We’ve all encountered it; strolling down the street with our dog, enjoying the sunshine, minding our own business. We pass a cafe, and suddenly a tiny dog appears from under a chair, straining at the leash, yapping and snarling.

“I’m really sorry”, says the embarrassed looking owner, as they pull the pup back in and pick them up, “She’s got Small Dog Syndrome. Shush now Pippin.”, as they stroke and cuddle the dog until the barking subsides. As we walk away.

So what is Small Dog Syndrome?

Here’s what a lot of people think it is. They believe that their little dog thinks they’re a Great Dane, rather than a Chihuahua or a Pomeranian. They think that their pup is trying to be very brave and wanting to take on every dog out there to show them who’s boss by yelling at them.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. How many Great Danes, Mountain Dogs or Rottweilers do you see barking at other dogs, trying to scare them into submission?

What’s actually happening with Small Dog Syndrome is that the little pup is terrified. Of almost everything.

Generally when a dog is purported to be suffering from Small Dog Syndrome, they’ve been living in a bit of a bubble, and may not have been socialised very well when younger. They’re probably picked up and carried a lot – something which understandably happens with small dogs but not bigger dogs – and they don’t have to deal with real life from their level. When they got scared of something as a puppy, they would have been picked up to be reassured. Which rewarded the barking, and so they become more likely to repeat that behaviour in similar situations.

So now, as adults, when they see something scary, they bark. Either in the hope that the thing they’re barking at will go away, or that they’ll get picked up, and will in effect make the scary thing go away.

How to help relieve Small Dog Syndrome

If you have a dog that reacts like this, there are a few things you can do.

First off, stop picking them up so much. Let them be on their natural level. Let them get used to seeing the world how they should be seeing it, and let them do that while there’s nothing scary around. When they do get scared, still don’t pick them up. You can reassure them without lifting them up. Crouch down next to them, stroke them gently, give reassuring words and noises. Offer treats; you’ll know when they’re less stressed when they take the treats. Try to preempt the scary things, if you know that your dog reacts to other dogs, and you see one coming, start praising and treating before they’re close enough for it to become an issue. Your dog will start to associate the appearance of another dog with good things. It won’t work instantly the first time, it’s something you’ll have to consistently practice. And do not let the other owner and dog approach to greet your dog! Tell them he’s contagious if you have to – Kennel Cough is my personal choice, or Parvo if they look like they’re really intent on saying hello.

To build your dog’s confidence, play with your dog every day, and have some fun training sessions. Give them their meals in puzzle toys such as K9 Connectables, rather than bowls – using their brain to solve these problems will help them to be more independent.

I don’t necessarily think that you have to start introducing your dog to other dogs, if that’s not something they’re likely to have to deal with in their life. But if this is something that you need your dog to do, consult a qualified behaviourist, they’ll be able to work with you and your dog to achieve this. 

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