Large Vs. Small Dogs: Who’s Easier to Train and Why?


Maybe you will agree when I say that small dogs get away with things – a lot. Imagine a small dog jumping on you. Cute, right? Now imagine a large dog doing the same. Do you still find it cute? It can be an injury that is waiting to happen! I will give you another example – a small dog barking at someone looks funny, while a large dog doing the same thing looks scary.

Who is Easier to Train?

When training a small dog vs. a large dog, there is not much difference in their abilities. On the other hand, there is a big difference when it comes to human requirements.

Large dogs need to be better trained. They need a more polite greeting and a stronger stay. Large dogs also need to be more docile than small ones so they can move around safely in the house or outside.

The difference is subtle when it comes to training mechanics. It doesn’t matter if the dog is small or not – we still use the same positive reinforcement methods, cues, and management strategies to shape their behavior.

As to the question of who’s easier to train, it doesn’t actually depend on the size of the dog. There are still more factors to consider. You can train a small dog and a large dog with the same methods. The only difference is you have to adjust some aspects because of their size.

However, those subtle differences, however small they are, can also get in the way of success.

Training Small Dogs

Small dog owners handle their dogs in a different way than large breed owners. For instance, large dogs have to learn commands such as “stay” and “come” to keep them safe. On the other hand, small dog owners don’t feel the need to teach their dogs those commands because they can just easily pick them up.

Dogs that are twenty-five pounds or less are considered small dogs. They have a strong protective instinct for their owners, and they seem vulnerable that owners tend to worry about them a lot. For them, unfamiliar dogs are already a threat, and rough play with larger dogs can result in a broken neck or a crushing injury.

Many small dogs are under-socialized and untrained; that is why it is quite common to encounter small dogs who are reactive to other animals, yappy, and fearful of humans. They tend to ignore their owners when not on-leash, pull at their leashes, and they just don’t have any idea about basic obedience. This happens because some owners don’t train their dogs; they feel that they can protect them because they are small.

Small Dog Stereotype and How to Confront it

All dogs, small or large, are very capable of learning obedience behaviors. It is vital that you train your dog. You wouldn’t have to worry about situations where you may not be able to rescue your dog from danger.

Remember that small dogs can learn new skills in the same way large dogs can. You can also opt to train them to participate in various canine competitions such as agility, nose work, freestyle, flyball, and others.

Small dogs don’t often get enough exercise or mental stimulation. It is wrong to think that they don’t need them. Training would be highly beneficial for both the owner and the dog.

Training Tips for Small Dogs

  • Use small treats

Small dogs only need tiny treats, or else, your small dog will be not so small in no time. If the treats available are too big, you can break them into very tiny pieces.

  • Stand small

When a dog isn’t familiar with human vocal tones and body language, it can be intimidating for then when you tower over them. The tinier the dog, the more overpowered they can feel. When you are training your small dog, you should show them welcoming eyes, use a soft voice, and do small movements. You can turn slightly to the side then get down to their level.

  • Train on their level

When you train your small dog while standing, you might get horrible back pain, and you can’t focus on training your dog when you are in pain. What you can do instead is sit on the floor. It will also be less intimidating for your small dog when you are close to their level. You can even sit on a low chair or stool or move your pooch to a raised surface, and of course, it should be comfortable for them.

  • The “lift-off” cue

Small dogs are often lifted up without warning, and it can be startling and even scary for them. Imagine suddenly losing the ground beneath your feet, scary, isn’t it? It would be beneficial if you train your dog a command that lets them know that you are about to pick them up. You can choose any word you like, just make sure it’s one word. It can be “lift,” “lift-off,” “carry,” or others.

To train your dog the command, put your hands on them, say the cue, then apply a little pressure without lifting them. This action will make your dog realize that they are about to be lifted. When your dog seems to be aware that you are about to pick them up, you can pick them up if you please. Use the verbal cue consistently so your dog can associate the word with being lifted up.

  • Use small training tools and toys

The tools you should be using on your small dog should be lightweight – from their harness to their collar and leash. Chain and leather collars and leashes are a no-no for small dogs. Some small dogs have fragile necks, so it is recommended to use a harness for them.

  • Respect their size

You might find it hard to train your small dog to lie down. They are already tiny and vulnerable, and they are aware of it. When they are lying on the floor, they will even be more vulnerable and smaller. Small dogs are also more sensitive to rough or hard surfaces and cold. Small dogs should be trained to lie down on soft and raised surfaces. They will feel comfortable and less threatened.

  • Set the same standards on your small dog as you would on a big dog

Just because they are small doesn’t mean that they can just jump up on you when they feel like it. Anything that a large dog isn’t allowed to do should also be the case for a small dog. What you can do is ignore the wrong behavior and reward the desirable behavior. Using this method will slowly extinguish bad behavior. You can teach your small dog to stay and sit just like the big ones.

  • Give your dog some space

Your dog should meet new people and other dogs on her own terms as much as possible. When you force an introduction to a frightened or shy small dog, it removes their ability to keep their distance if they need to. What you can do is leave your dog on the ground, and you should respect their wishes. If your dog seems unfriendly or skittish, don’t force it.

  • Keep the training positive

Positive reinforcement always works whether your dog is small or big. It is an excellent method to use to train dogs. You can choose to use a clicker or other reward-based methods. For small dogs, punishment-based training can be frightening and harmful to them. It will be too easy to hurt a small dog accidentally by giving it, let’s say, a leash correction. Your dog, being a lot smaller than you is already intimidating enough for them, adding punishment will only increase the intimidation they are feeling.

You have to keep things upbeat and positive. You can offer continual praise and treats, so your approval will be reinforced. Your tiny dog will surely learn to love their training sessions.

Advantages of Having a Small Dog

  • Small dogs can cost less

Taking care of small dogs cost less when it comes to food and some veterinary expenses. Small dogs eat less than their larger counterparts, and they are easier to handle when it comes to neutering, spaying and other medical procedures.

  • Small dogs are more popular

According to the AKC, the majority of the breeds registered with them each year are small breeds.

  • Cheap travel dates

It is less costly and a lot easier to travel with small dogs because of the apparent reason that they take up less space.

  • Small dogs are ideal for city dwellers

When you live in an apartment, it is more practical to own a small dog because of the limited space.

Training Large Dogs

Imagine a full-grown Great Dane jumping up on you. Scary, right? They can knock you over easily. When it comes to large dogs, obedience training is highly essential. The bigger the dog, the potential risk increases when they misbehave. Training large dogs will make it safe for the owner, the dog, and other people around them.

Large dogs are very obedient and easy to train if you start them young, establish clear rules, and are consistent. They respond very well to positive reinforcement than punishment for undesirable behavior. Large dogs are quite sensitive and will have the tendency to fight back if they don’t like the punishment. It is better to teach them acceptable behaviors rather than battling bad habits.

Big Dog Problems

Large dogs, especially the giant breeds, pose apparent problems. They take up more space, and because of their height, they are able to accidentally knock off things on the coffee table with their wagging tails or reach food on the table. Some owners do feel threatened because of the strength and size of their dogs.

Training Tips for Large Dogs

  • Ask help from a professional dog trainer if you are a new dog owner and don’t know what to do

Large dogs are harder to train than small dogs because of their size, and if it’s your first time to own a dog, you may need help from a professional.

  • Start training them when they are young

You have to make sure that they know who the boss is. The younger your dog is trained, the more likely they’re going to grow up well-behaved. It will be easier to manage them if they are still small puppies than training them when they are all grown-up.

For instance, it will be way more challenging to train a fully-grown Rottweiler, mainly because they grew up without rules or structure to make them realize the difference of a desirable from undesirable behavior.

When training a large dog breed, use an authoritarian voice and a commanding presence so they would know that you are the boss. Dogs will react well to leadership. Once they realize that you are the boss, they tend to fall in line quickly.

  • Focus on reward

It is better to reward your large dog for good behavior than punish them for a bad action. Large dogs have the tendency to fight back when they are being punished. Their size is no joke, they can knock you off quickly.

When your dog learns that when they obey a command or perform tricks, they will get a reward, such as praise or treat. As a result, they will actually act nicely.

Toys also work for large dogs. They will notice that they receive praise and more freedom for chewing on or playing with a large dog toy that furniture, there will be fewer tendencies with them chewing on the furniture.

  • Never tolerate an undesirable behavior, whether your dog is a puppy or an adult

It’s easier to let a bad behavior slip when your dog is still a puppy. However, it can have consequences when they’re a hundred pounds heavier. For instance, a little Labrador puppy looks cute when they are jumping up on you, but when they’re 120 pounds, it is no longer cute and may hurt you physically.

That is why it’s important to start training your dog when they are still young.

  • Large dogs react well to socialization

Large dogs that are not around humans that much will tend to be more feral in nature. Spend time with your dog and socialize them with other dogs and people.

  • Consistency

Consistency is probably the most important in dog training. Consistency is needed whether your dog is small or large – it applies to dogs of all sizes and breeds. Don’t give in to those puppy eyes when they beg for food. You may think that you are being a good dog parent if you let it slip just once, but it is a no-no. It will only send mixed signals to your dog and teach them that the rules can be broken.

Advantages of Having a Large Dog

  • They are good watchdogs

They make the best guard dogs because of their intimidating size and strength.

  • Large dogs are good with kids

Bigger dogs are generally laid back, and they are more accepting of children.

  • Large dogs have great endurance

If you love to walk, a large dog is for you. They love getting plenty of time outdoors. Also, exercise makes them happy.

How to Properly Train Your Dog

Training a small dog and a large dog is practically the same. The only difference you are going to make is adjust to their size, that’s all.

If you are still thinking of getting a dog, you should choose one that is suitable for your lifestyle. There is a dog that fits every lifestyle, but not all dogs will suit your particular needs. For instance, if you are the type that loves to relax, don’t get a Jack Russel Terrier. They are known for their high energy and constant barking. You can get a bulldog instead. Bulldogs love to cuddle with their owners, and you can do it all day. You must research the care requirements and personalities of different breeds.

Preparing for Training

  • Schedule adequate time for training.

When you’re starting out, you can schedule several five-minute sessions throughout the day. Remember that you should not go for longer than 20 minutes. Short sessions are recommended, especially for puppies, because they get easily bored and have a short attention span.

You can also train your dog at any time of the day when you are interacting with them. For instance, you are watching TV at home, and your dog is at the end of the room, you can say “come” and see if they come to you. It is one way to practice what your dog has learned during your training sessions.

Don’t ever let your dog get away with bad behavior, even once. Some owners tend to do this outside training session. This can confuse your dog and can cause a significant setback in your training. Remember that consistency is important.

  • You should be mentally prepared before every training session

You have to be neutral and calm when you are training your dog. Do not show any form of excitement or agitation, for this will have a negative impact on your training. Remember that the aim of training your dog is reinforcing the good behavior and not the bad.

  • Pick the appropriate equipment

You may need a flat collar and a 6-foot leash to start, and the treats, of course. You can consult a professional trainer for other tools you may need.

General Training Principles

  • Manage your mood and expectations

Every training will be different, and it will not be perfect every time. Do not get frustrated, and more importantly, do not take it out on your pooch. You have to adjust your attitude and behavior to encourage your dog to learn. Your dog will be calm if you are calm.

  • Consider your dog’s temperament

Dogs have different temperaments. They learn differently, as well. Some dogs are easy to train while some can be stubborn and will give you a hard time. You will need to adjust the techniques you’ll use in training to be able to meet the needs of your dog.

  • Give rewards immediately

Dogs don’t have the ability to comprehend long-term causes and effects. You have to reward or praise your dog within two seconds of good behavior. Rewarding immediately will reinforce the said behavior. Your dog will not be able to associate the rewards with the behavior if you wait too long to give the reward.

  • Consistency is crucial

Any dog will be confused if there is no consistency in their training. You can’t let an undesirable behavior pass once in a while. If the behavior is not allowed, it shouldn’t be allowed at all circumstances. Also, use the same verbal cues for commands; don’t say “sit” then say “sit down” the next day. It will only confuse your dog.

  • Always reward good behavior

Rewards such as treats will motivate your dog to learn. The treat you must give in training should be tasty, small, and easily chewed. Giving big treats will only make your dog full in the middle of the training session.

  • You can use high-value treats when necessary

If you are teaching an important or difficult command, you can use a high-value treat. This will raise the stakes for your dog. Examples of high-value treats are roasted chicken breast chunks, slices of turkey meat, or freeze-dried liver.

When your dog learns the command, eliminate the high-value treats. Note that you can always bring them back if you need to advance your training. Never forget to give your dog praise, as well.

  • Train your dog on an empty stomach

Before a training session, do not feed your dog a large meal. If your dog is full come training time, they won’t be that interested in the treats anymore, giving them less motivation to learn.

  • Train on a positive note, always

It doesn’t matter if the training didn’t go well. Keep in mind that every training session should end on a positive note.

Positive Food Behaviors

It is important that your dog learn positive food behaviors. It will not just benefit them, but it will also benefit you, as well.

  • Have your dog patiently wait while you prepare their meal

It can be annoying when your dog barks and jumps while you are preparing their meal. If your dog has learned the basic commands, you can use the “wait” command to have them wait for their meal while it is being prepared.

When the food is ready, you can command your dog to sit and stay while placing the food on the ground. Stand up, then wait a few seconds before signaling your dog to eat. You can use verbal cues such as “free” or “get your food. Remember not to use words that you would accidentally say to others, like “let’s eat” or “time to eat.”

  • Hand-feed your dog

You can start hand feeding your dog then put the rest of the food in their bowl using your hands. Your dog will smell your scent in their bowl. The goal of hand feeding is to normalize having your hands on their food and bowl. This will prevent food aggression tendencies.

  • Teach your dog the “leave it” command

The leave it command will teach your dog to move their nose away from food or other items. It will be beneficial in various situations, such as when your dog becomes interested in picking something up that can be harmful during your walk or when food is dropped accidentally on the floor during dinner.

To teach the ‘leave it” command, you must do the following:

  1. Hold a treat with your hands closed. Expect your dog to sniff, paw, and lick at your hand to try to get to the treat. When your dog moves away, immediately praise them and give a treat.
  2. You can then add in the words “leave it” whenever your dog moves their nose away.
  3. Hold a treat in your palm and let your dog see it. Hold another one in your other hand and place it behind you. Command your dog to “leave it.” When your dog gets close to the treat, you can then make a fist so the treat will be hidden and say “uh-oh” or “no.” This will show your dog that they won’t be rewarded because they didn’t comply. However, when your dog obeys the command, give them the treat placed behind your back.
  4. Place a treat on the floor and have another treat behind your back. Put your dog on a leash and go to the area where the treat is. Command your dog to “leave it.” Do not jerk the leash. If your dog eats the treat, you can go back to the previous stage of your training.
  5. When your dog seems to master the “leave it” command, you can start using it outside. This way, you are able to test your dog with the presence of various distractions outside.

Final Thoughts

There is no contest on who is easier to train. Both small and large dogs are able to learn. Now, the success of their training will depend mainly on the owner. You have to be consistent. You also have to follow through on what they have learned. Remember that their training is continuous until they grow old.

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