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Little Napoleon

Will this sweet thing soon become a tyrant?


As a dog, I’ve been around all kinds of other dogs. I’ve spent countless hours in parks schmoozing with every variety of breed, size and shape the canine world has to offer. All this pooch exposure has led me to form some interesting conclusions. The most obvious thing that comes to mind is that small dogs behave differently than large dogs.

Being a small dog myself, I thought, “Why is that? Perhaps a Napoleon Complex is genetically ingrained … or could it be the way small dogs are treated in comparison with large dogs?”

Small dogs don’t come into this world psychologically different in any way from larger dogs. Despite our diminutive stature, we are much the same inside. The huge Irish wolfhound and the tiny Chihuahua both start out the same—as dogs.

And yet, here we are, being labeled as excitable, yappy, skittish—even as the tough guy on the block.

The reason so many little guys end up unstable is human contact, not genetics. These days, it’s called Small Dog Syndrome, and defining this so-called condition is tricky.

When owners let their small dogs get away with behavior that would never be tolerated from a larger dog—because hey, little dogs are so darn cute—the small dog starts to believe that it is the leader of the pack. However, when dogs are allowed to make the rules, all sorts of problems will result, like jumping on people, barking too much and not obeying commands. Just like that, adorable naughty behavior quickly becomes unacceptable bad behavior.

The first way to prevent Small Dog Syndrome is to treat your small dog like a big dog, not a fashion accessory. Recognize when your tiny pup is being unruly and correct the behavior. By proper training, you can have the small dog, but without the syndrome.

Small Dog Syndrome also develops when well-intentioned parents overprotect their dog from the world outside. They may not allow their little dog to socialize with their larger canine cousins, for fear they will be hurt. Instead of allowing the dog to play, they race in and swoop up the pup each time a bigger dog ventures near. In so doing, the small dog becomes unsure, fearful and anxious.

For a small dog to exist in their world, they need to feel comfortable. Let your dog play with other dogs and explore his surroundings on his own four feet. Exposing it to all sorts of situations helps to develop confidence.

Naturally, all small dogs do not show these symptoms, and symptoms can be present to some degree in all dogs. Dealing with misbehaviors requires modifying the way you interact with your dog, whether he’s big or small. Every time your pup does something good, reward him, and every time he does something not-so-good, ignore it. Soon he will understand what behavior is appropriate.

A few times in my life I’ve had moments when I’ve flipped out—barking and lunging toward a bigger dog—only to find that the bigger dog slows down to look at me, then resumes his walk as though nothing interesting had happened. With consistent training and positive reinforcement, I’m learning to ease my attitude, soften my bark and make friends along the way.

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