Dog Health & CareDog Training

Small Dog Syndrome – How Can You Get Control of Your Little Dog?

Small dog syndrome, or “little” dog syndrome, involves a small dog believing he is the boss … a big dog … the pack leader  … head honcho … over his household!  Dog experts call it the Napoleon complex, as we conjure up names like Swagger, Buckshot, Conan, Neutron, Little Atom, Hot Nacho, Ankle Biter or Snappy Tom. This hardly seems like the sweet little dog we would trust around our children, does it?


small dog syndrome with photo of small little girl and dogs.
Small dog syndrome can occur in any small dog. Additionally, large dogs can develop the same behavior. You know, large dog syndrome!  If so, begin training your dog while they are still manageable and before someone gets hurt. Note to self: even tiny chihuahuas can be ferocious!


Little dogs are cute as they swagger around in their own little world. However, there are a few undesirable and unwanted behaviors in small dogs that are NOT so cute. Such as …

  • Ankle biting (hence the name, ‘little ankle biters)
  • Avoid larger dogs or anything fearful to them, if they can
  • They cower behind their owners or attempt and struggle to be picked up
  • Cowering when people approach, especially strangers or those who are overly loud
  • Excitable behavior
  • They growl at other dogs and cats.
  • High-pitched yappy barking
  • Jumping on dogs, children, and adults
  • Nipping at your fingertips as they jump on you
  • Refusal to obey commands
  • Refusing to get down off sofas, beds or chairs
  • Showing a lot of aggression when someone enters their personal space
  • Uncontrolled urinating when they become afraid

Small dog syndrome is a behavioral condition that can be prevented

Yes. This behavior can be easily prevented. Small dog syndrome is a behavioral condition that not a disorder or a disease.  It is developed by its owners in an attempt to overcome their cute little stature and helpless personality, like the sentences below.

“Oh, isn’t she such a darling! It’s impossible for me to put her down she is so tiny.”

“We own a handbag dog. That at least is what my mother calls her because she takes her shopping in her handbag.”

“She can be very ladylike and fussy about her food at times. She turns her nose up at dog food but would snap your hand off for a chocolate digestive.”

We, as humans, are overly fond of these tiny little creatures and have a soft spot that goes way beyond common sense. We treat them like infants, allowing them to be the boss over us. But infants and tiny dogs know no limitation, and boss everyone and everything who is within touching distance. This special treatment we shower them with is what causes small dog syndrome. We, as “their boss,” have given them permission to “be top dog” because we love them so much. “How could we ever say no?” This special treatment, though well intended, only serves to increase the stress level in this delightful yet anxious pet. Which, of course, leads to a number of unsuitable behaviors.

Prominent signs your little dog has small dog syndrome

small dog syndrome with chihuahua image

  • Does your little dog rule the roost?

    • According to Honest Kitchen, ruling the roost is one of the signs of small dog syndrome.  I have a little chihuahua,  Miss Lizza Doolittle,  who “talks” to me (barks with eye contract) and I ask, “What is it you want?” She goes to the door to go outside, she goes to the cupboard where her treats are, or she goes to the box where her dog food is…always peering over her shoulder to see if I am coming. I immediately jump to do her bidding. After all, she is my baby!
  • Does your little dog walk or do you carry it everywhere?

    • Lizza Doolittle is a morning person. This means she likes to be carried from our bed to her little blanket in the kitchen. Then she sleeps under a little heating lamp on her blanket, bought specially for her. We got her at 8 ounces, half-a-pound, and tube fed her for a long time. She was unable to walk by herself throughout that duration. This became our routine over the 7 years we have had her. And will probably remain so.
  • Does your little dog bark all the time and at everyone?

    • Most dog experts associate continuous barking by small dogs as signs of insecurity and being overly-anxious. I seriously disagree. Most people who arrive at our door are smothered with kisses and they are more excited about what is in our grocery back than us. My little dogs’ bark when someone arrives at our door ( or when we come home from shopping). I am not saying all dogs are not insecure or overly-anxious but not all of them.
  • Is your little dog picky about its food?

    • Does your little dog beg for food or stick her nose up at a normal dog’s food? Does she prefer freshly boiled chicken or chicken strips, while the other pets either cat or dog food with no problem? I know mine does. We struggled so bad keeping her alive that we fed her chicken baby food in a syringe. We also fed her little chicken strips in baby food jars, all bought in grocery stores.
  • Does your little dog refuse to accept she or he is a dog?

    • Our little dog has very little to do with the other pets of the house. Except to boss them around. You know, “get off my blanket!” When we speak to her,  she looks us directly in the eye and answers us. And she seems to know what we are saying to her. She has her own little blanket that she refuses to share with any of the other dogs. I mean, she feels she deserves it as she has had it since she arrived here, half dead, seven years ago in December 2010.

We have listed some small breeds in associated articles, but there are many more dog breeds we have not listed that are just as wonderful with children. For example … Beagles, Border Terriers, Boston Terriers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Cocker Spaniels, Havanese, Keeshonds, Norfolk Terrier, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling,  Poodles, Pugs and Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers. Many are not hypoallergenic or tiny in size, while others are. Just do a little researching on the dog that would do well in your household, watching for the presence of small dog syndrome.

If you want to know anything more about little dogs, their health issues, or their behaviors, contact me at the bottom of this article and I will begin researching. If you have been exposed to small dog syndrome, share with some of the other readers!




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