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“It Was Just a Little Nip”

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

Chihuahua sitting on back of Mastiff

“It was just a little nip.”

This phrase was uttered by a woman at the park the other day, as she explained to me that a dog on leash had nipped one of the men in her morning walking group. The dog in question was a small terrier mix who was afraid of dogs and people, and the man had reached toward her to pet her. I wonder what the turn of phrase would had been, had the dog been a 150-pound Rottweiler.

It always strikes me as both fascinating and frustrating that so many people downplay or even excuse the behavior of smaller dogs. It’s true that the bite of a small dog is not going to do as much damage as one by a dog with larger, stronger jaws, but that doesn’t mean it’s not significant or important to address.

I’ve encountered many families over the years whose small dogs have bitten (or “nipped” as they put it) multiple family members, and even visitors. The issue had been going on for some time, but the bites to strangers were never reported. People are much less likely to report a bite by a Min-Pin, for example, than they are one by a Doberman. And so the issue doesn’t get taken seriously until the dog bites a child or someone who does make an issue of it.

The excusing of behavior issues of smaller dogs seems to extend to other problems as well. I’ve met many families whose Bichons or Chihuahuas are pottying all over the house—never mind that the dog is two years old and they’ve had him from a young pup. How quickly do you think Buddy would have been potty trained had he been a Great Dane?

Leash pulling is another area where size seems to matter. After all, being pulled down the street by an adolescent mini-poodle is not quite the same experience as being dragged by an adolescent Lab.

It’s easy to understand how the behavior problems of smaller dogs don’t get taken quite as seriously as those of larger ones. But the dynamics of the relationship between dog and owner are exactly the same regardless of the size of the dog. And for all of the same reasons that large dogs should be trained and their behavior issues taken seriously, so should those of our smaller canine friends.


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