How many times have you heard that Chihuahuas think they are bigger than they are? Also known as the Napoleon Complex or little dog syndrome. If you have had a Chihuahua (or Yorkie) for any time, I’m sure you’ve heard it. But is it true?

I have enjoyed reading some information from Alexandra Horowitz. She teaches psychology at Barnard College, Columbia University, and has spent much of her career studying dogs and what they see, smell, and know. She has a pretty good idea about the reasons behind some of their behavior.

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read”. ~ Attributed to Groucho Marx

She writes about watching a large Wolfhound that spies a little six-pound long-haired Chihuahua and runs toward it. When he stands in front of the tiny Chi, the Chihuahua demurely looks away. The Wolfhound bends down to the Chihuahua’s level and nips her side.

The Chi looks back at the hound, who raises his rear end in the air, tail held high, seemingly in preparation to attack (is it little dog syndrome?). Instead of fleeing from the seeming danger, the Chihuahua matches his pose and leaps onto the Wolfhound’s face, embracing his nose with her tiny paws. They begin to play. They tumble, grab, bite, and lunge at each other. The little Chi attacks the Wolfhound’s face, belly, and paws.

little dog syndrome, chihuahua and wolfhound
bigger than they are

So this is what begins her curiosity about dog psychology, including the little dog syndrome. There is such a difference in size between these two that they might as well be different species.

The Wolfhound bit, mouthed, and charged at the Chihuahua, yet the little dog responded not with fright but in kind.

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What explains their ability to play? Why doesn’t the tiny Chihuahua see the big dog as a predator? Why doesn’t the Wolfhound see the little Chi as dinner?

Is it because the Chihuahua has delusions about his size, as some people think? I’ve always heard that Chihuahuas believe they are big dogs, and it turns out that is not true. Neither is it just plain instinct taking over.

About Traits in Different Breeds

There is much literature about the differences in breeds. However, there has never been a scientific comparison of breed behavior differences. Not one with a controlled environment gives them the same physical objects, the same exposure to dogs and humans, everything.

little dog syndrome, chihuahua and great dane making friends
bigger than they are

In other words, if you present various breeds with a nearby running rabbit, for instance, it would be a mistake to assume that a Dachshund or a Jack Russell will chase that rabbit because that was what they were bred to do. Individuals within that breed will react differently to the same objects. That is why it is also a mistake to assume that a particular breed of dog will be aggressive.

So-called aggressive breeds.

After World War II, the German Shephard was considered the most aggressive breed; now it is the pit bull. The breed thought the most aggressive depends more on recent events and public perception than on the inherent nature of that breed.

No gene develops into a retrieving or aggressive behavior or any other behavior.

little dog syndrome, a scottie and a white dog playing
bigger than they are


So, the conclusion of the matter between the tiny little Chihuahua vs. the remarkable giant Wolfhound and little dog syndrome is that the little guy does know that he is much smaller than the Wolfhound and the Wolfhound knows that the Chihuahua is much more miniature than he is. They also know that they are both dogs….. and dogs love to play!

What do you think? Are Chihuahuas aggressive because they believe they are big, bad dogs? Give us your opinion in the comments below:

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