Small Dog Breeds: What You Need to Know

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 everything you need to know about small dogs.

Diversity of Small Dog Breeds

A cute yorkshire terrier peeking from around a woman's shoulderOften, when thinking of small dogs, people automatically think of those belonging to the American Kennel Club Toy Group classification, which includes breeds weighing up to ten pounds. However, small breeds are generally defined as dog breeds that weigh 21 pounds or under and can be found in almost every group. Dachshunds, for example, despite their diminutive size, are actually members of the AKC Hound Group, and of course small dogs like 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 his temperament and personality than his size. While many small dogs, especially toy dog breeds, are well-suited for city life and apartment 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, so 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 previously mentioned, they generally need less space to be comfortable and happy, making them a good choice if you live in an apartment or tiny home. However, just because they're smaller doesn't mean they don't need their room to exercise their little legs. They often have pent up energy and a nice dog park or walking trail is perfect to help them get their exercise if you don't have a backyard to let them play in. Small dogs also tend to eat less and their basic care costs less than for 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, and are also easier to control on a leash or by carrying. Just think—would you rather restrain a 20-pound pup or an 80-pound giant trying to run after a squirrel? And according to PetMD, small dogs also generally tend to be hardier and live longer than their larger counterparts.

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 a condition called patellar luxation, which is when the kneecap is located in the wrong position, as well as to a collapsing trachea. While these conditions aren't serious, they may require special handling to prevent injury. For example, you may need to play gently with your dog and lift him down from the couch in order to prevent his knee from dislocating. In the case of a collapsing trachea, you may need to walk him on a harness that fits across the chest instead of a standard leash, which will help protect his trachea from getting crushed.

While small dogs are often thought to be sedentary lap dogs that love to cuddle, the truth is that some small breeds need more exercise than others, and all dogs need some exercise. If you don't like to go for walks and you don't have a large yard where a dog can run and play, you should look for a breed that gets all the exercise he needs with indoor play. Small breeds are often a bundle of energy. While they may not play and exercise as long as some other dogs that you can take running, shorter, more frequent play times will help give him the exercise he needs.

It's also worth noting that, according to a 2009 study published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, the top three most aggressive dog breeds were small breeds: the Dachshund, Chihuahua, and Jack Russell terrier. According to Dogtime, it's generally thought that aggression isn't inherent to these breeds, but is a fear response based largely on their tiny size, exacerbated by poor socialization and overindulgence from pet parents who don't take the aggression seriously and instead treat it as cute. The lesson here is that proper socialization and obedience training is as necessary to raising a small dog to be friendly and well-mannered as it is to large dogs. It's also important to let your small dog act like a dog, and not allow his size and appearance lure you into treating him like a human infant, which can lead to behavioral problems, says PetPlace.

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. According to PetMD, small and toy breeds, whose metabolisms are faster than those of large dogs, require 40 calories per pound per day, whereas larger dogs need just over half that amount. With this in view, adult small breed dogs typically need to eat two or three calorie-dense meals per day. Puppies 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 him 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 containing 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.

Related Pet Care Articles