Small dog syndrome, sometimes abbreviated as SDS, is not a health condition nor is it something that small breeds of dogs are born with. It is, however a very serious issue that often leads toy and small sized dogs become unsuitable for many families, resulting in the dog being placed in a rescue or a shelter. Small dog syndrome is the reason that many small dogs are unsuitable for homes with children and other pets, especially if they are adopted as adult dogs. Small dog syndrome is also 100% under the owners control and is a direct result of improper training, socialization and a lack of understanding of canine needs by the owner.
Small dog syndrome is so common that many people believe that these traits or behaviors are natural characteristics of the breed. This has lead to many toy breeds being called unstable, vicious, nervous, high strung and even snarly. In reality toy dogs are just as calm, well balanced and well mannered as any other size or breed of dog, provided they are treated like dogs and given the appropriate place in the family by the owner. This doesn't mean that owners have to be mean or unaffectionate to these dogs, but it does mean that the dog has to understand that the people in the family are in control and the dog is part of the family pack. In cases of small dog syndrome the opposite is true and often the whole family consciously or unconsciously adjusts their behavior to the dog.
You may be creating a dog with small dog syndrome if you find yourself or your family doing any, some or most of the following behaviors:
Planning your meals and social activities around your dog's preferences
Not inviting certain individuals over because your dog doesn't seem to like them
Allowing your dog to pick their favorite spot on the couch and then you sit in a space left over
Spending more money on food for your dog than for yourself
Indulging your dog in bad habits such as jumping up or messing in the house because of their small size and delicate constitution
Making excuses for your dog's bad behavior or rationalizing their aggression or possessiveness to others
Picking your dog up most or all of the time you are moving about in the house or going outside
Any and all of these can be a sign of creating small dog syndrome, especially if you find yourself doing one or more of these activities. Other signs of a dog with the attitude that they are the boss includes growling at family members and others that get to close to the person they consider their "possession". Often owners reward this behavior by petting and interacting with the dog, rewarding them for the aggression. As dogs become more comfortable with growling the next step up is snapping or nipping, then full out vicious attacks. This is not a characteristic of any breed of toy or small dog; rather it is a response to the owner's reward for the gradually increasing aggression.
Another result of owner's misunderstanding of the dog's behavior has to do with how often toy and small sized dogs are picked up and carried around. It is unlikely that dogs see size the same way as humans do; rather they see dogs as dogs not as toy or giant breeds. Of course if a dog acts aggressively, whether it is a toy or a giant breed, the other dog responds either by showing their dominance or acting submissive. When humans swoop in and pick up the toy dog the dog never learns how to interact with other dogs, promoting anxiety and aggression when around other animals. Toy breeds that are properly socialized with calm, safe dogs and puppies of all sizes will quickly learn to interact as part of the dog pack or social hierarchy. Many owners of multiple dogs can verify that often the smaller toy breed is the leader of the pack, not because of their aggression but because of their alpha or dominant type personality traits.
A common cause of small dog syndrome is an owner that is overly affectionate towards the dog. It is essential that humans keep in mind that dogs sometimes just need to go and do dog things. This can include exploring the yard, playing with other dogs or just finding their own space and place in the house to spend some time privately. When humans are constantly forcing their attentions on the dog by holding it, petting it and keeping the dog in their space the dog because anxious and nervous or even hostile and aggressive. Imagine if you were required to spend all day, every day, being carried around by someone else, never given a moment to yourself. After a while you would likely become difficult to be with as well. Last but not least often toy breeds are seen as true toys. They are carried around in purses, designer bags and even backpacks as if they were some type of object or cute, live fashion accessory. While there is nothing wrong with taking a toy dog in a doggy carrier or a special carrying bag sometimes, it is important for the dog to get down on his or her feet and actually walk as well. Being kept constantly inactive leads to mental boredom and physical health issues. In addition to this many of these dogs become dependent on the owner, resulting in some of the worse cases of separation anxiety if the dog ever has to be left behind and can't go on the outing.
Small dog syndrome is a very real mental health issue for toy dogs that aren't allowed to be dogs. By working to ensure that your toy breed has lots of opportunity to interact with other safe, non-aggressive types of dogs, has routine exercise and training and appropriate attention and affection from you he or she will be a great all round pooch. In addition routine obedience training and socialization practice is only going to help your dog stay happy and healthy, and after all that is what most owners want.