Yap! YAP! YapYapYapYapYapYapYap!
And it's not even the yapping! (I mean, it is the yapping. That's annoying.) It's their behavior. The smallest of dogs can be aggressive, jumping-all-over-your-houseguests, jerks.
The core issue is, why do these little dudes act so differently than larger dogs? Are they compensating for something? Why do they act so awful?
Here's the truth, and you may not love us for pointing it out: Small dogs are the same as large dogs. What’s different is how people treat them. (Yup, that's us.)
In other words, they're allowed to get away with it
And let's stop hating on the little guys for a second. This is true for ALL dogs. All dogs exhibit behaviors we don't like – jumping, excessive barking, etcetera. But there's a big difference between getting knocked over by a 120-pound dog, or annoyed by a little 4-pounder.
That's why we only have one rule to prevent small dog syndrome. If you don't want your small dog to act like an annoying, aggressive little a-hole – just treat him like he's 90 pounds heavier.
This is harder than it sounds, because he's “soooo cute!” Ask yourself this:
- Would I let a 90 pound dog jump on everyone they meet?
- Would I let a 90 pound dog bite people all the time?
- Would I let a 90 pound dog bark at everything and everyone?
- Would I let a 90 pound dog jump on the bed and the couch without asking?
You get the picture. These dogs, because of their size, could do a lot of damage to people if they were allowed to continue these behaviors.
How do you avoid reinforcing these behaviors?
To understand more about this, let's get into a bit of dog psychology. If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: dogs will continue to do things we reward them for doing.
What often happens with small dogs is that people unintentionally reinforce their undesirable behaviors. Here are some examples:
Your small dog jumps on you. You respond by petting him or talking in soothing tones.
What the Dog Hears:
“I jumped on her, and then I got cuddled! I love cuddles! If I jump on her again, I'll get more cuddles! And maybe those other humans will ALSO give me cuddles! CUDDLES FOREVER!”
What You Should Do:
Ignore him. No eye contact, no petting, no attention of any kind. If you can, walk away from him or turn your back. (I know; it's not going to be easy. But it's going to work.)
If he jumps on your friends/guests/random strangers on a walk, ask them to do the same. If your dog is good and doesn’t jump (or even sits down!), give him lots of praise and treats.
Your small dog is barking constantly at another dog. You worry that he might be scared, so you pick him up/hold him/comfort him.
What the Dog Hears:
“I barked at that dog and I got picked up! I like getting picked up! I will bark more next time and maybe I’ll get a kiss too!”
What You Should Do:
Give him space from the other dog, and reward him when he's are quiet. Work on getting his attention with treats and rewarding for behaviors you like, such as being quiet, sitting down or giving you eye contact.
If you can’t seem to get him to calm down, your dog might be too excited to listen to you at the moment. In this case, remove him from the situation and work on some easier behaviors once they have calmed down.
The next time you are in the same situation and he doesn’t bark, praise him and give him a treat.
Seeing a pattern here?
Any time you reward your dog by petting, holding, kissing, or talking to him in a gentle voice, you are rewarding whatever behavior he was just doing — barking, biting, being scared, or jumping on the couch.
This is called positive reinforcement. Something positive happens when he does a certain thing, so he does it more to get the positive thing to happen again.
The easiest place to start eliminating these bad habits is to simply stop rewarding them. Our general rule of thumb: reward the behaviors you like and ignore the behaviors you don’t.
Just remember to be consistent in your reinforcement — every time your pup does something good, reward it, and every time your pup does something you hate, ignore it..
If you're still struggling, reach out to a professional trainer for help. They can show both you and your dog what to do when certain situations come up, and help you establish an effective reward system.
We need to stop hating on the little guys, it's true. But we also need to help them act like the little angels we know they can be, or they won't help the cause very much.