Stop Small-Dog Syndrome

Think about what the world looks like if you are very small. Lie on the ground and look up around you, and you’ll see that you’re surrounded by legs. And as you look up, think what it must be like to have to look up all the time. Apart from making your neck sore, looking up at things that are bigger than you can be overwhelming. Now how will you react when a stranger leans over to say hello, touches you and then tries to pick you up? Welcome to the world of small dogs!

Photo: GlobalP | Getty Images

It’s no wonder we call it “small-dog syndrome.” It’s normal and almost comical when we see little dogs lunging on the leash toward larger dogs as they walk by. But it’s not funny from the small dog’s point of view because when you are small and the world around you is big, things can seem very intimidating.

If you have a small dog who is nervous and reacts negatively to the world around him, all is not lost. There are plenty of things you can do to help him feel more comfortable. As a small-dog guardian myself, I understand what it’s like. One of the best ways to prevent small-dog syndrome is to understand what the world is like from your dog’s point of view. It will give you a whole new perspective.

Small dogs and humans

I teach all dogs, regardless of their size, to cope with rude human greeting behavior. Ideally, dogs would make the decision whether they wanted to greet someone or not, but they rarely have that luxury. Teaching small dogs to accept people coming into their space will help prevent problems developing later on. You can achieve this by doing the following: Lean over your dog and give him his favorite food with one hand as you pet the top of his head with the other.

  • Once he is comfortable with you leaning over, take a few steps back, walk toward him and repeat.
  • When your dog is comfortable with you approaching, leaning over and touching him, ask a family member to do the same.
  • When your dog is content being touched by family members and you are sure he sees being greeted and touched as a positive experience, ask friends to do the same inside your home as long as it is safe.
  • Once your dog is used to being touched by newer people in the home, you can take this exercise outside.
  • Don’t overwhelm your dog by repeating this exercise too much. Quality is better than quantity. When your dog is relaxed about people coming into his space, you can start using food sparingly.

Photo: cynoclub | Getty Images

Small dogs and bigger dogs

Little dogs, like all dogs, need to feel safe. If your small dog lunges at other dogs on the leash out of fear, help him cope by doing some of the following:

  • Redirect nervous behavior onto a game that your dog likes to play. This might be a game of tug or searching for treats you throw on the ground for him. Play these games at various times inside the home and outdoors when there are no other dogs around.
  • When you see other dogs in the distance, start playing the game as they approach, and continue to play it as they walk past, making sure there is enough space between dogs so that your dog is comfortable and can focus on the game as the other dog passes. If your dog reacts negatively, gently remove him from the situation by quickly walking him away.

Photo: Christine Bird | Getty Images

A safe place

If your dog is still too nervous and unable to focus, then try picking him up. Jasmine, my Chihuahua, feels very uncomfortable around larger dogs, so we have a system: When she sees other dogs, she either has the choice to walk past or she can look at me, which is my cue to pick her up.

I always advocate for my dog’s safety and comfort, so if being in my arms is her safe place, so be it. The fact that she has the choice to be picked up or not gives her more control over the situation and makes her feel more confident.

Understanding your small dog’s wants and needs means that you can say goodbye to small-dog syndrome and help your dog overcome challenges in the big world around him.
Small dogs have big hearts and brave temperaments, but sometimes living in a big, bad world can be truly overwhelming, and understanding that size does matter will improve their lives considerably.

Top photograph: freemixer | Getty Images


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