Why is it that small dogs are never scared of big dogs?
Why is it that big dogs seem completely oblivious to their size in relation to humans and other small dogs?
After spending a lot of time with dogs recently an intriguing question arose after viewing an altercation between a smaller dog and its larger counterpart. It seems to me that dogs lack a sense of environmental consciousness at times. In playful situations, humans assume that dogs have their own version of banter which lacks awareness of their size. Yet, a 2019 study titled That Dog Won't Fit: Body Size Awareness In Dogs by R. Lenkei, T. Faragó, D. Kovács, and B. Zsilák P. Pongrácz concluded that dogs “are able to represent their body size.” The research had dogs go through a gap that reduced overtime, and showed that some dogs understand they would not be able to pass through too small a gap and were able to “make [a logical] decision about the suitability of a particular opening.” This demonstrates their self-awareness, showing that deep down dogs might actually know how big they are.
So does that mean they are just messing with us, when they stand in front of our TV?
Of course, to humans, a dog’s size might not be much of a concern, but things operate differently in the dog world. There could be serious issues faced by dogs that are not trained properly. I spoke to Irene King, a qualified dog trainer, who explained how when
her large German Shepherd and her small dachshund would play, the Shepherd would nibble the other lightly, while her dachshund would play more aggressively and “without reserve”
This demonstrates that her Shepherd knew “his size and limited his play to a level where both were able to enjoy.” Ms King further explained that when dogs are puppies they “learn with their littermates on how to temper their play so that the play session lasts longer.” So, dogs develop the necessary boundaries through interactions with other dogs.
This kind of behaviour can be seen in the video taken by my sister shown below:
Yet the question that arose to me from this video is why is the smaller dog more aggressive? Could small dogs suffer from small man syndrome? A controversial theory that suggests humans who are smaller in height might be more aggressive in attempts to compensate for their lack in height.
Natural Cause or Nurture?
According to the same research conducted by Lenkei et al., it was found that dogs that have undergone some sort of genetic modification, such as the dachshund which resulted in their short legs, develop a “mental ‘body size template’”. This template emphasises their initial nature causing them to believe that they are still ‘big dogs’.
This as said by Mr Drobniak depends on ‘the dog’s breed and temperament as well as how they are brought up’ with Ms King adding that there are many scientists ‘who are studying [the] different aspects of animal psychology.’
Another reason, according to Ms King, that might impact a dog is if it was “separated from its littermates too early,” and might not have “ gotten enough peer input to understand the concept of boundaries.” These boundaries are crucial to a dog’s behaviour and play.
Consequently, Ms Kings’ dogs are learning the word gentle, which demonstrates a boundary and rule of being kind to others. Therefore, as Ms King explains, it is up to the parents and owners to teach their dogs acceptable behaviour and understanding in regards to their size.