Isn’t it time we stopped calling it ‘small dog syndrome’- it’s called ‘lack of socialisation’, ‘lack of leadership’ and ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and it’s no laughing matter. It is a label that inappropriately generalises and tarnishes an entire population, and like a lot of generalisations, misses the target source of the problem and hinders a possible resolution. It also isolates many of those within the community unfairly which can itself lead to other issues.
We’ve all heard the term used and you know what I’m referring to. You and your well trained rottie are quite happily walking along the path, enjoying a pleasant, late afternoon stroll and then out of nowhere comes a small, white, fluffy dog barking madly from across the street and runs over and starts nipping at your terrified dogs’ heels, his tail now firmly fixed between his legs. The white dog’s owner comes following behind laughing and smiling proudly at her dog’s boldness as she picks her up and without even an apology to you, turns on her heels and trots merrily back leaving you fuming and your dog looking for the shortest way home. No one here laughing.
Now. perhaps unbeknownst to the small dog’s owner, your dog, who was previously the friendliest dog in the neighbourhood, is now too nervous to walk his normal route because of this altercation and is now extremely wary of any small statured canine. You now have to struggle to get him to walk down the beach without him skulking partway up the sand dunes to avoid any dog smaller than a beagle and now you are anxious everytime a white, fluffy comes within 10 metres. Why?
Well if anyone is familiar with dog behaviour, or human behaviour for that matter, you will know what can happen if someone is fearful and put in an uncomfortable situation. They can strike first, anticipating something bad is going to happen to them and they will try and protect themselves from any perceived threat. Their previous tolerance for inappropriateness has now fallen and in this case of maltese v rottie, guess who will come off second best in an altercation? Guess who will be blamed if there is any injuries and guess who will be sought out by the rangers for a please explain?
So let’s consider what may actually be the problem behind what we term ‘small dog syndrome’.
Lack of leadership –
Dogs depend on their human owners for appropriate leadership. If an owner is aware that their dog has a tendency to nip or bite other dogs when unprovoked, then it should be under adequate control at all times when in public, for its’ own safety and for the comfort of all those around it. A dog that is known to bite other dogs, whether large or small, should be considered for wearing a muzzle when out. Biting another dog, or people, should not be encouraged, this also includes laughing at the situation and brushing it off with a remark such as ‘oh they just have small dog syndrome’. If your dog has started to become aggressive and the behaviour is out of character for them, then a check-up at the vet is recommended to make sure it is not a response to pain.
Lack of socialisation –
Being a smaller breed dog, it is not uncommon for them to be mostly homebody dogs without as much contact with the outside world as their larger breed counterparts. They may have owners that are not able to actively walk them each day, or their smaller size has marked them as not needing stimulating outside activity. They may have another small breed mate at home and so their socialisation is mostly with each other, therefore not learning how to behave appropriately with different breeds and different temperaments of dogs.
Inappropriate behaviour –
So from lack of socialisation and lack of leadership, the dog finds itself reacting based on the experiences and guidance they have been given. They lack the foresight to know that if they bring their knife to a gun fight with a german shepherd, the consequences are serious for them if their opponent retaliates. They can’t know that if they run across the road and start nipping at the heels of a passing runner that they might run into the path of a car. Their inappropriate behaviour has consequences for them that they can’t foresee… but we can.
This makes it the owner’s responsibility to show leadership. In my opinion there should be no hiding behind ‘small dog syndrome’. Smaller breeds that bite and appear aggressive can often have a brave outer exterior that is really just hiding from anxiety and fearfulness, through no fault of their own. They are in unfamiliar situations and are reacting from a place of fear. They should be appropriately socialised and trained at a young age with all different breeds and all groups of people so that they are comfortable in all environments. If they have behavioural issues, then these should be addressed. Anxiety can be a debilitating disease, as anyone that has dealt with it can attest. Dogs are not immune to it.
Having a small dog that bites, or is just inadequately trained, is no better than a big dog that bites or has no manners. The wounds, although perhaps not obvious by visual inspection, can be just as damaging and felt longer term for everyone involved, but it is something that is totally preventable if we just recognise it for what it may be. Lack of leadership, lack of socialisation and simply, inappropriate behaviour. Call it for what it is and not simply label it as ‘small dog syndrome’ because no one is laughing.