Skip to content

Does Your Little Furry Friend Suffer from ‘Small Dog Syndrome’?

small dog playing with KONG dog toy

Walking your pooch is supposed to be enjoyable, right? Well, not if your pint-sized chihuahua goes into attack mode every time you pass another human or hound on the street. Looking back into history, Napoleon was a man of small stature with a temper ten times the size — this compensation complex rings true in the animal kingdom, too. 

So, whether you currently own a small dog or you’re looking at bringing a miniature mutt into your home in the near future, here’s everything you need to know about SDS so that you and your four-legged friend can live a harmonious existence filled with belly scratches and plenty of playtime

What is Small Dog Syndrome (SDS)?

To be clear, just because a small dog becomes extra spunky during playtime doesn’t necessarily mean that it has SDS. One bad personality trait could be tied to something completely different — like fear, illness, or neglect from an owner. Small dog syndrome is defined as a variety of specific behaviors that a dog displays due to its petite size, which, unfortunately, is aggressive.

While some owners brush off this personality disorder because they can’t believe that their tiny pup could do any harm, in actuality, “small dog syndrome” really needs to be addressed. Aside from the fact that a small barking dog can get on your nerves, SDS bears serious risks including behavioral complications, developmental issues, excessive nervousness, and weight gain, to name a few. 

How to Tell if Your Pup Suffers from Small Dog Syndrome

We hate to break it to you as dog owners, but you can be partially to blame for SDS because you’re not teaching your pooch proper social skills. Canines who are excessively coddled or not reprimanded for doing something wrong never have the opportunity to develop socially. Think about it: you’d likely be more apt to scold a large German shepherd for jumping on someone than a dainty dachshund, right? In fact, people generally tend to put more effort into training and playing with larger dogs. 

With that in mind, if a small pup isn’t getting any guidance from you, it’s going to believe that it’s the leader of the pack, which morphs into a whole host of behavioral issues. So, does your dog have SDS or is it something else? Here are some of the top signs to look out for. 

  • Aggressive to both human and hound on walks or in the home environment. Your dog thinks he/she is the boss and shows signs of bullying other dogs by chasing, barking, growling, and jumping. 
  • Persistently begs for food, barking, whining, wincing, and staring you down until you cave in. 
  • Overly excitable even when the mood is lowkey. 
  • Difficult to housebreak and tends to pee to declare dominance and command of your household, as well as other homes, hotels, etc. 
  • Snapping or lunging in anticipation of a threat. 
  • Failure to obey household rules such as jumping up on the furniture, pestering for scraps at dinner, etc. 
  • Becoming territorial over specific areas of the house, objects such as a toy, or even a person such as an owner. 

How to Prevent or Eliminate Small Dog Syndrome 

If you didn’t get your small dog as a puppy, you may have a tougher road ahead of you as most socialization occurs within the first 12 months. This is not to say that you can’t make some improvements. Just keep in mind that you have to establish rules and boundaries and be consistent with them if you want to see any positive changes. 

  • Treat your small dog like any other dog regardless of size. This means reinforcing the same rules, such as no biting, growling, or jumping in any circumstance. 
  • Avoiding picking up and coddling your furball — especially if he/she did something wrong or in the event that they are fearful of a larger dog. They will continue to repeat this behavior as long as you do. 
  • Set boundaries and firmly but gently (abuse is never tolerable) let them know when their behavior was not acceptable. This may be difficult if these are new tactics for you, but it’s important to break the cycle as it will only get worse with time. 
  • Train your pooch to walk correctly on a leash which will show them that you’re the one who’s in charge! In addition, train your dog to obey basic commands such as “sit” or “stay.” These can be useful if you have company over or while on a walk. 
  • Don’t reward your dog without reason. While it’s normal to want to spoil your furry friend, do it as a form of reward for positive behavior. Again, this demonstrates authority on your part. 
  • Don’t carry your dog (or push it around in a buggy) everywhere you go — this only spoils them further and not in a good way. Not to mention, dogs of all sizes need their exercise. 
  • With the exception of a random table scrap, avoid feeding your small pup by hand. It’s important that they understand the difference between their food and eating area and yours.  
  • Help your hound chill out around larger dogs. When approaching a larger pooch, talk to your dog in a calming, soothing voice. Reward your dog with a treat (don’t forget to pack those in your pocket) each time they don’t lash out. 
  • If all else fails, consider enrolling your dog in training or obedience classes. Just because you have to reach out for help doesn’t mean you failed. Training small dogs is no easy task, but that’s what professionals are for! In short, don’t let your ego get in the way of your dog getting help. 
  • Address any red flag concerns with your vet to make sure your dog’s behavior is not linked to a more serious medical condition. 

How KONG Club Can Help

Work 1:1 with the behaviorists and trainers in your your KONG Club app to build Personalized Pet Plans aimed at building a foundation of life long health and behavior for your pooch. Biting? Barking? Chewing? We’ve got you covered! Join KONG Club today!.