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Two Russian Toys standing on a tree stump outdoors.

It’s one of the American Kennel Club’s smallest recognized breeds, but the Russian Toy is seldom overlooked with its substance and splash.

Petite (up to 6 ½ pounds) and personable, it is now fully recognized as a member of the Toy Group after three years in the Miscellaneous Class and AKC companion events such as Agility, Obedience, Rally, Nose Work, Fast Cat, and Tracking. Along with the Mudi, the Russian Toy is one of two breeds recognized as of January 1.

These impish characters come with a long history and a different name. At one point, they were companions of Russian aristocracy and called English Toy Terriers. After seeing their numbers decimated during the Russian Revolution, breeders reached outside their borders only to discover their ETTs looked nothing like the breed standard, triggering the name change to Russian Toy Terrier.

Fast forward to the 1950s when a longhaired male appeared in the litter of two smooth-coat Russian Toys. Eventually, the breed description included two varieties – long-and short-haired – which was recognized by the Federation Cynologique Internationale.

Meet puppy Tony, a gorgeous little black and tan long coat owned by Christina Brasher, of Madison, Alabama. Tony was imported from Belarus.

Preparing For Potential Popularity

As this tiny character jumps into the AKC limelight with the prospect of mega-media attention, it’s still a bit rare in the United States, numbering 775.

And that has Russian Toy Club of America insiders on edge. “Breeders who don’t realize they have to spend time socializing their dogs,” says Nona Dietrich, of Minnetonka, Minnesota, an owner since 2011, “along with puppy mill operators who surely will get their hands on them are my major concerns. “

Jo Buntrock, of Buchanan Dam, Texas, another 10-year RTT owner, agrees and adds, “I think we fear people importing dogs to breed without knowledge of the history of the lines and what health issues they might introduce here.”

Adds Michele Reeves, of Winslow, Arizona, a board member of the parent club, “The potential popularity of our breed is both exciting and frightening. We are streamlining the Rescue portion of the club to address potential problems.”

Before being lured by the sugary, heartwarming charisma of the Russian Toy all three were in Toy circles via either a friend or a sister.

Russian Toys sitting in a chair indoors at Christmastime.

Dietrich, a Havanese breeder/owner/handler recalls, “My sister insisted I get one of the Russian Toys after she met, and held one, at a dog show in Missouri. I told her I was perfectly happy with my Havanese, but, sure enough, I looked online and found them very appealing. I soon bought my first one (2011) because had promised her, who died suddenly, that I would. It took about five minutes to fall totally in love with her.”

Buntrock found the breed appealing – also a decade ago – because it did not require lots of grooming and ring preparation. Add to that “its sweet personality, high energy, and high intelligence,” she emphasizes.

Reeves, a Miniature Pinscher owner/handler/breeder who has been involved in AKC conformation since 2008, didn’t come onboard the Russian Toy train until three years ago after a friend attended the breed’s national specialty in Ohio and posted a photo of one on social media.

And Bingo!  “I immediately fell in love and asked what breed that was,” she says. “I conducted some research on the breed size, care, and temperament to ascertain whether this was a dog that I could truly live with. My initial attraction was the beautiful, flowing ear fringe, large eyes and minimal grooming. Adding the Russian Toys to the mix with Min Pins is perfect. They fit in well with the same temperament.”

Walking in public, with their Russian Toys, is the perfect conduit for connecting all the dots for breed education. Chances are no one will identify their breed correctly. “The most common refrains are: ‘Is that a Chihuahua?’ or ‘That’s a Papillon, isn’t it?’ “

A group of Texas Russian Toy Fanciers gathered in 2015. From left, Jo Buntrock with Blush, Loma Foster with Tio, Ruth Ann Ford holding KJ. Seated in front is Anna Gonzalez with Dachi and Jack. Photo courtesy Malinda Julian Photography.

The Best Home For a Russian Toy

Because of their fragility, it’s highly incumbent on breeders to set their puppies up for success by being adroit owner matchmakers for their puppies.

In that respect, Buntrock notes, “The best home for this breed is one without large dogs or small children. Of course, it always depends on the individuals. Because of their high energy and desire to work and please, they do great in a home where they can compete in a variety of AKC sports.”

Reeves carefully evaluates each of her puppies, which don’t leave for their new homes until they are 12 weeks old. “When contacted by a potential owner, I want to know their lifestyle, whether they’re active family, stationary, travelers, kids in the household, grandkids, etc. These questions aren’t designed to be nosey, but rather to place the correct pup in the correct home.”

The longhaired variety boasts a ruff on the chest and unique feathering on the extremities, tail and ears. That adult coat is not prominent until it’s a year old and full fringing may not blossom until 3 years of age. The smooth-coated RT is sleek and smooth to touch and tend to be a bit more terrier-like than their long-coated brethren.

If you like color variety, the RT delivers. How about black and tan, brown and tan, blue and tan, or shades of red sable or brown sable.

Known for being athletic, intelligent, loyal, humorous, and highly trainable, the Russian Toy is low-maintenance grooming with a lifespan of 10-12 years.

At just over 1 year-old, Pyxis has 17 titles and is the first Russian Toy to earn an AKC Trick performance title. She is owned by Marie Donahue, of Frederick, Maryland. Photo courtesy Marie Donahue.

Intrigued by the Breed?

By now you’re probably wondering what are some of the caveats of this cheerful little character.

“Being owned by a Russian Toy is never dull,” Reeves laughs. “Their antics will keep you on your toes, as they seem like a perpetual 2-year-old with his/her own opinions. They are mighty dogs in a little package who can get themselves into trouble. Owning an RT isn’t for the meek. They require a firm owner and training.”

Dietrich adds, “They need more socialization than you’d think, particularly that first year.”

Buntrock says, “Russian Toy bones are delicate and finer than a stocky little Chihuahua. Jumping off furniture can result in a leg fracture, especially before age 2. They can also be very territorial and possessive of their owners so early socialization is a must.”

Has this breed intrigued you yet? Well, figure on spending in the neighborhood of $2,000 for a puppy from the small pool of reputable breeders, all listed on Russian Toy Club of America website.

Plucky yet passionate, the Russian Toy serves up a signature panache that in the near future will no longer have passers-by asking “What’s that?”

Powa and Tsar practice “2 feet on an object” for their Trick dog titles. The two also compete in Agility, Obedience, Rally, Trick, Barn Hunt, Nose Work, and Lure Coursing. They are owned by Jennifer Grebinoski, of East Bethel, Minnesota. Photo courtesy Nona Dietrich.
Related article: Meet the Mudi: AKCs Newly-Recognized Dog Breed in 2022
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