Why Are Smaller Dogs More Aggressive Than Larger Dogs?

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When you’re a small child, your parents may tell you not to play with puppies or kittens because those little guys can be mean. And when you grow up and become an adult, you probably adopt this sentiment as well. But how much should we really fear our furry friends?


After all, there’s no evidence that a kitten will bite you when it becomes a cat, right? The same isn’t true for dogs. Although cats may bite sometimes, dogs have been known to nip at children, chew on things like shoes, jump out windows and even attack people.


Dogs aren’t exactly angels either. While some large dogs such as German shepherds and Great Danes are generally docile and friendly, others such as bull terriers and chihuahuas tend to be somewhat aggressive and quick to startle their owners. In fact, one study found that smaller dogs were rated by pet-owners as being less friendly than larger dogs.


So why does this happen? It comes down to size, specifically the ratio between height and weight in relation to body mass index (BMI). This has something to do with the shape of your dog’s skull and its overall proportions. For example, a 150-pound (68-kilogram) boxer doesn’t necessarily weigh quite as much as a 200-pound (91-kilogram) golden retriever.


However, if both dogs had the same BMI, the boxer would likely be taller than the golden retriever. That means that the boxer would be shorter than the golden retriever from birth. As humans, we like tall people who look healthy and strong — just like we want to feel safe around big, burly dogs. Unfortunately, many breeds have been bred to be bigger and stronger than other breeds in order to fulfill these needs.


These larger dogs often appear stockier than smaller ones, giving them a broader, heavier appearance. When breeders try to make dogs conform to what we consider to be “normal” sizes, however, a problem arises. A smaller dog looks fatter if it has too much muscle mass relative to its height.


On the other hand, a larger dog might look skinny if it has relatively low muscle mass compared to its height. What happens then? You end up with a lot of different types of dogs from wimpy giants to hyperactive midgets which makes choosing a specific breed difficult.


In addition, certain breeds tend to be more aggressive than others. For instance, smaller toy poodles are more prone to aggression than larger ones. One reason for this could be due to the toys used during training. Larger toys allow for more room to move around, while smaller toys limit movement.


If the owner uses a small toy, the dog gets bored easily and begins exhibiting behavior problems. Another theory suggests that smaller dogs tend to be smarter and therefore easier to train. Since they’ve got more going on upstairs, they need to work harder to remember commands and learn tricks.


So, although any breed of dog can turn into a bad boy under the wrong circumstances, smaller dogs seem to have an increased likelihood of developing behavioral issues. Read on to find out why.


Small Dog Behavior Problems


It shouldn’t come as a surprise that smaller dogs are more prone to aggression than larger dogs. After all, dogs tend to develop aggressive behavior over time through socialization, instinctual behaviors and genetics. Socialization includes everything from learning basic obedience skills to interacting with strangers. Instinctual behaviors include whether your dog barks at strangers, chews on furniture and jumps on guests.


Genetics also play a role in determining whether your dog will turn into Mr. Hyde. For instance, German shepherds are renowned for their intelligence and loyalty, but they also tend to be nervous, excitable and aggressive. Doberman pinschers, on the other hand, are loyal, protective and calm, but they’re also stubborn, fearless and territorial. It’s possible to combine these traits within the same breed, resulting in a unique combination of characteristics.


While not every single animal behaves the way it was designed to behave, studies show that smaller dogs tend to exhibit higher levels of aggression than larger dogs. Scientists believe this has something to do with the size of the brain. Like us, animals use various forms of communication to convey information about themselves and other species.


Some vocalizations act as distress calls, while others serve as greeting invitations. Animals also use visual signals, like tail movements, posture and eye contact, to communicate. Studies suggest that a lower resting metabolic rate (RMR), or the amount of energy needed to maintain life, results in fewer resources available to support complex behaviors.


With a lower RMR, smaller animals tend to spend more time grooming themselves and protecting themselves against predators. They also have less fat reserves to protect, meaning they must rely heavily upon themselves to survive. Large dogs tend to eat lots of food and run around a lot, burning off lots of calories. Their bodies thus require less maintenance.


Because of this, when food is scarce, large dogs tend to resort to eating members of their own species. But small dogs don’t have enough stored away to sustain themselves, making them susceptible to becoming obese when food supplies are low. But size alone doesn’t determine aggressiveness. Next, read on to discover what else affects how a dog acts.


If you have a larger dog, you know that he can shed very large amounts of fur. Sometimes, this hair ends up everywhere inside your house, on the floor and especially near your favorite chair. To prevent this from happening, buy yourself a vacuum cleaner suited for upholstery attachment, or invest in a good pair of duster gloves. Make sure you clean up after your dog as soon as possible.


Big Dogs Are Not All Gentle Giants


Although size definitely plays a part in how aggressive dogs are, not every large dog is inherently nasty. There are plenty of big dogs who are extremely gentle giants. Just take a closer look at a few examples:

Bull Terriers: Bull terriers are among the largest of the English bulldog varieties. Despite their size, however, they still love to cuddle and snuggle.


Chihuahuas: Chihuahuas are usually considered a medium-sized dog, but they pack a surprisingly powerful punch.


Great Danes: Although great Danes are typically thought of as giant dogs, they actually rank third in terms of average height.


As you can see, size doesn’t always equate to strength. Take a closer look at the following list of top five most dangerous dog breeds. If your pooch fits into one of these categories, keep reading.

  1. Pit Bulls
  2. American Staffordshire Terriers
  3. Huskies
  4. Boxers
  5. Rottweilers


Pit bulls are best known for their fierce jaws and intimidating stares. Even though pit bulls are often misunderstood, their reputation for ferocity is justified.

American Staffordshire Terriers are another popular choice for people looking for a tough protector. Many people mistakenly assume that this breed is only suitable for guarding property or acting as police dogs. Actually, the American Staffordshire Terrier ranks second on this list of the world’s most dangerous dogs.

Huskies are long and lean, yet muscular and agile. They excel at hunting prey, tracking down game and pulling sleds. Huskies are also incredibly devoted and affectionate pets.

Boxers are intelligent and energetic. They’re also known for their physical prowess and willingness to fight. Boxers were originally bred to fight each other in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Today, boxers are mostly kept as family pets. Next up, we’ll talk about factors other than size that contribute to dog aggression.


One interesting side note: Researchers discovered that the human thumb contains more nerve endings than any other limb. Therefore, it’s easy to understand why people are afraid of dogs’ mouths. Yet, dogs also lick our faces to distribute skin oils and remove parasites. Thus, licking the face is a natural form of comfort for both dogs and humans alike.