Many newbie dog owners get a small or toy breed of dog because they are so cute and loveable. They also have this notion that these small dogs do not need training and socialization at all. This is one of the biggest mistakes any pet parent can make. Not training the small hound can lead to undesirable behaviors. They can be very yappy and nippy. They’ll bark incessantly at the slightest noise from outside the door. Small dogs like Chihuahuas and Yorkshire Terriers can act like four-legged Napoleons. For these dogs, they have what vets and animal psychologists call as the Small Dog Syndrome.
Understanding the Small Dog Syndrome
Small Dog Syndrome describes a collection of canine behaviors that are considered as undesirable. These SDS behaviors can include:
- Overly excitable behavior
- Growling at other dogs or at other people
- Jumping up on their owners or other people as well as other dogs
- Frequent or constant barking
- Not listening to commands
- Demanding attention, whether it’s for treats or affection
- Nipping, lunging, or snapping at others that the dog perceives as threats
- Reluctance to move off pieces of furniture like beds and sofas
- Avoiding larger dogs
Dog psychologists refer to Small Dog Syndrome as the canine equivalent of the Napoleon Complex among humans. The classic description of such a phenomenon is the presence of overly-domineering or aggressive social behavior. Many believe that this behavior is compensatory in nature. Because Napoleon has a rather short stature, he makes up for it by seeking power through conquest.
In like manner, the Small Dog Syndrome is seen by many animal behaviorists as the dog’s way of overcompensating for its “small size”. Unfortunately, there’s no way of telling whether a small dog that has SDS realizes that it’s “small” or not. Does it think that it is small so that it feels the need to overcompensate for its size?
Since the Napoleon Complex operates within the domain of psychiatry, it’s difficult to establish a small dog’s state of mental health. If the Napoleon Complex is not a plausible explanation for Small Dog Syndrome, then what can help explain such behavior in dogs?
The answer may lie in the Spoiled Child Syndrome. This constitutes behaviors that arise from being overindulged by the parents of children. There is this tendency of owners of small dogs to look at their pets as human babies. They treat them as if they were hapless little kids.
For example, a large dog like a Golden Retriever may not have any issues getting on and off the bed. A Chihuahua may not have the ability to do so, unless its owner picks it up and places it on the bed. The only way the small dog can achieve this is by getting the attention of its owner. It barks loud and long until its human master picks it up.
Unfortunately, doing so teaches the Chihuahua two things: it’s okay to get on the bed and it’s alright to bark. Over time, it learns this behavior as a means of getting what it wants. You may choose to ignore it next time, but the dog will only bark louder and longer. It knows that you will still give it the attention it demands.
Managing Small Dog Syndrome
Since SDS is more related to having a spoiled brat than a four-legged Napoleon, it is quite easy to deal with it. Here are some suggestions:
- Be its Leader
One of the reasons why your dog may have SDS is because it doesn’t see you as its leader. You may think that you are the leader, but your actions say otherwise. When the dog barks and its owner picks it up, it is the command of the dog that gets accomplished. As such, it’s often wise to start behaving like a leader of your dog. We’re not saying that you should be an authoritarian figure. What we’re saying is for you to stop looking at your small dog as a child.
- Retrain Your Dog
Many of the dogs that have SDS were never trained. This is because they are very easy to manage when they misbehave. For example, their owners can pick them up and hold them in their arms if ever they become naughty. Sadly, this only reinforces the dog’s attention-seeking behavior. Hence, you need to start retraining your dog. Depending on the age of the canine, it may take a while before you can see any considerable improvements in its behavior. The point here is for you to exhibit firmness, consistency, and patience. Always utilize positive reinforcement techniques as these work best.
- Observe Consistency in the House
Set the ground rules for interacting with the dog in your house. Explain to every household member what these rules mean. For instance, if one of your rules is no dogs on the couch, then everyone else will have to observe this. No one in your household should ever let the dog get on and stay on the couch. The same is true with other behaviors like picking up the dog when it is barking. If one of your family members picks up the dog whenever it barks, then this only confuses your pet.
- It’s Not Too Late to Socialize
If your pet looks anxious whenever it is around other dogs or larger hounds, then you should always make it a point to socialize it with other dogs. A trip to the dog park several times a week should help build the confidence in your pet. It is crucial to realize that this will take time. Again, patience is a fundamental requirement whenever teaching a dog something.
- Enlist Professional Help
Retraining dogs with severe Small Dog Syndrome can be very tricky. In such cases, it is advisable to seek the assistance of a professional dog trainer. This will help break the bad habits that you may have allowed to develop up to this point.
Small Dog Syndrome is a collection of canine behaviors that can be the result of poor pet parenting. Dealing with such behavioral problems requires retraining, consistency, socialization, and assuming the role of the dog’s leader.