aggression, breed bias, breed stereotypes, Chihuahua, Clicker Training, dog aggression, Dog Training, Dogs, fear, German Shepherds, Little Dog Syndrome, Napoleon Complex, Pets, pit bull, Positive Reinforcement
I had an interesting experience the other day while taking Shelby to the vet for her pre-op blood work for her spay surgery. While we were waiting in the waiting room, a woman with a Chihuahua cradled in her arms walked out of a room down the hall. The woman put the dog down and as he patrolled the hall, he began aggressively barking at Shelby, baring his teeth and shaking in fear or rage, I’m not quite sure. Shelby, like the well trained dog she is, sat on the bench between Joe and I and cocked her head while we shoveled cookies in her mouth. Then she laid down. All the while, the dog kept barking, even when the woman picked him up and gently admonished him, “That doggy would eat you, you don’t want to pick a fight with that doggy.”
It was my turn to cock my head. Eat him? Shelby would do no such thing. Shelby loves other dogs. Even though the dog is small, she still knows he’s a dog. Even though a sheep is about the size of a large dog, she still knows it’s a sheep. And she knows a bunny is a rabbit and a kitten is a cat. She knows I’m a human and that we’re all different. She does not think I’m a dog any more than she thought that lady’s dog was a bunny. She would eat a bunny though (you can read about that here).
As the woman was paying, another young woman came in her with exuberant, young pit bull. The pittie obviously wanted to play and kept play bowing to Shelby from across the room. Shelby, from a lie down, slowly crept forward, shimmying her way across the bench to get closer to the pit. I laughed and thought to myself, “Oh, you’re stealthy Shelby, a 74 pound (EEK she’s getting fat) German shepherd slithering across a wooden bench, no one can see that at all.” While Shelby crept closer toward her new playmate, the Chi turned his attention on the pittie and began growling and barking, clawing at his owner’s arms to get at the dog. He snapped his head forward, and I could hear his tiny jaws gnashing as he struggled and heaved himself toward this other dog, all the while being restrained by his owner’s arms. She didn’t look at him once, but continued to keep talking with the receptionist.
The pit stopped soliciting Shelby and both dogs turned toward the Chi. Neither barked. Neither growled. Neither lunged. They just sat there, cocking their heads, then turned back toward one another and began giving goo-goo eyes to each other all over again. And the humans in the equation – what did they do?
The receptionist at the office laughed, the owner of the Chi laughed, the owner of the pit laughed, even Joe laughed. Someone said, “Look, he wants to take on the big dogs.”
I, for my part, smiled, just to cover up the horror. This dog was massively dog aggressive. He was likely extremely anxious and very uncomfortable, despite the fact that none of the dogs in the office were even reacting to him.
When the lady left, I looked to Joe and pointed out that the Chi was wearing a choke chain. He nodded. I felt slightly incredulous. What do you need a choke chain on a three pound dog for? It seemed…dangerous. That dog was so small that he could break his legs jumping off the couch, and you’re telling me you’re physically collar popping him? Really? Is that entirely necessary? Not to mention that it likely was not helping his dog aggression much.
While I fumed, Joe took my hand and said to me, “It’s little dog syndrome.”
It’s breed bias is what it is, but in the reverse direction. It’s irresponsible, and it’s just not fair. That dog is a danger to himself. If he had, for example, gotten loose and come at Shelby or that pittie in the room, what choice would our otherwise friendly and social dogs have had except to defend themselves? I’ve seen Shelby interact with dog aggressive dogs before, she starts with trying to solicit play through behaviors like play bowing, then she reverts to stooping low and licking at the face of the dog and wagging her tail slowly in that, “We’re friends, right?” way that she does. Then if that doesn’t work, she will try to flee. She’s never been in a situation that escalated beyond this, but if she were, I know how it would go, her next step would be to bare her teeth, possibly growl, maybe even lunge. If that didn’t work, she would snap the air, and lastly, she would resort to a bite, which, however inhibited, would be potentially fatal to a dog that small. The beginnings of those steps would be lost on her if the dog started attacking her.
And whose fault would this be? Shelby’s, of course. Wait, what? How does that make any sense at all?
Breed bias is what that is. Little dogs can do no wrong, even when they’re much more aggressive than a larger dog. In comparison with that little Chihuahua, Shelby is a social butterfly. I wonder if that dog has to be muzzled during exams like Shelby does. To be fair, I request the muzzle, even though our vet feels Shelby likely doesn’t need it anymore, I just want to be safe, but the point still stands. Why is it funny when that little dog acts out and horrifying when Shelby does? Or Panzer? Or that pittie in the office?
Because little dogs aren’t seen as a threat. But they are. A little dog can bite and those teeth are sharp and they can mess you up. They probably can’t kill you, like some of the larger breeds can, but is that an excuse to allow them to be completely out of control? Is that an excuse to allow that dog to emotionally suffer because its bark is cuter than Shelby’s?
I feel awful when I find myself in a situation where Shelby is reacting, mainly because I feel like I’ve failed at keeping her safe. I have enough plans in place to keep the people around her safe, but when Shelby’s reacting, she’s not safe. She’s so scared that she feels like she has to react and that means that I have failed at my primary job in being her handler – I have failed to keep her feeling safe and secure.
Little dogs deserve that too. Just because you can pick them up and scoop them away from danger doesn’t mean you’re keeping them feeling safe and secure. Yes, you are keeping them physically safe, which is a good step, but you’re not keeping them emotionally secure. They’re still terrified. That’s something that needs to be worked on and modified, not laughed at. That’s real pain being expressed by the dog. And no matter how small, all dogs deserve to have their feelings noticed.
So no, I don’t agree with “Little Dog Syndrome” any more than I agree with breed specific legislation or pit bull hate or some crazy notion that German shepherds were “bred to be aggressive” (more on that in an upcoming post). Every dog, no matter the size, deserves a safe and healthy life.