Little Dog Syndrome is a Harmful Myth for Dogs and Their Owners
While there’s a lot of uneducated generalizations about big breeds like Pitbulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, etc. (you know, the “aggressive breeds”), there’s also the ones people make about smaller dogs. Usually the “teacups” or ones that can fit in your purse, these smaller breeds still get a bad rep when it comes to their behavior. A lot of it is about how yappy they can be, how they bark and bark forever and ever, and sometimes will show aggression (though because of their size, their aggression isn’t as scary as compared to a bigger dog). These assumptions are symptoms of what we call, “Little Dog Syndrome”.
Now this is not to say that small dogs never exhibit this type of behavior – trust me! I work with them every day! What Little Dog Syndrome (sometimes known as the “Napoleon complex” for dogs) is the idea that the dog acts inappropriately (excessive barking, severe leash reactivity, aggressive tendencies, poor manners, fear-based behavior, etc) because the dog is attempting to compensate for their size, and to essentially assert their dominance in the pack. With Little Dog Syndrome, many small dogs can demonstrate behavior that would not be acceptable if the dog bigger and was 70lbs heavier.
I had a client that called me for training their Miniature Schnauzer, Beans. The dog was very protective of his owner, and would often snap at any guests in the home, if they came too close to him and the owner. Beans would also repeatedly jump on the owner for attention, and even bark incessantly until the owner picked him up and showered him with affection.
Now while it may look cute and “not that big of a deal” because it’s a 10lb Miniature Schnauzer, you probably would not accept ANY of the aforementioned behavior if it was Pitbull or a St. Bernard, would you? So why should we accept that from a small dog? Many people believe the myths of Little Dog Syndrome, and ultimately will allow this type of behavior to continue with their small dogs, simply because of their size or their belief that this behavior is just part of being a small dog..
I am here to tell you that it’s not! After meeting for the initial in-home consultation with Beans and his owner, it was clear that Beans acted this way because appropriate behaviors were never established, and that his behavior was being caused by lack of leadership and some inner anxiety. His poor owner always thought that dogs of Beans’s size was just prone to this type of behavior, and that she just had to accept it. Her neighbor even told her that Beans is a small dog so he is “just supposed to be that way because he’s small and therefore more fearful”. The myth and belief of Little Dog Syndrome does such a disservice for these dogs, and in my opinion, truly discredits these breeds. Any dog can be a happy, well-adjusted dog that knows not to growl at guests, or bark like a maniac on the leash, or cower in fear when they see a bigger dog walking down the street! When it comes to behavioral modification and improvement, I unfortunately see a lot of small dogs being taken less seriously, and thus their bad behavior and the anxiety they suffer through continues on. In some of these cases, these dogs live the rest of their lives with this behavior and anxiety, or they end up surrendered to shelters because the owners can no longer handle it.
As dog owners of any breed, it is so important to always give our dogs a chance and help them in any way we can. When it comes to bad behavior, change is possible, no matter the breed or size! As for Beans, he has learned that acting territorially aggressive is wrong, and no longer acts this way. Not only that, he feels more secure in himself so he feels no need to act this way! His manners have improved and his owner now says walking him is “like a dream”.
Many behavior problems, both mild or severe, tend to stem from anxiety, fear, or lack of leadership. If you think that you and your dog have caught the Little Dog Syndrome, and want to be cured, give me a call at 919-427-4775! I will get you and your dog on the path to behavioral success, where your little dog will exhibit both obedience and confidence!