Small dog syndrome – or Small Dog Owner Syndrome? We take a look…

If you own a small dog or toy dog breed like a Chihuahua, Pomeranian, toy poodle, yorkie or the like, chances are you’ve experienced the ‘small dog syndrome (SDS)’ behaviour. But in truth, it’s doing the small dog a disservice labelling them with this ‘syndrome’. Sure they’re small, but they don’t feel the need to see a shrink because of it; unlike us humans they’re happy in their own skin – we’re the ones inflicting our human inferiority complex on the poor puppy. If we want to bandy labels around it’s probably more appropriate to label owners of small dogs with ‘small dog owner syndrome’ (SDOS)! We may not like to hear it, but we are probably responsible for the ‘syndrome’ by treating our pooch differently because of his small size, leading to behavioural problems.

How does small dog owner syndrome (SDOS) start?

All dogs will try it on to begin with. That’s where discipline, training and early socialisation comes into play (see our blog on Socialisation for more info on this:

If you’re suffering from SDOS you can tend to overlook the bad behaviour, or even think it’s cute or funny to begin with. If a Saint Bernard went to jump in your lap at every occasion you’d be quick to put paid to that behaviour, but if your cute little toy poodle did the same you’d probably think it was adorable that they loved you so much – not!

So what are the signs of ‘small dog syndrome’?

The list is long, but the main ones include jumping up on people; begging for food; growling or barking at anyone trying to get close to you; demanding attention, affection, treats; pulling on a leash or refusing to walk on a leash at all; nipping at heels; refusing to listen to commands; barking or whining at people; jumping into laps uninvited; growling or barking at other dogs (usually big ones). Basically they rule the roost, dictating their own feeding time, where they sleep and even where they pee – before you know it they’re the boss.

How to deal with ‘small dog syndrome’

Dogs need to know their place in the pack – you’re the pack leader, not them. Training needs to start from day one. Basic commands need to be taught early and reinforced daily even to the smallest of puppies. Small breeds often have higher activity level and shorter attention span than larger breeds so training should be carried out in shorter sessions and breaks allowed.

Tips to avoid Small Dog Owner Syndrome:

  • Even if your pooch fits snugly into a teacup or handbag, remember he’s still a dog! – he’s happiest when he knows his place in the pack. You’re the pack leader, not him.
  • Don’t take your small dog out for a ‘carry’, it’s a walk they need – they like to socialise like a dog, not a baby.
  • Don’t scoop them up at any hint of danger – deal with the situation (puppy training classes can help you with this).