Snoqualmie Valley Pets 101: ‘Little Dog’ Syndrome, Is it Real?

In her latest column, North Bend resident and pet trainer for Le Chic Pet, Melissa Grant, explores ‘Little Dog Syndrome,’ examining if it’s real and why on earth it seems to exist.


This is Louie, a tiny 7 pound Yorkshire terrier/ Maltese mix.  I’m told by his owner that he has what she calls ‘Little Man Syndrome.’ In her words he, “Tries to bully big dogs, people – anyone knocking at our door.”  

We’ve all seen it, but is Little dog Syndrome’ a real thing? Are small dogs naturally more aggressive and poorly behaved compared to their larger counterparts?



The answer to this can be attributed to the result of dog breeding.

There are dog that were bred to be more tenacious and fearless, such as terriers.  Terriers were originally bred, mostly in Scotland and Great Britain, to control rabbits, rats, foxes and mice –  both below and above ground. Some larger dogs were bred to hunt Badgers. Terriers were crossed with hunting dogs, fighting dogs and other terriers, resulting in one tough little breed.  Some of the attitude you see in today’s terriers is a direct throwback to the breeding done long ago.

This may be partially responsible for the big attitude in Louie’s little body. However, little dog syndrome tends to be more a product of how we raise and treat little dogs in comparison to their larger relatives.

If we have a larger dog who is behaving in an aggressive manner owners tend to want to stop that behavior immediately. When a tiny dog acts the same way, people don’t view it as dangerous, but rather amusing and cute.There are hundreds of YouTube videos proving this reality. If a dog is rewarded positively for a behavior, he will repeat it and a behavior is born.

The key to preventing a behavior you don’t like is to never allow it to happen. If you don’t want an adult dog to bully other dogs or people, don’t allow that adorable 8-week old puppy to do it. Train your small dog with the same focus as a larger dog. Bad behavior comes from letting a dog get away with unwanted behavior.

Another reason small dogs act differently from larger dogs is how we treat them. You would never carry around a Lab beyond his first few months. Why would you do it with a small dog?  Some people treat toy dogs as if they were actual toys. Toys get dressed up, even put in purses.  Their feet scarcely touch the ground. We need to remember – this is a dog…  just like that giant Great Dane is a dog with all the instincts and behaviors the same. Put the dog down! Get a leash and take him to obedience classes. He needs that instruction just like any other dog.

Lastly, owners of small dogs tend to over protect their pets for safety’s sake. It’s hard not to snatch up your 7-pound dog when faced with a 75 pound dog. However, socialization is a key part of a puppy’s upbringing and when it’s lacking you can get some fearful behavior towards other dogs.

Dogs don’t tend to consider their own size when it comes to dog-dog interactions and this can set up some dangerous situations for your tiny friend. Find a good, well-supervised playgroup for your pup to establish normal social interactions and good life long habits.

If you pay close attention to training, socialization and how you interact with your small dog, you should be able to avoid ‘Small Dog Syndrome’ (for the most part) and have a happy, well-adjusted dog that other people and dogs will be happy to interact with daily.




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