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Pros and Cons of Small Dog Breeds

By Mawoo Pets · 25 Jul · 14 mins read
Pros and Cons of Small Dog Breeds

In recent years, toy and mini dog breeds have risen in popularity. Breeds such as French Bulldogs, Dachshunds, and Shih Tzus have risen in demand, as people look for companions that have flexibility and adaptability, particularly to smaller living spaces.

In fact, in 2022, the tiny but mighty French Bulldog overtook the energetic and iconic family breed Labrador Retriever after 31 years, as the most popular dog breed in America!

When thinking about a small dog breed, there are unique pros and cons that should be considered. For example, did you know that smaller dogs might require more frequent feeding, because their blood sugar levels can drop more easily? Or that toy dog breeds are more prone to having dental problems?

Purpose of this Article

The aim of this article is to help you make an informed decision about bringing home a small, miniature, or toy dog breed. We’ll cover some of the key advantages and drawbacks of small dog breeds, while covering how to choose the right breed for your family and lifestyle.

The topics  

What are Small Dog Breeds?

Definition

Small dog breeds are typically classified into small (or miniature) and toy breeds. Toy breeds are smallest in size, while small dog breeds are a bit larger, but still miniature in size.

The classification is by using the size and weight of the breed, with weight being the primary factor.

Classification Criteria

Toy breeds are the smallest in size, weighing 12lb or less.

Small dog breeds are a bit larger, but still quite small, and weigh 12-21lb and less than 16 inches in height.

Examples of Toy Dog Breeds

Small dog breeds are some of the most popular dog breeds in the United States and Canada. Example breeds include:

  • French Bulldog: Small, affectionate dogs with bat-like ears, flat faces, and muscular structures.
  • Pomeranian: Fluffy small dogs with large personalities! Very playful and vocal.
  • Shih Tzu: Hypoallergenic toy dogs with long, stunning hair. Their affectionate dispositions make excellent companions.  
  • Dachshund: Hot-dog shaped and adorable in their gait, this long-bodied breed is fierce, curious, and brave.
  • Chihuahua: At 6lb or less, this “purse breed” is the official smallest dog breed, but packing a world of character and personality!

You can explore other small dog breeds on the American Kennel Club website or our Mawoo Pets database of small breed puppies available for sale.

Pros of Small Dog Breeds

Besides being irresistibly cute and packing big personalities in pint-sized bodies, small dogs have a lot of benefits going for them. These range from being apartment friendly, to typically living longer than larger breeds, to making great lap companions.

Small Space Friendly

Small dog breeds are more easily adapted to small living spaces. This makes them great pets for those living in apartments or city centers.

Their small size means that they need less space to move around, take up less space at your home, and might make less sound walking around – which can be a bonus for apartments with noise restrictions.

Keep in mind – the small size doesn’t mean they need less exercise; many miniature and toy breeds, like Jack Russell Terriers, Beagles, and Shetland Sheepdogs, require plenty of outdoor time and exercise daily!

In fact, some rental units or landlords have breed or size restrictions – so your toy companion is more likely to pass the apartment-friendly test.

Travel Compatibility

The compact size of a toy breed means easier travel and transport! Whether you’re going for a road trip, taking the bus to your pet-friendly work, or even flying, a miniature dog is sure to more easily accommodate your travel plans.

Small dog breeds fit more easily in car seats, in carriers when traveling, and are often allowed with you on a flight’s cabin, so long as they weigh 20 pounds or less.

If your lifestyle requires travel, consider this key factor when choosing what breed may be right for your lifestyle.

Pug dog smiling with tongue out enjoying the view from the car window. Photo by Raspopova Marina on Unsplash


Longevity

As a rule of thumb, the larger the dog, the shorter their life expectancy.

While a large dog breed can be considered old by 8 or 9 years old, small dogs reach that threshold in their early (or even mid) teens.

Let’s look at two extremes: the loving and loyal Saint Bernard has an average life expectancy of 5-8 years, while Chihuahuas are expected to live 15-17 years.

A longer lifespan means more time with your beloved companion, more memories, and joy. But it also means a longer commitment to their care and well-being, which you should be prepared for.  

Lower Ongoing Costs

Small dog breeds consume less food, have smaller-sized treats, have less fur to groom, and require smaller doses of medication.

When taken together, these add up to lower costs of ongoing maintenance for your furry friend.

Food, especially, is one of the largest costs of raising a dog, and can vary drastically between small and large dogs. It is estimated for instance that a small dog can be fed for $65 per month, while large dogs can cost $270-390 to feed the same brand of food. That’s thousands of dollars a year in difference for food costs alone.

Great Companions

Small dogs are well-known for their loyal, affectionate, and companioning personalities. They form close bonds with their owners and frequently seek their attention and approval.

Given their small size, toy breeds make for great lap-dogs, especially breeds that love cuddles and have lower energy, like Shih Tzus, Malteses, and Pugs. These breeds make excellent companions and emotional support animals, especially for elderly seeking companionship.

Some small dogs are high-energy and are not known for being particularly cuddly or calm. An example is the Jack Russell Terrier – so don’t assume that every toy breed will be ideal for companionship.

Asian woman kissing an old Chihuahua puppy. Photo by Alexandra Tran on Unsplash


Cons of Small Dog Breeds

Yes, small dog breeds have a lot going for them – but they have their downsides, too, which make them not ideal for some lifestyles. For example, toy breeds can be easily hurt by children or larger animals and can suffer from breed-specific health issues. Here’s a roundup of the key factors to keep in mind when selecting a toy breed.  

Fragility

Miniature dog breeds have smaller bodies and bone structures, making them more fragile and prone to injury. For instance, if you have young kids at home or may play rough with the family pup, this could lead to accidental injury.

Or if you live on a big farm where larger wild mammals may roam, your toy breed pup is more likely to be hurt if attacked by wildlife or predators like coyotes.

If you have children at home or if your small breed pup may encounter larger pets or animals, be careful to provide supervised interaction to avoid accidents.  

Temperature Sensitivity

Given their small size, miniature dogs can be more greatly impacted by extreme weather. Small animals have more surface area compared to their body mass, which means that they can lose their body temperature in cold weather more easily. To add to the danger, some toy breeds have little fur (like Chihuahuas or Greyhounds), making them more likely to be hurt by cold weather.

If you live in a cold climate, be sure to have doggie sweaters and coats ready for your pup to avoid hypothermia.

Some small “flat nosed” breeds are known as brachycephalic breeds. Their short noses and face structure make it difficult for them to breather rapidly, and so they have a harder time cooling themselves down. If you have such a breed, like a Pug or Boston Terrier, keep in mind this danger in hot weather, limiting their exercise in hot weather, having plenty of water handy, and taking shaded breaks on longer walks.

Temperament Issues

Many small dogs are known for their extra-large personalities – take Chihuahuas, for example, which often think they are Malamute-sized souls in tiny bodies. This is because many small dog breeds were bred to hunt, contributing to their courageous personalities. It’s also perhaps a compensation for their size, where a big personality (or barking and aggression) can assert dominance and help with protecting themselves.  

In fact, this behavioral profile is sometimes called “Small Dog Syndrome” or – the quintessential behavior of a small dog feeling to be the pack leader and demonstrating aggression and dominating behavior.

Your best way to manage the risk of such behavior is by consistently socialization and training your puppy from a young age through positive reinforcement and exposure to other humans and pets.

Breed-Specific Health Issues

Some miniature or toy breeds suffer from breed-specific health issues, including dental problems, spine issues, and cardiovascular or respiratory issues. It’s important to be aware of such conditions and thoroughly understand breed-specific health concerns before bringing home a toy breed.

Dental issues are common amongst toy breeds given the high density of teeth in a small area. Some elongated breeds like Dachshunds or Pembroke Welsh Corgis have long spines for their height, making them more likely to develop intervertebral disk disease.

Another common issue that small dog breeds can be exposed to is obesity. Breeds like French Bulldogs and Pugs are more prone to obesity given low metabolic rates and lower activity levels. Obesity can in turn exacerbate breathing issues, causing obesity or heart issues.

Whatever breed you bring home, research its breed-specific health concerns thoroughly – prevention is easier and less costly than treatment.

Choosing the Right Small Dog Breed for You

Assessing Your Lifestyle

When choosing a miniature dog breed, you should keep your lifestyle in mind – how much time do you have to spend with your pup? What level of exercise, play, or activity are you looking for? How much space do you have at home? Is someone at home allergic to dogs? What’s the right temperament profile? Are you looking for a lazy companion or an energetic furball?

The answer to these questions will help you select the right breed for your lifestyle. Try our Dog Breed Quiz if you’re not sure what breed may be best for you.  

Families with Children

Some toy breeds like Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or Beagle are known for being especially kid-friendly, including with younger children or toddlers.

Other toy breeds, like Chihuahuas, are not particularly fond of kids and can exhibit this through biting or nipping during play.

So … if you have small kids at home, make sure to find a breed that is good with young kids.

Cute girl sleeping on couch with Boston Terrier pup.

Photo by Leo Rivas on Unsplash


Breed-Specific Needs

Each breed has specific needs that require attention and care. Shih Tzus, for example, require frequent grooming to keep their furs simply – but they make perfect companions for allergic households given their hypoallergenic fur.

Bichon Frise dogs are prone to separation anxiety given their sociable nature. If your lifestyle or work requirements demand that you’re away from your pup for longer periods, keep this in mind when selecting such anxiety-prone breeds.

Other breeds suffer from breed-specific health issues which can lead to outsized veterinary costs and care requirements. Getting pet insurance and having a savings fund for veterinary expenses is especially important for these breeds.  

Living Space Size 

Many toy breeds do excellent in small living spaces and apartments. But some small breeds still require plenty of exercise and space to roam free in. Take Jack Russell Terriers, for example, popularly portrayed as a high-energy dog in The Mask – this breed loves to zoom by, and even if you live in a smaller space, access to outdoor areas is fundamental.

Time Availability 

A small dog doesn’t mean less time for attention, social interaction, mental stimulation, or exercise. In fact, many toy breeds can have higher attention demands or be more prone to anxiety resulting from lack of exercise or mental stimulation than larger breeds.

When selecting a toy breed, make sure that your schedule allows for daily walks, playtime, companionship, and stimulation – you know what they say … happy pup, happy life, so keep your pup engaged.  

If Buying, Choose a Reputable Breeder

So … you’ve decided to bring home a toy dog breed, have selected the right breed for your lifestyle, and have thoroughly researched the breed-specific needs. Now you’re wondering: where do I find the right puppy or dog?

If your lifestyle and needs allow, we always recommend starting at your local shelter or rescue. Many dogs are waiting for their forever homes and need your love and companionship.

If you prefer to purchase from a breeder, then find a reputable, ethical, and caring breeder. Excellent breeders treat their animals with care and compassion, and you’ll be contributing to fair and healthy breeding practices. At Mawoo Pets, we only work with top-notch breeders with excellent health, safety, and socialization practices.

Do you need help getting started? You can start by browsing our small breed puppies available for sale and contact our team for help.

Cute Yorkshire Terriers taking a stroll through the forest during the golden hour.

Photo by Kitera Dent on Unsplash

Responsible Ownership of Toy Dog Breeds

Once you’ve brought home a miniature dog breed, you are in for love like you have never experienced – expect joy, sleepless nights, and endless kisses and tail-wagging.

To keep your small dog in good shape and healthy, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Essential Care and Maintenance

Some dogs require daily grooming, to keep their coat free of mats and tangles, and professional grooming sessions are recommended monthly for breeds like Shih Tzues and Malteses.

If your pup spends most of its time indoors, then more frequent nail trimming may be required, as their nails are less likely to be naturally worn down from outdoor activity.

Veterinary Care

Once your dog arrives home, one of your first stops should be the vet: this is to catch any health issues and ensure your pup is up to date on vaccinations and deworming, or to receive treatment in case of any infections or parasites.

At the end of your first session, make sure to schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian, to catch health problems early and work on preventative measures.

Your vet can also help you select the right food, treats, and toys for your pup, from puppy age to adulthood.  

Training & Socialization

Exposing your dog to different people, pets, and environments from a young age can help it socially adjust and prevent behavioral issues down the road.

A good trainer can support in delivering top-quality training program that ensures your pup is not raised fearful, aggressive, and leading a confident, happy life.

Given their small sizes, toy dogs are more likely to be overindulged by their owners, with excessive hugging, carrying, and attention. This can lead to behavioral issues and exacerbation of the “Small Dog Syndrome” we talked about earlier. Take care to avoid this, by treating your toy dog as a dog, not as a kid.

Conclusion

So, we’ve covered a lot. Here’s a quick recap to keep the pointers fresh in your mind:

Pros of Small Dog Breeds: Toy dogs are more likely to adapt to small living spaces, including apartments, are easier to travel with, and have longer life expectancy than larger dog breeds. They can also be less costly to feed and maintain, and stand out for their affectionate and companioning personalities.

Const of Small Dog Breeds: Miniature dogs can be more fragile, prone to injury, or sensitive to extreme hot or cold weathers. Many suffer from dental issues, while others are prone to breed-specific health concerns like obesity or breathing problems. Finally, they are more prone to exhibit aggressive or dominating behaviors.

Choosing the Right Breed: Before selecting a breed, consider your lifestyle, living space size, time available, and the presence of children or other pets around the house. Not all breeds are good for all lifestyles. If you decide to purchase a puppy from a breeder, go for a reputable, caring breeder.

Responsible Ownership: Once your pup is home, make sure he or she gets the right grooming for their needs, make a visit to the veterinarian in the first few days, and schedule regular vet check-ups. As your pup grows, keep in mind the importance of training, socialization, and mental stimulation for a happy adulthood.

Thank you for joining us on this read, and for being diligent in considering your pet’s needs … as always, please reach out with any thoughts or questions!  

FAQs About Small Dog Breeds

Do small dog breeds have bolder personalities?

Typically, yes. Small dog breeds can overcompensate for their size through big personalities, showing aggression or dominating behavior, or excessive barking. This is also partly due to their genetics as hunting breeds that were bred to exhibit a bold, courageous attitude.

Do small dogs bark more?

On average, yes. But barking tendency varies greatly by breed, and some toy breeds are known to be especially quiet – like French Bulldogs, Cavaliers, or Shih Tzus. That said, many small dogs are more easily excited by strangers or other animals, which can trigger them to bark.  

Do small dogs eat more frequently than big dogs?

Yes, they have faster metabolisms, and so process their food more quickly. This means that they’ll eat more frequently than larger breeds – but in terms of food size, they’ll consuming much less by weight.

What is the smallest dog breed?

The smallest dog breed is commonly considered to be the Chihuahua, which originates from the Mexican city of the same name!

Are small dogs prone to dental problems?

Yes! Small dogs have small mouths, but the same number of teeth. This means a high density of teeth, leading to bad tooth alignment and dental problems. Also, small dogs are more typically fed wet food, which doesn’t have the same cleaning, abrasive action of dry food, which contributes to dental problems.

What are the most popular toy dog breeds?

The answer to this varies by geography. In general, the most popular miniature dog breeds include French Bulldogs, Toy Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, Dachshunds, and Pomeranians.

Are small dog breeds good for families with children?

This varies by dog breed. While some small dog breeds like Pugs, Beagles, Havaneses, and Bichon Frises are excellent with kids, other toy breeds like Chihuahuas and Pekingeses can feel threatened by kids, and may bite or yip to get it their way!

Do small dog breeds require little exercise?

Not necessarily. Small dog breeds can have  very high energy and require frequent exercise. Examples of high energy toy breeds include Toy Poodles, Rat Terriers, and American Eskimo Dogs.

On the other hand, some toy breeds are praised for their couch potato personas. If that’s what you’re looking for, consider breeds like Maltese, Shih Tzu, or French Bulldog.

Do small dogs get along with other pets?

This depends on your dog’s breed, and the other pets you have at home. Many small dog breeds are quite friendly with other dogs, such as Beagles, Shih Tzus, and Boston Terriers. On the other hand, some small dog breeds are not good with other dogs and can exhibit aggressive behavior – example breeds include Miniature Schnauzers, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, and Shar-Peis.

If considering friendliness with non-canine pets, such as cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, or birds, your chances for conflict are minimized by selecting a dog breed that has low prey drive. This reduces the chance that your dog chases, plays with, or hurts another pet. Examples of such breeds includes Papillon, Maltese, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Which small dogs are hypoallergenic?

No dog breed is 100% hypoallergenic, but some breeds are less likely to trigger allergies. This is because they are less likely to shed, releasing dander that causes allergies.

Small breeds that are best known to be less allergenic include Toy Poodles, Malteses, Shih Tzus, Yorkshire Terriers, and Miniature Schnauzers.

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