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June 21, 2011 at 1:48 PMComments: 2 Faves: 0

What is Small Dog Syndrome?

By Victoria Swanson More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Paws & Awws Blog Series

In the dog owner's community, it is expected that big breed dogs won't get away with unwanted behaviors. Owners tend to work harder training a bigger breed dog because, well...  everything is 3x bigger then a small breed dog - including the jumping, mouthing and barking

However, while these behaviors are not tolerated with big breed dogs, I’ve noticed over my years of dog training just how much people let their itty bitty dog get away with. It is unfortunate that so many people think that small dogs don’t need training - some small breeds actually need more training then bigger breeds!

Many small dogs lack training because people believe it is just as easy to pick up their small breed to stop those unwanted behaviors. Unfortunately, this not only does not stop the unwanted behavior, it  can heighten the behavior to another level such as protecting the person that is holding them, jumping on everyone, mouthing when being petted, and just plain ol’ not learning good manners.  Without training, small dogs can be nippy, yappy, aggressive with other dogs, and unruly around small kids.

Thinking of Getting a Small Breed Dog?

Small Kids and Small Dogs: If you have young children under the age of 8, please consider carefully. Young children tend to think treat small dogs like stuffed animals and love to carry them around. If carried around on a regular basis, small breeds will wiggle their way out of those small young hands and unfortunately, can fall and injure themselves. Rules, boundaries, and limitations need to be set up right away.

When to Bring them Home: Unlike some bigger breeds that are okay to leave at 8 weeks old, small breed dogs really shouldn't leave their mother until they reach 12 weeks. Their body weight and immune system aren’t as strong as a bigger breed dog and benefit from additional time learning proper behavior from mom.

Training Techniques: Using gentle touch when training your small breed is the only way. Remember, they are little! Small breeds have delicate throats, legs, spine and hips, and jerking on a collar can cause serious harm to them. A choke collar, martingale collar, or anything of that nature should NEVER EVER be used (including on big breed dogs too). There are kinder, gentler, more effective ways to train.

The "Musts"

Touch Socialization: Your small breed needs to get use to all types of touching and to be accepting of any touching on their body.

Basic Commands: Your small breed dog should learn the five basic commands such as;  Sit, Stay, Down, Come, Leave It. Teaching just the basic commands will help establish a loving, respectful and understanding relationship that you want with your itty bitty dog.

Walking: Small Breed Dogs need to be walked too. Unless your small breed dog is injured, please do not use a doggie stroller. Your small breed dog wants to walk beside you, not ride in front of you, they want to explore and sniff just like the big breeds do.

Potty Training

Did you know that certain small breeds can take up 2 – 5 years to completely potty train?

This needs to be taken into consideration when getting a small breed, so do your research to understand the potty training phase! If you don’t have the patience for this type of training, you might want to reconsider getting a small breed dog.

Baby Talk

Don’t get me wrong - I baby talk my little fur kids. However, there are appropriate and non-appropriate times for it. Choose your time wisely when using this type of squeaky, high pitch voice. Otherwise, you will be raising a spoiled, uncontrolled small dog that is not fun to be around. 

Territorial Behavior

Have you ever tried to pet a small breed while someone is holding it?  

Too many of them will snap at your hand, and while I just don’t think that this is cute or fun to see, unfortunately, a lot of pet-parents just shrug it off or laugh, all the while petting the misbehaving dog and telling them “It's ok, don’t be afraid.” The truth is, the dog isn't afraid, they are guarding what they have come to consider their territory. Moreover, by following up guarding behavior petting and talking sweetly to the dog, the pet owner is actually rewarding that behavior and telling the dog “good job for guarding me.”


Small breeds can become very territorial - and their territory includes the lap or arm that is holding them. That is why it is very important to train your small breed that it is not their job to “own” you. 

When your small dog tries to “own,” you immediately put the dog on the ground and ignore it, waiting patiently for the dog to stop growling, barking, or snapping before holding again. Many pet-parents of small breed dogs feel the need to pick up their small breed when they are behaving “badly." This in fact, rewards the dog for bad behavior and produces a protective, snappy small breed in someone’s arm.

With consistent training and teaching your small breed that they won’t be rewarded with lap time or petting, you will help prevent this serious unwanted behavior that some small breeds display.

Do you have a small breed dog at home or have a small dog experience to share?

I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Thanks, I am working with my girlfriend's mother's dog. It is a Jack Russell terrier so he is full of energy and is very tenacious, his main issue is nipping and mouthing when you try to touch or pet him. He's a tough little guy and gives the 65 pound boxer who is his "big brother" more than he can handle come play time. We've made some progress with him by getting everyone to be vigilant and not tolerate his nipping, but he still has a long way to go.

    He goes for a long walk every night and they use a retractable leash. He walks terribly and pulls to the point of nearly choking himself. I have suggested that they use a regular leash until he is better trained, would you agree? Any other advice?

  • Hi John!
    Oh, yes, I DEFINITELY agree with the regular, nylon or leather 4-6 ft leash, no retractables......retractables are good for 2 people; runners and hikers that take their dogs with them. When using a retractable you absolutely have no control of your dog, there is no way you can “reel” your dog in fast enough if an emergency were to arise on your walks and you need to have your dog next to you. Retractables do not allow proper leash training, so I hope your family ditches their retractable and invest in a good nylon or leather 4-6 ft. leash and work on getting their walks enjoyable.

    I just wrote a blog about walking your dog…..I hope you get a chance to read it and find it useful in helping your families little JR with his walks…..good luck!

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