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Can large dogs, live with small dogs?

Many rescue groups often come to the hard decision of whether or not a large breed dog can be safely rehomed in a house that has a small dog resident. This is a valid question, and many things should be considered.

I personally have 2 chihuahuas under 10 pounds with a working pack of large breeds, so I believe it can be done, but I look for factors that may or may not fit before making a final decision. Be ready to admit if this is NOT a good fit, and do not let your heart lead your decision because it may not be right for every household. The factors that have to be thought about may not be something your everyday person will plan for or think about. I hope to cover them all in this article to make safer adoptions happen.

Often, small dog owners look to adopt a large breed for a couple reasons; One, they see a heartbreaking post on social media and feel they can save that “poor dog” no one else wants; Or two, they miss owning a big dog to romp around with, or join them on runs and outings.

Obviously the first reason happens very frequently in this day and age. With social media and the wonderful talents of PR folks out there, Fido the giant mixed breed that has been in the shelter system for over 120 days, looks very cute and cuddly in the photos and stories. People tend to think, “Well, my little dog could always jump on the back of the couch to get a break”, “My little dog doesn’t take lip from other dogs, it can hold its own”, or “dogs are pack animals, they would see my little dog as a puppy”. These thoughts are very human….and I hear them from clients every day. Yes dogs are pack animals, yes, tiny spot may be a tough little dog, and yes, while an escape to higher ground is possible, large dogs can also get to higher ground- just quicker.

Before adding a large dog as a companion to your small dog, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Does my small dog get along with other dogs? In most cases, small dogs are carried from place to place, giving them the false thought that they are the “top” dog. This makes small dogs bark intensely at other dogs they see in public or guests that come to visit. This also places a target on their backs to the other dogs who view this as the “forced alpha”, a small dog is a much easier target to take down to gain leadership if the potential addition has a drive to be the protector. If the new addition is a confident personality, or an over rambunctious energetic dog, your small forced alpha, may not appreciate it and try to correct the chaotic behavior.

2. Are you planning on allowing the dogs to work out the “pack order”? If so, stop and say no to a new addition. This never ends well between small and large dogs. You will have to decide to take charge, meaning both dogs have to follow the same rules. If big fido can’t get on furniture, small fido needs to be on the ground too. If big fido, is in the kennel, small fido should be kenneled. And this is very much the practice that is needed in the beginning. Any new addition should be kenneled overnight and when you are not home for at least the first 6 months, which means your little must be as well. Why? Because the new guy has to see you have control of the resident dog as well, or they will try to back you in getting that control.

3. Does my small dog guard its toys or food? A large dog being corrected by a small dog, normally only goes so far. If corrections are left to the small dog and not the human, the large dog is eventually going to correct back. This can be dangerous as it won’t take much for a fatal injury to happen.

4. Does my small dog like to play? This sounds strange yes, but some small dogs like to play like a big dog, running and rough housing with other small dogs, and the play is most often very vocal and mouthy. Small dogs doing this together, seems cute and heartwarming, but it can also be viewed as challenge play by other dogs (big or small). Challenge play between any size dog can lead to a fight. Do you break up play if your dogs get vocal and mouthy? If not, please remember, one of them will correct the rudeness.

5. Is the larger dog, aware of the space around him? Sounds weird, but when the larger of the two dogs is running around (you know, zoomies), does it stop before it hits the human? Is it blind to surroundings when it runs? My 112 pound Rottweiler is known to run short spurts, but he does not get what I call “run blind”. Run blind is when a biggin runs around and bounds through anything in it’s path. This is ok for another large dog, but littles can break a leg or their back quickly if run over by large zoomie accident.

6. Does your dog protect you? Often many dogs sit on their owners lap, they are “lap dogs” in our mind, and dog owners LOVE that they can curl up with their fur baby and watch a good movie. When a human or dog guest comes near you, does your dog (large or small) growl or bark at the intruder, maybe charge them in a “protective way”? If yes, you can imagine what would happen when the new dog decides it too wants affection from mom or dad. Again, a simple correction bite from a large dog means serious injury to a small dog.

7. Does your small dog like to run, and run, and run? One of my littles, LOVES to get the zoomies and run around the house and yard to blow off steam. It’s absolutely adorable to watch the tuck butt and run routine. The large dogs in my house that had a natural drive to chase, were taught a very strict stop and down, which I practice daily still in order to keep it fresh in their minds. I will not stop the fun run for the littles, but instead I teach the big dogs to not chase fast moving little creatures. The game of chase is fun for all dogs, but if a large breed cannot physically shut it off once they get started, you are asking for a potential heartbreak. Remember, while chase is fun, the catch is the ultimate reward for dogs. Even without the intent to take prey down, large dog paws and jaws can do serious damage once the chase gets out of hand.

8. Is your dog (big or small) a “I won’t start it, but I will finish it” type personality? This type of personality can bring obvious issues to the table when adding any size dog. One of my littles came to me as an “overconfident, I can take anything on”, dog because he was giving the rights to do this in his past home. He truly defined the Napoleon Complex in chihuahuas. It took months to teach him to defer his battles to me and walk away from a potential challenge. During this time, I did not allow him to be off leash around the big kids. Yes, I kept him on leash with me for months or crated if I was not able to hold his leash. Now, if the young pup in the pack walks over and plops down “too close” to him, he will walk away without grumbling or telling her off. Are you ready to commit to stopping the normal “I got this” personality?

9. Finally, is your dog nervous/anxious about life around them? This is not just a small dog question. We see hundreds of dogs that are anxious and nervous about life and their surroundings, and they do come in all sizes. A nervous, weaker personality dog may trigger a confident natural born protector dog (again big or small), to attack it for showing weakness. While we think this is absolutely horrible, dogs are survivors, and humans mistakenly give them the right to “be a dog” until it works against our morals.

Asking yourself these 9 questions, whether you are a rescue/shelter adopting considering adopting out a dog, or an owner planning on adding a large dog to your small dog household, can save you and the dogs, a tremendous amount of heartbreak.

Remember, it can be done, if we pay attention to details and personalities. Not every dog will fit in our homes, just like not every person fits in your circle. Take the time to ask your resident dog questions and interview the new adoptable dog like you would a potential life partner, because they should be a “for life” partner.


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