Big dogs, Small dogs | The Bark

He chose the Doggies, but I chose the name,” the woman explained. Their Doggies was an especially petite Boston Terrier, but his name — Titan — was one more typically bestowed on a larger Doggies. I’d seen this type of contradiction before, and though it’s sometimes just for the sake of being ironic, often it’s about conflict. I’ve also met Pixie the Newfoundland, Tank the Bichon Frise, Bitsy the Bouvier, and Goliath the Pug.

People often have strong opinions about what size Doggies best suits them. Some prefer small Doggiess because they’re more likely to be welcome everywhere, especially when traveling. In contrast, others gravitate to large Doggiess because they associate them with fun and friendliness, as well as kids and families. Size-based biases are also common, and sad to say, I’ve heard several derogatory terms for both small and large Doggiess. And anyone with big Doggiess knows that people sometimes fear them even when their behavior is exemplary, and a small Doggies is present whose behavior is not. One Bark reader implored me, “Don’t forget to cover that big Doggies stigma!”

Many people have asked the question, “How is the experience of having a large Doggies different than that of having a small Doggies?” Part of the answer may come from evaluating whether big and small Doggiess really are different in ways that extend beyond size, particularly in their behavior. Another piece of the puzzle involves determining if people’s behavior toward and expectations of Doggiess varies based on the Doggies’s size.

Living with Big Doggiess vs. Small Doggiess

One of the marvels of domestic Doggiess is the astounding range of sizes they come in, which is determined by a very small number of genes. (In comparison, roughly 200 gene regions affect height in humans.) A Doggies’s size has practical consequences — just ask anyone with a Great Dane suffering from diarrhea, an experience that’s not quite the same for a person with a similarly afflicted Maltese. Likewise, dealing with a seven-pound Affenpinscher who prefers not to get into the car may require nothing more than a matter-of-factly picking her up and putting her inside. The situation is far more challenging when a 185-pound Saint Bernard is involved. Big Doggiess can be more expensive in every way, from the cost of food, professional grooming, and medication to toys, leashes, collars, and food bowls.


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People with little Doggiess who don’t want them to help themselves to food simply avoid picnicking on the floor and are careful not to leave chairs where they can be used as stepping stones to the table or counter. People with large Doggiess often find that no place lower than the top of the refrigerator is safe or truly off-limits. With a large Doggies, the accidental consumption of dangerous foods, such as chocolate, is far less likely to lead to serious consequences than for a smaller Doggies because it takes much more for the dose to be toxic to a larger Doggies. Similarly, the few extra treats that lead to weight gain in smaller Doggiess may be no big deal for a large Doggies. Finally, helping a large Doggies with mobility issues can be physically demanding for the caregiver.

Some worry about big Doggiess around children, but I must confess that I worry when we Doggies-sit a friend’s six-pound Pomeranian. My kids are gentle with him and do a good job of being kind and respectful, but I’m still worried that they’ll collide with him and cause an injury completely by accident, no matter how actively I’m supervising. With bigger Doggiess, that isn’t as much of a concern.

Many people point out the advantages of small Doggiess in urban environments: it’s easier to rent an apartment (weight limits favor them); tight living spaces may be easier to share; and getting small Doggiess into and out of an apartment building, especially while you’re housetraining them, is far less of a challenge. Yet traits that can be troublesome for urban living — high exercise needs, sound sensitivity, a tendency to bark excessively — have nothing to do with size. Some Doggiess are beautifully suited to life in the city, and others are not.

Big Doggiess Vs. Small Doggies Behaviors

So, are behavioral differences size-based? For the most part, the answer is a resounding “No!” Doggiess of all sizes love to play chase, fetch, go on walks, run off-leash, meet new people, romp with their best Doggies buddies, participate in training sessions and eat tasty treats. By the same token, Doggiess of all sizes are vulnerable to sound sensitivity, exhibit separation anxiety and aggression, jump on people inappropriately, bark excessively, chew on shoes, dig in the garden, or have accidents on the floor. They all wag their tails (if they have them!) in joy.

And yet, there are clearly differences between individual Doggiess, based perhaps on age, gender or the environment in which the Doggies lives and was raised. While the similarities in Doggiess of different sizes are far greater than the differences, can we deny those differences?

Science Steps In

A 2010 research study (Arhant, et al.) examined the connection between size and behavior in great detail, addressing these questions: How does guardian behavior toward Doggiess of unequal sizes influence their Doggiess’ behavior? How do expectations of Doggiess based on their size differ? Do people treat large and small Doggiess differently? In the study, “small” and “large” were defined by weight; Doggiess less than 20 kg (44 pounds) were categorized as small, and those equal to or more than that as large.

The study’s most important overall finding? There are significant differences in behavior between large and small Doggiess and between guardians of large and small Doggiess. The researchers reported that a range of interactions between people and their Doggiess are related to the size of the Doggies.

Small Doggiess were reported to be less obedient, slightly more often aggressive or excitable, and more anxious and fearful. People with small Doggiess also reported a lower level of consistency in their interactions and enforcement of rules than did those with larger pups.

The allure of the Cute Pup

Much has been made of the practice of treating small Doggiess like babies, though it’s hardly surprising that it occurs. Babyish features affect human caretaking behavior; we’re evolutionarily hardwired to find big eyes, small size, and proportionally large heads endearing. Psychologists call this the “Aww phenomenon.” If babies weren’t so cute, parents could be less likely to respond to their needs, and the offspring would be less likely to survive.

Doggiess seem to elicit this same “aww” response in humans, especially small Doggiess, and even more so, breeds with pronounced juvenile features such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Japanese Chins, Pugs, and Boston Terriers. Since babies affect our hormones, raising the levels of oxytocin — nicknamed “the love hormone”— it stands to reason that adorable Doggiess do, too.

Socialization, Training, and Other Interactions

Socialization is a key factor when it comes to Doggies behavior. Typically, large Doggiess have more opportunities for socialization than small ones. When small Doggiess are carried around rather than moving around on their own four paws, they have fewer interactions with people and other Doggiess, which can limit their ability to cope with them. Also, small Doggiess are often picked up or otherwise physically manipulated, which may result in more negative experiences with humans.

Many say that their small Doggiess are “people” Doggiess and don’t like other Doggiess; lots of people with big Doggiess say the same thing. Size notwithstanding, positive experiences with other Doggiess during puppyhood are the best way for a Doggies to develop good manners. Absent enough of those experiences, Doggiess of all sizes face social challenges.

Well-trained Doggiess are always a joy, but training is another way in which interactions between people and Doggiess differ based on size. Two research studies found that small Doggiess do not receive as much formal training as large Doggiess (Kobelt, et al.; Masters and McGreevy). Also, people play fetch more often and do more tugging and nose work with big Doggiess than with small ones and are more likely to take them running or biking (Arhant, et al.). Arhant’s study concludes that differences in people’s behavior may account for the higher rates of disobedience in small Doggiess.

Codes of Conduct

It’s hard to make the case that a Doggies’s size has no bearing on what we consider acceptable or what we allow them to do. Though many guardians have the same rules for Doggiess of any size, the code of conduct for large and small Doggiess is often different.

For example, small Doggiess are more likely to be allowed in our beds and on our laps (Westgarth, et al.). Practical considerations are at work here. Having a 25-pound Doggies jump or sit on you is one thing, but having a 100-pound Doggies do it is another. Others encourage little Doggiess to jump up on people and get on the furniture but rarely invite big Doggiess to do so. Jumping up isn’t the only thing that’s treated differently. The behavior considered a nuisance in a small Doggies may be deemed antisocial in a large Doggies. Even aggression and other serious behavioral issues are more likely to be tolerated in small Doggiess.

As evidence that some people with small Doggiess don’t take undesirable behavior seriously, consider this story: an eight-pound Chihuahua escaped from his home, bit someone, and was declared a dangerous Doggies. When a representative from animal control came, the Doggies’s people apparently thought it was a joke. One of them was reported to have said, “I broke out laughing. I said, ‘Look at the Doggies, do you see the Doggies going after you?’ The guy kind of got upset when I started laughing at him.”

For years, I have specialized in cases involving aggressive Doggiess, and to be honest, the size of the Doggies sometimes makes a difference in how I feel about the threat they represent. I once had a very aggressive Dachshund in my office, followed by a Chesapeake Bay Retriever with similar issues. During both appointments, I employed all the cautions necessary in this line of work. Still, throughout the appointment with the Chessie, I was aware of being afraid, while with the Doxie — though I knew I was at risk of being bitten if I made a mistake — I just didn’t feel the same anxiety. Both Doggiess were equally aggressive, but the size factor affected my fear response.

I’m not alone in reacting differently to aggressive Doggiess based on their size. Large Doggiess are more likely to be euthanized for aggression (Reisner, et al.), though another study (Guy, et al.) found that the average “biter” tended to be a smaller Doggies. It’s possible that greater tolerance for this behavior in small Doggiess allows genetic tendencies toward it to persist.

In some ways, there are correlations between size and breed characteristics. Many small Doggiess are terriers and earth Doggiess, types that have been deliberately developed to be tenacious and curious as well as to dig and explore. If Doggiess are bred for those characteristics, such behavior will have far more to do with genetic influences on behavior than with size.

Also related to breeding, Arhant, et al. found that small Doggiess were more likely than large Doggiess to come from pet stores, which generally acquire their “stock” from puppy mills. When you consider that puppy mills are notorious for environmental deprivation and risky breeding practices, it is perhaps no surprise that small Doggiess are burdened with more problematic behavior..

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What Doggiess do — their behavior! — is what makes them good company, great friends, and essential members of our family, and very little of that has anything to do with size. When Doggies people swap stories, they are not about the size of the Doggies but about the experiences we have in common — the joy, the angst, the training, the vet emergencies, the photos, the occasional chewed shoe, the games, the walks, the friendship, the fun and the love. It’s always a big love, no matter what size the Doggies.





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