Small Dog Syndrome

Wednesday 12th December, 2012 by Claire Lodge.


Have you ever owned a small dog? If you have you will know that it can be ever so rewarding. Small dogs offer a character and charisma like no other and are hilarious and caring in equal measure.

Yet, despite all their cuteness with their short fluffy bodies and big brown eyes, it is by no means easy to care for a small dog, and any decision to purchase one should come after plenty of thought.

Some small dogs have issues, some quite severe, which mean they may be high-maintenance when it comes to caring for them and training them. Some small dogs also display signs of aggression.

Small dog syndrome

Small dogs showing the aforementioned symptoms such as aggression, may have what is described as ‘small dog syndrome’. Small dog syndrome is quite a common condition and is present in many tiny pooches. Problems include, but are not limited to, difficulties when it comes to training, aggression towards other dogs/people, stress, and separation anxiety.

Because of the size of small dogs, they can sometimes feel heightened nerves in stressful situations and, because of this, will misbehave and generally cause a nuisance. They typically feel like they have a point to prove when they come across larger dogs and sometimes will start to bark uncontrollably – which could prove a stressful situation for you, the owner, as well as the dog.

Why does it exist?

It is known that the interaction and close bond we share with our dogs, and the way we treat them, can affect their behaviour; this is why it is imperative that we understand how a dog’s mind works and where we should draw the line for the sake of their mental health and wellbeing.

We’ll touch on the main points.

Have you ever heard the saying, ‘be cruel to be kind?’ To help your dog know its place, you need to deliver and enforce boundaries and rules. We all love our dogs and we’re not saying that you should stop giving them cuddles and treats, quite the opposite in fact, but all these comforts need to be earned.

One of the biggest contributors to ‘small dog syndrome’ is us, the owners. Because of the size of the dogs, it is all too easy to pick them up, give them cuddles like a baby, and let them sleep on our bed. This isn’t advised. It allows the dog to think that it is on the same level as humans; it isn’t, and should be taught from the offset that it is a dog and will behave like a dog.

You also need to ask yourself the question: ‘would I pick up a heavy German Shepherd and cuddle it in bed?’ The answer is; probably not. So why do it with a small dog? Just because it is small does not mean it should be treated any differently. If a small dog sees that it is treated differently to other dogs it may develop into a diva and this is where problems start.

Just like all other breeds, you should train your small dog well, exercise it frequently, reward it for good behaviour and let it know when it has done something wrong. These simple steps could be the difference between your small dog being well behaved and living up to its ‘cute’ reputation, or being the devil in disguise.
With this in mind, you may want to enlist the help of a dog behavioural specialist if you feel your dog is showing signs of ‘small dog syndrome’ and is getting worse. Alternatively, if you are thinking of purchasing a beautiful little dog of your own but want to make sure you don’t get into any habits that might harm their wellbeing, then make sure you don’t fall into any common traps.

First and foremost you should know that if you treat your dog like a human, they will consequently treat you like a dog. It’s their instinct. If they feel like they are one of you, they will look to establish themselves as head of the household which would result in aggression and poor behaviour. With this in mind, make sure you don’t blur the lines. Love your dog as a dog, nothing else.

You should also avoid letting your pet sleep on the bed with you.

Also bear in mind that you should only treat your dog once they have proven that they are well behaved. A few biscuits during a walk for good behaviour and such like is permitted. Even though it may be difficult, you should try to avoid picking your dog up. Despite its small size, you should remember that your pet is still a dog. If you wouldn’t attempt to pick up a Great Dane, don’t pick your dog up either as this will give them the idea that they are ‘special’. Make sure your dog can walk at your heel and can follow commands when asked – if they can, reward them for it.