Do big dogs really not see little dogs as "dogs?"

This is a place to gain some understanding of dog behavior and to assist people in training their dogs and dealing with common behavior problems, regardless of the method(s) used. This can cover the spectrum from non-aversive to traditional methods of dog training. There are many ways to train a dog. Please avoid aggressive responses, and counter ideas and opinions with which you don't agree with friendly and helpful advice. Please refrain from submitting posts that promote off-topic discussions. Keep in mind that you may be receiving advice from other dog owners and lovers... not professionals. If you have a major problem, always seek the advice of a trainer or behaviorist!

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dog-sitter in- charge.
Barked: Sat Aug 25, '12 10:33am PST 
some do see them as small toys shrug or at least easily bullied and fun to.

Barked: Sat Aug 25, '12 4:47pm PST 
Conker- your description of Juneau sounds a lot like how Maggie reacts to very small dogs... she will offer communication behaviors, like play bows, friendly vocalizations, etc, but she is WAY too interested in them- I think she gets overstimulated, "It's a dog! But it's also small, fast, and furry! OMG OMG OMG!" and sometimes she gets so crazed that it's not safe anymore. She once was playing with a Toy Poodle at the dog park and when the owner decided to leave and picked up her dog, Maggie leaped up on her and started barking like she was treeing a squirrel. Seriously obsessed and would not stop. It was really embarrassing.
Ember FDX

Go Go Devil- Bunnies!
Barked: Sat Aug 25, '12 7:39pm PST 
The pick-up thing is a whole topic in itself... I apprentanced under a trainer who worked with a dog that would go after his owner if someone else picked his owner up. Definitely prey-related, but has everything to do with going up and often no other factors at all. It just happens that small dogs are picked up more frequently than large dogs or humans, etc.

Based on many, many experiances... Dogs know the scent that means "dog." However, their socialization experiance may not lend itself to being able to put that scent into context. For example, I have seen Lab or Hound-type dogs become completely confused when presented with a Pug or Old English Bulldog for the first time. It smells like a dog, but instead of a tall, lean body with a long tail, muzzle and drop ears it's a short, stocky little thing with no tail, no muzzle and small folded ears. It smells like a dog, but nothing else about it lines up with being a dog. A stable dog can figure it out with some time and guidance.

So then, given the situation, is there enough time for the larger dog to figure out that the small dog is a dog? Not always, even for a dog who is familar with small dogs. Scent only works if the dog is able to catch a whiff of it. Fox has lost at least one home for killing cats. Last week I walked her within 6 inches of a grey cat sitting still on a pile of stones. She had absolutely no idea it was there. The cat had come up on the pile from down wind of us. Had the cat bolted, Fox would have been on her in a second with no idea what she was actually pursuing. I did have Fox on as short a leash possible for that reason.

And of course, individual personalities. There will always be dogs who couldn't really care less what size or shape you are, and there will always be dogs who are overstimulated by small moving anything, period. And everything in between. On that end, keeping your small dog well socialized can save him - a Chihuahua who is well versed in dog language will know to stop and offer calming signals to a pursing large dog - thus hopefully stopping the chase-grab-kill prey drive, as opposed to a Chihuahua who is afraid and panics just being put on the ground. Small dogs who are physically disabled, have high-pitched barks or otherwise act more like prey, are going to be more enticing to any prey driven dog. I have seen a Fox Terrier hospitlize a Chihuahua for that reason. There's barely a size difference there.

TL;DR - it's an extremely individual issue, both in terms of the dogs involved and how the situation unfolds.

My biggest personal experiance was with Ember. She is extremely prey-driven - of 9+ dogs who met our late pet hedgehog, Ember was the only one who clung to the belief that there must be some way to kill it (she didn't; old age). She was completely unsocialized before she came to me, aside from whatever dogs she met while roaming and she clearly didn't treat them very well.

At the time I lived with Vance, a Bloodhound, a Smooth Fox Terrier, and 5 Chihuahuas. One of the 5 was actually a mix, fairly well socialized and weighed about 15lb. The other 4 were undersocalized rescues with physical disabilites including severe skeletal problems.

Em was with Vance immediately, him being male and the same breed as her and her late brother. Within a few weeks she was also with the Bloodhound, him being a large male tolerant of obnoxious play. Within those same few weeks, we began letting the Fox Terrier and larger Chi out were Ember could see but not reach them. Initial reaction was chase and go for the kill. I began working on finding progressively smaller, tolerant males for her to meet as well as any appropriate females. After a few months of this plus watching and smelling the two through gates and fences, Ember calmed and accepted the large, aloof male Chi as a dog. Shortly after the Terrier joined the "friend" list. So long as a dog acted like a dog, it was ok.

Then the other 4. I honestly had no hope of it ever working, but figured we could try. The first time she saw them I had her restrained. Only two of the Chis entered the room. Both long-haired, yipping, and hobbling. Em (still restrained) immediately lunged forward and down to rush and kill, and as she did so the door closing behind the Chis pushed their scent toward her. She stopped like she'd hit a brick wall, fell to the floor, screamed, began sneezing, shaking, pupils fully dialated, licking her lips and switching rapidly between a hunting crouch and quivering mess.

She had no idea they were dogs. If I had not had her restrained, she would have gotten there and followed through before she ever had time to register a scent. Her confusion and distress gave me hope, though, and we did keep working in short sessions of quick sniffs, rewarding appropriate behavior and finding other, progressively more diverse dogs she could socialize with. It took a full year, but she was eventually able to be with all 4 of them. She currently has no issues with any small dog - I have photos of her rolling on her back with a Pomeranian, and sitting with a Mini Doxie nestled between her paws - but I still wouldn't trust her not to fall into preditory drift if a small dog were running away downwind across a field...


Little Fox
Barked: Sun Aug 26, '12 3:29pm PST 
I've seen bigger dogs "triggered" into attacking smaller dogs when the small dog squealed and ran, and yes, it was absolutely an instinctive predatory response. I've also seen dogs go after other dogs that were the same size as them for the same reason--squealing and running. So it's often not so much a size-based thing as it is a behavior-based thing, although it's more likely to happen with smaller dogs because they more closely resemble prey.

In instances where I've seen big dogs pick up small dogs and shake them, though, it has virtually always been out of aggression rather than prey drive. There were only two dogs where it was a little questionable. One was a female Border Collie mix that would literally walk up to small dogs and attack them out of the blue, and one was a Husky. Interestingly enough, both of these dogs actually pinned the smaller dog and shook them rather than picking them up.
Sanka- I'll Miss- You

The ground is my- newspaper.
Barked: Mon Aug 27, '12 7:47am PST 
That's kind of what I was wondering Tika.

If a small dog is running around like any other dog would, would it be "normal" for a bigger dog to then run over to them and grab them like prey?

What if the small dog is just walking or standing still?

A small dog running around having fun does not look like a small critter running for its life or frolicking around for food. The subtle body language is key.

We all talk about how great dogs are at reading body language, so I would imagine a dog going after a small dog and committing to attacking it has some...issues or perhaps some isolated incident where things just happened to fit together to confuse the dog too, i.e tall grass obstructing full view or something of that nature.

too old to eat- any more KD
Barked: Mon Aug 27, '12 8:15am PST 
I have purposely avoided this thread, since it is so hard to determine what is going on. I have no doubt dogs know they are chasing other dogs. But it doesn't matter what they think..a little will be killed if Squam decides to run it down.
And he has not experienced any traumatic event or been "not socialized enough." Frankly those are far too simplistic explanations. Some dogs are just more predatory in nature than others.
Last week I found 4 puppies when we were on our morning walk. I took mine home & ran back to scoop them up. I put them in my bathtub & allowed the boys to meet them. Wiley loved them...Squam, well..long story short...he thought they should be eradicated. I have no doubt that he would have killed them if I had not grabbed him as he lunged....after he came close enough to sniff them.
Regardless of what they *see/think...dead is deadfrown Whether he thinks he is removing the competition or he just has a hard on for the thrill of the chase...who knows. At 95 pounds of ramming speed I don't think anyone wants to take the view of "oh he'll stop when he sees it's a dog".

Edited by author Mon Aug 27, '12 8:17am PST

Jackson Tan

Lad about town
Barked: Mon Aug 27, '12 7:59pm PST 
Squam has a good point, no matter the reasoning behind the action dead IS dead. I have a friendly bouncy fool of a dog who can identify a dog no matter what the size and there is still no way I would let him play with toy breeds. I've seen the way he has ploughed over dogs half his size, his exuberance is just as dangerous as any prey drive. And I would never say never as he has a massive prey drive too and it only takes one running squeal from a little and he might change his mind. I would never forgive myself if he killed someone else's dog no matter what the reason. I think it pays to be cautious.
Augusta,- CGC, RN

Such a Good Dog!
Barked: Tue Aug 28, '12 8:22am PST 
I think Squam and Jackson T. have good points---just because a dog gets predatory with a little dog doesn't mean he didn't know it was a dog . . ..

Being animals, dogs may not have the same rules as humans about not attacking one of their own species . . .. . .. oh wait, come to think of it . . .. .shockwink I guess we don't either . . .

Cave canis- vigilo omnis
Barked: Tue Aug 28, '12 8:38am PST 
Precisely, Squam! applause

Dogs don't have a collective morality. Some dogs will want to do things we humans consider reprehensible; those dogs need proper training and management, but they aren't necessarily abnormal or unsocialized, they're simply more predatory than some of their brethren.
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