Are Large Dogs Better Behaved than Small Ones?

Most of the dogs I’ve had in my adult years have been of the large breed, Labradors and Goldens. But, when I was in graduate school, I adopted Yodel, a dog who weighed† less than 10 pounds. Yodel was a lot of personality in a small package. I knew nothing about dog behavior at the time and just thought he had some crazy habits that were due to his unknown history. When he barked at every bald man wearing glasses (including my then boyfriend), I assumed he had been abused by a look-alike man. I ended up joking about his strange behaviors with my friends and laughed them off.

Oh, if I only knew then, what I know now. He, more than likely, wasn’t abused by a bald man with poor eyesight. He just wasn’t exposed to a hairless, near-sighted man as a young pup while being rewarded for calm behavior. And, it really wasn’t so funny when he showed his teeth to large dogs. I just didn’t know he was saying, “Keep away, I’m not comfortable with you in my space.”

I didn’t start dog training until I adopted my Golden, Byron, in 2000. I just instinctively knew that a 70 pound dog wouldn’t fit into my household without good training. I didn’t even think of that possibility with Yodel.

Back then, I fit right into the demographic of people observed in a recent research study by Applied Animal Behavior Science. The study questioned if a possible cause of unfavorable behavior in small dogs is due to poor to no training, inconsistency in the owner’s behavior and lack of engagement in shared activities. While I loved Yodel and thought I took good care of him at the time, our only shared activity was leashed walks together and him lying by my side while I played the piano. As for consistency, I didn’t even know then that dogs needed constancy and stability.

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The research study also tested whether associations between the owner’s and the dog’s behavior in smaller dogs differ from those in larger dogs.

Test results from the research study comparing small dogs to large dogs showed:

  • Small dogs are seen as less obedient, more aggressive and excitable
  • Small dogs are seen as more anxious and fearful
  • Small dog owners are more inconsistent in interactions with their dogs
  • Small dogs owners engage less in training and play activities than large dog owners
  • More consistent owner behavior with more frequent engagement in training and play resulted in better obedience in small dogs.

I am not at all surprised that with both small and large dogs, more frequent use of punishment (leash-jerking, scolding, hitting, shaking, alpha-rolls) was associated with increased aggression and excitability. And unwanted behavior was replaced with calm, desired behavior when reward-based training was implemented.

The conclusion of the research study stated:

“We conclude that smaller dog owners could significantly improve obedience in their dogs by being more consistent in interactions and engaging regularly in play and training activities with them. Behavioural problems could be reduced by avoiding habits of punishment that might reinforce fear or fear-related aggression.”

Personally, way back in grad school, my behavior towards my small dog varied drastically to my current behavior with my large dogs. However, with a wealth of increased knowledge about dog behavior now, if I ever adopt a small dog again, I believe I would create a well-behaved dog who enjoys a variety of activities with me.

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Are you looking for fun activities to enjoy with your small dog? Here are some ideas of activities to engage in together:

Of course, these are also great activities to enjoy with your medium and large dogs.

What do you think? Are large dogs better behaved than small ones? Thanks for participating in our poll below and sharing your experiences in a comment.

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119 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Crystal G.
Crystal G1 years ago

I've dealt with both large and small dogs. With small pets, you have to understand how HUGE everything is to them. Being feisty is there way of protecting themselves. The good part is that you DO want potential danger to stay away. the bad is that it can get out of hand. Both are charming and wonderful in their own ways. And both can easily enough be guided with a gentle but, firm hand.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

I have a large dog (mine) and a chihuahua (his)! My large dog has learned house and leash manners and the chihuahua has the attention span of a gnat. She gets cute points but has all the negative points listed for small dogs. I will stick to large dogs.

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Philip Watling
Philip Watling2 years ago

My neighbour has a Rottweiler and due to his new job I give her her lunchtime walk. She is big, bulky and can look kinda menacing... She is sooooooo cute :P

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Caroline d.
Caroline d2 years ago

Thank you for sharing this article that I save as a pdf because I'm ill and exhausted.
Be all blessed as all your loved ones.
Animals always included !

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Caroline d.
Caroline d2 years ago

Thank you for sharing this article that I save as a pdf because I'm ill and exhausted.
Be all blessed as all your loved ones.
Animals always included !

SEND
Caroline d.
Caroline d2 years ago

Thank you for sharing this article that I save as a pdf because I'm ill and exhausted.
Be all blessed as all your loved ones.
Animals always included !

SEND
Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants2 years ago

What about large ants?

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Karen Martinez
Karen Martinez2 years ago

Two and Four legged children need to know the parameters and have consistency with rules. There isn't a lot of difference between big and small in either species.

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Spencer Young
Spencer Young2 years ago

Most all dogs are capable of living in a harmonic and well behaved manner. They owner needs to be patient,firm,consistent though.

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