Bichon frise is a small dog breed
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All about small dog breeds

By Nick Whittle Author

Updated on the

If you are still looking for ‘the one’ it is worthwhile to know which breed of small dog will suit you best. Learn what makes a small dog tick and how best she should be looked after.

What is a small dog breed?

Some small dogs are referred to as ‘toy’ dogs. But toy dogs actually refer to a group of dogs of the officially recognised Toy Group. Toy dogs, as opposed to small dogs, are usually miniaturised versions of bigger dogs of their breed; most have been bred over generations to live indoors as lapdogs and unobtrusive companions.

A toy dog was often a symbol of great wealth too!

Many of the small dog breeds (such as the Boston terrier) were bred to fight; others were bred to farm and they are members of a group called the pastoral breeds. The Pastoral Group includes dogs that used to be bred to herd livestock and assist in duties around farms such as catching rats.

The Basenji, a dog bred originally in Africa was trained by hunters to catch smaller animals; the Basenji was also tasked with clearing the local villages of vermin.

According to some sources, a further distinction may be made between the toy and small breed by comparing their weight ranges. Toy dogs weigh between 4 and 7 pounds and small dogs weigh between 12 and 25 pounds.

Some types of small dog breeds

Some small dogs (e.g. the puli, briard and corgi) have a ‘double coat’ which keeps their skin warm and dry when working outdoors in bad weather. Here are ten breeds of small dog (not all of them with a double coat):

What is the personality of a small dog?

Small dogs are generally thought to be intelligent, lively and affectionate. However, their stubborn nature and bouts of hyperactivity can be time-consuming and frustrating. Most small breeds will demand a great deal of exercise and if none is forthcoming they will resort to venting their frustrations by antisocial deeds.

Due to their size and loving nature, a small dog is an excellent addition to a family with young children. Their cleverness and brightness of mind are appealing to children in particular and they will respond well to being trained.

On the whole they are tolerant and gentle but, like any dog, small dogs will not tolerate constant provocation. Terriers are less likely than most to tolerate provocation and are known to be fiercely independent.

Care and nutrition

Small dog breeds do well on a diet of high-quality dog food, especially food that has been formulated to their specific breed. They are however a little prone to weight gain; a fact which should lead to your feeding her just twice a day and removing her bowl once she appears to lose interest in eating.

Due to their love of food, a small dog’s learning can be accelerated by using foody treats. Make sure you exercise your small dog daily for at least an hour.

Training is essential of small dogs especially in the early years because their cleverness can sometimes get the better of them. Training should ideally begin when she is a puppy and should include control of her vocalising, habits of biting and chewing and her fear of strangers and other dogs.

Small dogs are incredibly alert and curious creatures and without boundaries will end up quite a handful.

Most small dog types do not like to be cooped for a long period of time. They will need visits to a garden or nearby park to exhaust their energy and fill their minds. They are agile dogs and would rather enjoy strenuous and adventuresome walks than stately walks on a lead. That being said, your small dog will be no happier than when she is surrounded by her family.

What are the physical problems of a small dog?

All dogs will bear illnesses that are results of their genetic architecture or their age. Reputable breeders try to remove possible congenital abnormalities by selective breeding but their efforts are often in vain. Here are some ailments known to specifically affect small pastoral dogs.

  • Diseases of spinal disks leading to spinal cord compression and sometimes paralysis
  • Hypoglycaemia (sudden drop in blood sugar, manifested in weakness and lethargy)
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas causing sickness and pain)
  • Tracheal collapse (weakening of the cartilage of the windpipe leading to suffocation)
  • Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease (degeneration of the head of the femur)
  • Dislocation of kneecap causing pain and lameness
  • Homeostatic imbalance (inability to regulate body temperature)

Your own way of life and your living arrangements at home are what will determine your choice of the best small dog. Your ongoing research of their behaviour, needs, care, nutrition and potential illnesses will allow you to make a more educated and logical choice, rather than a choice swayed by the wishes of the family or your meeting a particularly ‘cute’ small dog.

The ailments that are observed in small dogs are not dissimilar to those of other breeds but your awareness of what can go wrong with their bodies will provide you with the foresight you need to act fast when your dog gets ill.

After all, a dog is not just a dog. She quickly becomes part of the family in her own mind and in the minds of those around her. She entrusts to you her care, safety and wellbeing.

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