Toy Breeds – Are They Ankle Biters?

April 29, 2009

By Dianna Young

Your doorbell rings, you open the door, and before you can stop your dog she charges aggressively past you onto the porch and is all over your poor visitor like a falcon on a duck.

A tragedy in the making?
Not really. Your dog’s squeaky “Yip, Yip, Yip!” doesn’t exactly instill fear. Your dog is a four-pound Mexican Chihuahua who just thinks she’s a Rottweiler. Actually, the whole display is kind of cute.

Except, of course, in the eyes of your visitor, who probably would like to wring the little bugger’s neck. Dog aggression never is cute when you’re the target of it, even when it comes in a small package.

A lot of toy breeds have the reputation of being ankle-biters. Is that because they are just low-quality breeds? Or is it because of something else?

Actually, it’s because of something else. Whether you have a four-pound dog or a 150-pound dog, its default setting still is a doggy brain. Large or small, dogs view the world and interpret information in exactly the same way. Sometimes, however, we fail to create enough structure for a toy breed, because we tend to overlook a lot of their bad behavior.

In overlooking poor behavior, however, we empower poor behavior. The dog in such a scenario sees the other entities in its household as weak. If there aren’t strong entities in the house, the dog believes it has no choice but to take that responsibility for itself. Even though it may be only a four-pounder, it becomes — in its own mind — the leader of the pack.

Dogs believe that every pack needs a leader, no matter whether the pack’s members are dogs or humans or a combination of both. And a dog’s default setting, regardless of its size, is to fill any apparent vacuum in leadership. This often becomes immediately apparent to us when we’re dealing with a large dog. We tend to overlook it when we deal with tiny dogs. But rules, structure and boundaries are just as important for your four-pound dog so it doesn’t become a nuisance to others.

Quite often we treat toy breeds like human infants. We carry them around a lot. We allow them on our furniture. We don’t ask much of them, and we don’t set up rules and boundaries for them. If a 150-pound Rottweiler jumps up on us, we almost always see that as bad behavior. If a four-pound Chihuahua jumps on us, we have no trouble overlooking it.

If a 150-pound Rottweiler aggresses the UPS man at our front door, hopefully we tend to take notice of it. If a four-pound Chihuahua does it, we tend to see it as cute.

Small breeds are no easier or harder to train than larger dogs. The default wiring is the same; their brains are wired “doggy.” The intensity of the corrections you give during training certainly will be dramatically different for a Chihuahua than for a Rottie, but you should correct for all of the same poor behaviors. You certainly shouldn’t want to excuse them.

Dianna Young is a certified dog trainer and canine behaviorist from Camano Island, where she operates Camano Island Kennels Dog Boarding and Training Facility. She can be reached at (360) 387-DOGS or at Or visit us at facebook.

One Response to “Toy Breeds – Are They Ankle Biters?”
  1. Ball pit guide says:

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