what is small dog syndrome and how to deal with it

What is Small Dog Syndrome & How to Deal With it

All dogs have their own quirks and a personality that is individual to them. These can come in a range of positives aspects, such as being protective, loving, and great with kids or other animals. Of course, there’s also the negatives- chasing cars, chewing everything or, in some cases, small dog syndrome.

If you’re new to dog ownership or have never had a small dog before, you might not have come across this personality treat before. It might be a little alarming to you, or you might not be sure of the best way to tackle the tantrums. If this is you, read on for some of the best tips and tricks on how to handle small dog syndrome, as well ascertaining whether this is something your dog is struggling with, in the first place.

Yorkshire terrier on grass

What Is Small Dog Syndrome?

Small dog syndrome is a series of behaviors that can be attributed as, well…a bratty dog. It usually consists of your pup acting out if he or she doesn’t get his own way, indicated by barking and generally being very naughty. As larger canines have a tendency to be more laid back and quieter, this isn’t a problem that tends to be associated with them. However, smaller dogs have the added complication of simply being unable to do everything they want to do.

For example, a German Shepherd might have absolutely no issues with getting up and down the family couch, so they will not need to request assistance when it comes to laying down in a place that is comfortable for them. A Chihuahua, however, simply doesn’t have the capability to jump onto what is, to them, a mountainous area- and they’ll struggle to get back down afterwards, too. Thus, the Chihuahua is much more likely to bring attention to their situation by barking at their owners, gaining their attention and getting the desired reaction: being picked up and placed on the couch.

This unintentionally reinforces this behavior, as the barking is having the desired effect- getting what they want. Over time, this becomes more of a demand than a request and, thus, the bad behavior is created. Next time you attempt to ignore your small dog’s request, they are likely to respond in a much more negative way, in order to command your attention.

Naturally, this isn’t the only example of poor behavior from a dog. This can also stem from toy dogs being held in a closer capacity than most other dog breeds. In other words, those with smaller dogs are more likely to treat them in the same way they do with human babies. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with treating your pet like a member of the family (which, after all, they are), there is a very distinctive line between humans and animals that needs to be paid attention to.

Dog’s will not respond to the same love and affection as babies will because they respond very differently to your love and affection. This is because all dogs- no matter what size- have a pack mentality and will respond only to those they deem to be above them, in terms of the pack hierarchy. A dog who is not given strict rules and restrictions will never be truly happy, as they will always try to test their boundaries and become the Alpha.

At the very least, this leaves you in a position of having to attend to your dog’s every need, or be pestered until the end of time, until you do what they want. There is, however, another option: training. In this guide, we’ll discuss how you can work with your canine companion to wean them off this dependent behavior, while still giving them what they want with one, small difference: their actions are reliant on your terms and your preferences.

Related Post: Best Dog Training Books

Maltese dog

Signs And Symptoms Of Small Dog Syndrome

Naturally, all of these symptoms are going to be present to some degree, in all dogs. That said, these issues become definitive symptoms of small dog syndrome once they begin to become troublesome or have some effect on the way or means by which you go about your day-to-day business. If you cannot act as you normally would or have to go out of your way to accommodate for your dog’s behaviors, then it’s reasonable to suggest that your dog’s issues are having a negative effect on your lifestyle. This is the point at which you will need to look at resolving the problems you’re having with your pooch.

1. Your Dog Demands Your Attention

Whatever your dog wants, you’ll know about it- and you’ll know straight away, too. No matter what the issue is, you’ll be barked at, nipped, pulled, and growled at until the issue is resolved, immediately. You might notice that you’re more of a servant to your dog’s every whim and desire, as opposed to the master who sets the rules and sticks to them.

2. Your Dog Is Not Good With Other Dogs

Social skills are a huge part of what temperament your dog is likely to have. These, however, need to be honed over time and with frequent socialization with other dogs and humans. A dog who has been picked up every time they come across a new pup, or who has never been taught to be respectful of other dogs will be unlikely to get along with other animals.

If you’ve noticed your dog being particularly aggressive to other animals- especially other dogs- this is a sure-fire sign that your pup may be suffering from small dog syndrome. This is another way that your dog may be trying to develop dominance over other pets, as they see themselves as the Alpha, and will want that status to remain with them in new scenarios.

3. Your Dog Is Frequently Disobedient

A dog who doesn’t view you as their master will never listen to you. Dogs, by their very nature, will only ever listen to and respect the Alpha of the pack. If this is you, then you’ll know by how well they respond. Naturally, you won’t get your dog to do as you please 100% of the time- that would also be unhealthy and a little disobedience from time-to-time is only natural. However, if they do not respond, ever then it becomes a big problem that needs to be resolved.

This usually happens over time, due to the ability to get away with breaking the rules for an extended period of time. If a dog has never been scolded for bad behavior, they will never learn that the behavior is bad. This also means that they will not understand what is wrong, the one time you do choose to tell them off, for something that they’ve been doing for a while and never had an issue with.

Related Post: Best Dog Food for Small Breeds

Naughty playful puppy dog after biting a pillow

4. Your Dog Is Not Good With Houseguests

Dogs will small dog syndrome will often try to become the leader over everyone in the household- and this includes occasional houseguests. If you notice that your dog misbehaves around new people, in your house, it’s probably because they are trying to see who will be the new boss.

5. Your Dog Urinates Around The Home

Accidents happen and the occasional slip-up is only natural- especially in puppies, who may not be housetrained yet. However, if you spot your dog peeing around the house, in different areas and with no warning, it could be because they are marking their territory. Again, this is directly related to your dog believing that they are the Alpha of the pack (members of your household), leading them to try and assert dominance by urinating not only in your house, but in the houses of friends and family, too.

How To Handle Small Dog Syndrome

Identify The Cause

  • Are they getting away with bad behavior?

If you’ve read some of the above points and know that you’re guilty of allowing your dog to get away with too much around the house, or don’t scold your dog for misbehavior, then you can relax. At least you know that there’s an issue and are accepting of this issue!

  • Are you being too soft with your dog?

It’s easy to be protective of our animals, especially as, in our minds, the smaller the animal is, the weaker they must be. That said, your dog doesn’t need to be picked up and cuddled every time you come across a new situation. They also don’t need loads of treats for doing not very much or require lots of leeways when it comes to bad behavior. Take a look at our review of the best dog training treats for more options.

Evaluate The Situation

  • What exactly is causing the behavioral changes?

Is your dog absolutely fine with you and your family, but terrible with house guests? Perhaps it’s the new dog that they seem to really dislike when you go for walks? Whatever the issue, it could be that your dog is absolutely fine with you, but terrible in new situations, or struggles with other animals. The good news is that you should be able to find the root of the cause and therefore treat this.

  • What are your reactions to these changes?

Equally important to your dog’s behavior, is your reaction this behavior. For example, if your dog is likely to try and assert dominance over other dogs when you’re out, this might make you nervous. Unfortunately, this is more likely to make your dog feel the need to take over the situation and become even more aggressive.

  • Get help from your vet

If you think the issue isn’t behavioral so much as it is about physiological, it’s best to get anything sinister ruled out by your vet, first. They’ll perform the necessary tests to ensure that these changes or issues aren’t the result of an underlying problem.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Correct The Issues

  • Hold your dog to the same standards as you would with a large dog

Small dogs tend to get away with more because we don’t see the issues as a problem. If a large dog barked all the time, demanded attention or became aggressive towards other dogs, we would naturally seek a resolution as soon as possible. So, why would or should this be any different for smaller dogs? If you’re not sure if the behavior is demanding or aggressive, imagine a German Shepherd doing the same thing that your dog is doing and envision how you react to this.

  • Avoid mollycoddling

It’s easy to want to cuddle and love your dog til the end of the Earth- after all, that’s one of the best parts about having a dog! However, it’s important that you don’t overdo the love and attention. Allow your dog to experience different situations, including coming up against much larger dogs, or dealing with new people. It might seem a little much at first, but you’ll soon realize that your pup isn’t that affected by these new things at all.

  • Re-train and reward

Begin training, as you did when they were a puppy, focusing on the simpler commands at first and developing them to become more complex. This isn’t just about training your dog, however. This is about educating yourself to become a more well-rounded dog owner who feels in control of these commands. Your dog will sense your self-assuredness and appreciate having a master to follow.

  • Get others involved

This isn’t just about you- as mentioned, there are many issues that rise due to houseguests or strangers, for example. If you think others are more likely to fuss over your dog and allow them to fall back into bad habits, gently inform them that you’re trying something new- and then teach them the same things you’ve learned, yourself. This will avoid any confusion for your dog and keep everybody happy.


  1. Lauren Novack, How to Understand Small Dog Syndrome, WikiHow
  2. 5 Common Health Issues for Small Dogs, PetMD
Wendy Young

A freelance writer and word nerd, Wendy is a content writer with a knack for getting into the nitty-gritty of pet ownership. For the past three years, she’s been researching and writing a huge range of different topics – but always comes back to her beloved pet articles. Lover of all things four-legged and owner of Harley, Pepper and Rush, Wendy is currently completing her MNSW at Edge Hill University.

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