Small dogs come from a variety of AKC groups, so there is a perfect breed for every lover of little dogs with regards to personality, activity level and coat type. Keep in mind, small dogs are not just lapdogs – many of them are tough as nails.
Smaller dogs don’t necessarily need to work off loads of energy, so they are quite suitable for apartment life. But not all small dogs live to be lap warmers! Certain breeds like Dachshunds or small terriers would also love country life and the opportunity to run around on a farm. If your family includes very young children, ensure that your small dog has a space to get away from the kids, or reconsider your choice of breed. Many Toy breeds are too delicate to compete with a boisterous family of young children and need to live in a quieter environment.
Training a small dog might be easier in the sense that they can’t jump on the counter and you can pick them up when they’re being naughty, but as with all dogs, the dog’s personality and the breed’s historical purpose plays a large role when it comes to trainability. Some breeds learn commands more easily or are bigger people-pleasers than others.
Do you have sufficient time to bathe, groom and care for a long-coated Toy breed like a Shih Tzu or Yorkshire Terrier? Even though smaller breeds obviously shed less hair around the house than larger dog breeds, regular time with a brush is needed to prevent things like mats. Luckily, “puppy cuts,” where coats are clipped to only a few inches in length are popular and cute solutions.
The smallest dog breeds include the:
Affenpinscher: The Affenpinscher (translated from German as Monkey-Terrier) has a fun-loving, sometimes mischievous, personality, with the face and impish nature of a monkey. The Affenpinscher is one of the oldest toy breeds and was referred to as a "little devil with a moustache" in Central Europe where it developed. This wire-haired terrier-like breed thinks he is a much bigger dog than he actually is.
Brussels Griffon: Griffs come in four colors (red, black, black and tan, and black-and-reddish brown (called belge)), two coat types (smooth and rough), and have one very cute beard! The breed prefers being close to its owners. Social friendly and easily trained, Griffs will usually get along well with other family pets and well-behaved children.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: This elegant, energetic Toy breed thrives as part of a family. It can easily adapt to any living situation, and is friendly and easy to train.
Chihuahua: Chihuahuas, both long-coated and short-coated, are tiny dogs with huge personalities. Animated, enthusiastic and loyal, the breed thinks it is king or queen of the household. Chihuahuas love to run, play and spend a great deal of time on their owner’s laps.
Chinese Crested: The hairless version of the Chinese Crested – spotted pink skin, spiky hairdo and furry feet – is most recognizable, but the breed also comes in a powderpuff version with a long double coat. The breed is playful, loving and devoted to its humans. The hairless comes with extra advantages, including no doggy odor, soft warm skin perfect for warming the bed on cold nights, and limited shedding.
Dachshund: The Dachshund is a lively breed with a friendly personality that makes an ideal pet for many homes. Known for their long and low bodies, they are one of the most popular breeds according to AKC Registration Statistics. Dachshunds come in three different coat varieties (Smooth, Wirehaired or Longhaired) and can be miniature or standard size, so there is something for everyone!
English Toy Spaniel: Although the English Toy Spaniel looks similar to the more popular Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, they are different breeds. Still, the English Toy Spaniel is a lovely Toy breed with a merry and affectionate personality. The breed is a good family companion and plays well with children. Their small size makes them ideal for an apartment. The breed even still has some hunting instinct and can be a fine small hunting spaniel.
Havanese: The National Dog of Cuba and the country's only native breed, the Havanese is a small, sturdy dog with a friendly disposition. It evolved from its role as a pampered lap-dog of the aristocracy into a family companion responsible for being a watchdog, child's playmate and herder of the family's poultry flock. Although a toy dog, they remain energetic and require some form of daily exercise.
Italian Greyhound: IGs are Greyhounds in miniature, more slender than their larger cousins, but a Greyhound’s equal in grace and elegance. IGS are cherished for their loyal, affectionate nature. A short-coated, low-fat breed, IGs need extra attention in cold weather.
Japanese Chin: Chin were historically bred to live in the lap of luxury and today make wonderful tiny "indoorsy" companions. Fastidious self-groomers and quiet, the Chin is a distinctly feline breed. These dogs are smart, sensitive and quick to learn as long as they think it was their idea.
Maltese: Like the little aristocrats they are, Maltese love sitting in the lap of luxury. But they’re also feisty watchdogs and game agility competitors. Maltese are low-shedding, long-lived, and happy to make new friends of all ages. Many pet owners trim Maltese in a "puppy clip" to reduce grooming time.
Miniature Pinscher: "Min Pins" are sturdy, compact dogs known as the "King of Toys." A distinguishing characteristic of the breed is its high-stepping "hackney" gait, reminiscent of a hackney horse at the trot. Min Pins bond tightly with their humans and tend to be vocal, making them excellent watchdogs.
Norfolk Terrier: Norfolks are among the smallest terriers but still have the feisty, confident and adventurous personality expected in larger earthdogs. Created to hunt in packs, Norfolks are geared to be more gregarious than the typically independent terrier.
Norwich Terrier: Norwiches are stocky, substantial little dogs that are easily distinguished from their cousins by their erect, pointed, "witch hat" ears. Although toy-sized, the breed wasn’t built for lying around on satin pillows – they were originally used as tough and fearless ratters.
Papillon: The Papillon is a small, friendly toy dog. Papillon means "butterfly" in French and the breed is known for its erect, fringed, butterfly-like ears. Happy and alert, the Papillon is comfortable living in an apartment, out in the country or anywhere in between. They love to play outdoors, but they can be easily entertained and exercised indoors as well.
Pekingese: Pekingese possess a regal dignity, intelligence and self-importance, making them good natured, opinionated and affectionate family members. Their small size makes them a good choice for apartment life. They do not need a yard, but enjoy walks.
Pomeranian: These tiny dogs are extremely loyal to their owners, making them great watchdogs, playmates, and cuddly companions. The breed’s "pom-pom" coat comes in almost two dozen colors and various patterns and markings, but is most commonly seen in orange or red. Poms are active and enjoy participating in dog sports like agility, but can be thoroughly exercised with indoor play and short walks, so they’re happy both in the city and the suburbs.
Pug: The Pug is commonly described as "a lot of dog in a small space" and the playful, affectionate breed loves to have fun outside or spend time walking with its family. The Pug’s reason for living is to be near their people and to please them.
Schipperke: The Schipperke originated in the Flemish regions of Belgium, working as a companion of tradesmen as well as a watchdog and ratter on the river barges. The small, foxlike Schipperke is known for its mischievous expression and distinctive harsh black coat. Although enthusiastic about life, the breed has a mind of its own and can be willful.
Shih Tzu: The Shih Tzu makes a great companion and house pet, with a lively and friendly attitude. He requires minimal exercise and his long, luxurious coat can be kept in a "puppy cut" to keep maintenance easier.
Silky Terrier: Although they’ve always been bred as companions and reside in the AKC Toy Group, Silkys are nonetheless a bit more spirited and prey-driven than the typical lapdog – the breed retains a lot of the classic terrier independence. Silkys are closely associated with Sydney, Australia’s largest city, and they make excellent urban companions.
Toy Fox Terrier: Toy Fox Terriers are outgoing and friendly, yet fiercely loyal to their families. They are content and capable of any range of activities from hunting, to obedience, to just lounging around in the sun (or on the sofa).
Toy Manchester Terrier: The Manchester Terrier was bred to hunt rats and other small vermin and still retain that ability today. The cuddly house pet quickly turns into an efficient worker whether in the backyard or field when it detects the presence of a rodent. The Toy version is slightly smaller than the larger Standard variety.
Toy Poodle: The Poodle is an exceptionally smart breed that excels in all kinds of dog sport activities. The breed comes in three size varieties, with the Toy being the smallest. The breed’s hypoallergenic coat may reduce allergic reactions, but requires regular grooming maintenance.
Yorkshire Terrier: Yorkies have a confident and courageous personality that helps them do well as everything from dog sports to therapy work and makes them great travel companions. Yorkies are incredibly loyal to their owners and prefer to stay close by their side – but don’t mistake this for a need to be pampered. Their tendency to bark makes them reliable watchdogs, and their gentle nature makes them a good fit for families with children.
All dogs need love and attention. Read our 101 ways to be a responsible large breed dog owner.