Small Dog Syndrome – is it really a thing?

When a small dog acts like they have something to make up for because of their small size we sometimes call it small dog syndrome. This dog is often perceived as being quite bossy, over protective, and stubborn! They might snap at other dogs, steal their balls or treats, and guard their owners! But, is small dog syndrome really a thing? Or is it just a myth?

It’s in the genes

If your dog is showing reactive or anxiety related behaviours, it might be actually be in his genes! The National Centre for Biotechnology Information did a little research on the idea. Not surprisingly, they found that small dogs did show more problem behaviours when compared to larger dogs. In fact, they went a step further and discovered that small dogs, and especially Dachshunds and Yorkshire Terriers, might carry a specific gene that is connected to both small size AND increased anxiety. This genetic predisposition can lead to increased fear and aggressive behaviours in the dogs that carry it.

If you are interested, check out the full article here!

Dachshunds may be genetically predisposed to small dog syndrome!

Resilience shields against anxiety

In addition to that, resilience is our dogs protective shield against anxiety related behaviour and trauma. Dogs that are traditionally bred to work tend to have higher levels of resilience. Specifically they are chosen for their confidence and toughness in the field. As a by product, these dogs naturally have high levels of resilience and are protected, in the most part, against trauma and anxiety. So, for this reason, we are also less likely to see behaviour problems related to fear in larger breeds.

Small dogs, however, are mostly bred for cuteness and clinginess. We love to snuggle with small dogs and we like it when they get attached to us. Clinginess is the exact opposite of resilience, so these dogs are particularly vulnerable to anxiety and fear. The trait can be passed down through the generations too, so a clingy mum is likely to be responsible for clingy pups, and clingy grandpups! This means that even without the gene we talked about earlier, small breeds are more likely to show fear aggression and resource guard.

Small, but mighty!

So, if you think your small, but mighty, dog has small dog syndrome, you might be right! He’s not trying to make up for his stature, though! Actually, dogs are not particularly self aware in the same way we are. They don’t even know how big they are. So they can’t make a comparison with other larger or smaller dogs.

But just because he isn’t trying to make up for his lack of height, we can see that his behaviour might still be down to his size. He might actually be programmed to be that way, either genetically or just because his parents or grandparents were cute and clingy! That doesn’t mean you should give up and accept your dogs anxious behaviour. Resilience is fluid and we can increase or decrease it through training and the way we interact with our dogs. When resilience is increased, anxiety is lowered, regardless of genetics! So it’s always worth the effort.

Check out my blog 5 Ways to improve your dogs resilience for some ideas.

Are you struggling with an anxious dog?

Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the greater Dundee area, and beyond via zoom. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!


I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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