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

ribbon-method-3
Most Recommended
6 Votes
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.
Recommend training method?

The Small Dog, Big Bite Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
1 Vote
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.
Recommend training method?

The Common Ground Method

ribbon-method-1
Least Recommended
1 Vote
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.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Stephanie Plummer

Published: 12/15/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Bobby
jack russell mix
6 Years
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Question
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Bobby
jack russell mix
6 Years

When Bobby was 4 months he was introduced to children that we were told were “ used to being with other dogs and trustworthy” and when we went to go get them food and come back.. I don’t know what they did but I found him underneath my bed trembling and it took a lot to get out. Over the years he’s gotten better but he does tend to growl or bark at new people and dogs, what can I do to help him? Specially when we might be adopting a female American bulldog soon.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kim, First, I will say working with a training group that has several trainers so that people who are experienced with fear can practice being "strangers" during the session will help the training go a lot faster than doing this on your own, so that might be worth considering. I would start by desensitizing him to wearing a basket muzzle if there is any bite history, especially if there is any aggression toward people along with the barking. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s Practice walking pup past willing friends and family you have recruited who are strangers to pup, using the concepts of the passing approach method from the article linked below - this method is related to dogs, but the concepts of passing someone over and over again while working on obedience and rewarding good responses of calmness, tolerance, and focus on you, rather than fear responses can be used to address the dog and people responses. Gradually decreasing the distance between him and the people who are helping you as he improves - the important part is to look for not only a lack of fear aggressive response but specifically for times when pup is actually in a calmer mindset and reward that. Passing Approach method: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs As pup improves and can handle being close to people, then people can practice being in closer quarters (with safety measures like the muzzle or leash tethered securely to something as needed to avoid a fear bite), and tossing treats to pup when he is responding calmly around them. Have the people toss treats while acknowledging him very little when he does well. When pup can handle being around people in general in a variety of situations, then have people give him commands and let him work for the treat rewards to further build trust. Finally, have them go on walks with you, where you can hand off the leash to the other person and pup will follow them also, so that pup is working with and following more people in a calm, respect and trust, based relationship. With other dogs, you can also use the passing approach but I wouldn't do up close interactions without a trainer to oversee present. For that part, I would work closely with a training group and their well trained dogs, or join a G.R.O.W.L. class, which is a class specifically for dog reactive and dog aggressive dogs, to work on their aggression and reactivity while muzzled, in a structured environment under the trainer's leadership. I can be hard to do all of this at the pace need, with the right body language and speed pup needs to keep everyone safe and improve, so this is often much easier when working with a great training group who has a staff of trainers and access to well trained dogs for pup to get used to lots of people and other dogs, not just the one trainer or other dog. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Lexi
German Shepherd
5 Years
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Question
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Lexi
German Shepherd
5 Years

Our neighbor has several dogs. Multiple large ones and one small one. The small one has come to our property in the past and Lexi will just run it off. They have had friendly interactions in the past.
Recently Lexi and the small dog appeared to be playing when Lexi grabbed the dog in her mouth and tossed it back and forth. The small dog is injured. What could have caused this behavior? What do I do?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Diana, It's hard to say exactly why that happened without observing their body language and interactions normally. The small dog's movements may have triggered prey drive in your dog, treating the small dog like they would a rabbit or cat. This is unusual between dogs but can happen with some dogs. It could also have been something that triggered a dog fight between them, opposed to a predatory prey response, but because of the small dog's size, instead of a bite there was a grab and shake response when Lexi went for the small dog. Since you said the small dog has been chased off by your dog before, your dog may be territorial, a resource guarder, or doesn't always like the small dog, even though they have sometimes played alright under certain circumstances. If the small dog was in the wrong area or near something your dog was guarding, that could have triggered the aggression. Even the small dog acting dominating, challenging, or prey-like around your dog with their body language could have triggered a reaction from your dog. Normally, a challenge from the other dog would have led to a fight where there was little injury if both dogs had good bite inhibition, but due to size difference there wasn't any mutuality in the disagreement for a normal fight to happen. I would be careful having your dog around other small dogs off-leash, unless you can hire a professional trainer to observe your dog's body language around small dogs, and determine the exact trigger. I would be most careful on your property where pup may be more likely to be territorial or guard things. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bear
Yorkshire Terrier
3 Months
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Question
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Bear
Yorkshire Terrier
3 Months

Hi, my small dog Bear, is boring at the heels of my big goldendoodle Brady. Brady is starting to get annoyed nd jumps around. Is there anything I can do to give them a better relationship.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Dylan, You will want to reward your older dog for being tolerant of pup, while being the one to moderate their interactions and instruct pup to give space, while making your older dog leave the area if they are acting inappropriate. I would work on teaching pup Leave It and Out, and you enforcing pup give the older dog space, so your older dog feels like you are handling things so they don't have to, in addition to you teaching your older dog to be more tolerant. Whenever puppy enters the room, give your older dog a treat while pup is not looking. Whenever he is calm, relaxed or tolerant of puppy also give him a treat. Try not to let puppy see you rewarding him though so that he doesn’t run over and overwhelm him. I also suggest crate training the puppy. Use the Surprise method from the article linked below to gradually help him learn to be calm in the crate and to relax by using rewards for being Quiet. https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate Crate pup at night and when you leave, and you can use an exercise pen with some toys in it also. When you cannot directly supervise the dogs together, puppy should be crated or in the pen. If you want pup to be free but don't want to chase after him while you are home, you can also clip him to yourself using a six-foot leash, so that he has to stay near you and not wander near your other dog. 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 (like pup pestering your older dog). Out command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method - for teaching Leave It: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Leave It and Out will probably be the two most important things to teach puppy right now. 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, no bothering another dog when they want to be left alone, 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 pup comes over to your older dog when he is trying to sleep, tell pup Out. If puppy obeys, praise and reward him. If he disobeys, stand in front of your older dog, blocking the pup from getting to him, and walk toward pup calmly but firmly until pup leaves the area and stops trying to go back to your older dog. If your older dog growls at your pup, make your older dog leave the room while also disciplining pup by making them leave for antagonizing if they did. Be vigilant and take the pressure off of your older dog - you want him to learn to look to you when there is a problem, and for puppy to learn respect for your older dog because you have taught it to him and not because your older dog has had to resort to aggression or he has to hide all the time. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Geronimo
Yellow lab/ German Shepard/ great dane
5 Years
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Geronimo
Yellow lab/ German Shepard/ great dane
5 Years

Geronimo(yellow big dog) growls and barks every time the puppy(brown one) gets close to his front. He’s fine with the puppy going on his bed, sniffing his back half, and the puppy coming closer then normal to his front if I’m looking at him. However he’s very defensive of his food and the puppy coming close to his face. Every time we go on walks Geronimo wants to play with the other dogs. So how do I get Geronimo to socialize well with the puppy?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Stephanie, You will want to reward your older dog for being tolerant of pup, while being the one to moderate their interactions and instruct pup to give space, while making your older dog leave the area if they are acting inappropriate. I would work on teaching pup Leave It and Out, and you enforcing pup give the older dog space, so your older dog feels like you are handling things so they don't have to, in addition to you teaching your older dog to be more tolerant. I highly recommend feeding both in separate closed crates or at least different rooms. Puppy hasn't learned to respect boundaries yet at this age, and having pup around your older dog while eating will make the older dog feel defensive of the food due to stress. You don't want to add that stress and defensiveness period on top of trying to get them to interact in general, so keep meals separate completely for now. Once they are fine in all other areas, then you can work on desensitizing them to being around each other with food present, AFTER puppy knows commands like Leave It well, so you can be sure they will respect your dog's space while eating. Whenever puppy enters the room, give your older dog a treat while pup is not looking. Whenever he is calm, relaxed or tolerant of puppy also give him a treat. Try not to let puppy see you rewarding him though so that he doesn’t run over and overwhelm him. I also suggest crate training the puppy. Use the Surprise method from the article linked below to gradually help him learn to be calm in the crate and to relax by using rewards for being Quiet. https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate Crate pup at night and when you leave, and you can use an exercise pen with some toys in it also. When you cannot directly supervise the dogs together, puppy should be crated or in the pen. If you want pup to be free but don't want to chase after him while you are home, you can also clip him to yourself using a six-foot leash, so that he has to stay near you and not wander near your other dog. 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 (like pup pestering your older dog). Out command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method - for teaching Leave It: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite 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, no bothering another dog when they want to be left alone, 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 pup comes over to your older dog when he is trying to sleep, tell pup Out. If puppy obeys, praise and reward him. If he disobeys, stand in front of your older dog, blocking the pup from getting to him, and walk toward pup calmly but firmly until pup leaves the area and stops trying to go back to your older dog. If your older dog growls at your pup, make your older dog leave the room while also disciplining pup by making them leave for antagonizing if they did. Be vigilant and take the pressure off of your older dog - you want him to learn to look to you when there is a problem, and for puppy to learn respect for your older dog because you have taught it to him and not because your older dog has had to resort to aggression or he has to hide all the time. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
fifi
Maltese
2 Years
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Question
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fifi
Maltese
2 Years

we are adopting a new dog soon and we're worried about how our little one might react. we've noticed that she gets a little territorial when it comes to other dogs. she barks a lot to them when they try to say hello and she also growls but she never actually attacks. we take her out to places with other dogs often but she still seems to be a little feisty. we're adopting a female labrador and she's obviously bigger. is there something specific we should do so both of them are happy and comfortable?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Samantha, I would start by building more structure into pup's day and building her respect for you gently, so she will listen better, be less likely to guard you around the puppy, and be in a more relaxed, following mindset in general. Check out the article I have linked below on building respect - even though it says Doberman, the methods are the same for various breeds. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you I would teach both pups the following commands, starting with your current dog before pup comes home, then teach the puppy too gradually after they arrive. Prioritize Place, Out, and Leave It. Out - which means leave the area: 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 Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Heel- Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Off- section on The Off command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-train-dog-stay-off-couch/ When you first introduce the dogs, try to do it in neutral territory instead of inside your home. Keep any greetings on leash no longer than 3 seconds to prevent a fight. Have the dogs go on a walk together with enough space between them that they can't touch each other, walking together in the same direction, especially when the dogs know how to Heel (which puppy likely won't yet, but that's okay), is a great way to build a calm bond between dogs. When pup is ready to come into your home, give boundaries for both, monitor them together, and you be the one to enforce rules and prevent pup from pestering your older dog, or your older dog bullying puppy. I don't recommend just letting them work it out most of the time, teach them how to act around each other. I highly suggest crate training the puppy. Almost all puppies will cry the first two weeks of crate training - it is new to them and they have to be given the opportunity to learn to self-sooth and self-entertain to prepare them for environments they will have to be in later and prevent dangerous destructive chewing habits that happen without confinement. Instead of letting her out of the crate when she cries, use the Surprise method from the article linked below to gradually help her learn to be calm in the crate and to relax by using rewards for being Quiet. https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate Crate pup at night and when you leave, and you can use an exercise pen with some toys in it also. When you cannot directly supervise the dogs together, puppy should be crated or in the pen. 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 pup comes over to your older dog when she is trying to sleep, tell pup Out. If she obeys, praise and reward her. If she disobeys, stand in front of your older dog, blocking the pup from getting to her, and walk toward pup calmly but firmly until pup leaves the area and stops trying to go back to your older dog. If your older dog growls at your pup, make Fifi leave the room while also disciplining pup the same way if pup antagonized. Be vigilant and take the pressure off of your older dog - you want her to learn to look to you when there is a problem, and for puppy to learn respect for your older dog because you have taught it to her and not because your older dog has had to resort to aggression. If you want pup to be free but don't want to chase after her while you are home, you can also clip her to yourself using a six-foot leash, so that she has to stay near you and not wander near your other dog. When puppy first enters the room and when you catch your older dog being especially calm or tolerant, without puppy seeing you doing it, slip your older dog a small treat to encourage that calmness and tolerance and help her associate the puppy with good things. Just make sure pup doesn't see and run over for one too - which could lead to food fights. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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