› Small Dog Behavior Problems

 Behavior Problems in Small Dogs

problem behaviors in small breed dogsProblem Behaviors in Small Dog Breeds

Behavior problems in dogs are one of the many reasons people seek help with dog trainer or animal behavior specialist. Some are more serious than others.  Some problems can be traced back to a genetics and normal canine behavior gone astray. 

Others are caused by the environment, either through poor socialization as a puppy, trauma, or simply through owners who have unwittingly encouraged behaviors that eventually become problems.   

Unless pet owners have been trained, the average dog owner may recognize the behavior problem but have little idea where the problem originated or how they can help their dog overcome or even eliminate the problem.  If you are one of those owners, relax, you are not alone.  Most people misunderstand and mishandle their dog’s behaviors. There are a number of common behavior problems seen in small dogs, some more serious than others.

  • Barking
  • Chewing
  • Digging
  • Separation Anxiety
  • Anxiety in General
  • Aggression
  • Elimination Issues
  • Begging
  • Chasing
  • Jumping Up
  • Biting/Nipping
  • Fear of Thunderstorms
  • Small Dog Behaviors

For problems specific to Small Breed dogs, please check out our page on Small Dog Syndrome.

Behavior Problems Seen in Small Dogs

Barking

Almost all dogs bark, howl and whine to some extent but some small dog breeds are known for their yappiness. However, excessive barking or nuisance barking is considered a behavior problem in dogs because it is disruptive and annoying, both for you and for your neighbors.  Before you can correct the barking, one must decide why the dog is vocalizing in the first place. These are the most common types of barking:

  • Warning or Alert
  • Playfulness/Excitement
  • Attention-seeking
  • Anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Responding to Other Dogs

There are ways to curb excessive barking. Read More about ways to reduce barking.

Chewing

Chewing is a natural action for all dogs - it's just a part of the way they are wired. However, chewing can quickly become a behavior problem if the dog chews on objects not meant to be chewed, shoes, furniture, electrical wires and so forth.  Puppies are especially guilty of chewing and if not giving enough chew toys, they will find other things to chew.  Again, there are commonly recognized reasons why dogs chew. The most common reasons dogs chew are as follows:

  • Puppy Teething
  • Boredom / Excess Energy
  • Anxiety
  • Curiosity (especially puppies)

You will never be able to eliminate all chewing in dogs, and of course you wouldn’t want to.  But you can encourage appropriate chewing.

Digging

If given the chance, most dogs will do some amount of digging, it is part of their instinct. Certain breeds, like Terriers, are more prone to digging because of their hunting histories.  Dogs that have been bred for centuries to burrow into the ground looking for mice or rats have this natural digging tendency firmly established in the psyche.  Without the job of hunting, these breeds find other ways to dig and they really don’t care whether they are digging a hole in the yard or in your new carpet.  This is when digging becomes a behavior problem.  In general, most dogs dig for these reasons:

  • Boredom or Excess Energy
  • Anxiety or Fear
  • Hunting/ Prey Instinct
  • Comfort-Seeking (such as nesting or cooling off)
  • Hiding Possessions (like bones or toys)
  • To Escape or Gain Access

A dog that digs holes in the back yard can be frustrating.  A dog that digs their way under a fence to escape can create a very dangerous situation.  There are ways to eliminate this behavior. 

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is one of the most commonly discussed dog behavior problems in small dogs.   

Dogs who have been bred to be companions are very susceptible to separation anxiety because they feel they are not doing their job if their human is not right next to them. 

This disorder manifests itself in excessive vocalization, chewing, inappropriate urination and defecation, and other forms of destruction that occur when a dog is separated from his owner. Not all of these actions are the result of separation anxiety.

Separation Anxiety can also lead to a dog eating feces or coprophagia.  Signs of true separation anxiety include:

  • Dog becomes anxious when owner prepares to leave
  • Misbehavior occurs in the first 15-45 minutes after owner leaves
  • Dog wants to follow owner around constantly
  • Dog tries to be touching owner whenever possible

True separation anxiety requires dedicated training, behavior modification and desensitization exercises. Medication may be recommended in extreme cases, but this should be a last resort Click on our Separation Anxiety page for More Information. 

Inappropriate Elimination

Inappropriate urination and defecation are among the most frustrating dog behaviors for their human families. They can damage areas of your home and make your dog unwelcome in public places or at the homes of others. It is most important that you discuss this behavior with your veterinarian first to rule out health problems. If no medical cause is found, try to determine the reason for the behavior, which can come down to one of the following:

  • Submissive/Excitement Urination
  • Territorial Marking
  • Anxiety
  • Attention-seeking
  • Lack of proper housebreaking

Inappropriate elimination is unavoidable in puppies, especially before 12 weeks of age. Older dogs are another story - many require serious behavior modification to rid them of the habit. 

Another common problem associated with elimination is coprophagia, or the eating of feces.  This is a common problem in small dogs but thoroughly revolting to human.  Starting in puppy-hood it can become a habit that is difficult to break. 

Begging

Begging is a bad habit, but many small breed dog owners unfortunately encourage it. This can lead to digestive problems and obesity. Worse yet, it can undermine your role as pack leader.  Dogs learn to expect that they will receive treats every time a person sits down to eat.  While we should not deny our small dogs a treat now and again, it is so important that we not get into the habit of sharing everything we eat.  Many of the things we love can be deadly to dogs for starters.  More importantly, if dogs receive too many treats, they are not getting the complete, balanced diet that they need.  This behavior problem can then turn into a health problem.

Chasing

A dog's desire to chase moving things is simply a display of predatory instinct. Many dogs will chase other animals, people and cars and depending on the breed, this can be a behavior problem in many small dogs. All of these can lead to dangerous and devastating outcomes! While you may not be able to stop your dog from trying to chase, you can take steps to prevent disaster.  There are ways to prevent this behavior. 

Jumping Up

Puppies jump up to reach and greet their mothers. Later, they may jump up when greeting people because they are so excited.  Some bigger dogs may also jump up to exert dominance, but in the case of a small dog, jumping is mostly a form of attention seeking. 

If the dog is accustomed to being on your lap, jumping may trigger an unconscious response in us to pick up the dog.  Small dogs that jump may not be as annoying or dangerous as it would be in a larger breed dog. Nevertheless, if you are walking out the door headed for work and your tiny dog, which has just come in from playing in a puddle jumps on you, your attitude might change.

Of all the behavioral problems seen in small dogs, this might be the most common. There are many methods to stop a dog's jumping, but not all will be successful. Lifting a knee, grabbing the paws, or pushing the dog away might work for some, but for most dogs this sends the wrong message.  These methods are often considered Old School and newer ways seem to work better. 

Biting

Aggression and biting in dogs are two of the most serious behavioral problems.  Dogs bite for reasons that can be traced back to instinct and pack mentality. Puppies bite and nip on other dogs and people as a means for exploring their environment and learning their place in the pack.  If a puppy remains with its canine mother long enough, she will teach the pup not to nip.  But often puppies are removed from their mothers too soon and placed in a home where they continue to nip.  If the behavior is not stopped, the puppy might continue biting into adulthood.  Owners must show their puppies that mouthing and biting are not acceptable by teaching bite inhibition. Beyond puppy behavior, the motivation to bite or snap typically comes from the following:

  • Fear or Defensiveness
  • Protection of Property
  • Pain or Sickness
  • Dominance Assertion
  • Predatory Instinct

Some breeds bite more than others, but biting can be control through proper training. 

Read About Puppy Biting

Aggression

Dog aggression is displayed by growling, snarling, showing teeth, lunging and biting whether it is directed at a human or another dog.   All dogs have the potential to become aggressive, irrespective of breed or history. However, dogs with violent or abusive histories and those bred from dogs with aggressive tendencies are much more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior towards people or other dogs. As behavior problems go, this is the most serious.  Reasons for aggression are basically the same as the reasons a dog will bite or snap, but overall canine aggression is a much more serious problem, one which can be dangerous to humans as well as the dog.    

Fear of Thunderstorms

I have listed this problem here, not because it is a behavioral problem in the classical sense, but it is a real problem to the dog and something that the owner can do something about.  Called a Thunderstorm Phobia or simply Storm Phobia, this condition occurs when a dog is overly frightened of one or more aspects of the storm causing him to display physical, psychological, and behavioral signs. 

Read more about Fear of Thunderstorms

Anxiety in Dogs

Some small dogs seem overly anxious most of the time.  They may also suffer from separation anxiety, but may may also be nervous even when their owners are home and nearby. An anxious dog is often difficult to handle, especially when the anxiety becomes chronic.  Music therapy is one way to help an anxious dog.

Read more about the Anxious Dog.

References:  Additional Resources:  Behavior Problems

I use a variety of sources on small dogs on this website, but my favorites are books written by well known authors.  Here are just a few of the books I own and rely on when I write.

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