Teach Big Dogs to Play Nicely With Small Dogs

Big dogs and little dogs
Photo: Lindsay Stordahl

We all want our dogs of all sizes to get along, but sometimes the owners of small dogs can get (understandably) a little nervous about inviting bigger dogs to play. Here in Fargo, the dog parks are even divided up with an area for “big dogs” and an area for “small dogs.” The following are some ideas to

Help your dog (no matter her size) get along with larger and smaller dogs.

1. All dog introductions should be slow.

When a new dog enters the dog park, all the other dogs come charging up to greet the newcomer. This can be threatening – or at least overwhelming – to the new dog. This is why I only recommend dog parks for extremely easygoing, well-socialized dogs.

To be on the safe side, it’s always best to introduce new dogs very slowly. Walking them together side by side with no pressure to interact is much better than head-on greetings with direct eye contact. This is true for dogs of all sizes, but when introducing a small dog to a larger dog, it’s even more important. I recommend using a martingale dog collar during walks to encourage good leash manners while preventing the dog from slipping away.

2. Make sure the small dog  behaves, too.

I’ve noticed quite a few dog-to-dog interactions where the small dog is the one being inappropriate. The small dog might be barking constantly, nipping at the larger dog’s face or paws or perhaps trying to climb on top of the larger dog. No one says anything until – finally – the big dog lets out a growl or a nasty bark. And then what happens? The big dog is scolded! Instead, the owners should’ve intervened a long time ago and re-directed the attention of the smaller dog.

It’s important to watch both dogs for signs of stress. For example, one dog might be trying to avoid the other by looking away or pretending to show interest in the grass.

3. Take breaks during play sessions.

If two dogs are playing nicely, and there starts to be a lot of barking, growling, wrestling and chasing, it’s a good idea to re-direct them for a moment so the overall energy defuses. As play escalates, sometimes it can lead to rougher and rougher play and sometimes a fight. So, it’s best to encourage the dogs to take it down a notch and resume appropriate playing after a few minutes. This is especially true for dogs that don’t know each other well, if you’re dealing with two dogs of very different sizes or if the larger dog has any amount of prey drive.

A few other safety precautions:

  • Keep all the dog toys put away. This prevents either dog from showing possessiveness over a toy.
  • When dogs are playing, buckle dog collars are a good option because these are easier to remove if the dogs get tangled.

4. Slowly socialize your dog to dogs of all sizes.

It’s important for dogs to learn to play appropriately with other dogs of all sizes. If you have a puppy or a friendly dog, start introducing her to a variety of dogs of different breeds, sizes, ages and energy levels. Of course, there are some dogs that just don’t play nicely with others. If your dog needs some help in this area, it’s a good idea to seek some help from a professional trainer.

Does your dog play nicely with others?

About Lindsay Stordahl

Lindsay Stordahl is a blogger for dogIDs.com. She has a black Lab mix named Ace and two naughty cats named Beamer and Scout. Lindsay owns a pet sitting business called Run That Mutt and also maintains the blog ThatMutt.com. ... Add Lindsay to your Google+ circles at . You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @ThatMutt.

  1. I just rescued a 4 week old 1 lb. teacup chihuahua that was abandoned in a parking lot in a basket in 92° weather. He was hyperglycemic and dehydrated. I got him to a vet and he is improving very well and gained another lb. Since then. But i have a mixed jack russel that is 7 yrs old and just lost his mother last Jan. He tends to avoid the puppy but the puppy wants to bond and play. My bigger dog gets the growls when the teacup gets to close. I want them to bond. The puppy is still getting use to potty training and is very playful. What can I do to get my older to accept the little one. Unfortunately the puppy is to little to go to walks or parks till he gets his final shots in another 4 weeks. Can you help me with some advise. I dont force him on my older dog since i know thar can cause problems. And if i leave it be i hope they will break the ice. But i fear for the little pup that my other dog might get jealous and snip at him.

    • Hi Victoria,
      Have you worked to socialize your other dogs? By doing that they may feel more open to a new dog coming into their space. Also, make sure they do have their own space in the house so they feel the new puppy isn’t fully taking over so they can avoid feeling like they need to guard their home.

  2. I have a chihuahua 9 mo. and a Labradoodle 7mo. they play well together but now since the chihuahua is wearing sweaters and/or jackets outside in the cold weather the Labradoodle takes the clothing off of the chihuahua when they are in the house and sometime hurts the chihuahua do it. What can I do to train him not to take the clothing off?

  3. Stop putting clothing on the dog for a start….. It has a coat of its own and unless you live in an igloo there really is zero need for it to be clothed indoors…. No need at all

  4. We have a 20 wk old lab female with a TON of energy! We also have 3 small dogs. Maltese mixes. Our lab wants to play with the smaller dogs but eventually ends up barrel rolling them and then I break it up. I’m afraid she will accidentally hurt one of the smaller dogs. How do I get them to play appropriately?!


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