When you think of small dogs, do you think of tiny, fragile pocket pets that wouldn't last a day in your chaotic household? Images of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears toting tiny tail-waggers have made small dogs de rigueur, but very few pups enjoy living in a purse or being carried around all day. Most small breeds are just regular dogs in compact bodies, and, being that they tend to be adaptable to most living situations and to play well with children, they make excellent family pets.
Before you adopt a small dog, consider your lifestyle and what you hope a new addition will bring to your household. Do you want a dog that will comfort your child and be content to just be close to you? Or do you want the sporting qualities of a big dog in a small package? Also consider the age of your child and whether you have other pets in the home already. If you have children under the age of five, many experts recommend waiting until a small dog is at least 6 to 10 months old before bringing him home, as small dogs tend to be really tiny as puppies and could be injured easily [source: Palika].
In this article, you'll learn about five popular small-breed picks for families and what makes these tiny dogs top dogs.
This small but sprightly breed might look like a miniature Doberman pinscher with his black and brown coat, cropped ears and docked tail, but don't let his looks fool you. This canine isn't directly related to the Doberman, but instead counts the dachshund, Italian greyhound and German pinscher as its ancestors. Originally bred to hunt vermin, this dog may prefer killing squeaky toys now, but he'll still alert you to any strangers or unwelcome animals lurking nearby.
Standing an average of 10 to12 inches (25 to 30 centimeters) tall at the shoulder, the Min Pin is called the "King of Toys" because of its sheer excitement for all playthings. This dog absolutely lives to play and enjoys time with children. Because of their size, Min Pins are great for apartment life -- regular games of fetch and trick-teaching sessions will provide the right amount of exercise for this breed. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the miniature pinscher is happiest when treated like a regular-sized pooch; while he might adore squeaky toys, don't expect him to enjoy dress up [source: AKC].
Terriers are known for their high energy, and the Norfolk is no exception. If you love terrier breeds but want a small one, the Norfolk might be the perfect option because he's one of the smallest of the group. According to the AKC, Norfolk terriers grow to be about 9 to 10 inches (22 to 25 centimeters) tall at the shoulder and only weigh around 11 pounds (4.9 kilograms) as an adult, with females often being even smaller than males [source: AKC]. Although this terrier is tiny, his energy and love of people is super-sized.
Norfolks are native to England, where they were originally kept to hunt rats on farms. Although they remain favored farmhands, most Norfolks enjoy an easy-going life with a family and adapt well to most types of homes. Members of this breed will be loyal to their entire brood, not showing preference for one family member over another, and will generally accept other animals and strangers with ease. The Norfolk terrier is also very affectionate and will be happy just hanging around with his family.
Originating in China, this breed's name translates to "lion," which is apt for a critter created to provide companionship and act as a watchdog for royals during the Ming dynasty. Today, this silky-haired canine continues to rule as one of the most popular breeds in the U.S., and while he's more dog than lion these days, he still retains those qualities that made him so prized thousands of years ago [source: AKC].
According to the American Shih Tzu Club, members of this breed love being social and enjoy traveling, too. He has a sweet disposition, but might bark or growl if he feels threatened. Weighing around 8 to 16 pounds (4 to 7 kilograms), the shih tzu is most recognizable for its long locks, but don't let the high-maintenance hairdo scare you. With small children and hectic schedules, many shih tzu owners keep their dogs' coats in a simple, close-cropped puppy cut, which makes upkeep easier. This breed requires little exercise and will make a friendly companion canine for most families.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
If there is one word to describe the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, it might be "adaptable." Averaging 12 to 13 inches (30 to 33 centimeters) in height to the shoulder and around 13 to 18 pounds (5.8 to 8 kilograms) when fully grown, the Cav is an excellent option for families with children or other animals because of its easy-going demeanor. This small breed got its name from King Charles II of England, who had a penchant for the elegant pooch. Since its reign as royal pup, the Cav has been a top choice for many families, has excelled in the dog show ring and made its mark in popular culture as Charlotte York's dog on the cable television series "Sex and the City."
Although Cavs are alert and might bark at strangers approaching the door, they're more apt to lick an intruder than attempt to take a bite out of him. According to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club of America, this breed enjoys being around family and playing with children, and tends to bond easily with new people [source: CKCSC]. Cavaliers also do well with other dogs and even cats. They are energetic, but will adapt to most households from small apartments to large farms. This breed does need some exercise -- at least one walk per day -- but the laid-back Cav will be happy curling up for a nap with you, too.
The distinguished-looking miniature schnauzer can appear quite serious with his salt-and-pepper coat, pronounced eyebrows and voluminous beard, but this wiry terrier is a lively pet that's considered extremely intelligent and easy to train, making him an excellent choice for most families.
Standing about 12 to 14 inches (30 to 35 centimeters) at the shoulder, this handsome dog originated in Germany. Classically employed on farms to keep vermin away from crops, he's naturally loyal and protective of those he loves. This breed will alert you with lots of barking when someone comes to your door, but that's about as far as his guard dog tendencies go -- he's typically cheerful and happy to make new friends. The AKC says miniature schnauzers adapt well to most living spaces, including small apartments, so long as they get regular exercise and a daily dose of playtime.
In rat-infested New York City, the dogs of R.A.T.S. are working to rid the city of its burgeoning rat problem. HowStuffWorks goes along for the ride.
- American Kennel Club. "Cavalier King Charles Spaniel." (August 7, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/cavalier_king_charles_spaniel/
- American Kennel Club. "Miniature Pinscher." (August 7, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/miniature_pinscher/index.cfm
- American Kennel Club. "Miniature Schnauzer." (August 7, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/miniature_schnauzer/
- American Kennel Club. "Norfolk Terrier." (August 7, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/norfolk_terrier/
- American Kennel Club. "Shih tzu." (August 7, 2011) http://www.akc.org/breeds/shih_tzu/
- American Norfolk Terrier Association. (August 5, 2011) http://www.norfolkterrier.org/
- American Shih Tzu Club. (August 5, 2011) http://www.americanshihtzuclub.org/
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club. (August 5, 2011) http://www.ckcsc.org/
- Miniature Pinscher Club of America. (August 7, 2011) http://www.minpin.org/gen_info.htm
- Palika, Liz. "The Howell Book of Dogs: The Definitive Reference to 300 Breeds and Varieties" Wiley Publishing. 2007.