Small Dog Syndrome

The infamous “Small Dog Syndrome” comes up often in my line of work. I hear it from veterinarians, rescue groups, and countless clients. Everyone is pretty much in agreement that small dogs have a “Napoleon” complex. People often ask me if it is possible to prevent a small dog from yapping, jumping, peeing in the house, snapping at people etc. My answer is a resounding yes. “Small dog syndrome” doesn’t originate in dog genetics, it comes from the owners, not the dog. How is this possible you might ask? I answer this with a series of hypothetical situations.

What would you do if your German Shepherd growled when your neighbor comes over? You would correct him, put him away, call a trainer, or at least become very worried. This is a dominant guarding behavior that needs to be addressed and you would do something. What would you do if your cute little Teacup Yorkie growled at the same neighbor? You would probably ignore him, pick him up, or start to make excuses for him. He’s just scared, he thinks he’s a big dog, don’t worry about him he’s all bark no bite. Sound familiar? Ignoring him teaches that the behavior is acceptable, picking him up also shows that you approve and puts him in a more dominant position, and making excuses just convinces you that nothing can be done.

Jumping is a common behavior in dogs and it is one way that they dominate humans. Not every time a dog jumps is dominance but generally the higher a dog is, especially on a humans body, the more dominant they feel. What would you do if your Rottweiler consistently jumps on you? Knee him away? Correct with your hand? Call a trainer? The point is that you would do something. What would you do if your Maltese consistently jumps on you? Pet him each time? Tell everyone “this is how he says hello”? Ignore him? Any of those choices runs the risk that the dog is becoming more dominant with every passing day.

Another question that I pose is “How important would you rate leash training your dog?” Owners of large dogs (German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Pitbulls, Mastiffs, etc.) generally say that leash training is very important to them. Owners of small breeds (Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Miniature Pinchers, etc.) generally don’t find proper leash training to be nearly as important for two main reasons. The reasons are typically that it doesn’t matter if they pull because they’re so small or they don’t get walked much because they don’t need much exercise. This is a huge issue in pet dogs since most time in new areas tends to be on leash. A proper walk with a dog is a time to establish dominance and control. When a pack of dogs travel, the leader is in front. Teaching a dog to “heel” is the process of teaching him to follow you. If your dog is following you mentally and physically on a walk, he is much less likely to bark or lunge at new people or animals. If your dog is leading you in an excited dominant state, he is much more likely to bark and lunge at new things. After a one hour walk a dog that walked in a submissive state will come home feeling submissive. A dog who spends an hour pulling his owner while feeling dominant and excited will probably return home still feeling dominant. Twenty minutes later when the neighbor dog walks by your front window which of these dogs do you thinking will be barking his head off?

When we allow our dog to live in a very dominant state day after day it is only a matter of time before a new issue crops up. A calm, well socialized, submissive dog will go to the vet and probably be examined without issue. If something scares him or hurts him slightly he will usually ignore it, try to leave the situation, or softly growl to let you know he isn’t comfortable with what is happening. A very dominant dog that has been allowed to pull on leash, bark and lunge at people and dogs, and jump on everybody is much more likely to suddenly lash out. He is being bothered and is willing to bite to stop whatever it is he doesn’t like.

All of this is meant to show you that small dogs have nothing wrong with them. Small dogs don’t know that they’re small. They have the same instincts as large dogs. We need to learn as humans that WE are both the cause and the solution to “Small Dog Syndrome.” When living with a small dog the best question you can ask yourself on a daily basis is “Would I let my Rottweiler do this?” If the answer is no, then you need to do something.

Matt Covey

Suburban K-9

Elgin, Il