With their large, muscular bodies, dogs such as rottweilers and pit bulls,especially those that are trained to act menacingly, may seem like thescariest of their species. But evidence shows that smaller dogs can actuallybe more aggressive than many of their outsized counterparts.

So why are little dogs so fierce?

First, it’s important to define what counts as tiny for a dog. “Small dogs inthe less-than-20-pound [9 kilograms] range tend to be more reactive,” saidJames Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals andSociety at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Forexample, dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell terriers are the most likelyto attempt to bite, according to a 2008 study in the journal Applied AnimalBehaviour Science that surveyed the owners of more than 30 dog breeds. Otheraggressive behaviors seen in little dogs include growling, snarling andlunging. There are a few theories for why this is the case.

Small size may make dogs more fearful, and they may lash out in self-defense,Serpell said. Tiny breeds may be more likely to react defensively because theyhave more to be afraid of.

Alternatively, small dogs’ reactivity could be a result of their owners’behavior. “Owners tend to infantilize small dog breeds and think of them asbeing like helpless infants,” Serpell told Live Science. Pet owners may beoverly protective of small breeds, so they may not socialize them or teachthem how to properly react to stressful situations.

Aggression could also be baked into the pups’ evolution. “If you’re attackedby a Chihuahua, obviously the consequences are much less significant than ifyou’re attacked by a Great Dane or a Siberian husky,” Serpell said. In otherwords, over the millenia, humans may not have bothered to breed aggressivebehaviors out of little dogs because the consequences weren’t as dire as theywere for being attacked by sizable hounds.

That last theory is supported by studies that have found a link betweenaggressive behavior and the growth factor gene that makes small dogs small.The association could be coincidental, but research has shown that small dogsaren’t just more extreme in their aggression-related behaviors; compared withlarge dogs, small dogs tend to have more severe separation anxiety, usuallybark more and are more likely to urinate in the house, Serpell said. Thisgives credence to the theory that genetics plays a role in little dogs’extreme behavior.

Scientists aren’t sure which of the theories are correct because they haven’tstudied the root of little dogs’ fierce behavior yet, Serpell said. All of thetheories could potentially play a role.

Some tiny breeds are an exception to the rule. One example is the Coton deTulear, also known as the Royal Dog of Madagascar. This dog is small, whiteand fluffy, similar to a bichon frise.

“For some reason, that breed seems to have quite subdued behavior across theboard, but it also has all kinds of medical problems,” Serpell said. “It’sunclear whether that’s because they maybe lack some critical genetic factor.Or it could be related to the fact that they’re just more unhealthy and lessphysically able to react strongly.”

Some aggressive behaviors can be addressed safely while living with the dog,but a professional dog trainer should be the one to work on correcting thebehavior, according to VCA Animal Hospitals, a system of animal hospitals.

Body size may not be the only attribute of small dogs that is associated withaggression. Lower height alone is associated with undesirable traits in somebreeds, according to a 2013 study in the journal PLOS One. For example, dogbreeds with shorter legs are more likely to be fearful of unfamiliar dogs andto have owner-directed aggression. It’s unclear why this is the case, but itmay be something to keep in mind when you’re looking for your next pet.

Source: Live Science

Image: Bigstock

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