Small Dog Syndrome: When Big Attitude in a Tiny Body Causes Trouble

If you have a Yorkie, a Chihuahua, or a Maltese, you may have noticed the weird behavior called small dog syndrome.

Small dog syndrome (SDS) is about dogs with an attitude. Smaller breeds suffer from this syndrome which causes them to lose discipline, bark, jump on people, disobey orders, and cause all sorts of mayhem just to prove that they are the boss. 

What Causes Small Dog Syndrome? 

Most trainers agree that small dog syndrome is caused by training or lack thereof and that humans have the greatest part when their tiny dogs display undesirable behavior. 

Some trainers recognize this problem in small dogs who have been properly trained but placed under specific circumstances. 

For example, an otherwise well-behaved dog that sits quietly most of the time starts an ego trip when a big dog shows up, becoming loud and energetic and acting like he or she owns the space. 

Before thinking that this is caused by genetics and that there is nothing that you can do about, it’s advisable to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself whether you have contributed to such unpleasant dog behavior. 

Small Dogs Aren’t Toys

Small dog syndrome is associated with small dogs. So if you think that their size has something to do with it, you are absolutely right. 

People encourage small dog syndrome behavior because they don’t typically treat small dogs like they would have treated larger dog breeds. 

You wouldn’t allow a rottweiler to jump on people, roll them over or show them the teeth, right?

If that happens with a larger dog, you would hold on to the dog leash tightly and run away from the risky situation as fast as you can. You would be afraid about your own safety, the safety of the people involved, not to mention the myriad of legal consequences that could ensue from an otherwise playful and peaceful dog communication! 

Yet, owners don’t take small dogs as seriously as they do larger ones. That’s not unusual or surprising. The damage that can be done by a larger breed is immeasurable when compared to the consequences of the small dog syndrome behavior. Therefore, it’s easier for small dogs to get away with it.

If you think about it in more detail, the small dog syndrome is also found in humans. It’s known as the Napoleon complex. Napoleon, as small as he was, had a disproportionately large occupation appetite and hunger for war invasion. In that sense, the small dog syndrome is a compensatory mechanism that is partially inbred but mostly encouraged by irresponsible owner actions.  

The Origin of the Small Dog Syndrome

The syndrome is not only an outcome of defending oneself by attacking before the danger presents itself. It is also a result of overprotective owners. 

Instead of warning the smaller dog when it showcases undisciplined behavior such as attacking people and other dogs, owners refrain from training them. Simply put, disobedience in small breeds is tolerated instead of being addressed in the same way as is with big dogs. 

Many owners don’t consider small dogs to be dogs. They think they are cute plush toys. Similarly, they forget their dogs are not humans, one of the most common mistakes pet owners make, which is treating canines like they are people. 

Another typical mistake that results in the small dog syndrome is forgetting who the pack leader is and allowing the tiny beast to take over that role. 

All in all, even if there is something to dogs being prone to the syndrome, owners should not reinforce the behavior. 

What to do if your dog starts displaying the syndrome? 

Obviously, you should avoid the actions or the passivity that lead to encouraging the following behavior:

  • Demanding attention, treats, and petting,   
  • Jumping on people
  • Barking at dogs and people
  • Taking over other people’s space, such as beds or chairs, and not sleeping in its dog’s bed
  • Disrespecting orders
  • Pulling the leash and setting the walking pace

This is not an exhaustive list but it can be indicative of the examples when the tiny dog breed acts larger than life.

It’s important to act upon this behavior when early signs show up. You shouldn’t ignore it or laugh at it. take it seriously. Often, you won’t be able to deal with it on your own and you will have to ask an expert.

But if you do your best to understand small dog syndrome, you are less likely to “soften up” and let your dog do whatever they think they need to do to compensate for size. 

Stories about Dogs and People participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Unless I've bought them as hardcover/paperback editions, I read most books on the Kindle app, but reading them on a Kindle device is a much better experience.

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