Small Dog Syndrome

“Small dog syndrome” refers to tiny dogs with a big attitude. In humans, a comparable phenomenon is called the “Napoleon complex.” That’s a phrase used to describe an inferiority complex held by people who are short in stature. Napoleon stood about 5 feet 6 inches, but what would today be considered a short stature obviously did not stand in the way of his military and political achievements. People with this complex are said to be driven by a perceived handicap to overcompensate in other aspects of their lives.

Small dogs, in turn, “get a bad rap for being yippy, yappy, snappy and high-strung,” say Wendy Nan Rees and Kristen Hampshire, authors of the Dog Lover’s Daily Companion. Rees and Hampshire, however, add that these little dogs don’t seem to care much about size. They think they’re big, so they act like it. The writers astutely ask: Have you ever seen a Bernese mountain dog back off from a feisty Chihuahua? The Chihuahua will probably be the one that doesn’t back down. (Owners, however, should be present to take control of such situations and prevent them in the first place.)

Rees and Hampshire propose a very interesting theory about small dog syndrome. They believe it is rooted in people’s willingness to overlook bad behavior. They explain that because small dogs can usually just be scooped up in our arms, we tend to slack on obedience training. With larger dogs, such training is often not ignorable.

The solution to curing a small dog of this syndrome is to just stick to a training plan. Be sure to teach your little dog foundation commands. That way, the next time your dog goes into a yapping fit or decides to dig on your furniture, you can rein in the behavior before it becomes habitual.

Stop Your Dog From Licking the Carpet

Many dogs obsessively lick carpets, a habit that can be rather unappetizing for us humans to watch. You might be wondering if the carpet contains some food crumbs or if your dog is doing something that only it could enjoy.

Wendy Nan Rees and Kristen Hampshire, co-authors of The Dog Lover’s Companion, say that at least a few things could be responsible for your dog’s carpet fixation. Dogs have far more sensitive noses than we do, so it’s possible that your pet has indeed found some yummy remnant of your dinner. Perhaps the food is buried deep in the carpet, and your dog is trying to get it. Or the spill has dried along the surface, prompting your dog to lick.

Of more concern is that some carpet cleaners contain chemicals that smell and taste appetizing to dogs. You definitely don’t want your dog ingesting those, much less parts of the carpet itself. It’s therefore important that you curb your dog’s habit.

Rees and Hampshire suggest that you fill a spray bottle with 100 percent natural clove oil diluted with water. Whenever your dog starts to lick the carpet, spray the carpet with this mixture. Although most of us find the clove scent pleasing, dogs don’t.

At this point, you can then move your pet to another part of the house. Verbally praise it for being a good dog. Offer a toy or food reward to reinforce that proper behavior. Before long, your dog should learn to stay clear of the carpet, at least for dining purposes.

What Your Dog’s Tail Is Trying to Tell You

Your dog’s tail is an important indicator of your pet’s emotional state. It’s a form of body language that dogs take very seriously, and you should too. It can be a lifesaver, particularly when teaching young children how to react toward strange dogs.

Stanley Coren, author of the book How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication, explains that when a dog holds its tail lower than the horizontal, but still some distance away from the legs, the dog is usually relaxed and communicating, “All is well.” An occasional relaxed swishing back and forth may happen during this state.

When your dog’s tail is down and near straightened hind legs, your dog may be communicating some level of distress, either physical or mental. If your dog’s hind legs are bent slightly inward, your dog is probably expressing insecurity. Coren explains that dogs will often assume this posture and tail position when they are introduced to a new, unfamiliar environment. They may even do this when a favorite family member leaves, with the dog knowing (from experience) that the person’s return may take a while.

The tail position that you describe is a bit more extreme. The dog’s apprehension has now turned into fear. Coren says that it communicates, “I’m frightened!” or, “Don’t hurt me!” This makes sense, as the dog is protecting its vulnerable tail from possible attack. While the dog might be feeling submissive, it could also attack in perceived defense. It’s therefore best to not approach a strange dog that is displaying this level of insecurity.

It’s a myth that the tail-between-the-legs stance conveys guilt. While dogs may feel guilty at times, this visual tail/legs display is more out of fear of punishment than regret over past misdeeds.


When Is a Dog Considered a Senior?

According to guidelines published by Tufts University, "The point at which a dog qualifies as 'aged' varies. Veterinarians generally consider small dogs to be senior citizens at about 12 years of age, while large dogs reach the senior stage at 6 to 8 years of age. This roughly corresponds to the 55-plus category in people."

Beyond actual age, however, there are signs and behaviors that can, as you say, clue owners into the aging process of dogs. The Senior Dogs Project says that one of the first signs of aging in dogs is slowing down. Basic movements like getting up and climbing stairs may take a while longer, which may be evidence of possible internal changes, such as arthritis.

While we cannot prevent such physical changes from occurring, we can help to slow their rate. Robin Downing, DVM, of the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colo., shared a story with HealthyPet Magazine about a dog named Molly: “Molly wasn’t leaping on and off the beds anymore, and she didn’t want to go for long walks. Her family was worried that this dog had just suddenly succumbed to old age, but when I did a geriatric workup on her, we discovered Molly had a thyroid condition and arthritic back pain. A maintenance prescription of thyroid replacement hormone, pain and anti-inflammatory medication for the osteo-arthritis in her back, and Molly was back in business.”

Downing described a particular medical course of action for Molly, but there are some more general things you can do to stave off aging and related diseases. According to the Senior Dogs Project, these steps include:

  • Keeping your dog’s weight down (through good nutrition and regular exercise)
  • Keeping its teeth clean
  • Taking it to the vet for regular checkups
  • Being observant about symptoms that might indicate a health problem and getting prompt and appropriate veterinary attention

The good news is that dogs are now living longer, higher-quality lives. With good genes, good care and some good luck, there’s an excellent chance that your senior dog still has many more years left to enjoy with you.

Do Dogs Compete With Their Barks?

Communication, either visual or audible, can be contagious. We do this too. For example, when someone -- even your dog -- yawns, you will likely yawn too. In that case, yawning is thought to be a reflex-type action that cools the brain during hot conditions or provides the body with more oxygen when necessary. Similarly, if someone starts yelling at us or cries tears in front of us, we may react in the same way. All mammals -- and other animals too -- are driven to learn from, and respond to, others.

Therefore, when a dog barks after hearing another canine vocalize, it’s not necessarily a competition. Alexandra Horowitz, author of the book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know, points out that “barking together with others may be a form of social cohesion.” She further adds that “barks might be used to affirm a dog’s identity, or reveal an association with a group.” Studies show such barks can reveal emotions and intentions, such as playfulness, excitement and fear. The barking can get out of hand at places like shelters, where many dogs in close proximity start to bark. (A contagious infection, however, is behind the illness known as “kennel cough.”)

Most owners make the mistake of yelling at their dogs during such noisy times. This is actually amusing to consider because, from your dog’s perspective, you are just another barker. Your pet will probably then bark more, depending on how you’ve trained him or her.

If your attempt to chat with your neighbor about the new noisy dog fails, I suggest rewarding your dog for silence. You will need to call your pet to you, say “Sit!” followed by “Stay!” and then offer a food treat when your dog is still and quiet. The commands should be familiar to your dog, and will provide a mini time-out transition to peace and silence.