Small Dog Syndrome: When Teeny Pups Think They’re the Boss

By Olivia Harper

Toy breeds and small breed dogs are adorable. Most of these dogs seem completely unaware of their size. They believe they are big dogs and will readily take on all comers. If your English Mastiff or German Shepherd became territorial and growled at anyone who approached you, most people would be horrified. Yet, because small dogs seem less threatening, they may get away with these atrocious behaviors. This is called small dog syndrome and can cause some serious issues for small dog and toy breed owners.

What is little dog syndrome?

Little dog or small dog syndrome is not a dog problem– it is a human problem. Small dog syndrome in humans arises from the idea that a little dog that thinks it is a big dog is cute. They overlook poor behaviors and allow them to get away with things that can quickly turn others against both their dog and them.

These behaviors may not seem problematic in small dogs, but in a larger dog the human would seek help to resolve them as quickly as possible. Imagine if someone allowed their Irish Wolf Hound to pull on a leash while walking. It would be sheer chaos. The bottom line is that poor dog behavior is poor dog behavior, regardless of the dog’s size.

Another consideration is that if a small dog bites another person, it may have the same legal consequences as if a larger dog were to bite someone. Even though the physical damage is smaller, the financial and emotional consequences can be just as devastating. If your dog meets the small dog syndrome definition, it’s time to seek help.

Signs of Small Dog Syndrome

The first step to overcoming small dog syndrome is to recognize it. Small dog syndrome symptoms include behaviors such as:

Pulling on a leash while walking.

This behavior may not seem problematic, but in dog language, it means the dog is in control. If the dog gets off leash, they could easily get away from you and possibly be harmed.

Wanting to be carried everywhere.

Putting your dog into one of those carrying purses may be adorable and solves the problem of your dog refusing to walk. The problem is that if you treat your dog like royalty, they will expect it all the time.

Excessive barking, growling, or nipping at other animals or people. 

This behavior is never acceptable. Aggression is aggression. It is not only obnoxious; it is dangerous, especially around small children or babies. You may call your dog your baby, but would you allow your human child to behave this way? No, you would teach them manners and how to be polite.


If you or your partner cannot get into your bed without your dog threatening them, this is problematic. You no longer own your home, your dog does. The same thing goes for food. You should be able to reach into your dog’s bowl and remove it without getting bitten or threatened.

Constantly demanding attention from you or guests.

Even though we love our dogs, we need time without them. We have responsibilities such as doing the laundry, dishes, or simply enjoying time alone. In dog world, the lower members of the pack pour on the attention lavishly to the pack leader. If your dog continually demands attention or treats, you are not the leader.

Urinating anywhere. 

This one goes without explanation. If your dog thinks it can choose its potty spot, you have other behavioral issues too. It may not be a big mess to clean up, but who wants to? This does not enhance the joys of dog ownership for anyone and can be an embarrassing problem.

Hyperactive dogs who are continually jumping up and down, running around, licking you in the face, or jumping on your lap do not make the best roommates. 

They can even ruin your social life because people do not want to come and visit you because of your dog’s obnoxious behavior. If this sounds like you, it is time that you find a small dog syndrome cure.

What can you do?

If all of this sounds like you, you are probably asking how to reverse small dog syndrome. The good news is that it is not too late to stop these unwanted behaviors and regain control of your home, your life, and your peace. Even if your dog is old and these behaviors have been going on for some time, with small dog syndrome training, you can stop a small dog behaving badly for good.

Stopping bad behaviors in small dogs begins with basic obedience and establishing a training foundation. Here are some tips on where to begin.

  1. Stop Responding to Their Demands.

When your dog demands attention, treats, or engages in unwanted behavior when you do not respond to them, by giving in you are reinforcing the behavior. They learn that the bad behavior gets them what they want. The first step is to stop responding to their demands by ignoring them. Regardless of how pitiful they sound, or how good their Oscar-winning dramatic performance is, turn your back on them and ignore them. They have to learn that this behavior will not get them what they want.

  1. Use Treats for Good Behavior.

The next step is to teach them appropriate ways to get what they want. Treats should never be freely given and always earned for good behavior. The same thing goes for attention. The key to changing behavior with treats and attention as a reward is that the treat must immediately follow the good behavior. Consistency is the key and they must know they will receive a treat every time for obeying a command or engaging in good behavior, such as pottying outside.

  1. Obedience Training.

Obedience training is not being mean to your dog. In fact, taking your dog to professional obedience classes helps to strengthen your bond and establish healthy boundaries that the dog understands. It will also help to socialize your dog appropriately with both humans and other animals.

  1. Find a Trainer.

If your dog has aggression, territoriality, or biting type behaviors, you need the help of a personal professional dog trainer. These are serious issues and have serious consequences. You need someone who can evaluate the behaviors by observing your dog in its natural habitat. A professional trainer can make suggestions to specifically address the problems you are having with your dog.

Once you begin the training to eliminate poor behaviors and promote good ones, it is important that you never reward your dog for poor behaviors again, or you can go right back to the beginning. By allowing small dog syndrome to continue, you are not doing her dog a favor. A dog that feels it must be in control is often insecure. Aggression is a sign that your dog does not feel safe around other people or animals.

Imagine if instead of approaching another dog aggressively, your dog could make friends and play together. Imagine if you had guests over and your dog was a polite canine citizen and you did not have to interrupt your conversation to correct your dog. This is possible, and it is not too late, but the time to begin is now. The sooner you address the problem, the sooner you will have a dog who will make you a proud parent.

Olivia Harper is the co-owner of the blog Daily Dog Stuff. She is a reserved and passionate pet parent who loves to spend time with her Sibe, who keeps her active and social. See more of her guides and tips by visiting her blog.