You may have noticed my profile photo with my cute little Shih-Tzu-Poodle mix dogs. They are about six pounds apiece. They are absolutely loving the fact that I work at Baxter Boo because they often get to come along. Joey, the black one, thinks modeling dog clothing is his life calling. I stuck him in the photo booth and he sat there so proud, holding still and looking content as if to say, “I was born for this!”
It’s hard to imagine that these angels could ever cause me a lick of trouble, but Joey can be somewhat of a stinker. Apparently he has a little bit of what’s called “Small Dog Syndrome.” Being a small person myself, I thought this topic was worth investigating.
Small dogs often have a bad rap for being yippy and hyper. While mine are not, I did find out that I’m not the best dog parent during my research. For instance, I let my dogs nudge me for attention, sometimes invading my personal space because, let’s face it, small dogs are just so dang cute! But if a large dog were to do this, or jump up, that would be annoying and possibly even dangerous (for children and vertically challenged persons like me.)
Joey also likes to walk in front of me on the leash, and he looks adorable with his proud gait, especially now that I keep him so well dressed and polished for his modeling career. Unfortunately, these are all signs that I’ve allowed him to become top dog. He’s not a raging alpha male, by any means, but these are the things you and I must work on to make sure our small dogs feel safe and well cared for:
- Small dogs act tough to project a strong front because they don’t see their owners acting like the pack leader.
- Small dogs don’t like feeling like they have to be the pack leader because they know they aren’t designed for it. It is too big of a responsibility for them. Can you say overcompensation?
- Small dogs like to be treated like big dogs: which means they like to know the rules, and they feel safe when you consistently enforce them. It is actually mean to allow your dog to set the rules. (I have also found this to be true with raising children.) If we don’t set clear boundaries, they will keep pushing until they figure out what they are.
Here are some simple things to give your small dog (or any sized dog) the message that they don’t have to be top dog:
- Make sure you are the first one through the door. I observe my less dominant female dog Anna always waiting for Joey to go through the door first. This is a sign of respect and submission. Make your dog sit and stay while you go out first.
- Your dog needs to walk beside or behind you on walks. You’ve already set the tone for your dog that you are top dog by going out the door first. So he is going to be watching you carefully to see if the new boss means business. You have to be the one to project confident body language. Dogs sense mood and it is directly tied to how you move. So walk briskly, shoulders back, and assume your dog will follow. Your dog wants to be walked. It is a tiresome responsibility for them to walk you. If there is pulling, give a quick snap of the leash (nothing to injure your small dog, but enough to get his attention.)
- Reward good behavior with praise and affection. Ignore bad behavior. Even negative attention is still attention. Ignore your dog when he jumps on you… no matter how adorable he is. Invading your space is a top-dog behavior that needs to be nipped. Additionally, hyperactivity in a dog is not a sign of a happy dog. It is a sign that they need exercise and calm leadership. Model quiet confidence to your dog, ignoring him until he calms down.
- Forget that your dog is small and/or cute. This means that you never let them sleep in your bed, especially not on your pillow. Letting a dog sleep on your pillow is like giving them the throne. DON’T ABDICATE! They truly don’t want to rule. It feels unsafe to a dog.
Your dog wants to please you and feel safe. Remember, you are not being a cruel egomaniac by being the pack leader. You are simply letting your dog know he can relax under your strong, quiet leadership. I’ve employed just a few of these ideas, and there is much more peace and contentment in our home for our dogs, our family, and for our guests.
I’d love to hear your stories for how you helped your dog(s) feel safe and behave like the princes/princesses you knew they could be!