How to Avoid “Small Dog Syndrome”

Teeny Dogs Aren’t the Only “Victims” of This Common Dog Behavior Disorder!

Small breed dogs are notoriously snappy, yappy, unpleasant little creatures. It’s been said that small dogs are big dogs in little dog’s bodies, but dogs really have no sense of their own size. Anyone who has seen a small dog fearlessly confronting large rodents or herding large animals knows this! Smaller dogs do tend to have high-energy personalities but dogs of any size can exhibit “small dog syndrome.”

Victims of “small dog syndrome” have never been taught appropriate behavior to make them suitable, sociable companions. They may create chaos in the home, and often run the family.

Part of the problem is the difference in our treatment of big and little dogs, and what sort of behavior we allow. We train our huge Great Danes not to jump all over us, but when our tiny Pom does the same thing, we think, “Aw, isn’t that cute? My dog loves me!”

A growling Doberman intimidates us, but we laugh at a growling Pekingese. We’ll snatch a small dog up in our arms, invading his personal space, but would never consider (or even be able) to do the same thing with a full-grown Great Dane.

Even well-meaining dog owners may unintentionally reinforce the natural dog behaviors that can make dogs bossy and demanding. If your dog is already suffering from “small dog syndrome” he can be retrained to be an asset to the family instead of a potential liability.

Professional assistance to change your dog’s attitude may be needed for the most persistent dogs. It’s best if you never let your dog become a victim in the first place.

A well-socialized and well-trained dog brings happiness to his owner instead of liability, and is welcome anywhere. Please follow these tips for raising your dog and avoiding the “small dog syndrome.”

Treat your dog like a dog.

You should be your dog’s pack leader, not his mommy or playmate. While dog owners do assume these roles at times, they are secondary to your role as the person who gives your dog direction and teaches him his place in the family pack.

Left to their own devices, dogs will behave like dogs and try to run the family. They usually succeed, creating additional stress and disharmony in the family, and often end up in animal shelters when their owners get tired of dealing with them.

Socialize your dog from puppyhood.

Three to four months of age is the most impressionable time in a dog’s life. Dogs who are exposed to a variety of sights, sounds, smells and strangers from an early age are less likely to become nervous or overly aggressive. Well-socialized dogs are adaptable to new situations, and less likely to become victims of “small dog syndrome.”

Train your dog.

All dogs need at least basic obedience lessons to make them well-mannered family companions. Your dog should learn the sit/stay/down commands as a young puppy. Inexperienced dog owners would be wise to enroll in a basic obedience course with a professional trainer, attending with their dog so they may learn how to use commands correctly. Family members should also be able to control the dog.

Nip bad behavior in the bud.

It might be cute when that teeny dog nips your toes, but not so darling when he’s older. Discourage unwanted behavior (biting, jumping, excessive barking) from puppyhood by distracting the dog with another activity. Use positive reinforcement to praise your dog for behaving well, while ignoring unwanted behavior as much as possible.

Don’t carry your small dog everywhere!

Crowded stores and noisy streets aren’t for most dogs, even if they’re tucked in your pocket. Leave your dog at home when you shop. Your dog has legs, and he needs the exercise. Walk him on a lead in low-traffic areas where he won’t get stepped on.

Don’t let your dog “claim” you.

It’s sweet when your little doggy wants to sit on your lap, but when he snarls and nips at other family members or pets that come near, you have a problem. Maybe your dog does love you and enjoys sitting in your lap, but his bad behavior isn’t showing love, it’s showing possession.

He is claiming you as his property. Discourage this possessive behavior by making him move from your lap when he misbehaves. Don’t remove him yourself, but “bite” at him with your fingers (just as a mother dog would correct her puppy by nipping him when she doesn’t approve of his behavior) until he moves away.

Give your dog attention when you want to, not because he demands it.

Only allow your dog into your lap at your invitation. Petting or playing with your dog should be at a time you choose, not because your dog demands it. Ignore your dog’s attempts to gain your attention when you don’t have time to give it to him, unless he really needs it.

Don’t let your dog take your sleeping spot.

Whether or not to allow your dog to sleep with you is a personal choice. Some dog experts feel it encourages a litter mentality in the dog, and usurps the owner’s pack leader role.

Some dog owners just love to have a living thermal blanket in bed with them. If you choose to let your dog sleep in your bed, you should never allow him to take the best spot. Take your spot, and let your dog choose from what’s left.

Respect your dog’s personal space.

Just like people, dogs have varying requirements as to how physically close they want others to be to them. Some dogs love to be picked up and cuddled, and others don’t. It’s so tempting to just snatch a small dog up, but he may not like it and respond aggressively.

Don’t allow your dog to guard objects.

Some dogs will aggressively defend their toys, food, and other objects they take a liking to. As the owner, you should be able to remove any object from your dog’s possession. Teach him to “drop it” or “let go” at an early age.

Provide your dog with activity.

Dogs who are don’t get enough exercise and mental stimulation become hyperactive and bored. Interesting toys, learning new tricks, and dog activities such as obedience, agility or field trials can keep your dog content and reduce behavior problems.

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