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The Globe and Mail

Small dogs are itsy-bitsy biting machines

My fear and loathing of yapping teeny-tiny dogs occurred when my three-year-old son was attacked by a West Highland White at a birthday party. The fluffy pet eyed our child and then hunted him down like a rat. The shrieking owner assured us the dog was friendly, it was just afraid of children. Now, two years later, our son is afraid of little dogs and I'm afraid of their owners.

And, it turns out, there is a plague of the little beasts.

According to a recent New York Health Department study, there were 3,609 bites recorded in 2010, a record year, with tiny canines among the worst offenders. The pitbull was champion chomper, but the itty bitty Shih Tzu came in third, with the Chihuahua in fourth place.

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The New York Post attributed the small-dog bites to the way stylish New Yorkers tote their pets around when they are out and about at, say, Bloomingdales or Macy's. Apparently, there's only so much petting and so many strangers a dog can tolerate before it takes on a rather "biting" outlook.

The owners are much to blame. Tracy Marcotullio, manager for the Oromocto and Area SPCA in Oromocto, N.B., says, "Little-breed dogs tend to be more temperamental than bigger-breed dogs. People who own them tend to treat them differently, like little people." As a result, she says, "Little dogs have a feeling of entitlement. They have Attitude. And their size lets them get away with what big dogs can't."

You'd think dog owners would steer wide of neurotic, diminutive dogs but Ms. Marcotullio says people find them "irresistibly cute."

They're also the perfect fit for a shoebox-sized condo. And owners may mistakenly believe a small dog needs less exercise. In fact, it's the opposite. "Small dogs need a lot of exercise," says Ms. Marcotullio, and are often harder to house train than a big dog." Instead, she advises, "Great Danes are ideal apartment dogs because they don't need a lot of activity. They are what I call 'a couch potato dog.'"

Nevertheless, no one is swapping Yorkshire Terriers for Great Danes just yet. One U.S. paper reports that Chihuahuas are the most popular breed in Los Angeles. (Sadly, Chihuahuas also make up 30 per cent of dogs in California shelters.)

With the ascension of the Little Dog, "unscrupulous breeders are putting dogs out there without sound temperaments," Ms. Marcotullio says, and adds that studies show there can be a genetic component to aggression.

"I laugh when people say my dog is the nicest dog, would never bite. Yes, she would, in the right circumstances," says Ms. Marcotullio. "Any dog will bite."

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Christy Ann Conlin is the author of Heave and a young-adult novel, Dead Time.

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