Different small dog breeds can vary widely in temperament and behavior. Whether you are looking for a companion for your big dog, or considering a little dog breed as an only dog, it’s a good idea to choose a breed that fits with your family and lifestyle. We’ve looked at 15 smaller family dogs here with information about size, exercise needs, health and personality.
Small Dog Breeds Suitable For Families
- Bichon Frise
- Cairn Terrier
- Cocker Spaniel
- Italian Greyhound
- Miniature Poodle
- Shiba Inu
- Border Terrier
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Miniature Labradoodle
- Miniature Labrador
Some of these small breeds are unusual, some like the Beagle in the video below, are extremely popular. We have avoided those with complex structural problems such as the French Bulldog and Dachshund – but we’ll give you links to more information on health issues at the foot of the article.
Let’s take a look at an interesting and rather unusual breed – the Basenji
The Basenji is a sighthound that hails from Africa potentially as far back as 6000 B.C. They have keen eyesight and cannot bark due to the shape of their larynx (the part of the anatomy that produces sound).
Basenjis are not overly friendly with strangers but are fantastic with children known to them, as long as they are socialized well.
As adults, they will stand 16 to 17 inches (paw to shoulder), with males being approximately one inch taller than females in adulthood.
Weight-wise, this dog will weigh between 22 and 24 pounds, with females being about two pounds lighter than males.
These dogs are incredibly active with high exercise needs. They are very intelligent, but can become quickly bored, so keep training sessions short and rewarding.
Basenjis have short, sleek fur that will only need a weekly grooming.
Another one of the best small dog breeds, Beagles are hounds first and scent hounds second, which means they hunt and track prey using their keen sense of smell.
They are lively, smart and funny dogs that make great family pets if well socialized. But, they are true hounds, which means the occasional evening of baying or howling at the moon is a given.
The beagle comes in two sizes, the smaller of which is considered a “true” small dog breed. This dog stands less than 13 inches high (paw to shoulder) and weighs less than 20 pounds.
The larger beagle breed stands 13 and 15 inches high (paw to shoulder) and weighs 20 to 30 pounds.
These dogs need companionship and plenty of exercise and can’t tolerate much alone time. They are amazingly focused while working and will do just about anything to follow a scent, which can make them a bit difficult to train at times.
Beagles have short coats that don’t need a huge amount of grooming.
3. Bichon Frise
Today, the Bichon Frise is one breed out of many popular small white dog breeds. But originally, this dog came to us from the Mediterranean, where it took its name from its eldest ancestor, a water dog breed called the Barbet.
These little dogs are energetic, playful, and very friendly when socialized well.
The Bichon Frise will stand 9.5 to 11.5 inches tall (paw to shoulder) at maturity and weigh 12 to 18 pounds.
This breed needs regular, daily exercise and social interaction. They will usually respond well to training, but are sensitive, so positive reinforcement methods are best.
Some believe that the Bichon Frise is hypoallergenic, but in reality there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. Bichons have a thick, curly white coat.
They will need grooming several times a week to keep their coat knot free. Tangles can be painful for popular small dog breeds like this.
4. Cairn Terrier
The Cairn Terrier is one of the healthiest and liveliest of the many small terrier breeds.
This dog breed is smart and confident, with a curious and eager personality that takes well to training in a number of areas.
The Cairn Terrier will stand 9.5 to 10 inches (paw to shoulder) in adulthood and weigh 13 to 14 pounds.
This breed is active, but as a small dog, it only needs a moderate amount of exercise.
The Cairn Terrier is intelligent, but needs consistent, positive reward training for best results.
They are mild shedders and need weekly grooming to keep their wavy coat knot free.
5. Cocker Spaniel
The Cocker Spaniel is one of the small spaniel breeds that is considered generally quite healthy. There are two strains, however, the working line and the show line.
Overall, they are considered smart, active, working dogs that need to stay busy to be really happy. Bored Cockers can be destructive.
These little dogs will stand 13.5 to 15.5 inches tall (paw to shoulder) at maturity and weigh 20 to 30 pounds. Females will stand about an inch shorter than males and can be as much as five pounds lighter.
Cocker Spaniels need regular exercise to stay happy, and will take well to training if you use positive reinforcement methods.
They are moderate shedders that need consistent brushing, and may require a coat trim.
The Havanese is one of the most popular small dog breeds. It arrived in the U.S. and the U.K. in the late 20th century and has been a staple ever since.
Likely because these dogs love children, family life and even other family pets (including cats).
The Havanese will stand 8.5 to 11.5 inches high (paw to shoulder) in adulthood and weigh seven to 10 pounds.
This small breed only needs moderate exercise. They can be sensitive, so respond best to positive reinforcement training methods.
One trait that families with pet allergy sufferers really love is that these dogs don’t shed, which means they will tend to trigger pet dander allergies less than many other dog breeds.
7. Italian Greyhound
According to the Italian Greyhound Rescue Foundation, the “IG” is unmatched in the “owner devotion” department.
These dogs simply love to be loved. They love to give love. And they want to be with you every single moment, which works well for some dog owners but not for everyone.
The Italian Greyhound will stand 13 to 15 inches tall (paw to shoulder) at maturity and weigh seven to 14 pounds.
They need lots of exercise and play time and are smart enough to entertain themselves with your household furnishings if nothing else is available.
Owners also say that the IG isn’t the easiest breed to housetrain. However, more than one small dog breed falls into this particular category due to their small bladders.
Italian Greyhounds don’t shed much at all, they will only need occasional grooming.
The Lowchen’s name means ‘little lion’. They have been popular in Europe for more than 500 years but are just gaining a following elsewhere.
These little dogs are playful and very people-oriented. The Lowchen will stand 12 to 14 inches tall (paw to shoulder) in maturity and weigh around 15 pounds.
They are intelligent, but can have a stubborn streak, so consistent positive training is best. Lowchens need regular exercise.
The most popular haircut for the Lowchen leaves this petite pup looking like half of him (the front half) belongs to the long haired small dog breeds and the other half (the back half) belongs to the small short haired dog breeds.
Not surprisingly, this clip is called ‘the lion trim’. They are a very low shedding breed.
9. Miniature Poodle
The Miniature Poodle’s curly coat and often extravagant clips have led some to believe this dog belongs in the show ring and nowhere else. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Not only is the Poodle one of the hands-down smartest breeds on the planet, but they are also friendly, playful, and very loving.
The Miniature Poodle will stand 10 to 15 inches high (paw to shoulder) in adulthood and weigh 10 to 15 pounds.
Despite their small size, they need regular exercise. These dogs come from a lineage of water dogs and will readily swim if given the chance.
Poodles are fast learners and make excellent agility, service and therapy dogs as well as wonderful hunting or sport dogs.
Their curly coat catches any shedding fur, making them a great choice for allergy sufferers. They will need regular grooming and fur trims.
10. Shiba Inu
The Shiba Inu is one of the most ancient dog breeds, dating back at least 7,000 years.
These little dogs are loyal, bold, and alert. They need a lot of socialization when they are younger, and can be very vocal.
The Shiba Inu stands 13.5 to 16.5 inches (paw to shoulder), with females again being shorter than males. Adults weigh between 17 and 23 pounds, with females generally weighing less than males.
They need plenty of exercise to keep boredom at bay. Although they are intelligent, they are also often stubborn and easily bored, so keep training sessions short, rewarding, and interesting.
Shibas shed frequently, so they need plenty of regular grooming.
11. Border Terrier
Many people consider the Border Terrier to be one of the best small dog breeds. They were originally used for pest control, but also make a modern family companion.
These little dogs are known to be friendly, intelligent, and affectionate.
When fully grown, they can measure between 12 and 15 inches tall, weighing somewhere between 11.5 and 15.5 pounds.
This is a high energy breed that needs regular exercise. They are eager to please, but also can be quite independent, so stick to positive reward training methods.
Border Terriers shed more heavily twice a year, and will need weekly grooming.
12. Miniature Schnauzer
The Miniature Schnauzer is one of the German popular small dog breeds. It has a wiry coat and thick whiskers.
These little dogs are known to be intelligent, friendly, and energetic.
As adults, they will range somewhere between 12 and 14 inches tall, usually weighing from 11 to 20 pounds.
These little dogs are happiest with plenty of exercise, thanks to their early history as energetic ratters.
They take best to positive reward training. But, they can be easily bored, so keep sessions short and interesting.
Miniature Schnauzers are low shedders, but they will need daily grooming to keep their wiry double coat tangle free.
The Pomeranian is a well known little fluffy dog, that easily makes any list of the best small dog breeds.
These characterful little dogs are loving, loyal and alert. They don’t need a huge amount of exercise, but can become easily bored.
As a toy breed, Poms will most often weigh from 3 to 7 pounds, growing 6 to 7 inches tall as an adult.
Pomeranians are best trained with positive reward methods, but they can be stubborn. Potty training can also be tough because of their small bladders.
These little dogs also have very high grooming requirements. They have large fluffy coats that need daily maintenance to keep them soft and tangle free.
14. Miniature Labradoodle
Because they’re a mixed breed, their temperament and appearance is unpredictable. It can be any combination of the two parent breeds.
Generally they are intelligent, very people-oriented, and energetic. They will need regular exercise, and can respond very well to positive reinforcement training methods.
Their size and weight will vary entirely depending on the parents. They could be as small as a purebred Miniature Poodle or as large as a purebred Labrador – there’s no guarantee they will grow up to be a small dog.
And, once again, their grooming and shedding levels will vary depending on the traits they inherit. Poodles have curly fur that does not shed a lot, but Labs have thick double coats that shed heavily.
15. Miniature Labrador
The miniature Labrador is not an official breed, or any specific mixed breed. It is basically a smaller version of the standard Labrador breed, but the way this smaller size is achieved varies.
Some breeders will mix a Labrador with a different smaller breed in the hopes of producing a smaller mixed breed they can sell as a miniature Lab.
Others will breed together the smallest purebred Labradors to encourage smaller puppies.
And some may even introduce dwarfism genes to get Labradors with smaller legs.
None of these methods is without problems, and you can read more about the miniature Labrador trend in this guide.
Be aware of bad breeders who are looking to sell unhealthy miniature Labradors as a way to produce a quick profit.
The Best Small Dog Breeds
Now that you have had a chance to browse through this list of the most popular small dog breeds, do you have your eye on a particular one?
The right small dog breed for you will depend entirely on your lifestyle and the time you can dedicate to your new friend!
Let us know which one is your favorite in the comments.
References and Resources
- ‘Beagle Health Information’, The Beagle Association
- ‘Breed History’, Havanese Club of Great Britain
- ‘Cairn Terrier Suggested Minimal Health Testing Guidelines’, The Cairn Terrier Club of America (2016)
- ‘Health’, The Lowchen Club of America
- ‘Health Issues in Poodles’, The Poodle Club of America
- ‘Health Statement’, The Basenji Club of America (2017)
- Jones, A., ‘The Health of the Brichon Frise’, Bichon Frise Club of America
- Lam, J., ‘Which Dog Breeds Are the Healthiest?’ Lincoln Journal Star (2017)
- ‘Selecting a Pet Dog’, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
- ‘Shiba Health’, National Shiba Club of America
- The Cocker Spaniel Club
- Wolfenbarger, D., ‘IGs: The Good, The Bad & the Downright Ugly’, IGCA Rescue Texas
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