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Karen B. London
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Small People Suffer Like Small Dogs
No wonder some feel like biting

“So many small dogs bite when people try to pet them or pick them up. Is it any wonder?” This was my reply to a friend who posted on her Facebook page that she is not a small dog and told the world, “Please don’t pet me.” My friend is 4 foot 11, and not surprisingly, has therefore dealt with this kind of offensive treatment before.

People react differently to little individuals of a species than to large ones. Part of this may be a tendency to equate smaller with younger, and part may be a general disrespect for small versus big.  

Many small dogs truly suffer as a result of these attitudes and behavior. Unwelcome and unsolicited petting is harder to discourage when directed at a smaller dog. There’s something about their diminutive size that makes many people, including kids, want to touch them and feel as though they can do so, whether the dog likes it or not. For dogs who love petting by friends and strangers alike, this is not a problem, but not all dogs appreciate this degree of familiarity.

And while large dogs are picked up only occasionally (if ever) to lift them into a car, onto a grooming or examination table, or in the event of an injury, small dogs may face this indignity multiple times daily.

I remember one client with a papillon who was growling and biting everyone in the house, but only when he was picked up. One of the first questions I asked them was how many times a day they picked him up, and the answer once they added up everyone’s contribution was around 40 times a day. They picked him up when he was playing, eating, sleeping, walking, stretching and every other time. While many dogs would never bite even when treated like this, I was full of sympathy for this dog. His biting behavior was unacceptable and had to stop, but much of the change had to come from the people. Following my suggestions, they massively reduced the number of times he was picked up, and they conditioned him to associate being picked up with receiving his favorite tasty treats. The dog no longer bites even when he is picked up, whether it’s by members of the family who rarely do it, or by visitors who automatically respond to this little dog’s charms by reaching for him.

Do you have a small dog who people pick up or pet despite your dog’s desire that this not happen? Are you a small person who SO knows what these dogs are going through?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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