Big dogs can look intimidating thanks to their massive size, but some behave like lap dogs! These huge pups might climb into your lap for a cuddle, roll onto their back for a tummy rub, or run away in terror from smaller animals like cats. But why do big dogs think they are small?
Big dogs do not think they’re smaller than they are, although they might exhibit behaviors that we associate with small dog breeds. Many big dogs behave like small dogs when showing off or wanting affection. These behaviors are common to all dogs, regardless of size.
In this article, we’ll explore why some big dogs act like they’re much smaller than they are. We’ll also discuss how to curtail some behaviors that you might find unpleasant.
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What Behaviors Are Associated With Small Dogs?
Before we can address the reasons why big dogs might act like tiny puppies, we need to ask ourselves, “How do big dogs act like they’re small?”
Are there any specific behaviors associated with small dogs that are less common in bigger dogs?
According to dog owners, small dogs tend to be more:
These traits lead to behaviors like constant affection-seeking and refusing to obey commands. Small dogs may also crave immediate physical comfort when frightened.
For example, a small dog might not think twice about jumping into a trusted household member’s lap after hearing loud noises or encountering strangers. But while these behaviors are relatively common among small dogs, they’re not specific to them.
Behaviors Associated With Small Dogs Aren’t Size-Specific
While some breeds have more specific temperament traits than others, all dogs experience fear, anxiety, and a need for attention—no matter how large or small they are!
These emotions induce similar behaviors in dogs, regardless of their breed.
For example, when a dog wants affection, it’ll likely approach someone it trusts and get as physically close to that person as it possibly can. This often means climbing into that person’s lap, which can be uncomfortable if the dog is about as large and heavy as the human!
So, while we often picture purse-sized pups cuddled in their owner’s lap, this affectionate behavior isn’t specific to small dogs. In fact, most dogs are very affectionate and enjoy being close to their favorite people.
But do large dogs know they can make their owners uncomfortable by climbing onto them for a cuddle? Do they realize how big they are?
Dogs Have Some Level of Physical Awareness
Although it’s easy to interpret a big dog’s fearful or hyper-affectionate behaviors as a sign that they think they’re smaller than they are, a study published in 2021 shows that dogs have some awareness of their bodies.
Consequently, big dogs are more than likely aware of their size. But they might behave like small dogs when feeling fear or desiring comfort.
Knowing that your dog trusts and loves you enough to come to you for comfort when they’re scared or lonely is great. However, having a big dog climb onto your lap or flop onto you while you’re lying in bed can be uncomfortable or even painful.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep big dogs from doing this.
How To Keep Big Dogs From Climbing Onto Your Lap
Regular training from an early age is the best way to condition a dog to stay out of your lap. Hiring a dog trainer is a great way to curtail unwanted behaviors, including inappropriate expressions of affection. Or some may prefer using a training collar for commands.
It can also help keep your large pup from climbing onto furniture (chairs, sofas, beds), preventing them from getting into your lap or bed when they want to show or receive affection. Commands like “sit” and “stay” are particularly helpful when training your dog to resist the urge to climb or jump.
However, there are some “small dog” behaviors you won’t be able to train out of your big dog.
Small Dog Behaviors You Can’t Train Out
For example, a big dog might roll over onto its back when it’s excited to see you or wants a belly rub. Additionally, some big dogs might remain fearful of cats and other small animals (usually due to an unpleasant prior experience).
These are natural and instinctual responses, and because most don’t cause any harm, it’s vital to allow them to go unpunished and uncorrected.
Big dogs can act like they think they’re small, but studies show that dogs are aware of their bodies and size. Consequently, it’s far more likely that the “small dog behavior” big dogs exhibit (like climbing into an owner’s lap) is an expression of their trust and affection.
Still, if you don’t want your large dog climbing into your lap, you can discourage this behavior by hiring a reputable dog trainer. Starting your dog early (while they’re still a puppy) is one of the most effective ways of training your dog to stay off your lap.