession. That the death of that dog was somehow deserved.

  81. LisaW says

    Thanks for the reply, Beth. I know that assumptions are easy to jump to, and I probably would have assumed you and your dog hiked the paths off-leash when really you were making a decision based on safety and ability. I will try (and I admit it’s not always easy) to look at the many angles of the situation at hand when possible. I think it is a good goal to try and walk a mile in another dog’s paws.

  82. Donna in VA says

    I would allow a small dog to sleep on the bed w/ us. (We allow the cat to sleep on the bed at night.)

    However I would not want a non-small dog sleeping in the bed at night – just too disturbing. My 30 lb Sheltie sleeps on the floor in his own bed or in a chair in the bedroom. He does sleep on the people bed in the daytime when we are away.

    That was really the only difference I came up with.

  83. Robin Jackson says

    I’m a physically fragile person. I’m a partial quad, wheelchair dependent, with limited hand control. Honestly I don’t care how “friendly” your dog is, or what size he is–if he’s going to make uninvited physical contact with me, I’m at risk.

    If someone is yelling, “Charlie, Come”–and the dog turns and goes back to them, that’s excellent. If someone is yelling, “Drop” or “Leave it” and again the dog stops approaching me, again, I’m all for that.

    Yellng “He’s friendly” does nothing for me.

    If I’m sitting by a bench in the park and someone passes by with a nicely mannered dog and says, “He’s friendly, would you like to say hello?” I can decline, also politely, usually with a comment about what nice manners he has.

    But if he’s running straight at me, the only shouts I want to hear are the ones that stop the charge. Anything else is irrelevant to me.

    Dogs will be dogs, and even the best behaved may get out accidentally. I understand. But I’m much more reassured by someone who is trying to get the dog to stop running at me. Yelling “He’s friendly” when a dog is charging uninvited just indicates to me that he may be friendly, but he’s also not fully trained. It is not reassuring.

    Just a different perspective. I’ve had both big dogs and small ones, like them all, they all sleep on the bed. :) I
    train them with a Release cue, which allows them to jump on a person if invited to do so. But until I give the Release, it’s four on the floor regardless of what someone else is encouraging them to do.

    The dogs seem fine with it. They just like to know what the rules are. But as long as I’m consistent, so are they.

  84. Kat says

    I’m lucky where I live, there are more people who do get it than who don’t. Sadly, though, the ones who really don’t get it are the ones that stand out most starkly in memory. I’m more likely to recall the Bichon whose person was highly offended when Ranger wanted nothing to do with her little brat who was relentlessly pursuing Ranger and incessantly yapping at him than I am the lovely Yorkie whose person asked if it would be OK for her little guy to say hello to Ranger and approached slowly and confidently for a very polite greeting. The person who laughed as their pair of Yorkies chased and harassed Ranger all over the dog park despite his repeated indications that he did not want any conflict leaps to mind more quickly than the person who asked if Ranger and his Bernese pal, both roughhousing a bit on leash, could be stopped for a moment while she retrieved her Chihuahua cross that was trying to mix it up with the big dogs. All three dogs knew each other and the Chi had played with each of the others individually but we all understood that he was at a lot more risk trying to play with both big dogs as they played together than he was one on one with either of them. It’s not all little dogs being the unpleasant ones in memory though. The extremely rude Great Dane, twice Ranger’s size, who relentlessly pursued Ranger around the park trying to pin him against the fence and mount him stands out more immediately in memory than does the Boerbel who played nicely and self-handicapped appropriately. And sadly all the polite dogs and people who have asked before approaching for a meet and greet are overshadowed by the ill-mannered 100lb beast that charged up and slammed into Ranger as if that were somehow an appropriate greeting.

    Manners are really the key; manners matter much more than size. If everyone and their dog exhibited basic manners and people were all knowledgeable about canine body language and behavior the world would be a much better place. It doesn’t matter if your dog is big or small or somewhere in between, knowing your dog, understanding your dog, and managing your dog in ways that respects and considers others and their dogs makes us all safer.

  85. LK says

    Nic1 – I find your comment ” large dogs can and will kill small dogs and their owners don’t try to stop it” interesting. Are you implying that because I was the owner of the larger dog that the onus was on me to separate the dogs?

    To me it sounds as though you think my dog was guilty of murder and that I had no compassion for the owner of the dog that died. That is not true. I was sorry for her loss. I was sorry that she hadn’t chosen to keep her dog safely leashed so that it couldn’t charge and attack my dog. I was sorry I couldn’t separate them. I was sorry my boy was bleeding, in pain and distressed. Thinking whether or not it was a “deserved death” is just that – thinking. Something that happens after the fact. In that fatal moment, size mattered. Feeling sorry afterward doesn’t change the event.

    I posted the story to point out that size matters and that even the most even tempered animals will react like animals. I think that as their owners (guardians or friends is a term I prefer because I consider my dogs to be family members and not mere property) need to assume stewardship of them in the complex and legal society in which we live. Not everyone can (or will) read their dog accurately. I appreciate the comments of many posters here who have described dog owners at the dog park who were tuned out rather than supervising their dogs. Things happen – quickly.

    From personal experience I have learned to take encounters with all dogs, regardless of size, for how they appear in the moment. When someone calls out “my dog is friendly” that is my clue to watch their dog for behavioral clues as to the dog’s actual demeanor in that moment. If I meet them again today I am still watching and not assuming that today will be similar to yesterday.

    Kat said it beautifully. “It doesn’t matter if your dog is big or small or somewhere in between, knowing your dog, understanding your dog, and managing your dog in ways that respects and considers others and their dogs makes us all safer.”

  86. Beth says

    Lisa, thank you and I too am often guilty of assuming the snapshot I see of a dog is typical of how that dog behaves. But then again if you live in a neighborhood with a dog and you only see it do something once, chances are that is atypical. If you see that dog repeat the behavior, it’s the norm.

    We have an out-of-the-way area in our local park that is an “unofficial’ dog park. In nice weather, mine are off leash for at least a few minutes several times a week. Jack is 7, Maddie is 9. And one time in all that time, Jack barged right up to two leashed dogs uninvited. Usually “wait” and then “come” takes him back to me, and if not “leave it” will at least get him to leave the dog alone. But one time he just blew me off. And yes, one of the dogs was very shy and kept trying to hide behind its owner. I did assure them that he wouldn’t hurt them and did apologize profusely and added something about him just being a jerk. When I did round him up, he also wouldn’t do a down for me so he got put in the house while me and my husband and Maddie went for a nice long walk. Then I brought him out alone and we did tons of downs and waits and stays and comes and sits and remedial work rewarded with play. A much chastened Jack remembered his manners after that. What made him totally forget them? Who knows.

    I felt really bad because he scared the other dog. I wouldn’t blame the owners for thinking me and my dog were ill-behaved, or my dog lacked the training to be off-leash. The truth is we have done agility and have hours and hours of off-leash training, and I generally consider the leash to be mostly for my dog’s protection around traffic and out of respect for leash laws. But I don’t think there is a dog on the planet who has never put a paw wrong (I just watched a seeing eye dog in the department store with his head sideways and nose in the air sniffing at the candy counter!). Big or small, even the best of dogs will occasionally have a “der” moment, just as the best of us have our moments of idiocy. I remember well Trisha’s story of her wonderful Luke running away from home when workers were at the house. There are no perfect dogs and no perfect handlers.

  87. says

    It’s really fitting that you write about this because my mom and I just had this conversation last week.
    Her dog is (admittedly) spoiled rotten. Not that Lola & Rio (my pups) are not, but they do not get away with half of the stuff that my mother’s dog does. And she, like you, had admitted that because of his size, it doesn’t matter as much. Is it fair, not really, but like you said – the bad habits that he has hardly get noticed as they would if he were 50 lbs heavier. Thanks for posting – great read.

  88. diane says

    Good dogs should get privileges, big or small. It’s a reward for good manners! It’s only problematic if those privileges get piled on top of poor behavior. My dog (big) gets lots of privileges, including off leash walking through our neighborhood (neighbors all know him)…..but if I see he’s not quite paying attention to my “wait” commands, or is stepping into the street slightly before my heel command, then it’s “sorry, Pal, leash time”. It’s also leash time if I see children, someone who is not familiar with him, or anyone who may be worried about seeing a large dog off leash. You have to watch your dog and manage the situations. Some of my other dogs, as much as I loved them, wouldn’t (couldn’t and shouldn’t) receive this type of privilege – but they would still get some type of indulgence fitting to them! It’s fun to make them happy!

  89. HFR says

    I have bomb-proof friendly dogs and I walk with them off-leash a lot. I realized the other day how adept I’ve become at reading other people’s body language from far away. If they have a dog and it’s on-leash, I will automatically leash or hold my dogs’ collars. It doesn’t matter that I know my dogs will not be a threat (even if their dog is aggressive, I know my dogs will not engage), what matters is that the other person may be afraid. It’s called being polite. It’s a courtesy. If the other person tenses up or pulls their dog closer, or even slightly moves to the side, I know we should be cautious. Of course, sometimes people just stop cold and then you know to stay clear.
    Once I’m close enough to ask, I’ll say “Is your dog okay with other dogs?” Sometimes I get a yes and then I relax the leashes and let them say hello or, more likely, I get a no (if they are on leash in this area, chance are they are either runners or dog aggressive), then I pull my dogs away from theirs and pass by calmly.
    If I see a person walking their dog off leash, I am pretty confident their dog is okay with other dogs and I leave my dogs to greet if they want to. Most of the time, my sporting dog will just keep searching for squirrels and my older will just saunter past without even a sniff. I have to say I am rarely wrong about this assumption.
    The phrase that scares me more than “He/she’s friendly!” is “Be nice”…When I lived in a metropolitan city and all dogs were on leash on the sidewalks, every time someone would tell their dogs to “Be nice”, you could bet they wouldn’t be. I could never understand why you would let your dog approach another dog if you have to ask them to “Be nice” since that usually means they haven’t been previously.
    Oh well…dog owners, can’t live with ’em, can’t leave them by the side of the road :-)

  90. Christina says

    Lots of interesting comments and strong emotions here. I think “em” nailed it in her comments, and I don’t have much to add, other than my own experience. I have an 80-lb Boxer and a 10-lb Chi-Boston mix, and I do treat them differently, in the sense that I have different priorities in their training. Walking with a loose leash is a high-priority behavior for my Boxer-boy – I simply could not walk him if he was a puller – and I trained that behavior consistently since he was a puppy. My Chi is “drive-y” and leash reactive and often pulls on the leash (there goes a squirrel-why is that dog barking-who’s that nice person over there-I need to get to that smell . . . ). We work on it, but it’s not the end of the world if she pulls. I simply walk her in a harness. In other words, I choose management over training in this situation because of her small size. She also jumps up on the couch uninvited, and will walk across the back of the couch or jump from armchair to sofa to get to a particular lap. I could train her not to do that behavior, but it’s not an issue in my house, so I haven’t. The Boxer is allowed on the couch, but by politely climbing into an empty spot, not by leaping onto someone’s lap. With him, I trained calm indoor behavior since the first day because it was necessary due to his size.

    On the other hand, she is a “velcro dog” and always underfoot. Inside the house, she is never more than a few feet away from me. If I stand up, she jumps up; up the stairs, down the stairs, from one room to another, there she is; if I don’t let her in, she stands in front of the bathroom door waiting to trip me on my way out. For her safety and my sanity, she has a “go to your bed” command. With the Boxer, who can most often be found curled up on the couch ignoring the hustle bustle, it has never been an issue, and therefore not a priority. (Lest you think she’s an untrained brat: she has an excellent recall, is remarkably tolerant of all sorts of people and dogs looming over her and touching her, and is my talented and well-trained Agility partner.)

    So, my conclusion is that instead of small dog privileges (small dogs are allowed to do some behaviors that big dogs are not allowed to do), there are big dog priorities (natural dog behaviors that big dogs must be trained not to do for safety and comfort).

  91. Milissa says

    So wish I had time to read all of the responses, but I read your responses Dr. McConnell, and just have to say that I am always amazed by your rationality and reason in the face of high emotions! You put so simply and eloquently what really needed to be said! Respect for individuality and respect for each other are wonderful things! Thank you for being you!

  92. Mihaela Onciu says

    I have read all the entries and have recognized feelings that I experienced more than once, probably like pretty much anyone that takes their dogs out for a walk in a public place or park nowadays. I think that, at the end of the day, and to put it in the words of two great masters, “Don’t Shoot The Dog”, because the problem is, in most cases, at “The Other End of the Leash”! In most cases, the conflicts that we run into are a result of the owners not restraining their dogs (large or small) appropriately, failing to recognize signs of aggressive behavior given by their dogs (often even finding those humorous!), not worrying too much about a little dog getting manners, because they can just pick them up if they don’t go when asked, not realizing how difficult untrained large dogs can be when they reach full size, until they have actually reached it! It would be so wonderful if national TV networks would run more shows with people like Trisha or Victoria Stillwell, and less of Cesar Milan (here, I said it!). After all, there are millions of dogs around that we have to share the planet with! Should we start a petition?

  93. Nic1 says

    Interesting! Brachycephalic dogs, such as Pugs and some CKCS to a certain extent, don’t seem to experience as many dog- dog behavioural issues yet, I would have thought that other dogs would find their faces difficult to read. Maybe why Willie ‘ignores’ Tootsie? But she is in no way extreme in this regard is she? Maybe her eyebrows prevent good eye signalling? Just guessing of course but Pugs, Cavs and the like seem to have been generally bred with sociable temperaments and low re activity in mind which no doubt helps their sociability, but I often wonder how the more extreme brachy dogs ‘feel’ if they are stressed or uncomfortable and their signals and body language is misread or ignored? Not that they are self aware of course, but are they more likely to be the dog’s that ‘go off without warning’ perhaps?

    Tootsie’s before and after pictures demonstrate just how powerful our responses are in this regard. I wonder if it could be replicated using fake eyebrows on stuffed dogs and see how they respond?! :)

  94. Ben says

    @Mihaela: Hear, hear! But I don’t know how much a petition would help when the majority of people are vastly undereducated.

  95. Nic1 says

    Oh shoot! My post should have gone in Tootsie’s eyebrow discussion thread! Sorry folks! I’m blaming the computer. 😉

  96. says

    I don’t care what privledges the dog has, or how spoiled he is, or how big he is. As long as he’s either under control or well mannered.

    However the tiny dogs especially scare me when they charge my giant dog in an aggressive manner. Not because I’m especially worried about what they’ll do to him. He’s a Tibetan Mastiff, not only is he big enough that its hard for them to cause serious damage, but his coat is thick enough he probly won’t even notice them knawing on his ankles. They scare me because if they DO do something that causes him to defend himself they will likely not survive the experience. And its inevitable that my giant dog will be blamed for that interaction, regardless of which dog started it.

    Unfortunetly I live in an area where, dispite strict leash laws, alot of people allow their dogs to run loose with the mistaken belief that their large acreage means their dog will stay at home. I find this particularly stupid since we have very large coyotes here who DO hunt through the backyards. But its even more stupid when the dog in question is an elderly half blind apparently toothless chi who comes barraling out of his yard, screaming, at me and my giant dog as we walk by on the other side of the road. Only to then stop, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD, to freeze and shiver….till we attempted to pass by, at which point the screaming began again. I attempted to yell for the owner to come get their dog, with no result. Apparently this dog had been left outside with no supervision or even the “protection” of a fence. After several minutes of standoff I finally turned us around and headed home. Not because I thought the chi was a danger to us, but because I couldn’t stand to be the cause of his distress and maybe if we went away he’d stop cowering in the middle of the road!

    I’ve seen some incredibly well trained and mannered toy breeds. And I’ve seen some horribly mannered and badly handled giant breeds. I really don’t care what size the dog is, or what he’s allowed to do at home. Just keep him under controll for his sake!

  97. Mary Brandstetter says

    Being an owner of large dogs, I heartily object to SOME small dog privileges. From the dog’s perspective an attack is an attack regardless of the size of the dog attacking. It takes a very stable and mature dog to not respond to an attack even when their life isn’t in danger.

    I would also say that the owner’s ability to defend a large dog who is under attack from a small dog is important. My dogs know that I have their backs and will let me respond appropriately rather than counter the small dog attack.

    This has happened to me many times both off and on leash. At some point my dogs will lose patience and counter the attack – especially as they get older and less patient.

    Small dogs and and should have privileges like lap time that large dogs cannot have. That’s why so many people love them. But they should be held to the same behavior standards as every other dog. It’s not cute when a small dog attacks. It’s dangerous to that animal because other dogs won’t necessarily have the restraint that the small dog’s life depends on.

  98. Rebecca Rice says

    I have both a 56 pound greyhound (terribly shy) and a 9 and a half pound rat terrier (timid, but also a terrier with a terrier personality). And they are very different dogs, and get treated differently. When I first got the terrier, a little stray I found on the road, she was extremely leas reactive. The sight or sound of another dog would have her lunging and barking at the end of the leash. Which was an issue, since I live at the end of cul-de-sac lined with dogs that tend to be fence chargers. With a lot of work and desensitization, she is now willing to walk quietly past dogs for the most part. The two scenarios where there are still problems are the dogs that snark at her first, and some small dogs. In the first case I can understand where she’s coming from… when you are tiny, and some other dog is barking at you, you NEED to bluff big in order to keep from getting injured. I do try and distract and remove her from the situation, and to short-circuit the situation in the first place, but I am not going to blame her for talking back to another dog. But it’s one reason I don’t let her off-leash except in highly controlled situations, since I know that a big dog could easily kill her. The issue with small dogs is that she wants to play with dogs her size (which we don’t see all that often), but those are mostly toy breeds and they tend to get overwhelmed by a terrier’s intensity. So I work hard on keeping her meetings with other dogs short and calm, so that everyone stays happy.

    And yes, living with a small dog will change your perspective on the world, and make you realize why they can (somewhat legitimately) be very defensive dogs. I remember walking with Pixie across a field one day, and wondering what in the world was causing her to start and stop so much, since she is normally very good at loose-leash walking. When I started watching her, I realized that the grass I was so blithely walking through was actually chest deep on her, which was forcing her to have to jump through it, much like you do when walking in deep water. Since then, I try to keep an eye out for shorter grass, something I never even thought of with the greyhound. I am also reminded of how big the world must seem to her whenever I watch her cross the street, and notice that quite often the curb is taller than she is. Imagine that stepping off and onto the sidewalk involved a difference of 4 feet, and you start to get an idea of how overwhelming our world must seem sometimes. On the flip side, she has no qualms with chasing off an egret, who is easily 3-4 times as tall as she is. But just the sound of an owl is enough to make her nervous. So it is a struggle, trying to determine how much freedom to give her, and how much to protect her.

    Her manners have gotten much better since I have been working with her. The one thing I go back and forth on is jumping up. On the one hand, it is incredibly cute when she has her feet on my thigh and is looking up at me with her little tail wagging and her ears up. And that gets her head to mid-thigh, which is easier on the back than when she is on all fours. On the other hand, it can be annoying when she is continuously jumping up, and it does leave scratches sometimes. So I am trying to get her to do “restrained jumping”, where she jumps but isn’t all wild and crazy. And yes, EVERYONE she meets rewards her for jumping (either with treats or just by paying her attention), including dog trainers! She is just incredibly cute when she does it, so it’s almost impossible not to when the oxytocin starts flowing.

  99. Kimberley Heaphy says

    I’m the owner of two 12-pound dogs and I don’t allow any excess privileges. I say excess privileges because they are allowed on my lap and allowed on the furniture which would not likely happen had they been 120 pounds vs their current 12 pound weight. Am still working on not jumping on visitors and they both have a fear-based agression towards other dogs (thanks to a dog park incident) and as a result we are working on correcting that and reconditioning the dogs as well. No excess barking is allowed, they are well mannered and respond to commands. I wanted a dog that I could take almost anywhere and they would be welcomed. We continue to work towards that goal and hopefully eventually it will be reached. Just because they are small does not give them the right to be nuisance or ill behaved.

  100. CC says

    Hi Patricia. I have a dog that is reactive to approaching skateboards and rollerbladers. I’ve been trying to work on it by treating him to have a positive association with it (before he reacts, of course). However, this morning …. he was tied up outside the coffee shop and a skateboard whizzed past, right behind him. He didn’t even so much as flinch!

    Is it possible he’s reactive in an attempt to protect me? (He’s a Cattle Dog/BC mix so it’s common with the breeds) The reactivity started after he and I were almost hit by a rollerblader zipping by with a hockey stick in his hand. I have noticed he’s becoming a little bolder on-leash in terms of growling or barking when he’s meeting a new dog on leash.

    Any suggestions you could offer would be great!

  101. Alyssa says

    In most situations, my rule is this; if the big dogs can’t do it, neither can the little… I have both, a staffy and a yorky mix… yep you heard that correctly 😉 the staffy was the one to teach my yorky how to be appropriate around other dogs… my small dog and I are a work in progress as she is quite leash reactive and the result of one of those cutesy owners who believe it is ok for their small dog to nip… jump… lunge at whatever she likes. It has taken me a long time to get her where she is and I believe it comes down not only to training, but consistency. The staf is also a service dog, so a really good insentive to have boundaries across the board. Both my dogs play in the same dog park (the yorky can most certainly hold her own if needed)

    My staf has been attacked by yippy small dogs, I, who have vision impairment among other disabilities, really do not appreciate having to save my very docile, bomb-proof dog from a dog who is ill-mannered… and I don’t care what their size. Similarly, I am working on my little dog not being one of those small dogs as I believe that it is my responsibility to counter-condition and minimise that behaviour as much as possible. I do have one of those carry bags for the little dog, it gets used when I *need it* not when I want to accesserise… and definitely not in dog/dog situations… her best and safest option, in my view, is to have all four feet on the ground.

    As for activities, yes I do different ones with each dog, the staf loves her ball, the yorky loves the agility ramps and jumps. She also thinks that german shepherds are lovely fluffy things to hide in 😛 whereas the staf would rather engage them in a game of tug. One thing I will say is that I can walk both as the little yorky *loves* to walk and does not consistently insist on being picked up… thank dog for that :)

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