Small dog breeds vary widely in temperament and behavior. Your dog is considered a member of a small breed if they weigh under 30 lbs in adulthood. Small breed newborn puppies can be as little as 10 ounces, but they will quickly develop over the first few weeks. When you bring home your small breed dog at 8 weeks old they will be hitting closer to 10 lbs on the scales. The best small dog breeds for families are active, intelligent and still need plenty of training and exercise. But their compact size makes them more portable and easier to fit into family life.
Small Dog Breeds Suitable For Families
The small dog breeds listed below include your top picks for successful integration into family life. Click on the name to jump down the page to your favorite.
- The Basenji, Beagle and Bichon Frise
- Cairn Terriers and Cocker Spaniels
- Havanese, Italian Greyhound or Lowchen
- Small Poodle breeds
- The Shiba Inu, Border Terrier or Miniature Schnauzer
- Pomeranian, Miniature Labradoodle and Labrador
Small dog breeds make excellent companions for big dogs, as well as only pets. Your family and lifestyle will influence which you pick. Below you’ll find 15 fabulous small dog breeds with information about size, exercise needs, health and personality.
The small dog breeds that haven’t made this list include those with serious structural health problems, like the brachycephalic French Bulldogs and long backed Dachshunds. The numerous complications they suffer as a result of their structure mean that despite their amazing natures they can’t fairly be labelled as a good choice of family pet.
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 Basenji dog breed are not overly friendly with strangers but are fantastic with children known to them, as long as they are socialized well.
As small breed 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.
Small dog breeds at the upper end of the spectrum, 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 the small dog breed with the noisiest voice. The occasional evening of baying or howling at the moon is inevitable.
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.
This small dog breed have short coats that don’t need a huge amount of grooming.
3. Bichon Frise
The Bichon Frise is popular white small dog breed. 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. Small dog breeds like this can find brushing painful if it’s left unchecked for too long.
4. Cairn Terrier
The Cairn Terrier is one of the healthiest and liveliest of the many small terrier dog 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.
Your small dog breed will only need 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 dog 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 a popular but not overly common small dog breed. 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
The small dog breed that loves to be loved! Your Italian Greyhound will 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 small dog breed with small in the name. 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.
Small dog breeds still 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.
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.
Poodle size size and weight depends on the parents. They could be as small as the purebred Miniature Poodle or as large as the 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 dog breed. It is 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 Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website