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Whether pampered by royalty or employed as workers, toy dog breeds have been revered for centuries by pet parents around the world.
In a pivotal 2010 study at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), researchers discovered that small dogs were bred as far back as 12,000 years ago, reports ScienceDaily, and since then, the toy dog breeds list has grown exponentially. As the UCLA study explains, breeders would choose a larger dog breed with desirable traits and "cross that with a miniature dog to make a dwarf breed on a new genetic background, causing the mixing of various lineages." This process also creates brand new breeds. The miniature schnauzer, for example, is a "toy" version of the standard schnauzer, a breed that already existed, but the Pekingese was created specifically for the royal family in ancient China.
Small & toy dog breeds arrived in the United States in the 19th century, and in 1885, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the first small dog breed, the fox terrier, and the love for small dogs has blossomed ever since. Let's take a look at the most common pocket pups in the U.S.
1. French Bulldog
The French bulldog regularly ranks as the most popular small dog, including on Newsweek's 2020 most popular toy dog breeds list. Frenchies have an outgoing, adaptable personality, and their bat-like ears make them one of the most photographed dogs shared on social media! Frenchies adore attention — they're also much more even-keeled than other small dogs and don't bark as much, making them a terrific choice for apartment living.
2. Yorkshire Terrier
They're the tiniest of the small dogs, but Yorkshire terriers are one of the most mighty. On average, these petite pups are 6 to 7 inches tall and weigh between 2 and 7 pounds. Their long, silky coat, often tied up in a bow around their sweet face, contributes to their appeal. However, true to their history as loyal watchdogs and rodent hunters, Yorkies are "tenacious, feisty and brave," explains USA Today, which ranked the breed in fourth place of America's most popular small dogs in 2018. Unlike some other small dogs, Yorkies can be overly aggressive, but they're trainable and make loyal companions.
Dachshunds are extremely popular in the U.S., where they're treasured family pets instead of stealth badger hunters in Europe (in German, "dach" means "badger" and "hund" means "hound"). Dachshunds are so energetic that the AKC describes them as an "icon in purebred dogdom" because of their big personality and unique appearance. There's no mistaking any other breed for a dachshund: Their distinct bodies — long and low to the ground — set them apart from all other toy dog breeds.
Although diminutive at a full height of 10 to 11 inches, Pomeranians didn't get the memo they're small dogs. Poms are spunky, fearless and highly intelligent, and they excel at obedience training. They may look like docile dogs, but Poms are scrappier than many other small dogs. They're terrific watchdogs, but they can also stir up trouble because they like to run with the big dogs. Yet, because they're so trainable, they also make great lapdogs.
5. Shih Tzu
Their sweet, loving demeanor makes the Shih Tzu (their name means "lion" in Mandarin) one of the most popular of all dogs, big or small, in the U.S. These athletic dogs are all muscle under their "glamorous" exterior, says the AKC, and they're high-performing in agility competitions. While Shih Tzus aren't great watchdogs like many of their small dog counterparts, they love their humans and make great companions.
When caring for a small dog, be sure to provide your little pup with the exercise, routine care and nutrition that's just their size.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien holds a Ph.D. in English and is an accomplished storyteller and lifelong pet lover. A professional member of the Cat Writers' Association, her work has received Muse Medallions and Certificates of Excellence. When she’s not exploring pet health and behavior, she’s busy mothering one child and four pets.