How to Train Your Big Dog to Get Along With a Small Dog

Medium
4-8 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

Because big dogs can be intimidating, some small dogs might be a little fearful of your big guy. Big dogs also don't always know their size. Big dogs will try to fit into small spaces thinking that is their size, and big dogs will try to play the same way small dogs play, not truly understanding the size difference between the two. This could also mean your big dog plays a little rougher and your little guy could become injured or even stepped on. 

Training your big dog to get along with a small dog is imperative, especially if you have big and small dogs in your household. They should be able to get along. They should be friends. And hopefully, if you play your cards right, they should play together too.

Defining Tasks

Training your big dog to get along with your small dog will also include training your small dog to get along with your big dog. Some small dogs are definitely bigger than their bite and can stand on their own, but others are timid, shy, and fearful. This demeanor may encourage your big dog even more. Put these two dogs on the same level when you are training them both and work with them at the same time. Be sure to offer both a treat at the same time if possible. If you give one dog a treat, be sure to give the other dog a treat. This will teach the two dogs that they are both equal in the household.

Getting Started

You will need lots of tasty treats to train your dogs to play together and be nice to one another. You will also need patience and training time with a big dog and a small dog. If you don't own both big dogs and small dogs, but you still want them to get along, try to find a small dog that you can introduce your big guy to, so he knows that there are dogs of all sizes out in his world and he needs to know how to interact with them. You can do this by organizing play dates through your groomer or veterinarian, or you can take your dog to a dog park and see if anyone is interested in introducing their little guy to your big guy. Be sure to have treats for both dogs at all times.

The Distance Method

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1 Vote
Step
1
Introduction
When you need to introduce your big dog to a small dog, keep the introduction short and sweet and both dogs confined if it all possible. This could mean have you both dogs on leashes or it could mean having both dogs in crates with the crates side-by-side.
Step
2
Behavior
Pay attention to how both dogs behave during their introduction when they can't get to one another. Notice whether they are interested in one another or are aggressive and growling or barking at one another.
Step
3
Treats
Hold up two treats so both dogs can see. They should turn their attention from one another to you. Hand both dogs each a treat at the same time.
Step
4
Ignore
Ignore them once they both have treats. This will give them a moment to eat their treats and then decide what to do next. Do not look at them; just try to notice what they do once their treats are finished. Giving them time to eat the treats is giving them a moment to be distracted and to rethink how to address the problem at hand.
Step
5
What's next
After your dogs have eaten the treats and have looked at you for more, as they probably will do, they need to address each other again. They will either do this with curiosity after just having a tasty treat or they will turn and be aggressive.
Step
6
Treat again
If they are calm and curious about one another, you can look them both in the eyes and offer them each another treat. If they are aggressive, repeat the steps above where you hold up the treat without making eye contact and then hand one treat to each them wait a moment and then ignore them.
Step
7
Repeat and practice
Continue to repeat these steps until your dogs are no longer aggressive. Once they are curious and showing signs of leaning forward to sniff one another you can acknowledge both of them.
Step
8
Meeting
Once your dogs show very little interest in being aggressive with one another, you can have them meet one another by bringing their leashes closer and letting them explore and sniff, or by taking them out of their crates and letting them interact.
Step
9
Rewards
As long as they are getting along, continue to give them rewards in the form of treats as they explore and play together. If they are not getting along, separate them slightly so they can't fight. Then repeat the steps above.
Step
10
Practice
Once your big dog and the little dog are sharing the same spaces together, continue to practice these steps offering them rewards every time they show no interest in being aggressive or when you catch them sniffing and exploring or playing nicely. Rewards will remind them to get along so they can earn treats together.
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The Common Ground Method

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Step
1
Introduction
Bring food for each dog to the initial introduction of the dogs. If these dogs already know one another and you are trying to train them to get along, bring special treats for them both to your training sessions and reintroduction to one another.
Step
2
On leashes
Whether this is a first introduction or a reintroduction, put both dogs on a leash. For the first several training sessions together, they should both be on leashes. This teaches them that you are master and you are controlling the training sessions.
Step
3
Big dog
Your big dog might be excited to interact with this little guy, especially if the small dog is new to him. Control him on his leash so he doesn't overreact, become too excited, and injure the little dog. As you are introducing the little dog to your big guy, offer him a treat. This will distract him a bit with food as well as let him know that there may be more to earn with good behavior.
Step
4
Small dog
The same as with your big dog, watch the small dog and as soon as he sees the big dog, offer him a treat. This sets the tone for the dogs' meeting and training sessions together. Each dog knows there are treats at stake and they will need to earn them.
Step
5
Commands
If you haven't worked with the dogs individually on basic commands, you may want to try these before the dogs interact much together. If your dogs already know basic commands, start by having them both sit. When they obey, give them another treat.
Step
6
Work together
With the dogs still on leashes, have them do some commands they know together. So when you ask them to sit they both sit at the same time and they both earn a treat. Do as many commands as they can get through while expecting them to react and respond at the same time and rewarding them at the same time. This puts each dog on the same level with you as the master.
Step
7
Gentle play
After some commands and treats, bring the dogs closer together to sniff and explore one another. Keep them on leashes, especially if they have fought in the past or if they are just meeting one another. Let them explore. Remember your big dog is probably bigger than he believes he is and can cause your little dog injury if he is overly excited and jumps around.
Step
8
Rewards
As they are sniffing one another and exploring the other, offer them each treats. Earned rewards for both dogs will remind them that if they both behave, they can both earn treats. Watch both dogs as they're eating the treats you have given them at the same time to ensure one is not aggressive with the other and trying to grab his treat.
Step
9
Off-leash
As your big dog and small dog get more used to each other and are rewarded for good behavior when they're together, try to have them together off-leash. Start this by keeping the leashes on the dogs but completely let go of them. This way, if something happens you can grab the leash pulling your dogs off of each other but without controlling them while they're making their own choices to get along.
Step
10
Unhook leash
When you can trust your big dog and little dog to be in the same space playing or working on training commands together, earning treats, unhook the leashes. Let them practice being around one another without the leashes. Keep practicing with the dogs sharing the same space.
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The Small Dog, Big Bite Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Aggressive
A small dog who is aggressive can actually intimidate a dog much larger than themselves. A large dog who is intimidated may very well run away or jump around, putting a small dog at risk.
Step
2
Get together
If your little guy is aggressive and you need to introduce a big dog into his world, socialize your little guy as much as you can away from the big dog. Start small by introducing your dog to dogs that are the same size. Keep them on leashes and meet in neutral territory, such as dog parks or even on a walk together. For the first several walks, keep your dog's playmate his size.
Step
3
Go up a size
While you are socializing your little dog with other dogs his size, search for dogs that are a bit bigger than him but not by much. So if you have a small breed, search for something in between small and medium-sized. Repeat socializing these two dogs together in situations where your dog is safe but understands he's a little bit smaller than his new walking buddy.
Step
4
Increase size
Keep repeating this process and socializing your little dog as much as you can away from the big dog. Continue to increase the size of the dog you socialize with your dog. To do this, find dogs at dog parks, talk to your friends, and find people who can go on walks with their dog and your dog together. Keep these social times short and only have one dog at a time playing with your little guy.
Step
5
Super size
Once you have gone through all of the different sized dogs, increasing in size each time while socializing your little guy, bring a big dog into your dog's world's in a social setting. Go for the same walks, go to the same dog parks, and have your little guy socialize with this big dog. If he has been socialized over the last few weeks with other dogs closer to his size and getting bigger over time, this should be a piece of cake for him.
Step
6
Rewards
Make this time with your little dog and the big dog special by offering them both rewards as they walk together and get to know one another.
Step
7
Practice
Put these two dogs in different situations on leashes while walking in your backyard, not leashed while playing at dog parks with other dogs, and inside your home. If these are your two dogs they need to know how to get along wherever they are. Be sure to always reward them for a job well done and for good behavior when they are getting along together.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Bambi
Chihuahua
10 Years
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Question
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Bambi
Chihuahua
10 Years

The problem I am having with Bambi is her being aggressive towards a new dog. I do have another dog that she gets along fine with (he's the black dog). A couple times we had a "sleepover" with my friends dog and she was not having it at all. We tried separating them in different rooms so that they could sniff each other under the doors. When we eventually let them all out, she would want to sniff the new dog, but wouldn't let him sniff her so she would growl and try to bite him. My other dog got along fine with the new one, but she didn't. I want to try and fix this problem because I'm planning on rescuing a bigger dog, but I'm not sure if I can with her like this.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
294 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tessa, If you can find a G.R.O.W.L. class in your area I think that she would really benefit from attending that class. The class is for reactive and aggressive dogs who all wear muzzle's during the class for safety and they are intensively socialized at a quicker pace. Her aggression sounds mild compared to some but the socialization in that type of safer environment would probably really benefit her. I also suggest practicing her heel (where you are leading the walk, she has to walk right next to you, and focus on you) with others who are doing the same. The structure of the walk and being in the following mindset while around the other dogs would be a good, calm way to socialize her probably. only walk her, have other owners handle their own dogs. She needs to work on tolerance but for her that probably needs to look like structure, following your lead, and generally getting used to being around a variety of dogs while everything is controlled (opposed to off-leash unstructured play like a dog park - which could make the problem worse). Check out the "Walking Together" method from the article that I have linked below: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Liberty
Weimaraner
5 Years
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Question
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Liberty
Weimaraner
5 Years

Liberty does fine at a dog park, yet she doesn't know how to play. She looks at them like back off, I'm human. She does growl but has never bitten. She tries to get away instead. I'm getting a little puppy and it will be a small breed. Do you think I'm being stupid? I have four son's and she is great with them and was always gentle with our youngest. He is now 5.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
294 Dog owners recommended

Hi Kristi, It could go either way with a puppy. Dog parks are highly arousing and a lot of dogs there were not socialized while young and don't interact properly, so some dogs don't enjoy being there. I suggest testing out one on one interactions with other dogs to see if Liberty can simply peacefully co-exist around another dog without aggression or anxiety. Don't expect playfulness - she just needs to be able to simply hang out with the other dog without issues or stress. Test her around a few friends' dogs. Take the dogs on walks together where both dogs are heeling and focusing on you and not competing to be in front. Practice down stays at the house if the walk goes well. Finally, let the dogs simply hang out at the house with supervision. Keep both dogs from pestering the other one though. If she can calmly peacefully co-exist around other dogs without aggression or anxiety that is a good sign. Next, if she does well around friends' dogs test her around a puppy. Don't let the puppy pester her but see if she seems aggressive or anxious around the puppy even when he isn't directly bothering her. Be careful to take measures to protect pup in case she reacts poorly. A loose leash or back tie leash are good ideas, but your body language should be calm and relaxed so don't tense up on the leash. A back tie may help you be less tense or manage the puppy better. If she does well with all of the "hang out" interactions that is a good sign. If you do get a puppy at that point, expect to supervise them together and with a LOT of boundaries and structure. You will want to encourage calmness and focus on you in both dogs. You will want to keep pup from pestering Liberty, crate train pup and use an exercise pen for pup for times when you can't directly supervise to train dogs to be calm around each other - liberty may never play with the puppy and that is fine as long as she is kind and respectful toward pup, and you teach pup to be the same way back. Don't let them make or enforce rules for each other or "work things out on their own" - that can lead to fights. Create your house rules for dogs, enforce it for both dogs so both dogs don't have to be pushy to get what they need (like space while eating or sleeping). You want both dogs following you so that leadership isn't in question. On the flip side, enroll pup in a high quality puppy kindergarten class that has time for off leash play to help with her socialization. Don't expect Liberty to teach her what she needs to know as a dog. Take her around other puppies (puppies play differently with dogs, so no dog parks while young, but lots of puppy play groups). Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Woody
Labrador Retriever
3 Months
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Question
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Woody
Labrador Retriever
3 Months

We just got Woody, a 30 lb 3 month old lab mix. He loves exploring the world with his mouth and is very clumsy as he doesn’t know his size yet. We also have an older 15 lb dachshund. When Woods sees Dexter, he paws and bites him as he would with dogs his size. How can we correct this behavior?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
294 Dog owners recommended

Hello Christian, I suggest teaching an "Out" command, a Leave It command, crate training him, and using an Exercise pen. Work on the Out command while you can supervise to teach him boundaries around the older dog. When you cannot supervise, attach him to yourself with a leash or confine him in a sturdy exercise pen with a food stuffed chew toy. You can make the exercise pen more sturdy by putting it in a corner and anchoring it to something stable. When you leave the house, confine him in a crate. I also suggest signing up for a puppy kindergarten class that has time for off leash to help him learn to control the pressure of his mouth by playing with other puppies and being given feedback - the play in the class should be monitored and puppies given breaks and calmed back down if a puppy starts to bully or feel overwhelmed. Out command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Introducing a crate: https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Little Bit
Chihuahua
Six Years
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Question
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Little Bit
Chihuahua
Six Years

We've had our female Chihuahua for about 6 years. Recently, we brought a rescue male Boxer (Gryff) into the house. They've already tussled twice and the chihuahua got injured. She's the alpha, or thinks she it, but she gets in his face and growls and it makes him mad, or so it seems. The boxer is the most loving dog a person could have, but their interaction is causing us concern for the smaller dog. Our question is, will they ever be able to grow comfortable together or do we have a larger issue on our hands? Thanks!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
294 Dog owners recommended

Hello Ron, Without intervention they will likely not work it on their own. The more fights they have the worse it could get honestly. Both dogs need respect for you increased, clear boundaries and rules in the house, and to have the humans in the house enforce the rules for them so that neither dog is allowed to decide or enforce rules for another dog. First, work on building each dog's respect for you. I suggest teaching the following commands, especially Heel and Place. Also, if you chihuahua seems to be the instigator have her or both dogs work for everything they get for a while. For example, have her sit before you pet her, Down before you feed her, Watch Me before you let her outside, Wait before you throw a toy, ect...Make her work for what she gets in life. This is a non-confrontational way to gradually help build respect. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Working Method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Crate manners: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-the-crate/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Create rules for the dogs and enforce them for each dog. For example: 1. No bothering another dog when they want to be left alone. 2. No trying to steel another dogs food or hovering around while they eat. 3. No guarding objects or people. 4. No blocking another dog from getting to a certain area or from going through a door way. 5. No being pushy with people or other dogs. 6. No stealing another dogs toy they have. Decide what your rules are and when one dog breaks them intervene. For example, if one dog takes another dog's toy, take the toy back from the thief, return it to the dog who had it first, and make the thief leave the room. If one dog tries to guard you or the couch from another dog, make the growling dog get off the couch and leave the room right away. If one dog tries to steal another dog's food block the thief and firmly walk toward them until they leave the room - better yet feed both dogs in locked crates to prevent stress around mealtimes in general. When both dogs respect you, know the house rules, and know through your consistency that you will enforce the rules, it leaves less room for the dogs to try to control each other and get into fights. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Duke
Australian Shepherd
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Duke
Australian Shepherd
5 Years

Hi! I recently adopted Duke and the shelter did tell me about his past aggressive behavior toward other people and dogs. When he was at home with us he’s generally just calm and a happy dog which can get a bit hyper, typical Aussie. He’s big but he also seems to think like he’s a lap dog because he’s very clingy to me. He enjoys being petted while sitting next to me. He doesn’t bark and seems to tolerate other people when I take him out on walks. There was that one incident though when he saw a small dog being walked by its owner barking at him and he got too excited, he got out of his collar/leash and attacked the other dog. I think it’s more like wanting to play with another dog than being aggressive. But since he’s about 60lbs and the other dog is a miniature schnauzer, it almost seemed like he attacked the other dog and the dog was shaking in fear. Now I kinda get anxious about walking him and him seeing another dog. He only seems to act this way towards a small dog barking at him. I feel like he’s just misunderstood before and plus him being currently on heartworm treatment and having his activity level very restricted doesn’t help with his socialization, possibly contributing to behavioral problems. What can I do to help him socialize with other dogs without compromising his health? How can I avoid another attack on other dogs in the future?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
294 Dog owners recommended

Hello Janna, To prevent him from getting away again I suggest either using a padded front clip harness to walk him or a prong collar with a caribeener between the prong collar and a normal buckle collar for added safety. Check out the video below for details on how to connect the collars. The prong collar will discourage fighting the leash to get away and stop the escape attempts that way, and the front clip harness simply makes it so that he can't slip a collar, but you will have to hold on tight to the leash and work on his behavior around other dogs still. About Prong collars: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3iczULPcdE Fitting and carabinering the prong collar and buckle collar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23zEy-e6Khg Walking with the prong collar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVvy6fztL2Q&t=6s He needs to be interrupted with a small correction as soon as he starts scanning looking for other dogs or getting too worked up - if you wait until he explodes it will be hard to get through to him. When he remains calm or calms back down, praise him softly, and be sure to give him something else to do, like heeling with lots of turns and changes in pace to keep his focus on you around other dogs - to teach him to ignore them. Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel For socialization, work on calm obedience commands like Place and Down Stay and have people come over to your house and toss treats to him for staying calmly. You can also practice Heel, Down, Sit and Place while other dogs are walking by, and reward him for staying calm, obeying, and focusing on you. The main goal with his past should be to teach him to be self-controlled, calm, and relaxed around other dogs, so he doesn't necessarily need to be roughhousing or playing with them for socialization now - he could even have issues with that if there is a history of aggression. Once he is past heartworm treatment, then going on structured walks and hikes with other dogs while heeling would be great for him. It gives him companionship but encourages calmness, purposeful activity, and a pleasant association with other dogs because the hiking and walking is fun. Joining a Canine Good Citizen class, Intermediate Obedience class (basic obedience if he doesn't know commands yet), or some type of structured, calm class where he works on focusing around other dogs would also help with socialization when he is feeling better. For now work on calm obedience commands in the presence of other dogs so that he simply associates the dogs with calmness, focus on you, and something pleasant - treats for obeying. Have people over and practice calm obedience too, with the new people tossing treats to him for his polite behavior. Watch him carefully around new people at first though to make sure he does not have issues with possessiveness, fear-aggression, or any other type of aggression. Someone should always be aware of the potential for aggression or fear with a new dog, especially one that may have a history of some type of issue. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Theo
German shepherd anatolian
6 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Theo
German shepherd anatolian
6 Years

So we recently got theo at a pound, he is older and fairly mellow and get along with most dogs when walking out an about. At home though we have two smaller dogs, one being a chihuahua mix. She is more aggressive with newer dogs but she gets along with our other small dog just ffine. She bites and theo and sometimes he doesnt react but other times he has pinned her in a corner or on the floor and one time he got her pretty good, but that day me and him were out in the sun so he may have been tired. He kind of eye balls the other two and sniffs them alot and it's been about 3 weeks since we have had him. I dont know if it will settle down or get worse. We have left them at home for hours before and no one was eaten but how do I know if they will for sure get along.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
294 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kendra, You need to hire a trainer to help you. It sounds like your Chihuahua is the main issue. Theo was very tolerant initially but is starting to fight back because your small dog is bullying him. If your Chihuahua keeps instigating fights Theos dislike for her will increase and he will have to increase the amount of aggression he uses toward her to get her to stop if she isn't backing off. To see improvement, your chihuahua's behavior issues need to be dealt with, and Theo taught to let you handle issues. It may be something that can be addressed well but it probably won't fix itself without working with the dogs and changing some things. When you are not home, they absolutely need to be kept separate. Not only does it put them at risk but it also gives your small dog a chance to bully Theo and the issue get worse and worse. When you are supervising, teach both dogs the Out command (which means leave the area) and make whoever is causing issues leave the area as needed. Out command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Decide what your house rules are for both dogs and you be the one to enforce the rules instead of the dogs. No aggression, no pushiness, no stealing toys, no stealing food, no being possessive of people or things, or any other unwanted behavior - if one dog is causing a problem you be the one to enforce the rules so that the dogs are NOT working it out themselves. For example, if one dog comes over to your other dog while she is trying to sleep, tell pup "Out". If he obeys, praise and reward him. If he disobeys, stand in front of your dog who is trying to bother the other dog (if there is no aggression or fight yet), blocking the dog from getting to her, and walk toward pup calmly but firmly until pup leaves the area and stops trying to go back to your other dog. Don't do this during a fight or if that dog has shown aggression toward you - use this to enforce rules before things get tense. If your small dog growls at Theo, make her leave the room while also disciplining Theo if he was doing something he shouldn't, like trying to steal a toy. Be vigilant and take the pressure off of both dogs to manage each other. You want the dogs to learn to look to you when there is a problem, and both to learn respect each other because you have taught it to them and not because either dog resorted to aggression. Get professional help, use basket muzzles, or both if you are in danger of being bitten - always take precautions to avoid a bite - don't assume a dog won't bite because any dog can. I also suggest teaching both dogs Place and working up to both dogs being able to stay on Place for an hour at a time. Have them go to Place to practice peacefully being near each other, avoid issues, and generally to increase calmness and a respectful attitude. Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo The following is also a good exercise for increasing calmness and respect: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-the-crate/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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