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Big Dog, Bigger Discrimination: Large Dogs Commonly Discriminated Against

By Pawsforreaction @PawsForReaction
Big dog, bigger discrimination: Large dogs are commonly discriminated against for no good reason
Big dog, bigger discrimination: Large dogs are commonly discriminated against for no good reason

Discrimination is not exclusive to the human world. People project their biases and discrimination onto the dog world in two big ways: breedism and sizeism. While we are familiar with discussing breed-specific legislation and breeds like Pitbulls that are commonly banned in municipalities, we don't often talk about the harassment and discrimination large dog owners face on a daily basis.

Let me tell you a personal story about large dog discrimination. My dog Hazel is a Saint Bernese (Saint Bernard and Bernese Mountain Dog cross) who currently weighs around 90 lbs. Hazel is a quiet, sweet, and snuggly dog.Hazel is disabled, she had a broken femur as a puppy and now has one leg shorter than the other. She has developed severe hip dysplasia and painful elbow dysplasia called an Ununited Anconeal Process. Because of this, I need to limit Hazel's activity. Hazel, although a large dog, does not require acres and acres of land to run freely- in fact, that would not be an ideal living situation for her. 

In March Hazel and I moved into a pet-friendly apartment building. I had to disclose her weight on our application, and the building owners were more than happy to rent to us. Hazel has all the space she needs and is perfectly happy living in the apartment. She met some neighbours and neighbor dogs that she absolutely adores. Several neighbours on my floor tell me she is the sweetest and quietest dog. She is a gentle creature whose size doesn't prevent her from playing safely with small children or small dogs. 

Big dog, bigger discrimination: Large dogs are commonly discriminated against for no good reason

Meet 'Karen

Unfortunately, not all neighbours are like that. Hazel has faced a lot of large dog discrimination in my building. I have one neighbour, let's call her 'Karen,' who owns a small, pomeranian looking dog. The first time her dog saw Hazel it barked and growled at her, lunging at her aggressively. Poor Hazel looked confused. Now when Hazel sees that dog, she communicates the same way. Using that dog's preferred way of communication- barking. 

Karen seems to think it's perfectly alright for her dog to bark incessantly at my dog, but not the other way around. Karen has also made some comments to me that she feels bad that my dog lives in an apartment. Like I'm somehow abusing my dog based solely on our living arrangements. Yesterday I walked out of our elevator with Hazel, and Karen was coming in the back door of the building. She took one look at Hazel and retreated to the staircase, pushing by my mum- who she didn't know was my mum- and saying "I'm going to report that dog."

My mom asked Karen "Why?" which seems like a pretty valid question considering all we'd done was walk out of the elevator. Although it was difficult to hear over Karen's dog barking incessantly, Karen said "That dog doesn't belong in an apartment." I'm not surprised at all, since Karen has proven herself in the last four months to be a childish, gossipy, and miserable woman who takes pleasure in being cruel to strangers- and large dogs. If a dog is well cared for and provided with enough physical activity and mental stimulation, a dog can do very well in an apartment setting- regardless of the size. Many large dogs thrive in apartments.

Small dogs more likely to misbehave

The truth is a study by the University of Australia found that 'short man syndrome' spills over into the dog world when it comes to behavior. Small dogs are far more likely to have behavior issues on average than large dogs. The first dog that every bit me in my years working in veterinary medicine was a Chihuahua. Due to humans babying small dogs, they are far more likely to become fearful, aggressive and display negative attention-seeking behavior. Yet larger dogs are the ones facing discrimination. 

Big dog, bigger discrimination: Large dogs are commonly discriminated against for no good reason

Systemic dog discrimination is real (I know, sounds crazy)

Sadly the discrimination issue isn't exclusive to the Karen's of the world. I've had reports that some veterinarians, dog trainers, and kennels discriminate against large breeds. Many pet-friendly hotels have size regulations. Some apartment buildings and condos have size regulations too. Mine, however, does not. The same usually goes for public transit. You might see a small dog go into a store freely without a second glance, but try walking Hazel into that same store.  Even some pet insurance companies discriminate with their coverage. Certain breeds (mostly large or giant breeds) are either too expensive to cover or not covered at all. Home insurance even discriminates against certain breeds. Most home insurance has restricted dog breeds they won't cover under the liability portion of insurance and almost all of them are large or giant breeds. 

Not only is the system designed to discriminate, so is society. It's apparent even when walking a big dog that people have biases and that expressing those opinions has become normalized. Hazel, outfitted with her pink leash, collar, and water bottle, is often called a boy simply because she is big. People say things about Great Danes like "that's not a dog, that's a horse." When I walk by people they often look at Hazel and say "That's a big dog!" I now respond by saying "I've seen bigger." I even know someone who changed veterinary clinics because when she walked in with her Bernese Mountain Dog, a staff member allegedly said "Stand back, big dog coming through!" It's considered normal to say these things. Would you say that to a person who walked by? Call them big? I hope not.

Big dog, bigger discrimination: Large dogs are commonly discriminated against for no good reason

Your small dog is probably afraid because you made it that way

Another sad fact is most dog owners reinforce their small dog's fear of large breed dogs. When their dog walks by a larger dog, the owner will sometimes pick the dog up. This reinforces to that pet that the large dog is something to be feared. Some small dog owners baby their dogs and treat them like little humans, so they don't know how to behave like a dog around other dogs. Some small dogs refuse to set boundaries or discipline aggressive red-flags. That's why most dog trainers train the pet owner- not the dog. Small dogs are more likely to be aggressive. Sorry, not sorry.

Hazel has been attacked by several dogs- ALL of them have been smaller than her. Still, she is not fearful of small dogs. I made sure that those incidents were dealt with in a way that disciplined both parties while ensuring Hazel didn't become fearful. Karen's small dog barks and growls to the extreme and lunges for other dogs, but it is accepted because the dog is small. If Hazel does it, people label her as aggressive. 

If a small dog tries to play with another dog, it's cute. If a large dog tries to play, everyone becomes fearful and defensive. I remember one night coming through the door and a resident in my building was sitting on the bench in the lobby. She had a small dog on a leash. Her dog didn't react, but the owner started crying out as if she'd been attacked. We were a good 12 feet away from her. I annoyingly said "What?" She said, "My dog doesn't like big dogs." I looked at the dog- it was unphased.

Big dog, bigger discrimination: Large dogs are commonly discriminated against for no good reason

To be clear: I like small dogs. My mom has a beautifully behaved Jack Russel Terrier Ollie. He is the sweetest. He gets along well with big dogs, even though he was attacked by a German Shepherd and almost killed. My mom didn't train him to be fearful. My sister has a German Shepherd who spends time with Ollie. Hazel even played with a tiny Chihuahua named Yoshi- they had a sleepover! Everyone got along. Both dogs were well trained, obedient, and confident dogs.

A challenge to be better

I challenge you; citizens, dog owners, animal lovers. Don't be like Karen. Be kind. Don't discriminate. Don't attack strangers because you're a sizeist. And if you live in a dog-friendly building, where the building owners have decided they will rent to a large dog owner- because in Ontario it's illegal to deny tenancy to pet owners- then get over yourself. Grow up. Or move out.

Big dog, bigger discrimination: Large dogs commonly discriminated against

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