Are Smaller Dogs More Feisty Than Big Dogs?

The word "feisty" is derived from the word "feist," which refers generically to a hunting terrier. In modern use, the term typically refers to dogs who are reactive, confident and have a little bit of attitude. Though feisty dogs come in all sizes, there appears to be some evidence supporting the common folk belief that smaller breeds tend to be feistier than larger breeds. Regardless of size, feisty dogs can be great fun to own and train, provided you know how to get the best out of the them. Regular training, confident leadership and a firm hand are all essentials in helping your feisty dog be the best he can be.


Breeds Likely to be Feisty

According to a 2008 University of Philadelphia study, small breeds such as Chihuahuas and dachshunds tend to be the feistiest, while larger dogs are more mellow. The study drew a clear link between size and feistiness and suggested that fear-based aggression played a big part in determining a dog's feistiness; small dogs spend more of their time feeling intimidated by larger dogs and typically make up for this feeling by acting aggressively. The study also found that terriers were prone to feistiness.

Typical Behavior

On-leash aggression and reactive behavior are the two most common behavioral problems associated with feistiness, according to Patricia McConnell, who discusses the issue in her book "Feisty Fido." While placid dogs are typically happy to encounter new dogs when out and about, feisty dogs are prone to barking and growling. Feisty dogs are more prone to biting, although as a responsible dog owner, you should never let your dog's behavior escalate to the point where he is able to deliver a bite.


Feisty dogs are typically alert, energetic and rarely shy. Don't try to entirely eradicate his feisty tendencies; when harnessed correctly, a feisty dog makes an excellent watchdog. Teach him the "speak" command when he is young so that you can control his barking.


Socialization and integration with other dogs can be difficult if your dog is too feisty. Other dogs may react aggressively to his barking and confrontational behavior, potentially resulting in injury or trauma for your dog.


If your feisty dog reacts to a situation by barking, straining on the leash or growling, it's essential not to reinforce this by giving attention. This will only make the dog want to repeat the behavior. Always leash your dog when taking him out and use the leash to guide him away for a time-out when he behaves badly. Over time, he'll learn that behaving aggressively has an unwanted consequence.

By Simon Foden

About the Author
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for