Does Size Matter?

Small Terrier

Small Terrier

A dog’s size influences his or her behaviour.  We sort of know this don’t we.

What about people? Our stereotype of a hyper and talkative person who is constantly on the move would be a small person, and a slow-talking, slow moving thinker someone much larger.

This has always been my own stereotype for dogs too, but is it purely genetic or the way we treat them?

Is it possible we treat small people differently and it affects how they behave?

My own smallest dog, my working Cocker Spaniel Pickle, is constantly on the move and vocalises his every thought and intention. He is the littlest dog I have had out of many dogs – and I’ve never had one quite like him where energy and noisiness is concerned. I’m convinced he was born like that but possibly how I interact with him exacerbates his behaviour.

I quote “The size of individual dogs or dogs of various breeds accounts, at least in great part, for their behavior,” according to Dr. Raymond Coppinger. “In many ways, small dogs respond very differently than very large dogs.”

A lead study by author Dr. Paul McGreevy of the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science offers further proof of Coppinger’s theory. The study, published in the open access journal PLoS ONE, claims that 33 out Of 36 Undesirable Dog Behaviors Are Size-Related.

Large Mastiff puppy

Large Mastiff puppy

There is a lot more in the article, but they sum it up thus:

Some general observations from the study:
•Unwanted behaviors increase as the size (and height) of a dog decreases.
•Dogs with short muzzles engage in more grooming and compulsive staring.
•Smaller breeds, especially terrier breeds, showed more stranger-directed aggression.
•Smaller dogs engage in more attention-seeking behaviors
•Larger breeds descended from smaller breeds that were meant as companion dogs may have behaviors that are at odds with their body size.
•Lightweight breeds are more apt to be excitable, hyperactive, and energetic compared to breeds with heavy bodies.
•Coping behaviors in response to stress, such as fly-snapping, are related more to a dog’s weight than height. The shorter and stockier the dog, the greater the tendency to display coping behaviors.

Four things not linked to size or breed are obsessive tail-chasing, coprophagia, chewing, or pulling on leash.

Possibly people are more tolerant of certain behaviours in smaller dogs, thinking it’s ‘cute’ or at least not so dangerous. We may be more prone to mollycoddle them. My Cocker Pickle is small enough to snuggle up on me wherever I sit, not so my German Shepherd.

Older or less mobile folk and people who want an easier life often choose small dog. Mistake! What about a Staffordshire Bull Terrier or Pit Bull instead?

About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist C.C.B (Certified Canine Behaviourist) INTODogs). I have helped over 3000 dog owners over eighteen years. In addition to online consultations all over the world, I cover Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks for home visits. A 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site:
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