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Does My Dog Have Small Dog Syndrome? Here's What to Look For

Does My Dog Have Small Dog Syndrome? Here's What to Look For

12 minute read

Does your tiny dog think that it’s the boss?

While a bossy, small dog can seem funny and cute at first, it can quickly become a problem, especially if the dog has aggressive tendencies. Dog bites can come from canines of all sizes, not just larger breeds like Pitbulls and Rottweilers, so it’s important to curb any aggressive behavior, even from toy dog breeds.

If you have a small dog and are struggling with its behavior, then it’s time to consider the possibility that it may have “small dog syndrome.” If you can’t get its attention and you’ve different training methods, then it’s time to learn a little about dog psychology. This could give you a massive breakthrough in communicating with your pup!

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Small Dog Syndrome?

Simply put, small dog syndrome is the Napoleon Complex, except in dogs.

Yes, the “Napoleon” in Napoleon Complex refers to that Napoleon.

According to some historians, it is believed that French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte was so cruel and violent because he was overcompensating for his small size. It is also known as “small man syndrome.”

The basic theory is that because Bonaparte was so small in stature, he wanted his regime to appear powerful so that no one would challenge his leadership. But instead of simply being a strong ruler, he overcompensated by being a tyrant who invaded many lands.

Now, this isn’t to say that your small dog is a tyrant (even if you may feel that way!).

However, this psychology can also apply to dogs. Instead of small man syndrome, it’s small dog syndrome. So what exactly is small dog syndrome? It’s when dogs are more likely to compensate for their tiny size by being aggressive. It’s not because they are inherently aggressive, but because they realize how small they are, so they’re trying to make themselves appear bigger through their behavior. 

From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. If it’s a dog eat dog world, then small dogs such as toy breeds are at the bottom of the food chain. To protect themselves, they had to scare off larger predators by behaving fiercer and stronger than they actually are.

While this behavior is good in the wild, it can create problems at home. Here are some of the ways small dog syndrome can cause serious issues:

  • Fear aggression. Smaller dogs are more afraid of strangers because they understand that they don’t have the size to truly defend themselves. Veterinarians and professional dog trainers refer to this as fear aggression. If you have friends or visitors over at your house, this can be a safety issue for everyone involved.
  • Constant unnecessary barking. Sound is one of the ways dogs can make themselves appear bigger and more dangerous than they really are. Toy breeds with small dog syndrome are more likely to bark unnecessarily at a wide range of stimuli. From barking at the mailman to barking at the TV, excessive barking can be a nuisance for your household as well as your neighbors!
  • Territorial behavior. To protect itself, a small dog might claim certain areas of the house as his own. Maybe it’s the couch. Perhaps it is the corner of the living room. This can become a dangerous situation if someone, such as a young child, approaches the area that the dog has claimed. A dog with small dog syndrome will defend its territory to keep itself safe. 

Again, it’s important to emphasize that this is a totally natural phenomenon. It’s as natural as why dogs wiggle their tails. Dogs are not inherently aggressive or violent, so if one displays this sort of behavior, it’s important for pawrents to determine what is causing the behavior. 

Here’s the good news: Once you know what the issue of behavioral problems is, then you’ll be able to determine a course of action to correct it.

But before we explain how to fix small dog syndrome, it’s important to understand the telltale signs…

small dog syndrome

What Are the Signs of Small Dog Syndrome? 6 Clues to Watch Out For

The signs of small dog syndrome can be easy to miss.

Why?

It’s actually because of the size of the dog itself.

You see, because toy dog breeds are so small, we’re psychologically more likely to treat them like babies – literal human babies. Think about it: You’ve probably even seen parents of small dogs put their pup in a stroller and walk it around!

This is critical to acknowledge because when it comes to babies, we usually think to ourselves, “Awh! That’s so cute.” And because babies are so innocent, parents are more likely to forgive and “baby” them when they do something wrong. 

Here’s an example: Do you think a parent is going to be more upset at a baby who throws food on the ground or a 13 year old who throws food on the ground? The vast majority of parents will be upset with the 13 year old because he should know better.

So… if pawrents view their small dogs as similar to babies, then they’re more likely to overlook bad behavior.

But overlooking bad behavior can actually lead you to miss the signs of small dog syndrome!

With that being said, ask yourself, “If a large dog was behaving this way, would I be having the same reaction?” It’s tempting to overlook bad behavior from such small, cute creatures, but it can make you miss the following 6 signs:

  1. Your dog is in charge. Do you respond to everything your dog does? If your dog barks, do you jump up to do its bidding? If your dog refuses to move from the couch, do you decide to sit somewhere else? If your dog is begging for food, do you always feed it table scraps? If you find yourself walking on eggshells around your dog, this is a telltale sign your pup may have small dog syndrome.
  2. Your dog demands to be carried. Does your dog refuse to go anywhere unless you carry it? Some dogs will even refuse to go outside to use the bathroom unless you carry them to their favorite spot. It’s truly not uncommon to see owners of toy breeds carrying their pups everywhere, including hidden in purses and backpacks. But small dogs need their exercise, too!
  3. Your pup barks at all other dogs. It’s normal for dogs to be curious or even excited around new dogs, but if your tiny dog is always barking or aggressive around other dogs, it could be small dog syndrome behavior. It’s not a big deal if this happens occasionally, but if this happens around every other dog, then it’s likely a sign that your dog is unsure, anxious, and insecure.
  4. Your dog is aggressive with other people. It’s one thing for a dog to be aggressive around other dogs, but the stakes are elevated when a dog is aggressive around other people. Growling, snapping, and barking at strangers are all examples of small dog aggressive behavior that needs to be nipped in the bud immediately (more details on how to do that below).
  5. Your dog pees all over the house. Urinating is a form of “marking” territory. Your dog could be attempting to mark what it considers to be its property in an effort to make itself appear larger than it really is. This is a common small dog behavior problem that owners of toy breeds can face.
  6. Your dog guards its toys and food. Does your dog begin growling the moment you move to pick up one of its toys? Being protective over food and toys is another form of territorial aggression. While this might not seem like a big deal, it’s especially dangerous if you have other pets, children, or visitors coming over.

By knowing these signs, you’ll be able to better identify if your small dog has any potential behavior problems. Now, the question evolves from “what is small dog syndrome” to “how do you fix small dog syndrome?”

How to Cure Small Dog Syndrome

Small dog syndrome isn’t something that you can “cure” with medicine or antibiotics. 

Rather, it’s a behavioral issue that requires strategic training to safely snap the dog out of its normal behavior and thought processes. A small dog training collar is perfect for this type of training because it allows for immediate feedback.

At Wiggle Kingdom, all of our training collars come with a remote control that works up to 1,000 feet away. This means that you don’t need to be right next to your dog in order to activate the collar. If your dog is across the room or even outside in the yard, you’ll be able to correct it immediately if it begins displaying small dog aggression. 

Here’s the best part: It’s 100% customizable to your pup. 

What makes our shock collar for small dogs unique is that it’s more than just a shock collar – it has three settings in one: Sound, vibration, and then shock.

This allows you to find the perfect setting for your dog. Remember, a training collar shouldn’t hurt or harm your dog. Rather, the goal is to bring your dog’s attention back to you so that it obeys your commands and so that you can fix unwanted behavior. 

Begin with the sound setting. If that doesn’t work, then upgrade to vibration, which has levels ranging from 1 (low) to 9 (high). Again, if vibration doesn’t work, then you can switch the mode to shock, which also has intensity levels from 1 to 9. 

The next time you witness your dog exhibiting behaviors of small dog syndrome, activate the collar immediately. This should bring your dog’s focus back to you. 

Now that your dog is paying attention to you, it’s important to be consistent with your commands. For example, if your dog is barking, you should use the same command every time to get it to be quiet. If you alternate between “quiet” or “stop barking” or “hush,” you’re going to confuse your dog. Instead, use the exact same verbiage every single time. This eliminates any potential for miscommunication and ensures that your dog is able to understand what you mean.

Consistency is key!

get a shock collar for small dog syndrome

What Are Other Ways to Stop Small Dog Behavior Problems?

As discussed above, a small dog shock collar is a perfect tool to help curb aggressive behavior in small dogs. 

However, there are other tactics you can also implement to ensure that your dog is on its best behavior. Consider some of these ideas.

Make sure your dog gets enough exercise daily.

Dog trainers use the saying, “A tired dog is a good dog.” What does this mean? Well, if a dog is physically tired, then it’s going to be too tired to get itself into trouble.

Because toy dog breeds are so small, it’s easy to assume that they don’t need that much exercise, but ALL dogs regardless of size should receive at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. This allows them to safely release that pent up energy.

If dogs don’t have a healthy outlet to use their energy, then it may manifest as aggression. Simply allowing your dog to play outside can help use up some of that energy. And if you put a training collar on your pup, you can make sure it’s on its best behavior even when it’s outside. 

Make sure your dog gets plenty of socialization.

Dogs that aren’t properly socialized are more likely to be afraid of strangers and other dogs. Why? Because they haven’t been exposed to new stimuli, smells, and sights before! 

Socialization allows your pup to become used to interacting with other creatures other than yourself and whoever lives in your household. 

This can be as simple as choosing a walking route where you know you’ll encounter other people. Perhaps you bring your dog on a coffee date with you. Maybe check out the local dog park. Bring your dog to a pet specific socialization event (often hosted by veterinarian offices or local malls (i.e. pet pictures with Santa or the Easter Bunny)).

Positive socialization experiences will help your dog understand that it doesn’t need to be afraid of the outside world. This can help tone down or even eliminate aggressive tendencies. 

Learn to ignore.

It might seem weird to ignore your dog, but sometimes this is key to stopping small dog aggressive behavior.

Essentially, if you always coddle your dog, then it will learn to manipulate you.

But if you learn to ignore your dog in the right circumstances, then your dog will eventually learn that it can’t always get what it wants.

For example, if you let your dog outside every time it barks, then it will learn to bark every time it wants to go outside. In other words, reacting to unwanted behavior is the same as rewarding unwanted behavior. Your dog is learning that it can get a response out of you.

By ignoring certain cues such as barking, you're effectively telling your dog, “I’m not going to listen to you just because you’re barking at me.” Your dog will eventually learn that it will need to behave in order to earn your attention. 

Oftentimes, small dog syndrome is simply a battle for dominance. 

Is your dog obedient to you – or are you obedient to your dog?

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