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  • Writer's pictureSarina

Keeping Small Dogs Safe… with all 4 feet on the ground

When other dogs approach, do you pick your dog up?

We all want to keep our small dogs safe. So as the owner of a small dog, when I see a bigger one coming my first impulse is pick her up. While this makes sense, it’s not always necessary and can actually lead to problems.

Lifting a small dog in the air can make her look more like prey, which can increase the danger of an attack. It can also look like an invitation for the other dog to jump up on me!

Even worse, picking up my small dog when a bigger one approaches can send her the message that other dogs are scary and the world is a dangerous place. Without meaning to, these actions may produce aggression in a small dog. When I project tension and anxiety, it can make my dog become anxious – and that can have long term implications for her health.

So how can dog owners keep our small dogs safe?

Small dog

The issue isn’t one of big dogs Vs. small dogs – it all comes down to socialization. Is that big guy well socialized? Is he dog aggressive? Prey driven? How can you tell?

First, remember the Social Dog motto:

Training IS Love. 

  • Develop a relationship with your dog that leads her to look to you for guidance.

  • Teach your dog to be calm in a variety of scenarios & environments.

  • Practice ignoring other dogs.

One of the main goals of training is to ensure our dog's safety.

When meeting strange dogs, I want to be sure mine won’t escalate the situation!

Second, learn to “speak dog”

To better predict which dogs are a potential danger, I made sure to learn about dog body language.

  • Be able to tell the difference between a big happy guy who only wants to say “Hi!” and a dog with violent intent

  • Know what stalking looks like

  • Identify natural reactions to spotting prey

Learning about dog behavior and communication helps me feel more confident when out and about.

Look familiar?

I practice situational awareness and always scan the environment; there may be times when I will want to pick up my dog and walk away – but I tuck her under my arm (not lift her high in the air), and I do so before the other dog is threatening us.

And I never, ever run.


This happened to me yesterday:

We were quadding in the hills above Nosara and stopped for a break in Zaragoza. I was looking over my shoulder at the beautiful view with Lily, my Papillon, on my left – when my husband said “Incoming!”

I looked up to see a muscular, 50-ish lb., mixed breed stalking my 5 lb. little girl.

His intent was clear: head lowered, hard stare, stiff tail. He was fixated on – and coming right for – my baby. I made my voice as deep as I could, and started the “get out of here tango,” AKA:

DON’T mess with me, doggie!

  • I put my body in between my dog and the approaching one, looking as big as possible.

  • Made – and held! – direct eye contact.

  • Raised my voice – shouting AH-OFF – (sounding the most like a growl).

  • Holding the eye contact, I stomped my feet and told it GO HOME.

This big guy was quite focused on my Lily. I mean let’s face it: he was a macho hunter, and she looks like a bunny! But he soon realized the crazy lady with murder in her eyes (and voice, and actions) was NOT going to back down. So he turned around, went home – and stayed there.

Good times.

Actually, we had a great time!

There’s no guarantee this will work in all situations; unfortunately, there will always be a risk of getting bitten by an aggressive dog. So keep your eyes and ears open. The best way to win a fight is to avoid it!

Practice makes perfect.

I try to give my pup space when other dogs are around.

As I live in place with lots of free roaming dogs, I know I will encounter many seemingly friendly dogs while out and about. And, since I don’t necessarily want them to interact with mine (or risk escalating the situation, or teach her to fear other dogs by picking her up), I learned how to physically block approaching dogs by practicing with a friendly one.

Practicing “blocking” before hand gave me the muscle memory to do so without hesitation, which has been very helpful in surprise situations.

Now it’s second nature for me, and I use it often!

Here’s a video of a typical interaction; I was able to protect my dog’s bubble, without picking her up:


  1. Women might need to make a conscious effort to lower the register of their voice.

  2. Practice in the privacy of home if need be; use a mirror and see how big and scary you can be.

  3. Use your voice and actions to convey aggression; even if that feels initially uncomfortable, you are trying to convey the clear message that YOU are the bigger, stronger predator.


Being prepared may reduce stress by helping you and your dog feel more peaceful on your walks.

Your dog will thank you.




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