Small Dog Syndrome

I received a package and my two Boxers went over to greet the UPS driver. I called the dogs back and the driver explained he didn’t mind saying hello to my dogs. He said he could tell they were friendly and added, “It’s those small dogs you have to watch out for.”

So why do little dogs tend to act differently than large dogs? They are all the same type of animal, a mammal of the Canidae family, of the order Carnivora: Canis lupus familiaris, which is a domesticated subspecies of the wolf. Commonly referred to as a canine, this type of animal has instincts that need to be fulfilled in order to be happy and balanced. Let’s take a closer look at how we treat large and medium dogs, as opposed to how we treat small and toy dogs.


If an 80-pound German Shepherd jumps up on a human, everyone would agree that this behavior needs to be corrected. Everyone sees this as a problem and the owners would seek help from a trainer, and/or read up on the Internet to remedy the behavior. At the very least, the dog would be locked in a separate room when guests arrived to protect the guests from getting hurt.

Now picture a little 8-pound Miniature Pinscher jumping on a human. You look down and I’ll be darned, it’s kind of cute. It does not hurt and people think, “The dog likes me!”

But what does it really mean? If dogs were human this would be true… but they are not. Jumping has a totally different meaning to a dog than it does a human. It’s a dominancy and respect issue. For a dog, space is a sign of respect and when you allow your little dog to jump on a human you are allowing him to disrespect a human; you are allowing him to display pack leader behaviors.

Sadie the 70-pound GSD, with Rudy, a 4-pound Chorkie.


If a German Shepherd were to growl at your guest, you and your guest would both know there is a problem. Something has to be done. However, if that tiny 6-pound Chihuahua growls, well, it’s just what he does. He’s a Chihuahua, right? Wrong. There is no difference, in a dog’s mind, for a German Shepherd to be growling at a human than there is for a Chihuahua. It’s just another behavior we humans let those tiny dogs get away with.

Other Dogs

If your 5-pound Yorkshire Terrier decides to bark and growl at another dog while you are walking down the street, or as another dog passes by your house, it’s almost seen as cute, because you see it as your tiny dog thinking it is a big dog. However, if your 120-pound Akita barks and growls at another dog, the Akita is more likely to be put in its place and told to stop. The fact is, no dogs should ever be allowed to display dominant behaviors. Whether it be a huge or tiny dog, their pack leaders (humans) should tell the dogs “NO” and follow through until the dog understands this is not an acceptable behavior. And for the record, dogs do not “think” they are either big or little. They live in the moment and are just what they are, reacting to the moment. To dogs, size means nothing.


If you were eating dinner or working at your computer and your 70-pound Boxer came running over and jumped up on your lap, chances are you would knock it back down telling it, “No, not now, I am busy.” However, if that 5-pound Maltese jumps up on your lap, well it’s just cute. He loves you and just wants to be on you. There’s that space issue again. Pack leaders decide when and where to do things. The pack leader belongs on top. It is OK for your little lap dog to sit on your lap. However, it has to be at times when YOU invite him.

Claiming the Human

If you are sitting down watching TV on the couch, your little dog can jump up next to you on the couch, so long as your dog understands it is your couch, not his. You need to make your dog wait until you invite him to climb into your lap. When a dog makes it a habit of jumping up on a human at his own free will, we humans see it as love and affection. However, to a dog, it is a claim; the dog is trying to own you. So the next time you notice your dog is adamant about being on you, remember, he is claiming you, not loving you. The human needs to claim back their space and the dog must be told he can only climb on top when the human invites him.

If you feel your dog is jumping on you in an “I own you” way, it is best not to put or knock the dog on the floor. Rather, use your fingers to “bite” her off (poking with enough intensity to make the dog react by moving). You need to communicate with your body language until she moves off of the person by herself. Make her move off; do not physically move the dog. When you see the dog settling down into a calm submissive state (head down low, not making eye contact, ears back, tail relaxed and not tucked in, not rigidly high, the dog may lay down), then it is OK to invite her on you, if that is what YOU want. However, if the dog once again gets in an “I own you” stance, she needs to be moved off again by making the dog move, not by you moving the dog. The dog needs to be the one physically moving off.

Jeremy the Rottweiler

Francis the long-haired Miniature Dachshund


If your 120-pound Rottweiler decided to viciously bark at your housekeeper…you would KNOW you have a problem. However, if your tiny little Dachshund does it, you would inform the housekeeper to avoid the dog. The little dog may hide under the table barking and growling and be told to be quiet, but the correction is never really followed through on. The houseguest is told to not put their hands under the table. However, if this were a Rottie, the behavior would be addressed. Small dogs are more likely to be allowed to display dominant behaviors that should never be accepted.

Prince the long-haired Chihuahua

Lap Dogs

Ever see a small dog jump up on its owner’s lap and growl at anyone who comes too close? The owner feels the dog is “protecting” them “because he loves me, ” when actually the dog is “claiming” ITS property. Talk about allowing a dog to be alpha. Now imagine a Doberman Pinscher on that same person’s lap, snarling if someone comes too close. Picture in your mind, going back and forth, Chihuahua on their owner’s lap growling… Doberman Pinscher on their owner’s lap growling.

Romeo the Doberman Pinscher

Chihuahua, Doberman… Chihuahua, Doberman… While it may seem less of a big deal for the Chihuahua to display this type of dominant behavior, IN A DOG’S MIND there is no difference between a Chihuahua doing this and a Doberman Pinscher or German Shepherd exhibiting this behavior. Yet a large percentage of small dogs are allowed to display this behavior.

Luna the Pekingese