Tags: Pets

Small Dog Syndrome?

Everyone understands the expression, small dog syndrome which has been stolen from the same gender specific expression relating to humans. But is Small Dog Syndrome a real thing?

Of course it is a very familiar site out and about, or as close to home as your back fence – the highly vocal, seemingly irrational small dog. The internet is also full of videos to entertain us with the vision of extremely large docile dogs running in fear from a tiny feisty fur ball.

If you ask a bunch of dog owners what they thought about the difference between big dogs and small dogs, the common perception is that the smaller they are, the louder and crazier they are. Hence the expression “small dog syndrome”.  As with the original expression relating to humans, it is implied, that someone of diminutive statue compensates by being domineering towards others. 

Whilst this seems to be logical, for humans this theory has been debunked in recent research but does this mean that it holds no credibility in dogs?

Research has shown that in some species of animal, smaller specimens do actually display higher levels of aggression than larger ones. And between dogs it can easily be suggested that smaller dogs maybe feed threatened by bigger ones so they behave defensively showing meaner behaviour.

While research does seem to point towards some correlation in dog size and more aggressive behaviours, it becomes clouded with known influence of owners on their dogs. 

Why you might be a contributor:

They are small and need protecting: Small dog owners pass on their anxieties to the dogs themselves. They thing that as they are small they are prone to be injured by big dogs and generally don’t let them socialise as pups.

Small dogs treated more like babies than large ones: Treating your dog like a human is well documented to contribute to behavioural issues and small dogs are far more likely to fall into this category than large ones.

Expectation becomes self-fulfilling: If we are expecting our small dog to be more aggressive because of 'small dog syndrome' we are likely to be more tolerant with the behaviour and not as likely to correct it. 

Lesser threat: Because the threat of being bitten by a small dog is much less concerning to us than a large dog, we are less likely to address early signs of aggressive behaviour in our small dog. In a large dog, we would get professional help to address training and behaviour early.

Obedience: Large dog owners spend a lot more time and energy in general on obedience training with their dog than small dog owners because the consequences are much higher for a large unruly dog. This puts the large dog owner in a stronger leadership position and therefore better behaviour outcomes for the dog.

With all this in mind, we much still consider genetics and what humans have done to breed certain traits in dogs. We have specifically bred some dogs to have an anxious edge, or to relentlessly pursue prey. We cannot turn these traits off in our suburban back yard.

Small dog syndrome or not, regardless of what has produced the behaviour, behaviour can be modified. And that often means you changing yours.

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Issue 71 November 2016