Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Big Dog Syndrome

There is a lot of information out there about Little Dog Syndrome. This is the tendency for small dogs to act in big ways in the presence of dog-sized dogs. Similar to Napoleon Syndrome, or Little Man Syndrome, the concept seems to be that tiny dogs realize they have something to compensate for.
Hell hath no fury like a 6-lb dog.

I am calling bullshit on Little Dog Syndrome, or at the very least I'm going to come right out and say that I think it's a direct result of Big Dog Syndrome.

Big Dog Syndrome, a term I just invented ten minutes ago, describes the attitude I've noticed that many medium and large dogs have toward small and toy-sized dogs. Even dogs that are otherwise well-socialized and polite tend to ignore the body language of tiny dogs. Both Brisbane and Ru don't often want to visit with strange dogs when we're at the off-leash dog beach, but the vast majority pick up on Brisbane's subtle warning signs loud and clear. Happy, wiggly dogs head in Brisbane's direction for a greeting, and then abruptly veer off and seem to lose interest. His stiff, straight, forward posture says "Leave me alone."

These same dogs ignore that same posture from Ru. They also ignore the raised hackles, the growl, and the curled lip. Finally, leaps up in that friendly labrador's face with a tiny roar, sending it leaping back, startled. The lab's owner remarks "Wow, little guy thinks he's Cujo!" Ru isn't Cujo, he's not vicious, and he doesn't hate big dogs. What he does hate is being forced into an intimate greeting when he's been shouting that he wants to be left alone the whole time.

I can't blame him, I imagine it's a bit like being a small child and trying to pass an adult on the street when I'm feeling uncomfortable or vulnerable. They make eye contact and wave from across the street, I look away and keep walking. They walk across the street and say "Hi!", I say "Um, hi..." or maybe "Can I help you?" and try to keep walking. The stranger gets closer, hand held extended, babbling "Hi how are you? Good to meet you!", I try to go around them. The stranger blocks my path, enters my personal space, towers over me. I scream "LEAVE ME ALONE!" and kick them in the shins. This stranger has Big Dog Syndrome.

Properly socializing a tiny dog can be nearly impossible, because most of their reactions with large dogs are going to be of the looming-stranger-oblivious-to-my-discomfort variety. Small Dog Syndrome is what happens when tiny dogs learn that big dogs won't listen to anything less than a full assault. Ru does not approach large dogs for the purpose of bullying them, he would be much happier if they gave him a wide berth like they do Brisbane. What Ru does is forcefully tell them to get out of his face when they exhibit Big Dog Syndrome.

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