The 39 Best Small Dog Breeds:
Find Your Perfect Match!

What is a Small Breed Dog?

When I started looking for a purebred dog (and didn't want a Saint Bernard), I discovered that The American Kennel Club (AKC) treats dog sizes just like a clothing store: Xsmall, Small, Medium, Large and XLarge. Eeek! What if I end up with something “Toy”? Some investigation was clearly in order before I have to fasten my leash around a teacup.

So, what is a small breed dog? Classification is dependent primarily on weight:  Any dog less than 22 lbs (10 kg) qualifies as a small dog breed. If it weighs less than 4 lbs (1.8 kg ) at an age of 12 months it is called a teacup dog. In case you're wondering, "Teacup" is not an officially recognized breed or even technical term and is not used by the main breed registries.

What About the ”Toy” breeds?

In the UK the Toy breed is a recognized group that is described as a small companion or lap dog. Others fall into the group just because of size. The Kennel Club of the UK lists 24 breeds in the “Toy” group.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) also has a “Toy” group but it only lists 21 breeds.

Are There Borderline Toy/Small Dog Breed Cases?

Yes, there are:

  • Smaller “Large” dogs and bigger “Small” dogs fall into the “medium” category.
  • Larger “Toy” dogs like some Spaniels (Cavalier King Charles), the Havanese, the Italian Greyhound, some terriers (the Manchester), the Pug, and some Miniatures (the Poodle and the Pinscher) can all be classified as small dogs.

Interestingly, the sizing for dog harnesses overlap quite a bit.

The measurements taken for a dog harness are around the chest (all the way around the rib cage and the back) and the neck on top of the shoulders.

As a result, a “Small” breed dog could fall into a “Medium” size category even if the weight does not suggest it.

Which are the Most Popular Small Dog Breeds?

In America, the AKC lists these small breeds as the top 10 for 2018:

In the UK, the 10 most popular small dog breeds are:

History

When was the First Small Breed Registered and What was it?

In 1878 the Cocker Spaniel was first recognized as a breed by the AKC.

The female’s weight range is 20-25 pounds and the male is 25-30 pounds, so they just make it into the small dog breeds and that is where you will find them on the modern AKC list.

The Cocker breed standard came much later.

In the first studbook of the UK’s “The Kennel Club”, dated 1859 - 1874, the list of 40 breeds includes about a dozen breeds that are today grouped in the “small” dog category of the AKC.

It includes the Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, several Terriers, and other breeds like "greyhounds" that have since diversified into more than one breed.

Were Registration Numbers Influenced by Fashion, Celebrities, etc?.

Unfortunately yes.

And the results have not always been good for the dogs.

Many people attribute the upsurge in the small dog craze (specifically "purse dogs") to Paris Hilton, but small dogs have always been a celebrity favorite.

Movies, in particular, have been shown to influence the choice of dog breeds for up to 10 years after its release.

Although many of these canine movie stars were large dogs (Dalmatians, Border Collies) there were also some famous small dogs:

  • Benji (Benji) was a mix but was called a Border Terrier
  • Moonie and Gidget (Legally Blonde) were Chihuahuas

Are New Small Breeds Still Registered?

Yes. Some recently registered small dog breeds are:

  • Azawakh (2019)
  • American Hairless Terrier (2016)

But the rules have changed to ensure that the dog’s life and health are protected.

In the UK the Breed Watch programme identifies breeds with problems (e.g. pugs with eyes that bulge too much or that labor to breathe). Freak dogs that are little more than cruel products of breeders’ lack of ethics are not tolerated anymore.

How Frequently are New Small Breeds Registered in Comparison to Large Breeds?

During the last 10 years, more large breed dogs were registered by the AKC than small breeds.

Working dogs are in high demand in law enforcement, security, search-and-rescue, etc. These dogs as well as many show dogs, tend to be larger breeds.

Crossbreed small dogs, like the Pomsky, are not a recognized breed. With good reason, in my opinion.

How Well are Small Dogs Suited to Different Roles?

  • Companion dog - most small dog breeds do very well as companion dogs. Their size is a plus point. Examples are Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Shih Tzus, Miniature Schnauzers, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and Maltese Poodles.
  • Pet or lapdog - not all pet dogs are lap dogs - it depends on the breed - but small dogs do quite well as both. Examples are Pomeranians, French Bulldogs, Bichon Frisés, and Affenpinschers.
  • Child’s dog - careful now, just because a dog is small does not mean it can’t inflict a painful bite. Small dogs can be quite cantankerous when they grow older as well and may not tolerate a child’s play. So here are a few examples of small dog breeds that are also suitable as a child’s dog: Beagles, Miniature Poodles, Basset Hounds, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
  • Working dog - small dogs are also working dogs, even if they are not officially registered as Working Group dogs. Terriers were bred to be small to use in hunting prey that bolt down holes. A good example is the Jack Russell Terrier. They have a fierce hunting instinct and because of their breeding needs lots of vigorous exercise. Small dogs are increasingly used as therapy dogs and psychiatric service dogs. Some examples are Havanese, Miniature Schnauzers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Lhasa Apsos, Chihuahuas, Corgis, and Dachshunds.
  • Guide dog - the breeds that are most commonly cited as guide dogs are large breeds. The most important characteristic of a good guide dog is temperament. But the size and weight is a physical reality and should enable the dog to work beside a person and use public transportation. Although small dogs make great companions for people with disabilities, they are not ideal to serve as guide dogs.
  • Guard dog - a guard dog is a dog that alerts its owner to something or someone unusual or unexpected. It is not an attack dog. Chihuahuas are surprisingly good at being guard dogs and will make an unholy noise when they perceive anything unusual or threatening. Other good small guard dogs are Jack Russells, Dachshunds, and Yorkies.

Care

Small dog breeds are as different in needs and temperament as large dogs.

They just come in smaller packages.

So do your homework before getting a small dog breed - do not assume it’s a pushover just because of its size!

Nutrition

Do Small Dogs Need Special Nutrition?

Yes, they do.

Their metabolic rate is higher than medium and large dogs, but their stomachs are smaller (duhhhh, but it’s important!). As a result, they need to consume more calories per pound of body weight than large dogs.

Small dog food should, therefore, be more calorie dense than other dog food and the kibbles must be smaller in size.

Senior small dogs do not suffer from arthritis as much as larger dogs in their senior years. This being said, it does not mean that they have to eat special food without the supplements that address canine arthritis.

Consult with your veterinarian to make sure that your dog does not have a food allergy or food sensitivity. If it does, it may need a special diet.

How Much Should Small Dogs be Fed?

Small dog puppies burn their food so fast they need a high-calorie food three to four times a day, or even up to six times a day.

Adult small dogs need a meal at least two to three times a day.  

It is not a good idea to keep the bowl filled at all times so the dog can graze at will.

Dogs will eat as much as they can, and more, leading to obesity. This condition creates many health problems and shortens the dog’s life.

Grooming

Do Small Dogs Need Grooming?

Yes, but it depends on their coat length and how they live.

A dog that indulges in lots of splashing in muddy water will require more bathing than a sedate lapdog spending its days watching TV on the couch!

Do Some Small Dog Breeds Need More or Different Grooming than Others?

Yes.

The Bichon Frise has hair that requires a lot of grooming to prevent matting.

Other breeds like Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, Havanese, Pekingese, Pomeranians, and Shih Tzus all need regular and thorough grooming.

So does:

Beagles and Italian greyhounds have short coats that need very little grooming.

Exercise

Is a Daily Walk Enough Exercise for Small Dogs?

If it is long enough and depending on the breed, yes.

Age, weight and breed will determine the amount of exercise that a small dog needs. Generally, a walk of about half an hour to an hour should be enough. Work up to it gradually if your dog is not used to such a long walk.

You can also exercise a small dog by playing fetch and tug with toys.

Should Small Dogs be Carried?

Not unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Small dogs must be socialized and must be given the chance to be in control of their lives. Sweeping them off the ground without warning leads to stress.

How would you feel if the ground could disappear below you at any time? And see the section below about training.

Important:  there is actually a RIGHT WAY to pick up a small dog.

Do you know how? It’s not scruffing.

Can Small Dogs Compete in Dog Sports?

Yes, definitely, and it is excellent physical, mental, and social exercise.

Small dogs are especially good at:

  • Agility sports
  • Flyball
  • Earthdog
  • Herding
  • Flydisk

Nosework and scent work are also accessible for small dogs - it’s about the nose, not the size.

Sniffer dogs are usually big ones because they are also working in law enforcement. However, when it comes to sniffing for the fun of it (and the competition).

General Training for House-Bound Small Dogs

It is a lot easier to pick up a small dog and remove it from the scene of the crime than training it to behave.

But it is a mistake!!!

And even if it is house-bound, you still want it to be a pleasure when your friends come to visit instead of a pain.

Small dogs are every bit as capable, and need it as much, to learn obedience training with positive reinforcement techniques. It should understand, and learn the appropriate response to, basic commands.

House training a small dog is no different than a big dog, but small bladders need emptying more often.

Do not make it hold it too long or you may encourage bladder infection, not to mention unnecessary “accidents” in the house.

You do need a little adjustment in your training when dealing with small dogs.

Your size is intimidating to them so get some tips on how to accomplish training without turning your dog into a fearful, yappy little squirt.

Your small dog is not a doll, it should be respected and socialized like a real dog.

Training for Specific Purposes

  • Agility training is great for small dogs. Just like any dog it must be at least 18 months old and in good health. The obstacles are specially adapted for smaller breeds so don’t worry that your doggie will have to exert itself in unfair competition.
  • Flyball puts your smal dog in a distinctly advantageous position. This sport is a relay race over hurdles that are set to the team’s smallest dog! Yippee! Everyone wants a chihuahua!
  • You can train your dog for anything if it has the intelligence and the temperament and you have the patience. Some of the most trainable small dog breeds are Poodles, Papillons, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and Miniature Schnauzers.

Health

Common Health Problems in Small Dog Breeds

  • Patellar Luxation - dislocated kneecap
  • Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) - spinal disc problems
  • Pancreatitis - affects smaller breeds more often
  • Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome - upper airway problems
  • Ectropion - rolled-out eyelids

All of the above are explained in detail here.

Health Problems in Specific Small Dog Breeds

  • Pugs - eye problems mainly because of eyes bulging so much they fall out.
  • Beagles - there seems to be more cases of epilepsy inn Beagles than other breeds.
  • Shi Tzu - patellar luxation also known as wobbling kneecaps.
  • Dachshund - back and spine problems.
  • Cocker Spaniel - ear infections.
  • Yorkies - Portosystemic shunt (PSS), a blood vessel birth defect
  • Poodles - Glaucoma (eyes).
  • Miniature Schnauzer - this breed tends to get diabetes more often than other breeds.
  • Chihuahua - Collapsing trachea.
  • Pomeranians - AlopeciaX (hair loss due to impaired Vitamin D generation ability).
  • Maltese - Little White Shaker Syndrome (the whole body shakes - cause may be autoimmune related)
  • Boston Terrier - Cherry Eye (eye gland  that pops out).
  • French Bulldog - Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome.
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel - Mitral Valve Disease (a heart disease).

All of the above is explained in detail here.

Some Famous Small Dogs

Move over RinTinTin and Lassie. Here are some small but famous canines:

  • Smoky, the war hero Yorky.
  • Sinbad, the Chief Petty Officer dog in the Coast Guard.
  • Toto, the star of The Wizard of Oz. It was a Cairn Terrier. The other one was Judy Garland? 1939? Get thee an education!
  • Benji, the film star (and all his successors, also named Benji).
  • Boo, the first internet dog celebrity, who was a Pomeranian.
  • Lentil Bean, the French Bulldog - therapy dog for children with cleft palates.
  • Laika. Hate to mention it but this dog was sent into space by the Russians in 1957 and died almost immediately. At least it got a small memorial for giving its life to science. Unlike many, many others.

A Few Curious Breeds of Small Dogs

Swedish Vallhund

Is said to hail from the days of the Vikings.

It looks a bit like a small shepherd dog and in fact they were cattle herders

They can have three kinds of tail.

Norwegian Lundehund

Bred for the very specialized task of hunting puffins!

Their paws have at least six fully functioning toes and extra paw pads.

The neck can bend back so far that the head touches the spine.

The ears can fold shut and the forelegs can turn so far sideways they end up  perpendicular to the body of the dog!

An extreme acrobat!

Bedlington Terrier

In profile the head looks just like that of a lamb and it also has white curly hair.

A lamb dog?

No but they were used by gypsies for poaching and by English miners for ratting.

Funny Small Dogs

Funny small dogs abound everywhere.

Dogmatix doesn’t intend to be funny, but often is.

Odie is a funny duhhh - bad luck to be paired with a smart cat like Garfield!

And the granddaddy of them all - Snoopy!

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