Small Dog Breeds: What You Need to Know

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Small dogs are undeniably cute. But if you think that's all they have to offer, think again! Small and toy dog breeds might be little, but they're all dog, with all the diverse traits you can find in larger breeds, all wrapped up in a tiny package. That's not to say that small dog breeds don't have their own special characteristics. If you're wondering if a small dog might be the right fit to adopt, keep reading to learn some important things about small dogs.

Diversity of Small Dog Breeds

A cute yorkshire terrier peeking from around a woman's shoulder

Often, when thinking of small dogs, people automatically think of the tiniest dogs belonging to the UK Kennel Club’s Toy Group of breeds, like the Yorkshire Terrier or Bichon Frise.

However, small dogs can be found in almost every breed group. For example, the diminutive Dachshund is actually a member of the Kennel Club’s Hound Group, while Rat Terriers and Jack Russell terriers belong to the Terrier Group.

When choosing a small dog breed, it's important to keep in mind that the defining characteristics of the group a dog belongs to will have more to do with their temperament and personality than their size. While many small dogs, especially toy dog breeds, are well-suited for city life and urban dwelling, Dachshunds and certain terriers that were bred to catch vermin and other small game would also feel quite at home on a farm or in the country, where they can engage their hunting instincts.

The main thing to keep in mind is that, just as with larger breeds, small dog breeds differ in temperament and physical requirements. It's important to thoroughly research any breed you might consider adopting and make sure they're a good fit for your family and lifestyle.

What's Great About Small Dogs

Small dogs come with a lot of benefits. As mentioned, they generally need less space to be comfortable and happy, making them a good choice if you live in a flat or small home. However, just because they're smaller, doesn't mean they don't need space to exercise their little legs. They often have pent-up energy, so if you don’t have a garden they can play in, having a dog-friendly park or walking trail nearby is ideal. Small dogs tend to eat less and their basic care costs less than that of a large breed. They shed less (in total amount of fur that is) and tend to make fewer (or at least smaller) messes than large dogs. They’re also easier to control on a lead or by carrying. JJust think—would you rather restrain a 10kg pup or an 40kg giant trying to run after a squirrel? According to the PDSA, small dogs also generally tend to live longer than their larger counterparts on average.

Challenges of Keeping a Small Dog

Despite the benefits, small dogs do come with a number of challenges. Although they tend to be hardy when it comes to their health, their small bodies are more delicate and prone to injury, especially if they're dropped, played with too roughly, or if they fall or jump from furniture that's too high. For this reason, toy dogs especially are generally not a good match for households with very young children, and older children should be supervised and taught how to handle small dogs properly. Many small breeds are also prone to various health conditions such as a collapsing trachea, or patellar luxation, when the kneecap is located in the wrong position when the knee is bent. It’s always important to check in with your veterinarian if you pet has these conditions (or others), as they may recommend special handling instructions. For example, if your pet has a collapsing trachea, they may need a harness that fits across the chest instead of a standard lead and collar.

Small dogs are often thought to be sedentary lap dogs that love to cuddle, but the truth is that small breeds are often a bundle of energy, and some need more exercise than others. If you don't like to go for walks and you don't have a large garden where a dog can run and play, you should look for a breed that gets all the exercise they need with indoor play. Small breeds are often a bundle of energy. While they may not play and exercise as long as other dogs, short and frequent play times will help give them the exercise they need.It's also worth noting that, according to a 2021 study by the University of Helsinki, two of the three most aggressive dog breeds were found to be small breeds (the Miniature Schnauzer and Miniature Poodle). The researchers commented that aggressiveness was most strongly linked to fearfulness, with their tiny size making little dogs feel anxious, vulnerable and prone to acting out. They also noted that aggressive behaviour can be exacerbated by lack of training and overindulgence from pet parents, who allow the behaviour because it seems non-threatening and even cute. The lesson here is that when it comes to raising a friendly, well-mannered dog, proper socialisation and obedience training are just as important for small dogs as they are for big dogs. Cute as he may be, resist the urge to treat your little canine companion like a baby; he may be tiny, but he’s all dog, and he relies on you to train and guide him like you would any other dog.

Small Dog Nutritional Requirements

Cinnamon Chihuahua puppy dressed in a black and red argile sweater eating out of a bowl.Although small dogs eat less overall than big dogs do, pound for pound, small breeds actually require more calories. The UK Kennel Club says that small dogs tend to burn energy more quickly than bigger dogs, but of course they have much smaller stomachs. This means your small- or toy-breed dog will need to eat smaller, more calorie-dense meals, and will need to eat more often than a bigger dog. Growing pups need to be fed even more frequently to avoid developing hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, which can result in weakness and lethargy, muscle tremors, seizures, and even death.

You can make sure your small dog receives the right amount of calories by feeding them a specially formulated small breed dog food that's more calorie-rich than food designed for larger breeds. Due to their longer lifespans, small dogs also benefit from food with high levels of antioxidants, which can help prevent damage from longer-term exposure to free radicals during their long lives.

Small dogs often have big personalities. This not only makes them a lot of fun, but can also make them ideally suited to companionship under the right circumstances. Now that you know what to expect from a small dog, you'll be able to confidently choose the right small dog breed for your household.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of fur babies.