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Have you been told your dog has small dog syndrome?

Updated: Feb 15

Do you dread your daily walk because your small dog barks at everything that moves? Is it a nightmare going to the vet or groomer or even asking your dog to get off the sofa because your dog snaps or growls? Do you feel frustrated when people assume it's your fault for spoiling them? You’re not alone, these sorts of problems are very common with small dogs.

When I first took on my rescue terrier, Hope as a foster, she was overwhelmed. She barked at literally everything and had little tolerance for handling. Over time we’ve built up her confidence, taught her she doesn’t need to use her teeth to communicate and how to relax. I decided to specialise in small dogs so I could help other dogs like her, discover their confidence and live happy and fulfilled lives.

What is small dog syndrome?

The term ‘small dog syndrome’ isn’t a diagnosis, it’s just an unhelpful label that’s been given to symptoms that are commonly seen in small dogs. It’s more helpful to remember that beneath any behaviour there are feelings and needs, and barking, growling and biting are just ways of communicating.

Why do small dogs have such a big reputation?

"Oh look, he thinks he's a big dog" - Bet you've heard that before! But reactive small dogs aren’t shouting because they’re trying to be big dogs. They’re shouting because when they asked quietly no one heard.

If a Dogue De Bordeaux curls their lip, people are more likely to give them space or ask for help. If Chihuahuas growl or bark people often ignore them or even laugh at them. Both dogs are seeking safety, both dogs are experiencing the same feeling, it’s just the response that’s different.

Will picking my small dog up make him/her more fearful?

Think about it this way. If a large dog was running around a small child, would picking the child up make them feel more fearful or more secure? Fear is a feeling, it's not a behaviour, you can't reward or punish it.

What can I do to help reduce barking or biting?

  • Pay attention to body language and listen when they ask quietly.

Dogs are perfectly capable of removing fingers but generally choose to warn first. A growl is often a final warning after lip licks, head turns or other ‘whispers’ haven’t worked. So, never scold your dog for growling. Giving your dog space if they growl isn't rewarding them for growling, it's rewarding them for warning.

  • Teach a hand target

Picking your small puppy or dog up when you want them to move might feel like the path of least resistance but overhandling is a significant factor in biting in small dogs. Teaching your dog to follow a hand target is less frustrating for them and helps them to feel like they’ve got a choice. The more choices and control they feel they have in their life, the more tolerant they will be on those occasions where handling is unavoidable.

  • Ask for help!

People often struggle with the behaviour of their small dog for longer than they would if their dog was a big dog. But small dogs have the same feelings and needs as big dogs and the longer a problem goes on for, the longer it will take to resolve and the worse it will get.

For more information, download your free guide to reactive small dogs here or book a free call

Reactive small dog in New Forest park
Jack Russell terrier barking

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