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Small Dog Syndrome – Signs, Prevention, Treatment & FAQ

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Small dog syndrome refers to aggressive behaviors exhibited by small dogs due to feelings of vulnerability and fear.
  • Symptoms of small dog syndrome include not listening to commands, separation anxiety, lack of control, aggression towards other dogs or animals, food aggression, and resource guarding.
  • Small dog syndrome can be treated through evaluation, socialization, and training.
  • Owners should change their attitudes and avoid coddling their small dogs, as well as engage in proper discipline and training.
  • Socializing the dog with other dogs and humans in a gradual and safe manner can help reduce or prevent small dog syndrome.
Breeding Business is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Sunday 4 April 2021
Last updated on
Monday 3 July 2023
small dog syndrome
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The phrase “Small dog syndrome” is commonly used to describe the behavior of small dogs that are excessively loud or aggressive. This behavior is often caused by feelings of anxiety or fear stemming from the dog’s vulnerability. To compensate for these emotions, they may try to present themselves as threatening.

However, it is a misconception that small dogs are naturally more aggressive than larger dogs. In fact, their behavior is often a result of fear and insecurity due to their size. The term “Little dog syndrome” is used to describe this behavior pattern.

Owners of larger dogs may perceive small dogs as being more aggressive, but this is not necessarily the case. The behavior of small dogs can be a response to their feelings of vulnerability and insecurity, and may not reflect their true personality.

In summary, “Little dog syndrome” is a term used to describe the behavior of small dogs who may act aggressively or be overly vocal due to feelings of fear and vulnerability. It is important to understand that this behavior is not innate to small dogs, but rather a response to their environment.

What Is Small Dog Syndrome?

Small dog syndrome is the broad term to explain a little dog’s expressive aggressive behaviors due to feeling vulnerable about their size. This can often originate because of a lack of socializing, training, or if your dog has higher levels of anxiety. It can start to show itself from a young age when you see your puppy yapping or growling at strangers or unknown dogs. It can be very cute to witness but leaving this behavior without proper socialization, or not using positive reinforcement to counteract it, can lead to it becoming a problem in adulthood. Some of the types of aggression that may manifest include:

  • Hackles raised
  • Biting
  • Growling
  • Yapping
  • Lunging
  • Whale eyeing
  • Teeth barred

You will see these behaviors in situations with new people, dogs, or those that are simply larger than your own pup. They may start off mild and escalate if your dog continues to feel threatened, or they may immediately become severe.

Does My Dog Have Small Dog Syndrome?

There are a few symptoms to keep an eye out for if you are worried your dog may have little dog syndrome, beyond those in the direct situation. As little dog syndrome often originates from a lack of socialization or training, you can perceive the syndrome may exist or is more likely to occur if your dog displays any of these day to day behaviors:

  • They do not listen to your commands
  • They sleep in bed with you and stay on the sofa with you
  • Separation anxiety
  • Lack of control when you come home: jumping up on you, urinating, or aggression
  • They aren’t great with other dogs or animals
  • Your dog either beg or steal food from your plate
  • They can have food aggression or general resource guarding

Just because your dog has one or more of these symptoms does not guarantee that they will have little dog syndrome, but it makes things more likely. The best way to tell if your dog has small dog syndrome is to see their interactions with strangers and larger dogs. Their aggression will start from any point of viewing a larger dog or a stranger and increase with proximity and length of time for their interaction.

How to Treat Small Dog Syndrome?

Little dog syndrome is a treatable condition with proper evaluation, socialization, and training.

treating small dog syndrome
Small dog syndrome is treatable.


There are a few factors you need to ask yourself to identify your dog’s triggers, severity, and origin for their aggression.

How Is My Dog Behaving?

To identify if the problem is general, or targeted at a certain group or situation, you need to evaluate different situations. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help this:

  • Is your dog aggressive around all dogs or a certain size?
  • Does your dog show aggression only around strange dogs?
  • Is your dog aggressive around people?
  • Does your dog show aggression around strange people?

The answers to these questions will allow you to understand if there is a target group for your dog’s negative behavior, such as strangers or large dogs, or if the behavior affects everyone. If it is a target group then you need to pursue socialization and gradual de-sensitization with their target group, whereas the general reaction will require all-round treatment. Without knowing what groups causes your dog to behave this way, you may treat them improperly and not help improve their behavior.

How Do You React to These Situations?

Your reaction to your dog’s behavior can actually be encouraging it. When they react aggressively, are you picking them up or ignoring it? Even giving them a treat to calm them down or calling them cute can lead to them intensifying. Before ensuring that the proper treatment is in place you need to make sure that there are no behaviors increasing the frequency or intensity of what is already in place.

Firstly note that punishing your dog by yelling at them or putting them on the lead will not minimize their behavior. Ignoring the behavior is not necessarily the right course of action either, but the more noise and fuss you make, the more your dog may feel excited or nervous. These feelings can lead to a heightened response.

Avoid picking your dog up as well as this can certainly increase their aggression. Furthermore, certainly do not give them a treat to try to distract them. As this can work as a form of positive reinforcement for their aggression.


There are multiple things you need to do to prevent little dog syndrome. Take a look at the elements below to start making a change.

Change Your Attitude

Make sure not to pamper your dog or baby them just because they are little. When you treat your dog that way it can actually increase their negative behavior attributed to small dog syndrome. Walk with your dog without nerves or anxiety, as they can pick up on your energy. If they know you, a much larger organism is worried, then their worries will skyrocket. This will lead to your dog having the belief that they need to be on guard because they are especially vulnerable with their size.

Whereas, if you and your little one are walking towards another owner and their big dog and you are calm, your dog will feel more confident in their behavior. They are less likely to believe they are in a vulnerable situation and instead will feel confident enough to let their guard down.

Don’t Coddle

Owners may coddle their little dogs by carrying them around, cuddling them a lot, babying them, and allowing them to continue in negative behavior that a large dog would not get away with. By preventing coddling, you are making sure to practice proper discipline and training, as well as minimizing your dog’s belief that they are quite vulnerable. By removing them from social situations you are effectively reconfirming to them that it is dangerous or unpleasant. Therefore, if they are not removed, their anxiety may cause these negative displays.

Furthermore, some behaviorists recommend not cuddling your dog as often. However, we will all read this knowing this isn’t something we wish to do, they’re our best friends! However, if you pursue this trait when outside the house or during a walk, you can allow them to have a higher sense of independence during this time. Again, this helps to install confidence in them.


Regardless of whether your dog has had training or not, now is the time to start or pursue it more heavily. If you have a well-behaved dog who listens to commands, you can instruct them to be better behaved during social situations. This allows them to become more used to being social as well and behave more appropriately during each interaction. Hence why this is one of the best tips we have for preventing small dog syndrome.

Start by training your dog with basic commands such as sit, lie down, and stay. These basic commands can hold a huge influence over controlling your dog and stopping little dog syndrome. When they go to lunge or bite another dog, call them back with the come command and get them to sit down. This will allow them to stay still and not present that aggression to another dog.

training small dog syndrome
Train your dog to overcome small dog syndrome.


Socializing your dog with other dogs and with other humans is so important in helping reduce or prevent small dog syndrome. It will help to reduce fear and thereby, aggression. Do so gradually by allowing them to meet one dog at a time in a safe environment. Never force an interaction as this can induce aggression and hostility. Also choose the dogs your dog is allowed to meet carefully. Try to choose those who are calm and not likely to be too boisterous to your dog as a starter dog.

Small Dog Syndrome – FAQs

To expand upon the information provided, we have also found the most asked questions concerning little dog syndrome. Check them out below.

How do you fix small dog syndrome?

In order to stop your dog from being affected by little dog syndrome, you have to work on desensitizing them, increase socialization and training, and avoid coddling them or appearing worried. Remember that they can pick up on your emotions and if you are concerned about a big dog, and actively avoiding letting your dog engage with meeting them, they will know. Furthermore, making sure your dog is well socialized from a young age as well as training them well will help. They won’t be as afraid of dogs and strangers, and you will have more control over their behavior.

Do small dogs bite more?

It is not necessarily that little dogs bite more, but that many smaller dogs go untrained because the impact of their negative behavior is less. Any dog has the capability to bite, and some individuals and breeds are more inclined because of genetics. However, if you have an untrained, low-socialized, and anxious dog, the chance that they will bite is increased greatly. Unfortunately, because of the ease of moving and ignoring small, badly behaved dogs, they have a reputation of biting more because less effort may be put into this area of care.

Are small dogs more aggressive?

Every dog and dog breed has their own level of aggression based on nature and nurture. Little dogs are no more aggressive than larger dogs. Many believe smaller dogs to be more aggressive than larger dogs because some owners do not train smaller dogs properly. Little dogs can get away with a lot because of their size, causing less destruction and hassle. With the lack of training comes a lack of control, and therefore they are more likely to be aggressive and possessive.

How can you prevent small dog syndrome?

In order to prevent little dog syndrome, you need to make sure your dog is properly trained and socialized from a young age. If your dog is older, try to work your way through gradually training and socializing them to improve their behavior.

How do you stop small dog aggression?

Step one is to identify why your dog is engaging in aggressive behavior. If it is small dog syndrome then it’s the case of socializing and training them. However, it could also be general anxiety, fear, or pain and illness.

Little dog aggression can be quite a problem, especially out walking with your dog. Patience and regular training will help them to become a well-behaved dog.

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