Dog Behavior: Small Dog Syndrome

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Small Dog Syndrome is a label that implies a small dog will try to act larger than life to protect itself and its own interests. SDS dogs bark at visitors, snap at guests, and, occasionally, even bite their owners. Everyone has met, at one time or another, a small dog with a very ugly personality. That dog, in all likelihood, has SDS. Small breeds were often kept by nobility and given as presents to royal figures. It was also thought that small breeds were good for ones health. The Pekingese, pug and King Charles Cavalier Spaniel are three examples. These small dogs were pampered and held to the point that small dog syndrome behavior became synonymous with the natural behavior of small dogs.

Some of the common behaviors that characterize 'small dog syndrome' are listed below.

  • Your dog has developed the habit of sitting on you, or jumping on you, or next to you, when he pleases.
  • Your dog does not allow you near him when he is eating or has a toy he is playing with
  • Your barks excessively to get your attention.
  • Your dog is over protective when other dogs or humans come near you.
  • Your dog growls when you attempt to move him from his favorite resting place.
  • Your dog is generally stubborn and refuses to follow commands given to him.
  • Your dog displays an exaggerated reaction to being left alone, characterized by constant barking, or destructive behavior.

The key to most behavior problems is approaching things using the dog's natural instincts. Dogs see all the people and dogs in the household as a pack with each having their own rank in the pack and a top dog. Life is much easier if the 2 legged pack members outrank the 4 legged ones. You can learn to play the role of top dog by reading some books or going to a good obedience class. A good obedience class or book is about you being top dog, not about rewarding standard commands with a treat. Much can be done to turn this problem around, however, owners must first consider the role they play in encouraging this type of behavior in their dogs. Owners must come to realize that their small breed dogs are in fact animals and not little humans. Secondly, owners must understand that it is natural for dogs to be a part of a 'pack' and more importantly, a pack in which they would much prefer to be a follower, than a leader. Understanding these two concepts alone, will help greatly reduce the problem.

Establishing and Keeping the Alpha Position

A dog who knows his place in his human pack is a happy dog. A dog who does not is a confused dog and can exhibit many unwanted behaviors because of it.  
1. The number one way to communicate to a dog that you are his pack leader is to take him for a walk. Not the type of walk most humans take their dogs on but a pack walk where the dog is made to heel beside or behind the human who is holding the lead. This is most important for all dogs, as in a dog's mind, the leader always leads the way. A dog must not be allowed to sniff or eliminate anywhere he wishes, but where you allow him. One marking against a tree is enough for male dogs. The dog should be concentrating on following the human, not worried about leading the way. This pack type walk should be done daily. Not only will this release built up energy, but it will satisfy the dog's instinct to migrate, which all dogs possess. Dog's who have excess energy bottled up inside them and who do not have their migration instinct met will develop various instability issues that most people mistake for being breed traits.
2.All humans must eat before the dogs, as the leader always eats first.  When you give your dog its food eat a small snack first while he is watching, lay the snack near the dogs food so that he thinks you are eating out of his bowl (the leader always eats first).
3. Dogs must never be allowed to mouth or bite anyone at any time, including in play.
4.Games of fetch or play with toys must be Started and Ended by the Human.

Picking up Small Dogs
Owners of small dogs pick them up. They pick their dogs up to pay attention to them. They pick their dogs up when visitors come to the door. They pick their dogs up to take them outside. Whatever the reason, SDS dogs spend more time than the average dog in their owner’s arms in such a way that the dog interprets as “rewarding.” There are distinct similarities inherent in this act to methods used in attack dog training. No wonder so many small dogs have a Godzilla complex. And, the more an owner dotes on a small dog, the worse the symptoms generally become. Dogs are opportunistic creatures and, if they think an owner likes or will reward a particular behavior, they will do it more often, especially if it gets them what they want. Bottom line, do your best to avoid picking up a small dog. Let a small dog come to you for attention, etc., and, only if the small dog indicates that it wants you to pick it up, should you attempt to do so. The dog might jump in your lap, stand with its front paws on the side of the bed or chair that you are sitting in, or on stand with its paws on your leg. All are indicators that the dog might want to be picked up; However, should the dog try to avoid being picked up in any way, even it if just seemed to want it, do not pick it up. Some people find it hard to accept that dogs have their own needs, both for attention and for privacy and, further, that their dog’s needs might not necessarily coincide with their desires. This can and often does lead to trouble.

Aggressive and possessive behavior towards other humans by the dog can be dealt with by having a place for the dog to go to when the owner is interacting with others. This may be to his crate, or a cushion in the corner of the room for example. Owners should be aware that retraining takes time, especially in the case of dogs who have been allowed to display this kind of behavior for a long time. With patience and repetition however, the dog will be content to become a follower, rather than the leader, of his human pack.



You can help provide a better life for dogs in need. Find out how to support canine rights and welfare. The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but our stray and feral animal overpopulation problem, in many areas of this country rivals that of some of the poorest countries of the world. 

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