Little Dog Syndrome

By Guest Author Dr. Susan Wright, DVM

toy breed, small dog, chihuahua, little dog, dog portrait, pet portrait

Portrait of Spike by Deena O’Daniel ©Deena O’Daniel

Many pet owners have heard of small dog syndrome, but does it really exist? Are smaller breeds naturally more aggressive and poorly behaved compared to bigger dogs? Or is there another reason why smaller dogs seem to be overly cranky?

Pup portraits: Cricket

Pup portraits: Cricket (Photo credit: Nicole.Kelly)


There isn’t a simple answer to this, but the methods used to train small dogs can partly explain small dog syndrome. If a larger dog is showing signs of aggression, owners naturally want to stop the problem quickly. When a small dog exhibits the same behavior, it might be considered less dangerous or even cute. The result is the dog gets away with it, and is more likely to repeat that behavior.
Other behavior, such as jumping up or growling, is also likely to be overlooked in a small dog simply because it doesn’t pose a threat. There’s little doubt that a German shepherd that leaps up every time you enter your home is a problem, but a Chihuahua doing the same thing isn’t such a scary prospect.

Toy dog - Yorkshire Terrier (Yorkie)

Toy dog – Yorkshire Terrier (Yorkie) (Photo credit:

This means that small dogs aren’t always trained with the same focus as larger dogs, which leads to unwanted behavior. Small dog syndrome probably isn’t caused by a genetic disposition towards aggression, or because small dogs want to assert their authority over larger animals. Instead, it’s usually the result of small dogs getting away with behavior that larger dogs don’t.

Another potential cause of small dog syndrome is that owners are scared for their dog’s safety. If you own an Alsatian, you’re unlikely to worry about it socializing with other dogs. If you own a small dog, you may stop it from socializing with larger animals by picking it up or purposely giving large dogs a wide berth.

Toy Fox Terriers R #1

Toy Fox Terriers R #1 (Photo credit: American Kennel Club)

The result of being overly cautious towards canine interactions is that the small dog becomes fearful of situations involving other dogs. This leads to aggression when the dog eventually does have to socialize.
Bad behavior is often accidentally reinforced by owners. If a small dog picks a fight with a larger one, some owners might find it amusing that the dog is willing to stand up for itself when the fight is so obviously mismatched. In reality, dogs usually don’t consider their own size when it comes to arguing with a canine adversary.

Pup portraits: Beezley

Pup portraits: Beezley (Photo credit: Nicole.Kelly)

How to Prevent Small Dog Syndrome
So what’s the solution to small dog syndrome? If your dog is behaving badly, it’s probably not directly because of his physical size, but instead because he needs some extra training. Try to think about behaviors that you’d stop if the dog was much larger. This should give you an idea of where the problems may be originating from.

You shouldn’t try to protect your dog from other animals. Socializing is essential for the proper development of any dog, and for the most part, the risk of serious injury is low. No dog should be allowed to show inappropriate behaviors in public places, regardless of the dog’s size. If your dog is aggressive towards other animals, you need to address the problem before it develops further. By tolerating aggressive behavior, you risk more severe problems developing in the future.

Small Dog Playgroup New York

Small Dog Playgroup New York (Photo credit: andreaarden)

No matter what size your dog, spend the time on a good puppy pre-school class and ongoing training and socialization, and you’ll have a confident outgoing dog that will  be able to accompany you on all of your outings.


Dr. Susan Wright, DMV is a professional on dog bark collars and dog training collars. Susan has been giving care for pets as a practicing veterinarian for more than 10 years. As an authority on domestic pet care, Susan likes writing articles that help people give the best care for their pets.

Please visit my web site at Pet Portraits by Deena and see the many portraits I have painted, including Spike at the beginning of this post.  10% of proceeds goes to support CorgiAid!

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Here’s a book all about caring for your little dog:




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10 thoughts on “Little Dog Syndrome

  1. Excellent article. Maggie likes to wind up big dogs so that they will chase her. She also likes to bark at them. And yes it was my fault, when she started doing it she was just a pup and I thought it looked “cute”
    It has taken me over a year to change this behavior! Hard work un-doing.

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