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little dog

Little dog syndrome

My two-year-old Chihuahua thinks he’s a lot bigger than he is, and can be quite aggressive towards other dogs. This takes the form of non-stop barking. Although he’s never tried to attack another dog, he does stand his ground, and probably looks quite intimidating. He barks like this whether he’s on-lead or off, but probably more so when he’s on-lead – it’s almost as if he thinks that because I’m there, I will back him up. How can I stop him from doing this? I’m worried that one day a bigger dog might actually retaliate.

Kirsten Dillon advises...

I think your little boy’s reactions to other dogs are likely to be because he is fearful, not truly aggressive at all. I’m betting that all previous pre-emptive barking and lunging has worked for him in the past by ridding him of the perceived threat (in other words, as you move him away), and subsequently this is probably why it has become his ‘go to’ behaviour and has not improved with age. The fact that he is a Chihuahua makes little difference. Sometimes small dogs can be more vocal, but the feeling of fear and the need to drive the other dog away is the same as for any other breed, large or small.

He may see you as back-up – dogs often do – but providing ‘security’ is unlikely to be the root cause of the problem. The answer to helping him out here is physical distance. On your next walk, avoid close contact with all other dogs, and spend your time assessing how far away he needs to be from them to remain quiet. Once you have established an actual distance (which may vary from day to day), keep him at that distance, and just let him see the other dogs and take in information.

If he barks, you are too close, so simply move further away until he stops. By allowing him the chance to gather the information he needs, and observe the other dogs’ behaviours, you are showing him that not all dogs are out to get him. Then, very slowly, you will find the distance slowly decreasing, until you are able to go a little closer. You will probably need the help of a good trainer or behaviourist for the first few trials, but if you remember that space is your friend, you will have a much happier dog.