Although it wouldn’t be true to say that every small dog has a Napoleon complex, many can be domineering or overly aggressive in social situations.

This doesn’t mean small dogs are incapable of affection or good manners, but when compared to gentle giants or other larger dogs, they can appear high-strung, excitable, and less obedient.

Have they earned their reputation? Perhaps; but when small dog behavior is fully understood, everyone benefits.


Veterinary researchers in Vienna conducted a survey with over 1,200 dog owners. Separated by size, the dogs who weighed less than 44 pounds provided the following evidence:

  • They were consistently less interested in responding to commands like sit, down, or come.
  • They were more likely to bark or growl at strangers.
  • Small dogs were generally more stressed or anxious in crowds and when exposed to loud noises.

When compared to dogs who weighed more than 44 pounds, these small dog behaviors were certainly less favorable. Of course, this doesn’t mean that big dogs are perfect canine citizens, but the research suggests that owners of large dogs take considerably more time to develop good behavior.

Why is That?

With scientific evidence supporting the stereotypes of small dog behavior (scrappy, yappy, worried, etc.), we can go one step further, exploring the likelihood that genetic factors play a significant role in small dog behavior. The owners of small dogs in the aforementioned survey also reported less training and/or play activities than the owners of larger dogs.

Easy Solutions

Regular opportunities for physical and mental stimulation are essential for all pets, but aggression, excitability, and other small dog behaviors can be greatly improved with a consistent approach.

Daily interactions, clicker training, and exercise are critical. Early socialization can turn small dog behaviors into advantages that are beneficial for the entire household. Furthermore, when owners of small dogs resort to punishment (like yanking on the leash or collar), fear, anxiety, and disobedience are reinforced.

Small Dog Behavior

As many owners know, little dogs can have big personalities. Certain breeds were developed for specific jobs, some of which may have been easier to perform if the dog had a “sassy” attitude. However, just because they’re pint-sized doesn’t mean these pets couldn’t benefit from obedience or agility training.

No matter how large or small, all dogs need daily attention to physical and mental wellness. Please let us know if the veterinarians at Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital can assist you with additional questions or concerns.