Small Dogs, Explained

Get to the bottom of your small dog's behavior.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
3-minute read
Episode #3

Chihuahuas, Mini Schnauzers, Bichons, Lhasa Apsos – tiny dogs. Everybody loves them. Everybody, except for the people who say little dogs are either yappy-snappy, fearful wimps beneath contempt, or both.

In my experience, little dogs seem scared and defensive more often than big dogs do. People often assume this is because there’s something basically wrong with them. The stereotypes I hear sound a lot like stereotypes about women and gay men. Your Dog Trainer can’t unpack that one in a podcast, but I do have some ideas about why small dogs act the way they do. And how their owners and other human friends can help.

How to Understand Little Dogs

My dog Juniper loves every person he has ever met. He also weighs in at 80 pounds of muscle and bone, and he has a big grin with a lot of teeth in it. Here is one experience Juni doesn’t often have: a total stranger swooping down on him, cooing “Oh, how cute!” and draping herself over his entire body. Without exception, my small-dog clients tell me this has happened to their dogs. More than once. Sometimes the stranger actually grabs the dog and picks him up.

Now, doesn’t that sound like fun? You’re walking along, minding your business, when a much larger animal that you have never met before grabs you and sweeps you into the air.

There you have clue one about small dogs and why they often seem a bit on edge.

Hold Still for the Scary Thing

Here’s another common scene: a small child trots up to a small dog and wants to pet him. The small dog runs behind his owner’s legs. The owner feels bad for everybody: for the disappointed child, and for her scared dog. So she picks up her dog and holds him in place for the child to pet. People tell me that when they do this, they’re hoping their dog will confront his fear and learn that the child is no threat.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).