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Little Dog Syndrome

Chihuahua Little Dog Syndrome

Little Dog Syndrome is a blanket term that is sometimes used to describe unwanted behavior that is displayed by a toy or small breed dog. The theory with this phrase is that behaviors are due to the dog's small stature. For some dogs, each behavioral problem has its own cause and therefore its own solution.

However, with some dogs such as the Chihuahua, a group of behaviors can emerge that are all due to one basic element. In many cases, it is not actually the dog's size that is causing the problems. 

The behavioral problems that are associated with this term are often a version of what the following owner is experiencing with her dog.
Toby is 8 months old and this is my very first dog, I believe I have been treating him more like a child then a dog.
Toby went to a puppy very good at sitting/down and waiting. There are so many areas that his is wonderful and listens...however there are few things I need help with and I'm not sure if these problems are all due to what they call Chihuahua little dog syndrome.
1. Potty Problems - I decided to train him in the house on pads. He has done very well. But about 6 weeks before being neutered, he started marking in the house and in other homes. After he was neutered, he stopped. 

I have been transitioning him to going outside. He has one pad by the back door. I have put his scent in the potty area in our yard by rubbing a dirty pad on the grass and placing "poop" out there as well. He has gone on the beach and has been marking trees when on walks. 

He has also peed in the potty area, but is also going on the pad in the house. BUT...I may have messed up by telling him "good boy" when marking outside because he has started marking inside again. 
2. Tantrums - He also has gotten in the habit of throwing what we call "tantrums". He does this when we are not paying attention to him at times or he is irritated. He kicks his legs back and sometimes barks. It was cute when he first started but combined with the other issues...not cute.
3. Aggression - As much as I try to be careful, Toby sometimes gets things in his mouth (candy wrapper/plastic) that he shouldn't have ...he doesn't give them up. He will growl, pull away or lunge. He is also overly protective of his food Once I was bitten. I feel it was my fault because I have not found the right way to handle this. I saw one game to play with your dog called "trade" ...where you put some peanut butter on some little plastic lids...give him one..then say "trade"...give him another...until he feels safe that he does not have to be possessive. 

I have not tried this yet, wanted to hear what you advice first. Also, with aggression....usually at night (probably when tired), if he is laying on my lap and I need to get up, he growls at me. 
Some say he has "little dog syndrome" and that he feels he is in charge. This is quite possible due to mistakes I have probably made. However, at 8 months, I would love to nip these issues in the bud and give him the life he deserves and the peaceful home we all want.
Thank you for any help you can offer.


While each of these issues may seem to be separate, we believe that this all is due to 1 common issue: A power struggle in which Toby is trying to be the Alpha (leader of the house). This can happen with any sized dog, however when it happens with the Chi it is often referred to as Chihuahua Little Dog Syndrome. 

When you told him "good boy" for marking outside, this would not have caused him to begin marking indoors again. Marking is often done by dogs that want to say "This is MY house!".

Also, the tantrums, aggression, growling and even biting (yikes!) is most certainly also a display of "King of the Hill" or "Alpha Dog" behavior
So, basically, your Chihuahua is trying very hard to show that he owns the house and is the leader of it.

When he was a little puppy, he depended on you SO much, that being the leader did not even enter his mind. Now that he is older, he feels an instinct to test you. And this can get out of control VERY fast and lead to even more very bad behavior.

It is unacceptable for him to be growling...this is a warning sound that means "A bite is coming next!" if I don't get what I want, if you disturb me, etc. This is very serious. He could soon be growling and biting all of time, essentially taking over command with everyone afraid to be bitten. Serious training to stop this must begin right away in order for both you and him to live in happiness and peace.

The way to fix this is to clearly establish that YOU are the leader. He must know this 100% and never even think about challenging you for this position.
Don't worry, while this training is very serious, no harm will come to him. In fact, studies show that dogs are MUCH happier when they know who the leader is... When they do not need to feel the pressure of trying to be the Alpha, they can relax and do normal, fun doggie things.

This training must be done at ALL times. You must NEVER slip up and forget any of this. He must see these actions ALL of the time. Consistency is a MUST.

Here are the things that must be done all of the time to show him YOU are the leader. Once he learns this, he will stop his naughty behavior:

1. Any time that you take him outside, YOU must leave first and have him follow on leash.

2. Any time that you enter the house with him, YOU must be the first to enter, with him following 2nd on leash.

3. If you have stairs, YOU must walk up or down them first, with Toby following.

4. Try to time his meal time with your meal times. Be sure to not "free feed" him, meals must be scheduled. Then, when it is time to eat, YOU must begin eating first. Have his bowl on the table or hidden away on the counter. AFTER he clearly sees that YOU are eating first, THEN give place his food down. 

If you must, hold him by the leash, but do NOT let him eat UNTIL you command "Sit" and he sits. THEN, when you say "OK" or a similar command, THEN he is allowed to eat.

If he lunges for the food, block him with your body. He will try to sense what you are doing... Show your strength with your body language. 
If he does NOT sit when you command, he gets NO food. Only after he obeys the "Sit" and then "Okay" command, he then eats. This is MOST vital... Food is the basis of "who is leader". The LEADER supplies the food. NEVER allow him to eat if he is growling at you.

5. ANY time that you take him for a walk, YOU must walk as a pack does.. YOU must be in the lead. This means that you must walk ahead of him or have him walk beside you. He must NOT be allowed to be in front of you. YOU must decide where he is allowed to stop and sniff.... 

If HE stops to explore something, tug on the leash (have him on a harness so that he does not become injured with collapsed trachea, etc). He may mark, but ONLY 1 time. Any other time, you must take charge and continue walking. On harness and leash, he will not be able to ignore your lead.

6. Never, ever give him ANY food from your plate or the dinner table.

7. Whenever you leave a room that he is in, when you come back into that room, COMPLETELY ignore him for 1-2 minutes. No matter what he does, tantrum or not. ONLY when he is calm and if he is NOT growling, THEN after those 1-2 minutes, you should then pay attention to him... .saying hello, giving a pat, etc.

8. He must not receive ANYTHING without first sitting. This should be a command that he must follow before getting a snack, before going for a walk, before being given a toy... He must not receive anything without first sitting upon your command.

9. Until he learns that YOU are the leader and his behavior changes, NEVER lay or sit on the floor with him. You must remain at a higher level than him.

10. If someone comes to your house to visit, YOU must be the one to greet them first. Even if this means putting your Chihuahua behind a gate or in a crate for a moment. Otherwise, if he listens, command him to "Sit" while you go to the door. This shows that you are the leader and will decide if a person is a friend or foe...if you deem it safe.

11. If your Chihuahua is ever in your way, for example, lying on the floor, NEVER walk around or over him. ALWAYS command him to move. If he does not know this command, gently physically move him while commanding, "Move" and then continue on your way.
12. It is best to avoid a staring contest during this training time. It can be an invitation to a fight (growling and biting) by Toby)... BUT if you find that you and he have established eye contact, NEVER be the 1st to look away. NEVER. That would send a CLEAR signal that he is the leader without question.

13. During this time of training, He should NOT be allowed to sleep on your bed (if he is). His place should be at the foot of your bed, on a pillow with your scent or in a dog bed.

14. During this time of training, you must NOT hug or cuddle him. This may be hard. You can still show affection, by talking to him in a sweet voice, giving a quick pat, giving him a treat, telling him that he is a good boy whenever he behaves well...But until he learns that YOU are in charge, you should not hug him....

He may see this as a challenge and trouble could happen. Once he is trained, you can go back to cuddling him as much as you wish.
15. If he throws a tantrum for attention (or any other reason) NO attention should be paid to him. ANY attention, including playing games, fetch, etc MUST be started by YOU ...AND ended by YOU. The attention or game begins when YOU say it does...and it ends when YOU say "time to go in" or you get up and do another activity.

IF he growls severely and it appears that he is being severely aggressive (and a bite may come), he should immediately be given a "time out". He should be quarantined into a room that is VERY boring and completely ignored for 15-20 minutes.

16. During this training, he must NOT EVER be allowed to lay on your lap, be up on the sofa with you, sit on a chair with you, etc. HIS place MUST be on the floor. If you feel that the floor is too uncomfortable, you can place a small baby blanket for him to lie on. 

However, one of the BEST ways to establish that YOU are the leader and he must behave is for him to KNOW that YOU have the most comfortable spot to sit, lay and sleep. This does not meant that he must suffer in any way. He will always have a carpeted area on the floor, a blanket to lay on and a doggie bed to sleep in.

17. Do NOT play any game of tug-of-war during this training time. Even if you always win it, he will see that you are willing to compete with him. And that should not be the case. He must learn that there IS NO competition...That YOU are the leader, no questions, period.
18. If he has any object (wrapper, etc) that you do not want him to have, you can certainly first try the trade method. We agree that it normally works well and peanut butter is healthy for Toby.

BUT, if he does not trade, take command and take the object away. Do NOT chase him. Act as if all is just fine, get close to him, then hold him firmly and while holding his mouth with 1 hand so that he cannot bite you, take the object away with the other hand. 

19. Remember that a dog does NOT just listen to your words. He CAN sense your emotions by tone and by body language. Stand firm, show kind confidence. Be assertive. Stand tall. He will take this all in as much, if not more, than words.

20. Keep in mind that you are doing this all for not only your sake, but for for your Chihuahua as well. Once he learns that you are the master, the leader, the Alpha... He will be less stressed and happier! He will no longer feel the need to compete. He will not feel the need to try to get what he wants by growling (dogs do not LIKE to give warning growls and then bite...they feel that they HAVE to as leader).

After 1 or 2 months of this, he will stop growling at you, he will stop marking, he certainly will not bite you and he will be well behaved. He will NOT be afraid of you..He will RESPECT you as his caretaker, as the one who handles the responsibilities of the house and he will WANT to please you.

After the 1 to 2 month training time, you will find that life is easier and he is better behaved by keeping some of this going indefinitely. For example, placing his food down AFTER you begin eating.... and/or YOU entering the house first, etc. Keeping some of these rules going will make it so that he does not slip back and try to take command.

Don't worry about Little Dog Syndrome with your Chihuahua, this is just some behavioral issues that CAN be resolved with training...And once your Chi is fully trained he will be a happier dog that doesn't struggle with "who is the leader", you will be a happier owner and the overall vibe of the household will be peaceful and happy.
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