Miniature dogs are an easy idea to love. A super small dog needs less room to sleep, less food, less space to exercise, and looks bewitchingly puppy-sized all its life. What could be more ideal if you live in an apartment or city, or just love your pets small and fluffy?
Some types of miniature dogs only come in size XXS – think Chihuahuas. Others – for example Poodles – come in more than one size, including a scaled down miniature version. You can also get miniature crosses, like the Miniature Labrador or Mini Labradoodle. In fact, the wide variety of different miniature dog breeds can be a bit overwhelming. And these compact canines don’t come without complications – being tiny can have big consequences for dog’s health, and there are practical considerations to think about regarding their care.
In this article we’ll address the pros and cons of miniature dogs, and take you through our top ten healthy miniature dog breeds.
Why choose miniature dogs?
People decide that little miniature dogs are right for them for all sorts of reasons. There are small dogs in several of the breed groups – the non-sporting group, terrier group, and of course toy group are all represented. So if whether you want a smart dog you can teach lots of tricks, a bundle of energy who wants to explore the great outdoors with you, or a homebody who wants to cuddle on the sofa, there’s probably a miniature dog for you.
And of course being smaller and lighter comes with advantages. Their bed takes up less floor space, and they’re easier to get in and out of the bath if you have difficulty lifting. And last but not least, finding the perfect chemistry with a new pet is very personal – it might simply be the case that the perfect dog for you is also very small!
Owning miniature dogs
Choosing a smaller dog doesn’t mean making a smaller commitment though. Miniature dogs need just as much training as their big cousins. Socialization from a young age is especially important. Many little dogs struggle to get on well with children and other pets, so think about the implications of this before you get one.
Some miniature dogs never quite get the hang of seemingly simple things like toilet training, so ask yourself whether you’re happy to continue using puppy pads or a litter tray if necessary. Even at their finest, many small breeds are known to remain at least a little stubborn in the face of training, so be prepared with lots of positive reinforcement techniques and plenty of patience!
Exercise and companionship for miniature dogs
Some small dogs are pocket dynamos that just keep going. Others can only manage short walks. But having a low exercise requirement doesn’t mean they can take care of themselves for the rest of the day!
Many types of miniature dog were bred specifically for companionship, which means the dogs most devoted to their owners and constantly present at their side were chosen to sire the next generation. Those traits were passed down, and so modern miniature dogs are programmed to crave our companionship. This means their happiest when we’re around, and when we have time to fuss over them and play with them. Left alone, bored and solitary dogs can become destructive.
Miniature dog health
Being small often comes with its own suite of health problems. Some are a direct result of being small – dental problems caused by overcrowded teeth in tiny jaws are commonplace. Luxating patellas – kneecaps which slip out of position – are also a frequent problem in smaller breeds. Sadly, one of the most prevalent problems affecting cute miniature dogs these days was man-made and entirely avoidable: brachycephalic syndrome.
Brachycephaly in some types of miniature dogs
Brachycephalic dogs have been selectively bred for muzzles which are flattened and appear squashed in. Miniature dogs with extremely brachycephalic faces include Pugs, French Bulldogs and Boston Terriers. Their faces appeal to us because they are more human-like. Combined with their small size, the overall effect is babyish and cute. However by pursuing this extreme face-shape, breeders have burdened these dogs with a lifetime of health issues.
When brachycephalic face shape compromises a dog’s health, this is called Brachycephalic Syndrome. Problems can include deformities in the eye socket, difficulty regulating body temperature through panting (leading to heat stroke), difficulty breathing at all, trouble eating, and further dental problems. You can read more about brachycephaly in our article Brachycephaly In Dogs: What It Means To Be A Brachycephalic Puppy.
Top 10 miniature dogs
There’s certainly a lot to think about when choosing the right miniature dog breed for you. And to help you rule some types of miniature dogs in, or out, here are ten breeds we think represent the top miniature dogs.
Some high profile brachycephalic small breeds – the ubiquitous French Bulldog and Pug – are conspicuously absent. That’s because have only selected dogs we believe are represented by healthy individuals with no serious behavioral problems. The best kinds of dogs to keep as pets!
These black furred, German pinscher-schnauzer’s are captivating dogs with terrier like personalities.
Affenpinschers weigh in from 6-14 lbs and tend to be 9 to 12 inches tall. They have a median lifespan of 10 to 12 years. Active and adventurous, Affenpinscher can be territorial and may not be good with very small children. They are very playful and energetic, so keeping them exercised and entertained is important.
Their rough coat doesn’t shed, and regular grooming is important to keep painful matting from occurring. Health concerns include hip dysplasia, potentially affecting as many as 16% of Affenpinschers, luxating patella in the knees and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease (a degenerative joint disease of the hips). Whilst not as extremely brachycephalic as pugs and bulldogs, Affenpinschers do have shorter than average snouts and there are some reports of them struggling to breathe and overheating weather.
The instantly-recognizable Chihuahua is perhaps our best known tiny dog breed. Chihuahuas have been bred for companionship for hundreds of years, and as such their loyalty is second to none.
However, loyalty can also manifest itself in unwanted guarding behaviors and aggression, so careful socialization and training is a must. To be on the safe side, it’s best not to mix these feisty little dogs with very young children.
The most common health concerns of Chihuahuas are peridontal disease, patella luxation, tracheal collapse, hypoglycaemia and epilepsy. Due to their tiny size, Chihuahuas are also commensurately fragile, and prone to accidental injuries and poisoning. To find out more about raising a healthy, friendly Chihuahua, visit our complete breed review.
3. Bichon Frise
If you’re looking for cute miniature dogs, then look no further than the cuddly Bichon Frise.
These fluffy white snowballs of dogs have a distinguished past as hunting dogs, but these days their people-loving nature has made them popular pets instead. Unsurprisingly, their dense, non-shedding, double coat represents something of a commitment to grooming – regular trimming and brushing is essential. These sturdy dogs live 14-16 years on average, but like all breeds they have their own tendencies to particular health problems.
Hip dysplasia, patellar luxation and Legg-Calve-Perthes disease are all recognized in the breed, as is an increased risk of eye diseases. It is thought that approximately one in ten Bichon Frises will develop cataracts. Bichon Frises only need a moderate amount of exercise but a lot of company in order to thrive.
The friendly Bichon can also live happily alongside children as long as they get used to them from an early age. So the Bichon is a great choice for families with lots of people to keep them company, but less suitable in a home that’s going to be empty all day.
4. Parson Russell Terrier
The lovely Parson Russell Terrier might lean further towards medium than miniature, but their compact sturdy frame and friendly faces are anything but bulky. Like all terriers, Parson Russells have stacks of energy and a fondness for games and mischief.
This dog is might be the right choice if you need a dog petite enough to fit in a small car, but energetic enough to spend long days out hiking and exploring. Parson Russell Terriers live for around 13 to 15 years.
Recognized common problems of the breed include patellar luxation, congenital deafness, eye diseases, late onset ataxia, and spinocerebellar ataxia. Late onset ataxia and spinocerebellar ataxia are neurological disorders which affect balance and coordination. A responsible breeder will be happy to discuss any history of these conditions in their puppies’ family tree. The Parson Russell Terrier Association of America also recommends that all breeding dogs have their knees, eyesight and hearing evaluated prior to breeding.
Cousins of the Bichon Frise, the Havanese are considered to be an ideal family pet and companion. They are also the national dog of Cuba!
Adaptable and highly social, the Havanese need to be around their people, and thrive in a family environment. Havanese weigh in at 10 to 16 lbs and range from 8 to 12 inches tall. Their lifespan is typically 14 to 16 years. Traditionally white, Havanese of other colors are growing in popularity. You can now find them in sable, black and tan, and brindle. Bred in warm, tropical Cuba, the Havanese’s light, silky coat does well keeping them cool in warm weather.
Considered an intelligent toy breed, these dogs train well and need lots of social time. They will become stressed and depressed if left alone too often or for too long. Generally very healthy, Havanese dogs have only few serious health conditions. Most of their issues are the luxating patella in the knee, liver or heart diseases, cataracts and other eye issues. Havanese breeders have been careful so far to monitor the breed for any serious conditions or genetic issues.
6. Italian Greyhound
If you like the sleek lines and doleful eyes of Greyhounds and Whippets, their miniature cousin the Italian Greyhound might be the perfect small dog for you.
They’re happy to relax at home in between two moderate walks a day, which means they adapt well to country and city living. These affectionate dogs love human company, but like many small dogs they may get bored and destructive if left alone or ignored. They can take a little longer to train than other breeds too. All this make them great if you’re hoping for a super tight bond with your dog, but less ideal if you’ll struggle to find time to train them and keep them company.
Originally members of the sighthound group (but since relocated to the toy group) these pint-sized pals still share some health concerns common to their sighthound forefathers. Italian Greyhounds are vulnerable to patellar luxation, hip and elbow dysplasia, and Legg-Calve-Perthe disease, all of which are believed to have some inheritable component. They’re also slightly more prone to retinal detachment and glaucoma, peridontal diseases, retained testicles and demodectic mange. Finally, all sighthounds have a tendency to be sensitive to general anaesthetics – something your vet will discuss with you in more detail should your pup ever need surgery.
7. Lhasa Apso
Bred to be a watch dog in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, the Lhasa Apso has a long and fascinating history.
Named after the capital of Tibet, Lhasa, these dogs are highly alert with keen senses. Loyal to family and wary of strangers, they are wonderful watch dogs as well as companions. Intelligent and rather independent, Lhasa Apso’s require early socialization and patient, consistent training. In return they are entertaining and sweet pets.
While their lifespan officially ranges from 12 to 14 years, they been known to live into their early 20’s. Generally very healthy, Lhasa Apso’s can suffer from sebaceous adenitis, an uncommon and uncomfortable skin condition. Lhasa Apso’s are also known for progressive retinal atrophy, and it isn’t uncommon for them to go blind in their old age.
While good indoors, Lhasa Apso’s still require daily exercise in the form of walking and playtime. A Lhasa Apso’s coat is more like human hair than fur. They shed slowly and continuously, and they need to be groomed regularly to prevent tangling and dander issues.
Coming from the central Mediterranean area, and specifically from the Island of Malta, the Maltese is an old breed dating back as far as the Ancient Greeks. The oldest record of the breed was a painting found on an Ancient Greek amphora estimated to have been from 500 BCE.
The Maltese are adorable white dogs with round heads and button black eyes. Their white coat can be found in both silky and curly, and is hypoallergenic. Bred to be companion dogs, Maltese are sweet and playful. Proper socializing from puppy hood will reduce their tendency to be snappish at smaller children. Though active, Maltese do well indoors and in small yard spaces. They are great dogs for city and apartment living.
Fully grown, a Maltese ranges from 3 to 10 lbs, and is typically 7 to 12 inches tall. Maltese are prone to dental issues such as cavities. Brushing and caring for their teeth is an important part of keeping them healthy. Maltese can suffer from eye issues as well, and should be watched for problems like glaucoma, corneal ulcers, and scratching or lacerations. Like many small dogs, Maltese can suffer from collapsing trachea, luxating patella in their knees, and a liver disease known as liver shunt.
The most serious concerns for Maltese include heart disease, epilepsy, an white shaker dog syndrome. White shaker dog syndrome causes full body tremors. The onset is sudden, and the cause is still currently unknown. The tremors can get worse when the dog is under stress.
9. Miniature Poodle
Poodles of all sizes are the second most intelligent dog breed. They are considered highly trainable and consistently do well in dog shows for both appearance and performance.
Their curly, non-shedding coats sometimes make them an easier to tolerate choice for families with allergies – but this isn’t guaranteed. The standard size breed came first, but humans quickly bred them into Miniature and Toy sizes. It is thought that minis and toys were used for truffle hunting, but we know they primarily were sought out for companionship.
Poodles can be standoffish when they first meet someone, and may take a little while to warm up to strangers. If buying a puppy, check out the breeder carefully and meet both of the puppy’s parents. If you’re uncertain about the parents’ temperaments, ask to meet them on more than one occasion – a good breeder will not consider this an imposition!
Health problems can include kidney issues, thyroid issues, gastric dilation volvulus, and hip dysplasia. Ear problems are prevalent due to non-shedding hair growing in ear canals. Wax and dirt can gather and cause infections and blockage. This can be avoided with consistent cleaning and care. Miniature Poodles are 11 to 15 inches tall and range from 15 to 17 pounds. Poodles come in a wide variety of colors including black, white, brown, silver, gray, red, cream, sable, apricot, beige, and patterns like brindle or phantom. They have a median lifespan of 10 to 15 years.
10. Miniature Schnauzer
The Miniature Schnauzer started out in Germany in the late 19th century as a medium sized farming and guard dog. Over the years breeders have reduced their size to include a pint-sized, miniature version too.
Miniature Schnauzers are practical, hard working dogs who still make great guards, but don’t have the same predisposition to biting as other breeds. Square shaped dogs with rectangular heads and a bushy beard and mustache, they range from 11 to 14 inches tall and weigh 10 to 18 pounds. With a calmer disposition than other terriers, Miniature Schnauzers are patient dogs who are good with both children and the elderly.
Alert and obedient, these dogs are territorial but would rather bark than bite. The breed has done well in competitions of agility, obedience, and tracking. Miniature Schnauzers do have a high prey drive, and unless they are trained properly, may not do well around cats, birds, or pet rodents. Their life span ranges from 10 to 15 years, and are overall a healthy breed.
Miniature Schnauzers can be prone to a bleeding disorder called von Willebrad disease. Problems with the Miniature Schnauzer’s health can also include a risk of pancreatitis, diabetes, and bladder stones. It is recommended to feed them low-fat, low-sugar diets to avoid these issues. Miniature Schnauzer’s are also at risk for comedone syndrome. This is basically clogged hair follicles in the skin that can become infected and develop into small, pus-filled cysts that are easily treated.
Choosing the Best Miniature Dogs
As you can see, small dogs come in many shapes, and with a wide range of personalities! So choosing between types of miniature dogs doesn’t have to mean compromising on the right kind of canine to fit with your family and your lifestyle. The best miniature dogs for families are probably ones with good reputations for training and/or socializing – the smart Miniature Poodle and Miniature Schnauzer, or the ultra-friendly Bichon Frise and Havanese.
If you have lots of time and you’re hoping to form a very close bond with your dog, one of our other breeds might stand out for you. And of course if your dog has to be small in size but big on stamina, the Parson Russell Terrier will never let you down!
Even though a miniature dog is small enough to scoop up and carry around, don’t forget to socialize them and train them as much as a larger dog so they have the confidence to be good canine citizens. All of our top miniature dogs have some health conditions they’re particularly vulnerable to. Which is true of all pedigree dogs. Rather than being put off, find a breeder who is happy to talk candidly about the health of their breed, and who doesn’t compromise on health testing. And of course, don’t forget to tell us which breed you choose!
Do You Have One Of The Top Miniature Dogs From Our List?
Or do you have a cute and amazing miniature dog we missed out? Tell us the best miniature dogs you’ve met or owned in the comments section below!
Sources and Further Reading
Cushman, Jerome. Affenpinscher. i5 Publishing, 2012
Baroni, C. O. et al, “Morphology and morphometry of the foramen magnum in Toy Poodle and Yorkshire terrier dogs.” Ciência Rural, 2011.
Robinson, R.,. “Legg‐Calve‐Perthes disease in dogs: Genetic aetiology.”, Journal of Small Animal Practice, 1992.
Various Authors, “The Maltese Dog – A Complete Anthology of the Dog”, Read Books Ltd, 2013.
Bagley, R. S., “Tremor syndromes in dogs: diagnosis and treatment.”, Journal of Small Animal Practice, 1992.
“History of the Havana Silk Dog”, The Havana Silk Dog Association of America, 2007.
Gelatt, K. N., & MacKay, E. O., “Prevalence of primary breed‐related cataracts in the dog in North America”, Veterinary Ophthalmology, 2005.
Park, S. et al, “Clinical manifestations of cataracts in small breed dogs”, Veterinary Ophthalmology, 2009.
Brooks, M., “A review of canine inherited bleeding disorders: biochemical and molecular strategies for disease characterization and carrier detection”, Journal of Heredity, 1999.
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