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When you think about a small dog, your mind tends to go directly to Chihuahuas, Dachshunds and Yorkies. In reality, the AKC (American Kennel Club), one of the most reputable and well-known Breed Registry, registers 78 breeds of small dogs in the United States. They sub classify them in size as follows:

  • Extra-Small, with 18 breeds including the Yorkshire Terrier, the Pomeranian and the Maltese
  • Small, with 60 breeds, including but not limited to the Dachshund, Shih Tzu, Pug, Pembroke Welsh Corgi and Cocker Spaniel.

The UKC (United Kennel Club), another very reputable American breed directory created in 1898 that accounts for international breeds, in contrary to the AKC that only accounts for the American ones, doesn’t classifies its breeds per size, as AKC does, but rather as their ancestry and how the breeds originated from. Following this classification, small dog breeds can be organized in various groups, but most of them will be found in group 8, Companion Dogs.

This group gathers what the UKC calls “miniaturized version of their ancestors” and qualifies their personalities as “lively, intelligent and affectionate”.

Small Dog Characteristic Misnomers

Several clichés and questions come to mind when thinking about small dogs: Small dogs, small brains? Small dogs are angry and aggressive? Are all small dogs lap dogs? Are all small dogs apartment dogs with little or no need for outdoor exercise? One thing is for sure: small dogs do not have small personalities! Some require a quiet environment to thrive, others like the Dachshund need space to run and explore their surroundings. We will explore these personality traits more in depth later on, as well as the specificities for each breed in the breed pages below.

What is considered a small breed of dogs?

The rule of thumb for qualifying a breed of dog as small is usually one that weighs on average less than 22 pounds, or one that is shorter than 16 inches. Keep in mind however that the largest of the small breeds of dogs is the Cirneco dell’Etna, an athletic breed originally from Sicily, weighs between 17 pounds (female) and 26 pounds (male) and stands at up to 18 inches tall. On the other end of the spectrum, the very popular small dog breed Chihuahua is the smallest dog breed recorded, standing tall at 6 to 10 inches tall, which is almost a foot shorter than the Cirneco dell’Etna. Chihuahuas also tend to weigh 6 to 8 pounds, a solid 20 pounds under one of the heavier breeds in their category. So that’s a 14 point spread from the smallest small dog to the largest small dog breed.

History of small dog breeds

Historically, dogs started to be bred for companionship rather than hunting in the Middle East, about 12,000 years ago. Before that time, dogs were predominantly  bigger in size, due to their ancestry going back to the wolves, and also their need to survive the wilderness and the cold, as they were not animals that were kept indoors. Dogs, as they were bred for the affection of their species to humans, didn’t require the need to protect themselves against nature and the harsh conditions of the outside, and it is thought that they naturally started to grow smaller in size. The need for companionship wasn’t the only reason why small dogs were bred; some tasks such as catching rodents or fitting into small openings were also part of the reasons why humans developed more miniature looking dogs.

History of Small Dog Breeds

Historically, the most ancient breeds of small dogs are breeds that still exist to this day. They include:

  • The American Cocker Spaniel: evidence supports that they were originally used in the 14th century by the Spanish to hunt birds; they were later introduced to the United States during the 19th century and bred down into two breeds we know today as the American Cocker Spaniel and the English Cocker Spaniel.
  • The Australian Terrier: bred in Australia for the purpose of hunting snakes and rats, the Australian Terrier was created by breeding several types of English Terriers.
  • The Beagle: during the 16th century, beagles were companions to Englishmen who couldn’t afford a horse to go hunting. Fun fact: history showed that Greek historian Xenophon described a dog resembling a Beagle all the way in the 5th Century B.C!
  • Bichon Frise: this fluffy pooch wasn’t much of a hunting dog but their adaptable and training-friendly personality made them great companions of street performers after the French Revolution!
  • Boston Terrier: The Boston Terrier was born out of two distinct breeds still in existence today: The English Bulldog and the English Terrier. They were originally bred to be fighters, but this trait was purposely bred out to have the cute and calm Boston Terrier we know today.
  • Brussels Griffon: Originally from Belgium, this quirky little breed was mainly used to hunt rats out of the horses stables in the 1800’s. His looks and personality comes from breeding Pugs, Ruby Spaniels and Affenpinschers.
  • Cavalier King Charles: The very beautiful Cavalier King Charles was bred by British Royals in the 1600’s, then bred again with pugs during the 1800’s to get that face we now know as the English Toy Spaniel. Fun fact: In the United Kingdom, the breed is called King Charles Spaniel, in honor of the British Royals where the breed originated from!
  • Chihuahua: Chihuahuas have been seen all over South America, from Mexico to Guatemala, but it was Christopher Columbus who introduced the breed in Europe. The Chihuahua was an experiment to get the smaller breed possible by crossbreeding it with a Chinese Crested Dog, which was successful as the Chihuahua is one of the more popular small dog breeds in the world today.
  • Dachshund: Dachshunds are originally from Germany ; in German, their name means Badger Dog, as they were bred to dig and hunt badgers. Although Dachshunds are the breed the most prone to IVDD due to their elongated back and short legs, they have also been growing in popularity in the United States for the past 50 years. Now you know why your doxie loves to dig in the yard! Some traits never leave a dog!
  • French Bulldog: French Bulldogs descend from English bulldogs ; the goal of the miniature breed was for English Bulldogs lovers to have a similar looking dog they could have as a lap dog. By breeding English bulldogs with Pugs and French Terrier, the French Bulldog was produced in the 19th century.
  • Jack Russel Terrier: Tenacious breed born in the 19th century, Jack Russel Terriers were bred to hunt foxes. They are still really good at it!
  • Maltese: Not a lot is known about Maltese, except for the fact that these small dogs were brought on from the island of Malta by travelers on their ship who were sailing on the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Miniature Pinscher: Also called the Min Pin, Miniature Pinschers come from breeding Dachshunds and Italian Greyhounds. They are a very popular breed in Europe.
  • Pomeranian: Pomeranians are remembered for their very fluffy bodies and unsurprisingly, descend from bigger sled dogs whose fur was thick to protect them from the harsh winters. Pomies have been very popular in the Royal family since the 19th century.
  • Pug: Pugs come from China, where they were bred over 2,000 years ago to guard temples. They were brought to Europe in the 1500’s. Not a lot is known about how the Pug breed came to be, but it shares its very distinctive flat face with the Pekingnese and the Shih Tzu.
  • Shih Tzu: Shih Tzus have been portrayed in China in paintings dating all the way back to the 7th Century. History supports that Shih Tzus came from breeding Lhasa Apsos and Pekingnese.
  • Yorkshire Terrier: More affectionately known as Yorkies, the Yorkshire Terriers were firstly bred to hunt rodents. When the KCE (Kennel Club of England, a very reputable and large Breed Registry in the United Kingdom) recognized it as a formal breed at the end of the 19th Century, it became a very popular breed of dog for British women. It is still one of the more popular breeds of small dogs to this day!

What injuries are small dogs more prone to?

Although small dogs can be a lot of fun, there are a few things that can develop as threats due to their size. A huge one is called Intervertebral Disc Disease, otherwise referred to as IVDD. This disease attacks the spinal bones of primarily short-legged breeds such as dachshunds, beagles and so on. IVDD can occur through various ways, but primarily it follows forceful jumping, brutal landing, and walking up and down stairs too frequently.

To put it in simple terms, this disease causes the cushioning of spinal discs to harden. These cushions are meant to act as shock absorbers. Eventually as they harden due to shock it begins to press into the nerves running in the spinal cords.

IVDD can manifest itself differently in every dog. Common symptoms may include:

  • Decrease in mobility
  • Droopy head and/or limbs
  • Tender abdomen, sensitive to the touch
  • Paralysis
  • Tremors, shaking, abnormal reflexes
  • Dragging limbs when walking

Not all small dogs get IVDD, just like some bigger dogs can also get IVDD, because genetics can play a big part of it too, just note that smaller breeds are usually more inclined to have IVDD. Some of the breeds include:

  • Dachshunds
  • Beagle
  • Shih Tzu
  • Chihuahua
  • Corgis
  • Pug
  • Pekingese

Small dogs are also known to live longer than other bigger breeds. Dogs that fall in the small breed section have an average lifespan of around 12 to 14 years, compared to larger breeds that are averaged at 8 to 10 years. For giants breeds their lifespan can get as low as 5 to 8 years. Some people have tried to understand why it is that smaller breeds tend to outlive their bigger friends, and some relate it to the faster the growth physically, the faster other things can grow such as cancer, diseases, and age related weaknesses. It has been determined that chihuahuas are the longest living breed, but so far no one has been able to find a scientific reasoning behind the phenomenon. Just know that your little pooch will keep you company for a long while.

Breeding small dog breeds

Breeding is a tricky thing within itself, but when you start experimenting not only between different breeds but also between differently sized dogs and can become extremely harmful. Genetics can truly be interesting when it comes to breeding small and big dogs together. A big female can give birth to small dogs, just like a small female can give birth to big dogs. With that being said, a dog’s morphology includes their ability to breed, it’s difficult for a big male and a small female to breed for a good reason, because it can also be harmful for a dog’s health. As a whole smaller dogs can breed with bigger dogs and vise versa, but it’s not because they can that they should. It can be very harmful, if not fatal, for a smaller breed female to give birth to pups that are genetically tied to a bigger breed dog. Breeding between small and big dogs should be closely monitored by experts, an unmonitored pregnancy can result in a high risk delivery.

Mating can happen naturally in dogs, but for a more supervised breeding in order to obtain specific genetic traits, it can grow to be more difficult. There are certain signs you can look for when you’re trying to determine if your small pooch is ready to breed, here are a few of them:

  • Be on the lookout for signs of discharge
  • Different coloration in discharge
  • More frequent urination
  • Male dogs will show more interested and will try to seek a female out
  • Enlarged genitals

As always, each dog is different and may show other signs, but generally females will be in heat when you notice those signs. It’s a little different when it comes to males. For smaller breeds, they become fertile at around six months old, and reach full maturity by 12 to 15 months. If your dog is healthy it can remain fertile into old age and can breed very easily. If you’re unsure whether your male dog is fertile there are certain steps you can take to find out. There are tests that can determine fertility in males by collecting and evaluating a sample of their semen. These tests take a look at the movement and appearance, physical aspect, of the sample, and evaluate the possibility of fertility from the findings.

Genetics can truly be interesting when it comes to breeding small and big dogs together. A big female and give birth to small dogs, just like a small female can give birth to big dogs. With that being said, a dog’s morphology includes their ability to breed, it’s difficult for a big male and a small female to breed because it can also be harmful for a dog’s health.

With this in mind, it should give you a better understanding as to what breeding includes not only for dogs but most specifically for differently sized dogs. I know that breeding can be very exciting, but don’t forget your dog’s health during the process. If you notice any alarming behaviors in your dog during the breeding stages, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

How to pick the perfect small breed of dog?

Small dog breeds may be travel size, but are they travel companions? Depending on your family and living situation, choosing the right dog breed is essential to minimize headaches and destruction and instead make memories with the perfect new addition to your family, no matter how big or small, how quiet or loud, how active or homebody.

With children

Dogs aren’t babysitters, and they certainly are not toys. Some dog traits don’t go well with loud, rambunctious kids and environments, while some won’t get offended if a toddler plays with their tail and shows a more maternal environment. With that being said, a certain level of teaching goes with having a dog that dog owners must teach their children.

Small dog breeds that seem to do pretty well with kids are the ones with traits that are friendly, who love companionship, easily trainable and patient. Pugs, French Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels fit this description easily.

Poodles, who are intelligent and thrive at learning new tricks, also do extremely well in an environment with young children. And an added bonus: While no dog is 100% hypoallergenic, Poodles tend to have a less allergy-prone fur!

Beagles and Dachshunds love playing, which is great for active families and children that love to run in the yard. But beware of the fragile bodies of Dachshunds who cannot be picked up like you would any other dogs! In this situation, it is essential to teach the family how to pick up your dog and what considerations to have when having a dog. It can be as easy as to teach not to wake up a sleeping dog, or not to put little fingers in their mouths!

With elderly

Senior citizens don’t always have a spouse or family member to share life with, and it can be tough and lonely. That’s why a lot of older people take the companionship of a lap dog, small enough that they can carry it or walk it without danger. For elderly people, the traits you are looking for would be more on the relaxed side, dogs who don’t require a lot of exercise and have a small to moderate energy level.

Bichon Frises are one of the more popular breeds of dogs that older people tend to have, because of their affectionate personality. The only thing to keep in mind is the fur maintenance that comes with a Bichon Frise, but it is rarely a deal breaker for retired dog lovers!

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are also extremely loving and affectionate as well as easy to train. Maltese and Pomeranian dogs are also a favorite due to their small size and moderate need for exercise.

For seniors looking for more active dogs, Corgis make really great companions. Want an example? The Queen of England Elizabeth II had over 30!

Living in apartment

Living in an apartment and wanting a dog is tricky, but far from impossible. What you need to focus on is finding a breed that doesn’t bark incessantly, doesn’t jump on everything and everyone they meet, and has a more moderate energy level. With that in mind, we find a lot of the dog breeds that are apartment-friendly that also do well with the elderly: The Bichon Frise, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Maltese. To this apartment-friendly list come join the Chihuahua, smallest of all dogs, the French Bulldog and ever so relaxed personality, the Shih Tzu and the Yorkshire Terrier among the most popular ones! A lot of small dog breeds cna do well in an apartment, assuming they have the proper training and temperament. Potty training can be done on a pad as well as outside to limit the issues to leave the apartment everytime your dog needs to pee! This, along with other tips and tricks, can make your dog the perfect apartment companion!

List of All Small Dog Breeds and Types

Dogs, no matter their size, come with a wide variety of traits. Small dogs definitely have big personalities! It is important for dog owners to know what breed will fit best with their environment and family situation, without forgetting about the challenges that can come with the specific breed, whether it is a need for regular exercise or potential health issues.

So now we know we have extra-small dog breeds and small dog breeds and know just about everything there is to generally know. You will find below a more in-depth look at each of the small breeds of dogs with their traits, features and quirks that can help you decide who could be the perfect fit for you!

  • Affenpinscher
  • American Eskimo Dog (Toy)
  • American Hairless Terrier
  • Australian Terrier
  • Bichon Frise
  • Bolognese
  • Boston Terrier
  • Brazilian Terrier
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Cairn Terrier
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Cesky Terrier
  • Chihuahua (Long And Short Coat)
  • Chinese Crested (Powderpuff And Hairless)
  • Coton De Tuléar
  • English Toy Spaniel (Also Called King Charles Spaniel)
  • Havanese
  • Italian Greyhound
  • Jack Russell Terrier (Rough Or Smooth) And The Parson Russell Terrier
  • Japanese Chin
  • Japanese Spitz
  • Japanese Terrier
  • Klein German Spitz
  • Kyi-Leo
  • Lakeland Terrier
  • Lancashire Heeler
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Löwchen
  • Maltese
  • Manchester Terrier
  • Mexican Hairless (Toy)
  • Miniature Dachshund (Smooth, Wire-Haired, And Longhaired)
  • Miniature Pinscher
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Norfolk Terrier
  • Norwich Terrier
  • Papillon
  • Patterdale Terrier
  • Pekingese
  • Phalène
  • Pomeranian
  • Poodle (Toy And Miniature)
  • Prazsky Krysarik
  • Pug
  • Rat Terrier
  • Schipperke
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Shih Tzu
  • Silky Terrier
  • Skye Terrier
  • Smooth Fox Terrier
  • Tibetan Spaniel
  • Toy Fox Terrier
  • Volpino Italiano
  • Welsh Terrier
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Wire Fox Terrier
  • Yorkshire Terrier