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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mixing Large And Small Dogs

Here's a behavior question from Jennifer...

I have a 3 year old 10 pound Bichon male named Sparky, who is just a delight. He is very friendly and well socialized. Last weekend my son brought home a 6 month old, 45 pound female pit bull named Sadie. Sadie is a very sweet dog, well behaved, non-agressive, seems well socialized. There have been no problems with ownership of chew toys, food or anything like that. 
The only issue has been the difference in size between the two dogs. At first Sparky wanted to play with Sadie, but she ran into him when running a few times and he got hurt, though not seriously. Now he hides under a shrub if they are both outdoors.  I have been taking them out individually the last few days just so they each have a chance to race around. Inside he watches her and stays on the couch while she wanders about. Once she settles down he will then jump down and go about the house.
Is there something I should be doing to assist this situation? I want to make sure that both dogs are safe and happy in their home.

A situation like this involves working with both dogs, but especially the larger one.  With such a large size discrepancy it is easy for Sadie to be too rough with Sparky even though she's not acting aggressive.  And at six months old she is not finished growing!  While many dogs calm down once they reach adulthood, this is not always the case and some dogs remain very puppy-like for several years.

Start with Sadie.  If she isn't obedience trained I would recommend doing so.  Work hard with training her to be calm and relaxed when around Sparky.  Let him approach her and reward her for being calm and allowing his approach.  Any time she is quiet and relaxed be sure to give her praise or a small treat, emphasizing the positive reinforcement of desired behavior.  I closely follow the adage "behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated".  The more she benefits from acting a certain way the more she will want to be that way again.

Take a similar approach with Sparky.  Once Sadie acts calmer around him start to reward him when he approaches her.  The closer he gets and the longer he stays, the more reward he gets.  This should lead to him becoming more comfortable around her.

It will take time but when Sadie is less of a danger and Sparky learns this they should become good friends.  If you're still having issues find a local vet who is skilled with behavioral issues and talk to them.