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 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.

Behavior Problems Seen in Small Dogs

Depressed Dogs?

Is dog depression real?  It is sad to think our four legged family members may be depressed. 

They provide us with so much love and companionship, and we want only the best for their well-being. 

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Yappy Dogs

Almost all dogs bark, howl and whine but some small dogs  are known for their yappiness.

Excessive barking is a behavior problem -- it is disruptive and annoying, both for you and for your neighbors.

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If given the chance, most dogs will do some amount of digging, it is part of their instinct. Some dogs have been developed to dig burrows to look for rats and other vermin. 

What happens when this activity involves digging a hole in your carpet or best rose garden?  This is when digging becomes a big problem.

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Small Dog Syndrome

This is not a true diagnosis, but a collection of symptoms that are often found in small breed dogs whose status has been elevated to top dog or more precisely top living being in the household. 

A variety of problems emerge but the good news is we can take care of all of them. 

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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.

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Eating Their Own or Others' Feces:  YUCK!

This may be one of the most distasteful behaviors to observe or discover after the fact. 

The technical term for eating one's stool is coprophagia and the practice is more of a behavioral problem than a health problem, but there can be some health issues associated with the practice. 

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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.

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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.

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Stop Your Dog From BitingStop Your Dog From 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.

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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. 

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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.

Read about Submissive Urination

Read about Excitement Urination


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 such as your best furniture.


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. 


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.   

Calming Energetic Small Dogs

Calming Energetic Small DogsCalming Energetic Small Dogs

Having more than their share of energy, some highly active small dogs need a little help from us to bring at exuberance down a notch or two.  Having plenty of energy is not a behavioral problem because most of the dogs that fit into this category were breed from the beginning to do a job requiring plenty of energy.

The problem comes when these dogs can not find ways to calm themselves and are working with a high level of adrenaline that can cause damage to the body.

Read about Calming Highly Energetic Small Dogs

5 Mental Disorders in Small Dogs

5 Mental Disorders in Small Dogs5 Mental Disorders in Small Dogs

Mental Disorders in small dogs seem to occur more frequently than in mid-size to large breed dogs.  Why does this happen?  This article examines 5 of the most common psychological disorders suffered by small breed dogs.

Specifically, the 5 Disorders that are examined in this article include:

  • Canine Compulsive Disorder
  • Separation Disorder
  • Small Dog Syndrome
  • Phobias
  • Anxiety

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