Little dog growls at big dog
Cesar Milan
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Cesar 911

Fact Or Myth: Are Little Dogs More Aggressive And Yappy Than Big Dogs?

Why Do Small Dogs Bark So Much? One little dog's story inspired us to see if there was any truth to this myth.

By: Catie Kovelman, Updated 06/02/2022 

Aggression in dogs is the most common reason pet parents seek professional assistance from a professional dog trainer in correcting their dog's behavior, and one of the key reasons homeless dogs are deemed as unsuitable for adoption and put to sleep in animal shelters. Dora, a 7 month old yorkshire terrier mix, needs Dog Trainer Cesar Millan's help to find a home before her aggression toward other dogs makes her unadoptable. Dora is extremely reactive and aggressive toward other dogs, which is dangerous to herself and her potential adoptive family. If her behavior isn't corrected, Dora would be unsafe around children and risks being fatally injured by a bigger dog who fights back when Dora attacks. Watch Cesar Millan turn Dora's life around in the below clip!

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Within moments of meeting the little terrier puppy, Cesar notes that "what surprised me the most is Dora is projecting too strong of an energy for a 7 month old. Dora feels like she needs to dominate the world." Ultimately, Dora's urge to dominate is what causes her to attack other dogs. Cesar suspects that this energetic former stray developed this behavior because she wasn't properly socialized with other dogs during her time on the streets, and was ignorant to how she should behave in a canine world. Cesar is able to solve Dora's aggressive behavior by helping the pup focus her energy and socializing her properly with his pack. Some studies do show that small dogs bite more frequently than big dogs. But as Cesar often finds, aggressive behavior doesn't usually just happen. Instead, the bad behavior is a side effect of an intense fear, a medical ailment that is causing pain, or poor training and boundary setting. 

Since Dora is so tiny, her story also got us thinking about why little dogs always seem to get a bad rap for barking more, in addition to being seen as more aggressive. For some reason, small dog breeds tend to be associated with constant barking. There's no stereotype that the golden retriever or great dane is mean or yappy, but those prejudices certainly exist for many small dogs, such as the Boston Terrier, chihuahua, Italian greyhound, and Shih Tzu. We wanted to see why pet parents might think smaller dogs are more prone to excessive barking. 

Barking Is Protection: 

Little dogs may be more yappy simply out of instinct. In the wild, animals know that they are either a predator or prey and it is literally a "dog eat dog" world. Making themselves seem as big as possible is a way for dogs to protect themselves, and one way to do this is to create a lot of noise. To compensate for their small size, little dogs bark to make themselves seem stronger and more formidable to enemies like larger dogs that may try to attack. Even when little dogs feel safe and secure in their forever home, they can't always deny this survival instinct that was developed over centuries through their wild ancestors. Additionally, your dog may fall into territorial barking if they feel they need to protect the home they've come to love so much. This means you will likely hear your dog barking anytime a stranger or other dog seems to threaten their territory. 

They Have More Fear: 

The smaller your dog is, the scarier the world may seem. Something that seems insignificant to you could seem like a ginormous threat to a tiny dog. One study even found that dogs with short legs are more likely to react fearfully to unfamiliar dogs and have outbursts of aggression toward their owners. Therefore, what we deem aggressive behavior is really the dog lashing out due to fear or anxiety. Pet parents tend to coddle little dogs as if they were helpless infants because of their small size. While the dog may enjoy the attention, it also means they may be deprived of proper training and socialization that would diminish their fear because the owner is trying to protect their fur baby. Without proper socialization, even the normal outside noise your dog hears from inside your home could be terrifying. 

They Were Born This Way: 

Some research indicates that nasty little dogs were simply born that way. This is for two reasons: First, little dogs don't usually do a lot of damage when they bite or snap, so breeders haven't made an overly large effort to breed out aggressive traits like they would with a bigger breed that could cause more harm. Second, more breeds of small dogs seem to possess more undesirable genes that contribute to poor health that make them feel unwell and act grumpy, as well as undesirable psychological behavior. Lastly, some people suggest that smaller dogs make up for what they lack in size with a big bark. They use their voice to draw attention to themselves or warn someone who might be about to step on them. However, that does not mean every small dog has a predisposition for poor health and bad behavior, even in breeds that have an existing reputation for it. All that said, there are plenty of lovely small dogs in the world that live long and healthy lives.

The Key Takeaway: 

So, are little dogs really more aggressive or prone to excessive barking? The answer is yes and no. While some scientific studies do conclude that little dogs tend to be more aggressive, others conclude the exact opposite. Some big dogs, such as pit bulls and rottweilers, are extremely large and have reputations for being scary and aggressive even though many make wonderful companions and family pets. Dogs of all sizes can be perfectly sweet and loving or extremely aggressive and dangerous. The key is to not discount the concept of nature versus nurture. In other words, it all comes down to how the dog is raised and taught. 

Using the help of a professional dog trainer early on and relying on tools like white noise can all help stop your dog's barking behavior. Sometimes, all your small dog needs is more mental stimulation to be quietly happy! Don't let your dog develop small dog syndrome, which is where the pup ends up in charge of his person because of his tiny stature. Even if your dog is as tiny as they come, remember that you are the pack leader. And if you take away nothing else, know that it is extremely rare to find a large dog or small dog that is untrainable, even if they have a bad barking habit. 

A dog that is trained and socialized to be sweet is very likely to be your personal fur angel, while a dog that is poorly trained or encouraged to be a menacing guard dog probably will behave more aggressively. Raising dogs with proper socialization and boundary setting through training should prevent aggression in your dog no matter the size. Addressing signs of aggression early is also key to quickly and easily stopping the unwanted behavior. Don’t let aggression become a habit, and consult expert trainers and veterinarians if you need help. Trainers will teach you the right ways to be assertive while a veterinarian may be able to identify underlying ailments that are causing your dog to act out. 

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