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Small Dogs vs. Big Dogs: Which is better?

“Judge me by my size, do you?”

Yoda – The Empire Strikes Back

Confession: I’ve always been afraid of small dogs. Not necessarily afraid of them…more like afraid to be around them. Or more importantly, on top of them. I’m about as graceful as a giraffe on roller skates, so the little ones always put me on edge a bit. I knew deep down that they were just like every other dog, and I could see how they responded just as quickly to a bit of Piloting as the large dogs did, but still, they looked so…delicate. Even if I were working with a dog deemed “aggressive“, if it was a Chihuahua running up to me Cujo-style, it instantly put me on edge, more so than a Rottie, Shepherd, or other large dog.

Then a number of years ago, it became more and more apparent that I needed a “bait” dog. A dog that could help me out with the dog-reactive dogs. It had to be a dog that was friendly, but aloof unless given permission to be pet. A dog who wasn’t dog reactive, and would trust me completely. The dog needed to be intelligent, healthy, and above all, non-threatening in looks. Enter all 5 lbs. of Orion.

Growing up I did indeed have a small-ish dog named Pebbles. She was a 20-ish lb Aussie mix we got from a shelter when I was in preschool. But there’s a difference between a small-ish dog and a tiny dog. Or is there?

And so I present:

The Little Things That Make Small Dogs Great.

1) They can go anywhere with you. Easily.

As I discovered after purchasing a new truck a few years ago, not all car interiors hold equal. While all 110 lbs. of Sparta fit nicely in my previous car, the same didn't hold true for the cab of my truck. Actually, Sparta didn't fit anywhere nicely.

A small dog doesn’t have the space problems that a larger dog can.

Yes, I know what you’re going to say: a Great Dane is a better apartment dog than a Jack Russel (and you’re right), but if your floor plan only has 700 square feet, you’re taking a pretty big chunk out that with a Dane.

Any dog who is given the appropriate amount of exercise is good in an apartment. Unfortunately, you can’t exercise the size out of a large dog.

2) They aren’t big eaters.

The cost of feeding a small dog is drastically less than a larger dog. For example, Orion eats between 1/4 – 1/2 cup of food per day, depending on how hard we hike. Sparta, on the other hand, ate anywhere between 5-7 cups per day when she became a senior. A Mastiff can eat up to 10 cups per day. The cost of keeping a smaller dog is significantly less.

3) People aren’t as easily spooked by a small dog.

Nobody has ever crossed the street upon seeing Orion coming down the sidewalk with me.

Now, if you’ve been around dogs enough, you know very well that the little Yorkie is just as likely to bite you as the German Shepherd, but a lot of people don’t see it that way. They see small dog, they automatically think of it as a friendly happy puppy. So much that landlords typically don’t discriminate against any small dogs.

Ergo, it’s easier to get an apartment that allows dogs.

4) It’s easy(ish) to travel with a small dog.

On a recent flight to Austin, someone brought a small schnauzer on board the plane in a carry-on. The little darling easily fit on is owner’s lap for the entire duration of the flight instead of being regulated to the cargo hold.

5) Life span.

Smaller dogs live longer than larger dogs. Orion’s projected life expectancy is 13-15 years. Sparta was 12 when we said goodbye. My Darwin (a larger lab mix) was just shy of 13. Orion, at 11, is still exceptionally spry.

6) No counter surfing.

I’m all about training your dogs, but isn’t it nice when an issue isn’t even on your radar? Sparta had to be trained to leave things on the counter alone. Orion thinks the counter is Mt. Everest.

7) Eliminating the negative.

Ever clean up after a 100 lb dog? Exactly.

8) Easier to manage.

Okay, a dog who is behaving aggressively needs to have the situation addressed, no matter the size. But let’s face it: if tiny little Fifi the toy poodle decides she wants a piece of the mailman walking by, odds are she isn’t strong enough to literally drag you across oncoming traffic to get to him.

Size never takes the place of training, but when dealing with difficult dogs, obviously a smaller dog is easier from a safety standpoint.

9) Portable.

When my Darwin and Sparta became senior dogs, I had a tremendously difficult time transporting them. Sparta was over 100 lbs., but even Darwin, at 60lbs, was a struggle. Getting into the car turned into an ordeal simply because of their size.

Smaller dogs are so much easier to care for as they age, requiring less muscle. Similarly, on a hike, if Sparta ever got tired, we had to stop and rest. Orion, on the other hand, is easily portable. Not that I’ve ever seen Orion get tired.

10) They’re dogs.

I mean, isn’t that what it all boils down to? Dog is a dog is a dog is a dog.

They’re just like every other dog.

Sure I’ve stepped on Orion and tripped over him, but not very often. Orion is a lot tougher than he looks: he has chased deer away from us, he has caught many a chipmunk in my yard, and he has remained courageous when helping me rehabilitate a dog-reactive dog who outweighs him by 90+ lbs. I do indeed enjoy wrestling with him. He hikes with me for miles and miles, never tiring. He has mettle. He truly is a mascot for Darwin Dogs.

Treating a dog like a dog. What a novel concept! I treat Orion just like I treat my Ellis and guess what: both are well-adjusted, wonderful, polite dogs.

Small dog syndrome is indeed a real thing, but it’s something that we humans have created in our small dogs by treating them differently.

We don’t cipher out humans based on size. If we did, most of you would be inferior to me, as I'm six feet tall! I see people in shelters a lot looking for a new dog, but eliminating a certain dog from the running because they’re “too small” or a “sissy dog”. Usually it’s a man, and usually I stand right next to them, peer downwards at them, and ask if that makes them a sissy man in comparison to me. They usually turn red and walk away.

Small dogs, big dogs… let’s just remember the best part: dog.

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs Dog Training in Cleveland Ohio


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