No, this is not a canine medical condition—but it could cause some human medical problems! A dog with little-dog-syndrome (hereafter called LDS) may seriously bite and injure humans. I should also note, that this “syndrome” can occur in any size or breed of dog, but it most often occurs in toy breeds.
So, what is it? Well, some of you may have seen a tiny, cute dog, like a Yorkie, or Chihuahua that would bite everyone who came too close, especially if the owner was around. You couldn’t pet the dog while it was being held by its owner, or laying on their lap. And the owner, whenever the dog snapped at someone, would say to the dog—in a baby voice “oh, my little baby” and proceed to cuddle and coo to the dog. This is little-dog-syndrome”. This is a dog who has never been told "no".
LDS happens when a dog is so cute and so tiny that the owners carry it everywhere and treat it like a human baby—not even a child, but an infant. The dog can do wrong, gets no discipline and in the dog’s mind—THEY are the owners and the person does what the dog tells them to. Unfortunately, this is often the exact case. It can even get so bad that no one can go near the person if the dog is around (and they always are). The dog tells everyone who will listen to its’ growls and snapping teeth that no one is to touch their person. This can be a big problem when there are multiple family members in the house, especially any children. These little dogs are not big enough to do major damage, but they can cause serious bites to the hands, legs and even face.
Another aspect of LDS is potty training and eating. When a dog is allowed to “run the house” and boss people around, it will. In the dog’s mind, there has to be a “pack leader”, that’s the only dynamic they understand. So, if a person doesn’t become pack leader, the dog will. And unfortunately, these little dogs turn into tyrants when they get that kind of power. They will pee and poop wherever they want—who wants to go outside when it’s cold or snowy if they don’t have to? They will not let anyone near them while they are eating or chewing on toys or bones—and their fierce little shows of aggression often convince the owner to back off.
Now, you may be reading this and thinking—so what? If you live alone, or have no children for the dog to bite, why not indulge your little prince or princess and let them act like royalty? Unfortunately, this syndrome can actually cause medical problems for the dog. If you have a dog who won’t let his nails be cut, or let himself be groomed, or let a vet or even you look at his teeth or touch his belly, how can you protect your royal buddy from harm. If your dog picks up something dangerous in his mouth, how will you get it away from him? If his toenails grow so long that he can’t walk—you will have to take him to a vet for possible anesthesia in order to cut them. He may have to have tranquilizers in order to be groomed or to have a proper exam or any kind of medical treatment. It is VERY important for owners to be able to control their dog and touch them anywhere and for the dog to be properly socialized to all kinds of people and situations.
When little dogs(or any dogs) “rule the house”, they are often in a constant state of anxiety. Imagine if you had a child and you felt like you had to keep EVERYONE away from that child at all times—no one else could hug them, play with them, feed them, etc. It would be exhausting. Imagine you ALWAYS had to be on alert, paranoid, fearful and angry all the time. Would you really want to impost this unhappy state on your beloved pooch? But this is how dogs with LDS live every day. This constant state of anxiety makes them unhappy and the stress can cause numerous illnesses including cancer and heart problems. The dog who knows its’ boundaries, gets gentle but firm discipline and gets to be a follower instead of a leader—is a happy-go-lucky dog who takes plenty of naps and has no worries! THAT’S the life! They trust their owners to take care of problems so they don’t have to.
So, if you have a little dog or want to get one—please consider the dog’s health and well-being when you begin your relationship. If you adopt a dog who already has LDS, there are ways to turn this dog around, and it doesn’t even take that long. Or, if you currently own a dog that has LDS, YOU can turn it around—although I will admit, it often takes longer for the dogs to take their previously “lower in the pack” owner seriously. You need to be that much more determined to have a healthy relationship with your dog in order to make it work.