What is Small Dog Syndrome? [And How to Prevent It]


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People love dogs of all shapes and sizes, but for some people there’s something especially endearing about small dogs. They’re often cute and spunky, and they can fit into tiny spaces. But as anyone who’s ever owned a small dog knows, they come with their own set of challenges. One of these is something called Small Dog Syndrome.

As a terrier owner, you may have heard the term Small Dog Syndrome floating around. It is the term often used to describe the behavior of small dogs who think they are in charge and therefore misbehave as a result.

Little dogs with big Napoleon Complexes seem to be everywhere you look. But what exactly is Small Dog Syndrome, what causes it, and how can your prevent it?

  1. What is Small Dog Syndrome?
  2. What Causes Small Dog Syndrome?
  3. How to Prevent Small Dog Syndrome
  4. Small Dog Syndrome Final Thoughts

What is Small Dog Syndrome?

First of all, if you have never heard the term before, Small Dog Syndrome (also called Little Dog Syndrome) is not an actual ailment or disorder. The term is a tongue in cheek way to describe the bad behavior that so many small dogs, including some terriers, tend to exhibit.

The symptoms of Small Dog Syndrome include:

  • Refusing to listen to basic commands. At the very least, all dogs should be taught the basic commands “come”, “sit”, and “stay”. A dog that knows their commands, but refuses to perform the action is a classic sign of Small Dog Syndrome.
  • Growling or snapping at people and other pets. Another telltale sign of Small Dog Syndrome is growling or snapping at anyone or anything that comes close to them. This is usually the result of being possessive of food, toys, and even their owners.
  • Barking excessively. While it’s true that some dog breeds like Westies just naturally bark more than others, dogs that constantly bark at everything all the time may have Small Dog Syndrome.
  • Being overly aggressive. Certain dog breeds like Bull Terriers get a reputation as being aggressive, but the truth is aggression is a learned behavior.
  • Constantly trying to escape from their owner. Some dog breeds naturally have what is known as wanderlust or the innate desire to roam and explore, leading them to escape their enclosures when given the opportunity. However, dogs that refuse to come back when called may have a behavioral problem.
  • Refusing to walk on a leash. Training your dog to walk properly on a leash can be challenging, but there’s a problem if your dog even refuses to allow you to put a leash on them.
  • Refusing to go outside to potty. Dogs with Small Dog Syndrome think that they are in charge, and may refuse to go outside especially when the weather is bad. This becomes especially problematic if they are relieving themselves in the house.
  • Jumping all over people and furniture. Dogs tend to jump on people as a way to get attention. You may thinks it’s cute when your Yorkie jumps on you when you get home from work, but other people might not feel the same way about your dog.

What Causes Small Dog Syndrome?

There are a number of reasons why Small Dog Syndrome occurs. One reason is that small dogs are often more highly strung than their larger counterparts and thus, more prone to anxiety and fear.

However, Small Dog Syndrome is usually the result of poor socialization or lack of training. It is caused by owners who treat their small dogs like babies, coddling them and giving them preferential treatment.

It is much easier to ignore the bad behavior of small dogs who seemingly don’t pose much of a threat. For example, if a 5 pound Pomeranian jumps on your house guest, it’s no big deal. But if your 130 pound Newfoundland jumps on them, it’s a different story.

As a result, these dogs can become yappy, territorial, and aggressive. However, Small Dog Syndrome is not an excuse for bad behavior, and all dogs, regardless of size, should be well-behaved.

How to Prevent Small Dog Syndrome

If you have a small dog, don’t despair – there are plenty of things you can do to prevent Small Dog Syndrome. With a little bit of effort, you can help your dog become a well-rounded, happy, and healthy member of the family.

Some ways to prevent (or cure) Small Dog Syndrome include:

  • Socialize early. Early socialization means exposing your dog to other people and animals early in their life. This is important because it helps your dog learn how to interact with other dogs and people in a positive way.
  • Train. Training is important because it helps your dog understand what you expect from him and gives him a sense of purpose. Additionally, training can make life safer for both the dog and those around him. A well-trained dog is less likely to bolt into traffic or bite someone in excitement or fear.
  • Discipline. Don’t just brush off their aggression and misbehavior because you think they are harmless. This just encourages more bad behavior that a larger dog would never get away with.
  • Treat them like a dog. Some small dog owners have a tendency to coddle and treat their little dog like a toy or even a prop to be carried around. This will just reinforce their belief that they are in charge.
  • Exercise. Making sure that your dog gets enough exercise is one of the best ways to cure any behavioral issue.
  • Take obedience classes. If you have tried the above methods without success, don’t be afraid to turn to a professional for help. Obedience classes are also a great way to bond with your dog.

Small Dog Syndrome Final Thoughts

While it’s not technically a medical term, Small Dog Syndrome is a very real phenomenon that happens to some little dogs. It does not apply to a specific set of dog breeds, but is rather a series of learned (mis)behaviors that can affect even large dogs.

Small dogs are just like any other dogs except they might need a little extra socialization and training to help them reach their full potential. If you think your dog might be suffering from Small Dog Syndrome, talk to your veterinarian or a certified animal behaviorist for help. With the right guidance, you can help your dog overcome Small Dog Syndrome and live a happy life.

With patience and training, even the most obstinate dog can learn to be a well-mannered member of the family.

Kevin

Kevin Garbes grew up with a female West Highland White Terrier named Murphy who was always by his side. Kevin currently lives in New York state with his family including a Labrabull (Labrador Retriever Pit Bull) named Lily.

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