Teach Big Dogs to Play Nicely With Small Dogs

We all want our dogs of all sizes to get along, but sometimes the owners of small dogs can get (understandably) a little nervous about inviting bigger dogs to play. Here in Fargo, the dog parks are even divided up with an area for "big dogs" and an area for "small dogs." The following are some ideas to

Help your dog (no matter her size) get along with larger and smaller dogs.

1. All dog introductions should be slow.

When a new dog enters the dog park, all the other dogs come charging up to greet the newcomer. This can be threatening - or at least overwhelming - to the new dog. This is why I only recommend dog parks for extremely easygoing, well-socialized dogs.

To be on the safe side, it's always best to introduce new dogs very slowly. Walking them together side by side with no pressure to interact is much better than head-on greetings with direct eye contact. This is true for dogs of all sizes, but when introducing a small dog to a larger dog, it's even more important. I recommend using a martingale dog collar during walks to encourage good leash manners while preventing the dog from slipping away.

2. Make sure the small dog behaves, too.

I've noticed quite a few dog-to-dog interactions where the small dog is the one being inappropriate. The small dog might be barking constantly, nipping at the larger dog's face or paws or perhaps trying to climb on top of the larger dog. No one says anything until - finally - the big dog lets out a growl or a nasty bark. And then what happens? The big dog is scolded! Instead, the owners should've intervened a long time ago and re-directed the attention of the smaller dog.

It's important to watch both dogs for signs of stress. For example, one dog might be trying to avoid the other by looking away or pretending to show interest in the grass.

3. Take breaks during play sessions.

If two dogs are playing nicely, and there starts to be a lot of barking, growling, wrestling and chasing, it's a good idea to re-direct them for a moment so the overall energy defuses. As play escalates, sometimes it can lead to rougher and rougher play and sometimes a fight. So, it's best to encourage the dogs to take it down a notch and resume appropriate playing after a few minutes. This is especially true for dogs that don't know each other well, if you're dealing with two dogs of very different sizes or if the larger dog has any amount of prey drive.

A few other safety precautions:

  • Keep all the dog toys put away. This prevents either dog from showing possessiveness over a toy.
  • When dogs are playing, buckle dog collars are a good option because these are easier to remove if the dogs get tangled.

4. Slowly socialize your dog to dogs of all sizes.

It's important for dogs to learn to play appropriately with other dogs of all sizes. If you have a puppy or a friendly dog, start introducing her to a variety of dogs of different breeds, sizes, ages and energy levels. Of course, there are some dogs that just don't play nicely with others. If your dog needs some help in this area, it's a good idea to seek some help from a professional trainer.

Does your dog play nicely with others?