Can Big Dogs Get Along With Small Dogs? (Answer By Trainer)

big dog and small dog making friend

Dog lovers can get very opinionated about what breeds and types of dogs they love, and one of the most contentious arguments is that of Big Dog versus Small Dog. There are many people who believe that it’s just not possible for the two sizes to get along safely. But can big dogs get along with small dogs?

Big dogs can get along with small dogs, and big dogs can be taught ways to play safely with dogs that are smaller than them. While they can get along, accidents can still occur so interactions between big and small dogs must be closely monitored to make sure all dogs are safe.

In the article below we’ll discuss why it’s OK for big dogs and little dogs to live and play together, and how to make sure they do it safely. We’ll talk about how to introduce them to each other safely, and how to make sure each dog is happy with the interaction. We’ll also talk about all of the factors that could influence how a big dog might interact with a small dog.

Can Big Dogs Get Along With Small Dogs?

Despite their occasional drastic size differences, big dogs can get along with small dogs! However, this is very dependent on the individual dogs and their energy levels and drastic size differences should also be taken into account.

If you are deciding whether or not to add a dog to your household that is vastly different in size from your current dog, it is normal to think about how their sizes might play a role in their relationship.

Even the largest Great Danes can get along with the smallest Chihuahuas, as your domestic dogs are all a part of the same species and share the same communication standards.

Communication is key for whether an animal will get along with another or not, but there are still a few other factors to take into consideration when a bigger dog and a smaller dog are interacting, and there are additional safety considerations to keep in mind. When thinking about letting bigger dogs interact with smaller dogs, you should also be thinking about the following factors…

Socialization Skills

If your larger dog has only ever been around other large dogs before and has never seen another small dog in their life, then you should be a little cautious when first introducing them to a smaller dog.

If they otherwise have good play skills and an understanding of polite play and behavior, then they should be able to adjust their play style and interact with the smaller dog once they understand the size differences, but they may need a few interventions at first if they start off a little roughly.

Dogs with extreme size differences of more than 25 pounds should be monitored extremely closely, as there is a higher risk of accidental injury or death, especially if the larger dog is younger or more exuberant in their play style. Even with good socialization skills, accidents can still occur.

If your big pup has poor socialization skills and limited interactions with dogs in general, it’s best to consult with an expert dog trainer prior to attempting to introduce them to any smaller dogs.

Training Level

Another factor to consider is how much training your larger dog currently has.

If you’ve got a young Rottweiler who is still developing good impulse control, it might be better to have them interact with a smaller dog in a more enclosed area rather than a large dog park so that you can more quickly intervene if something were to occur or if play started to get out of hand and your pup didn’t respond to your cues quick enough.

Similarly, if you are working on leash training with a well-trained large dog but a feisty Chihuahua, you might want to walk them separately for a bit so that the Chihuahua doesn’t accidentally wind up underfoot of the larger dog.

Breed Of Dogs

While it’s possible for all breeds and sizes of dogs to get along (even Great Danes, which are one of the largest dog breeds), certain breeds (or even certain lineages of dogs, such as large breed dogs that come from a hunting kennel) may need extra care when introducing them to bigger or smaller dogs. And if you’re working an especially large breed (like those that regularly reach 100+ pounds) you’ll need to be even more careful.

Large hounds of any kind or large breeds known to have high prey drives (such as the Siberian Husky) should be closely monitored when introduced to smaller dogs, and chase games should be closely monitored to avoid triggering the prey drive of these dogs.

Dachshunds may also be more prone to a back injury if accidentally stepped on by a larger dog, and a French Bulldog or Boston Terrier may be more prone to breathing issues if they overexert themselves while playing with a larger dog.

Dogs with a difference of more than 25 pounds between them should always be monitored when at play and should never be left alone without supervision, as the risk is too great for accidental injury. However, these dogs can still live and play together! They just need a little extra care and supervision from their owners.

Age of Dogs

If you’ve got an elderly Chihuahua and a rambunctious pit bull puppy, chances are the Chihuahua would rather not have anything to do with the pit bull pup. Puppies in general are still learning how to control their bodies, and this goes twofold for large dogs who tend to be quite clumsy.

Senior dogs also move much slower and can be more prone to injury, so it’s best to monitor any interactions between a younger large breed dog and a smaller senior dog to avoid an accidental injury. If the larger dog is the younger one, then it’s best to keep them separated unless under supervision at all times, else an accident occur.

On the other side of things, if you’ve got an elderly giant and a feisty small dog with no manners yet, the senior dog may accidentally hurt the smaller pup if they become irritated and communicate their irritation towards Feisty Fido in a more physical way so it’s also a good idea to make sure you intervene if your older dog is giving clear clues to the puppy that they want to be left alone and puppy is not listening.

Other Factors To Consider

In addition to the above, you might also consider the size of your home or yard, or the area in which the big and small dog will be interacting. Large breed dog owners probably already take into consideration a lot of challenges they may face for their larger pups (such as how to lift them into a car), but too much space could actually pose an issue for smaller breeds of dogs.

Larger areas may allow for more space for the dogs to get away from each other if needed but may also make it harder for you to intervene if there is an issue and the dogs have too much space to roam around. If there is a group of dogs chasing a small dog it could also trigger predatory instincts.

The individual personalities of your dogs should also be taken into consideration. I’ve known many small dogs who truly think they belong with the big dogs! This doesn’t always work in their favor, though, so sometimes the owner must step in to remind these tough pups of their true size.

The best thing to do is to educate yourself about what is and is not appropriate play and behavior between dogs and to closely monitor all interactions between the dogs. While it’s possible for dogs of all sizes to get along and play nicely together, and it really does come down to the individual dogs and their play styles and socialization skills, safety does come first and sometimes that means limiting interactions.

Being mindful of escalating behaviors and knowing when to intervene is important and can help prevent any injuries.

When introducing a larger or smaller dog into a household, providing areas where both dogs can get away from the other if needed is important so that neither dog feels overwhelmed.

If issues do occur, a local dog trainer can assist you to help smooth things over.

Do Big Dogs Know How To Be Gentle With Small Dogs?

Dogs of all sizes learn most of their communication skills during a stage of puppy hood called the critical socialization period.

During this time, dogs learn bite inhibition, cutoff signals, play invitations, metasignals, and general play etiquette. If dogs do not receive enough socialization during this period, they will develop play skill deficits that will cause lasting issues throughout their life.

For big dogs, this could cause an issue when they interact with small dogs. But for big dogs who do receive proper socialization during this critical period, most are able to adapt their play style to a smaller dog, though accidental injuries may still occur depending the size differences between the two dogs.

When you watch a big dog play with a smaller dog, you’ll often notice the larger dog playing a bit more gently than they may otherwise play with a dog of a similar size.

This is called self-handicapping, and dogs with good play skills will do this whenever they are playing with another dog who dog who is younger, smaller, or not in the same physical condition as they are. It is a sign of good play!

Big dogs who did not get enough socialization as puppies may have some play skill deficits, and this can create potential issues when they are interacting with small dogs.

They may play too roughly, they may get frustrated quicker and lash out rather than try to end play peacefully, or they may not understand how to self-handicap and accidentally injure the smaller dog.

You may have to intervene more frequently if the larger dog has play skill deficits, or the play skill deficits may be so detrimental that the larger dog may not be able to play with the smaller dog at all.

Smaller dogs can also lack socialization skills, too, and despite their small size they also have the potential to injure a larger dog.

And just because both dogs are playing nicely one minute does not mean things can’t get out of hand!

Groups of dogs should be monitored closely at all times during play, but large dogs playing with small dogs need an even closer eye because the risk of things getting out of hand is even greater and things can happen to the smaller dog a lot quicker.

Educating yourself on proper play behavior between dogs and what to do if things start getting out of hand is a great way to help make sure the interactions between large dogs and small dogs are always fun and never scary.

How Do You Introduce A Big Dog To A Small Dog (And Vice Versa)?

Before introducing a bigger dog to a smaller dog (or a smaller dog to a bigger dog), you must first consider the socialization history of each dog. If either dog has poor socialization skills or a history of aggression, it’s best to reach out to a local trainer to assist you with the introduction.

If you feel that both dogs have good socialization histories, the next step would be to pick a place to have the dogs meet. Neutral areas where neither dog has any association is best as this will prevent either dog from claiming the area as a territory that is worthy of defending.

Dog parks are NOT a good place to do an introduction unless the park is mostly empty. Local shelters, rescue groups, and vet clinics are all good resources for information on where you could possibly do a safe meet-and-greet. Depending on where you live and local rules and regulations, enclosed sports fields might also be a good option.

In general, it’s usually best to do introductions off leash. While this initially sounds risky because you have less control over the dogs, it actually allows the dogs more freedom to communicate with each other, and it is generally safer for all involved.

Leashes can restrict their body movements and more often than not it is actually the person holding the leash who starts a dog fight rather than the dog itself. This is due to the owner being the anxious one and unknowingly causing tension in the leash and signaling anxiety with their body language. The dogs will pick up on this and feed off of it, thus triggering a scuffle.

Dogs who suffer from barrier frustration but are otherwise fine may also act differently while on leash. If you’d like an extra safety precaution, you can leave a shorter nylon leash attached to the dog you can step on it to gain control back if things look like they need to be interrupted.

Signs that things are going well include the presence of play behaviors such as a play bow, loose body movements between the two dogs, or even a general disinterest in the other dog provided there is no tension in either dog that indicates the disinterest in one of fear rather than being relaxed.

Signs that things are NOT going well include tension in one or both dogs, tight body movements, direct staring in either dog, the larger dog standing directly over the smaller dog, low growling, or signs of extreme stress from the smaller dog that indicate the presence of the larger dog is a little too much for them to handle.

If at any point the larger dog begins displaying predatory or aggressive behavior towards the smaller dog, the interaction should be ended immediately, and the dogs separated.

Similarly, if the smaller dog is showing extreme aggressive or threatening behavior towards the larger dog even on approach, it’s likely the interaction will not go well.

Knowing your dog and their history with other dogs is important when considering an introduction to another dog and educating yourself on the things to watch for when introducing dogs is a good way to help make sure the process goes smoothly.

This is especially important when introducing dogs of different sizes as things can quickly take a turn for the worse, even if it’s accidental.

Closing Thoughts

While an odd sight sometimes, big dogs and little dogs can absolutely get along. To a Chihuahua, a Great Dane is just another dog (albeit a big one!). And to a St. Bernard, that Lhasa Apso puppy is just another little puppy.

Depending on how they are brought up and what level of socialization they receive as puppies, big dogs are safe around smaller dogs, but they may still accidentally injure a smaller dog, usually due to playing too roughly or by accidentally stepping on them.

If you have a multi-size household, you can take precautions to make sure your big dogs and little dogs have safe spaces.

When introducing a new large or small dog into your household, there are also steps you can take to make sure the process goes smoothly, and each dog feels safe and comfortable throughout the introduction process.

While the gentle giants and pint-sized pups are able to get along, the larger the difference in size between them, the more risk there is for accidental injuries, so always be cautious and make sure you are taking precautions with your four-legged friends.

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