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Small Dog Syndrome

Small Dog Syndrome

Are you one of those people who prefer larger dogs? Do you know someone who has told you that they prefer larger dogs because small dogs are yappy and snappy? Whether you are a large-dog person or a small-dog person, one thing we all would agree on is that a larger percentage of small dogs tend to have a different type of temperament than medium and large dogs. Small dogs have earned the reputation of being yappy, snappy, jealous, protective, wary of strangers and not the greatest child companions and, unfortunately, it has become widely accepted.

So why do small dogs tend to act differently than large dogs? They are all the same type of animal, a mammal of the Canidae family, of the order Carnivora: Canis lupus familiaris, which is a domesticated subspecies of the wolf. Commonly referred to as a canine, this type of animal has instincts that need to be fulfilled in order to be happy and balanced. The problem isn’t with the dogs, the difference between large and small dogs is in the way humans tend to treat them differently.

Many behaviours humans do not allow large dogs to get away with, are considered “cute” in small dogs. For example:


If an 8 stone Rottweiler jumps up at a person, everyone would agree that this behaviour needs to be corrected. It is seen as a problem and the owners would try to stop the behaviour. At the very least, the dog would be locked in a separate room when guests arrived to protect the guests from getting hurt.

Now picture a little 8-pound Miniature Pinscher jumping on a human. You look down and think it’s appealing. It doesn’t hurt and people think, “The dog likes me!”

But what does it really mean? If dogs were human this would be true… but they are not. Jumping has a totally different meaning to a dog than it does a human. It’s a dominancy and respect issue. For a dog, space is a sign of respect and when you allow your little dog to jump on a human you are allowing him to disrespect a human; you are allowing him to display dominant behaviour to people, even praising him for doing so.


If a German Shepherd were to growl at your guest, you and your guest would both know there is a problem. Something has to be done. However, if a tiny 6-pound Chihuahua growls, well, it’s just what he does. There is no difference, in a dog’s mind, for a German Shepherd to be growling at a human than there is for a Chihuahua. It’s just another behaviour we humans let those small dogs get away with.

Other Dogs

If your 5-pound Yorkshire Terrier decides to bark and growl at another dog while you are walking down the street, or as another dog passes by your house, it’s almost seen as cute, because you see it as your tiny dog thinking it is a big dog. However, if your seven stone Akita barks and growls at another dog, the Akita is more likely to be put in its place and told to stop. The fact is, no dogs should ever be allowed to display dominant behaviours. Whether it be a huge or tiny dog, their pack leaders (humans) should tell the dogs “NO” and follow through until the dog understands this is not an acceptable action. Dogs are not capable of thinking of themselves as big or little, they react to the situation they find themselves in. To dogs, size means nothing.


If you were eating a meal or working at your computer and your Boxer came running over and jumped up on your lap, chances are you would knock it back down telling it off. However, if that 5-pound Maltese jumps up on your lap, well it’s sweet, he loves you and just wants to be with you. There’s that space issue again. Pack leaders decide when and where to do things. The pack leader belongs on top. It is OK for your little lap dog to sit on your lap. However, it has to be at times when YOU invite him.

Claiming the Human

If you are sitting down watching TV on your sofa, your little dog can jump up next to you on the couch, so long as your dog understands it is your  sofa, not his. You need to make your dog wait until you invite him to climb into your lap. When a dog makes it a habit of jumping up on a human whenever he wants, we can view it as love and affection. However, to a dog, it is a claim; the dog is trying to own you. So the next time you notice your dog is adamant about being on you, remember, he is claiming you, not loving you. To remedy this situation the human needs to claim back their space and the dog must be told he can only climb on top when the human invites him.

If you feel your dog is jumping on you in an “I own you” way, the best way to remedy the situation is to do it in a way a dog would, he’ll understand quicker than being told no or by being put or knocked back to the floor. Rather, use your fingers to “bite” her off (poking with enough intensity to make the dog react by moving). You need to communicate with your body language until she moves off of the person by herself. Make her move off; do not physically move the dog. When you see the dog settling down into a calm submissive state (head down low, not making eye contact, ears back, tail relaxed and not tucked in, not rigidly high, the dog may lay down), then it is OK to invite it on you, if that is what YOU want. However, if the dog once again gets in an “I own you” stance, she needs to be moved off again by making the dog move, not by you moving the dog.


If your nine stone Mastiff decided to viciously bark at your cleaner/gardener/postman…you would KNOW you have a problem. However, if your tiny little Dachshund does it, you would inform the person to avoid the dog. The little dog may hide under the table barking and growling and be told to be quiet, but the correction is never really followed through on. The houseguest is told to not put their hands under the table. However, if this were a Rottie or a German Shepherd, the behaviour would be addressed. The point is that small dogs are more likely to be allowed to display dominant behaviours than large dogs, no dog should be allowed to do this.


Ever see a small dog jump up on its owner’s lap and growl at anyone who comes too close? The owner feels that dog is “protecting” them “because he loves me,” when actually the dog is “claiming” ITS property.

While it may seem less of a big deal for a Yorkie to display this type of dominant behaviour, than say a Rottie, IN THE DOG’S MIND there is no difference between a Yorkie doing this and Rottie exhibiting this behaviour. Yet a large percentage of small dogs are allowed to do it. You might say it doesn’t matter, but those teeth are sharp, and can and will cause injuries, possibly serious ones, especially to a child. If your dog exhibits these behaviours and hurts someone, who’s fault is it? That’s right yours, because you’ve subtly trained your dog to do it by being a weak leader.


If someone were walking a 6-pound Pekingese and it was pulling on the lead as hard as it could to get near a tree to pee on it, most dog walkers would simply hold the lead and allow the dog to pull way out in front. It isn’t uncomfortable for the person, and if you have a good grip on the lead the dog can’t physically escape.

Whereas if a Labrador Retriever were pulling you as hard as it could, there is a good chance it may just drag you across the pavement. It’s a fact that large dogs are more likely to be told to behave on a lead than little dogs. However, most dogs (large and small) take their owners for a walk ( by being in front of the human) when they should be beside or behind them. In dog society, the alpha animal, the leader goes first. Large dogs are, at the least, mostly taught not to pull. Whereas not only do small dogs walk out in front, they also pull without being corrected.

Sleeping arrangements

Larger dogs are less likely to be allowed to sleep at the top of the bed next to a person’s pillow. There simply is not enough room for both human and a large dog. If a large dog is allowed on the bed, the dog will often be told to sleep at the foot of the bed. Small dogs are more likely to be allowed to sleep right on a human’s pillow. In the dog world, the leader sleeps in the highest (height-wise), most comfortable place. And for those very tiny dogs that cannot jump on the bed themselves, they get to bark and TELL THE HUMAN when to put them on the bed and when to take them back off the bed. In a dog’s mind only the leader tells others what to do. It is not necessarily a bad thing to allow your dog to be on your bed, so long as YOU are deciding when it can get on the bed and when it needs to get down. Just keep in mind in the dog world, the pack leader sleeps in the most comfortable spot, so do not allow your dog to push you out of your spot. Your dog needs to lie around YOU, not you around HIM.

If you must have your dog in the bedroom, try giving him his own bed, on the floor. He’ll still be with you, but it’ll reinforce who is in charge, which will make both the dog and the people happier. Dogs really enjoy feeling secure, and constantly seeking dominance, because he gets his way quite often will not help him be content. Be dominant to your dog, not cruel, and he’ll be a much happier, less confused animal.

The Yappy small dog

While some dogs have more of a tendency to get yappy, the yappy traits have everything to do with the way they are treated by the owner. For instance, if the dog lacks a leader and therefore feels compelled to fulfil this vacant role, it may become yappy every time you leave it alone, or become yappy as it tries to get YOU to follow ITS commands.

If you fall into the “Small Dog Syndrome” and allow a dog to take over the home, it will tend to be more yappy. Small dogs that see their humans as 100%  leader and are told to hush when they do bark, get daily walks and are content with themselves are less likely to be yappers.

The Nervous small dog

When dogs appears scared, nervous, stressed, or otherwise upset in any way, we humans tend to pet them, stroke their coats, and talk to them in a soothing manner. We tell them everything is OK. We do this with both large and small dogs, but we tend to do it even more with the smaller dogs. We pick up the little dog and cuddle it every time it looks upset. We humans feel good about giving this type of comfort; it’s human nature and our little dogs are our babies.

This type of reassurance works on humans, it’s what humans do and we understand this type of comfort. However, when a dog is in a fearful state and is given a human consolation, it intensifies the dog’s state. When a dog is in an unstable state, say frighten by fireworks or another dog and you try to reassure it by giving affection, you are telling it that there is indeed something to be frightened of, which intensifies its fear, rather than lessening it.

In the dog’s mind as you are acknowledging something is frightening, you are now weaker than it, which instinctually puts the dog in a higher position than you, it will try to protect you in other situations, instinct tells a dog that the stronger member is higher in the pack order. This ensures the pack’s survival. You need to give off a stronger, more stable energy that the dog can feed from.

Many little dogs suffer from instability due to their likelihood of being babied and over-protected. When large dogs are upset, since we cannot pick them up, they are less likely to be treated in this manner.

Separation Anxiety

Dogs that believe they are the pack leaders often develop separation anxiety. Followers are not allowed to leave the pack leader but pack leaders can leave the followers. So as the small ldog feels it is the leader, it is distressed when is pack member leaves. If the dog is happy to be a follower, you leaving will not make it distressed.

Dominant behaviours in dogs

The list below contains dominant behaviours in the canine world, which may or may not be obvious to human. The list is not exhaustive, but hopefully you will find it interesting. Keep in mind that a dog does not have to display all of these behaviours to be in a dominant frame of mind. Sometimes an alpha dog will only display a few of the behaviours at random times, depending on what the dog decides it feels like doing at any given moment. Smarter dogs tend to challenge the pack order more than dogs of average or below-average intelligence.


Headstrong and willful




Pushing a toy into you or pawing in order to get you to play with them

Nudging you to be petted

Sitting in high places, looking down on everything

Guarding a human from others approaching. People like to call it “protecting” but it’s actually “claiming”—dog owns you.

Barking or whining at humans which many owners consider “talking” (without a command to do so).

High-pitched screams in protest of something dog does not wish to do.

Jumping or putting their paws on humans (without a command to do so).

Persistence about being on a particular piece of furniture when asked to stay off (dog owns it)

Persistence about going in and out of doorways before humans

Persistence about walking in front of humans while on a lead

Persistence about getting through the doorway first

Refusing to walk on a lead (excludes untrained puppies, dogs with injuries or illnesses)

Nipping at people’s heels when they are leaving (dog did not give permission to leave)

Not listening to known commands

Dislikes people touching their food

Standing proud on a human lap

Persistence about being on top, be it a lap or stepping on your foot

Persistence about where they sleep, i.e. on your pillow

Annoyance if disturbed while sleeping

Likes to sleep on top of their humans

Licking (giving kisses) in a determined and focused manner

Carrying themselves with a proud gait, head held high

Not liking to be left alone and getting overly excited upon the human’s return

Dogs very rarely display the highest level of dominance overnight. There are usually signs leading up to it over the years and dominant alpha dogs do not always growl and bite. If the owners are giving the dog what it wants, sometimes there is no reason for the dog to growl or bite unless it is challenged. Dogs understand that they exist in a human world. After all, who gives them food and opens the door for them to go potty? When humans perform these tasks on demand for the dog though, why wouldn’t the dog think it’s the leader? It is easy for dogs to get the impression they are alpha in their pack. Since many canine dominant behaviours are not acceptable in human society, for example, biting, it is important for humans to retain their leadership over their dogs.

Is my dog being dominant?

This can be a hard one for people to work out, but the way a dog physically carries himself can help a great deal. If you learn to recognise the signs, you’ll be able to recognise how your dog is feeling and act appropriately, whether he is interacting with you, another person or another animal.

A dominant dog will walk high and proud, puffing himself out as much as he can. He carries himself with what looks like dignity to the untrained human eye. The body is carried stiffly, tail is up and rigid, ears are on alert.

Very submissive dogs, carry themselves in quite the opposite way. They hold their heads low, shoulders down, tails down, slinking themselves smaller. To the untrained human eye it looks like a submissive dog is a sad dog. Not so, the posture of these submissive dogs is telling all around them that they do not wish to challenge anyone. They come in peace. Dogs are “fight” animals, which means their natural defence mechanism is to fight when they are threatened. That is why they make it so obvious when they do not wish to fight or when they do.

Since dominant dogs look ‘proud’, and submissive dogs look ‘sad’, it’s no wonder so many people have dominant dogs. When their dog acts submissive they mistake that for a sad dog. When their dog acts dominant they mistake it for a happy, proud dog. Dominance tends to get rewarded.


Most people want a companion, a dog who will fit in with their lives, by following simple dominance procedures over your pet, it will be a happier animal. Content to do and be whatever you want it to be. If you ‘baby’ it, you will be forcing it to be the leader in its mind. And despite what its instincts are telling it, it cannot completely control you, which will distress it immensely. If it doesn’t matter to you personally that you have a dog with ‘small dog syndrome’, think of the distress you are causing the animal.

Putting simple dominance measures in place is not cruel, nor particularly difficult to do if you have not yet let the process go too far. Starting with possession issues over space is a good way to start, e.g. the dog ‘claiming’ you on the sofa, or demanding to play. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the dog on the sofa, or play with him but make it your choice, not his. For example if he presents a toy, tell him no, and don’t play, even if he’s very persistent, remember this may be the first time this has happened, he’ll be a little confused. When he’s given up on the idea, call him to you and play but stop before he does. You control the activity, not him.

However there is plenty of help available from professional trainers if you need it.