Small dogs are some of the most popular dog breeds in the world. Not only do they take up less space, but they also usually have large, fun personalities.
Many people like smaller dogs because small breed supplies are generally less expensive, they live longer, and are many are ideal for apartment living. However, not every toy dog wants to be a lap warmer and some small dogs may not be suitable for families with young children.
Think a small breed might be the best fit for you? Make sure you consider the breed’s grooming requirements, personality, and activity level. The breed’s historical purpose plays a large role in the dogs they are today.
Get to know some of the smallest breeds.
The Affenpinscher (translated from German as Monkey Terrier) has a fun-loving, sometimes mischievous, personality, with the face and impish nature of a monkey. While Affenpinschers aren’t classified as a terrier, they were bred to work like one. In 1600, their job was to get rid of pests and rats in German stables. Later, they were brought inside to exterminate kitchen mice while also being a companion. This wire-haired terrier-like breed stands less than a foot tall, but is very confident. These dogs would do great in apartments, but do require a moderate amount of activity, such as indoor play or a brisk walk.
Recognized by the AKC in 2021, the Biewer Terrier has an interesting heritage. Throughout the 1970s, a couple—Mr. and Mrs. Biewer—had a large, successful breeding program of Yorkshire Terriers. In 1984, they started producing tricolored Yorkies who had the recessive piebald gene, a gene not typically found in Yorkies. These dogs were eventually called Biewer Terriers. Equipped with a fun-loving and loyal personality, these dogs are great family pets. They’re very smart and easy to train.
In the early 1800s, the Brussels Griffon‘s story begins, aptly, in Brussels. While they started out as rough dogs who kept the rats out of stables, they eventually became sophisticated lap companions in the 1870s when the Queen of Belgians took a liking to them. These loyal, alert, and curious dogs come in four colors and have smooth or rough coats. They’re sociable and easily trained, but not ideal for kids because of their sensitive nature. They will stick close to their favorite humans and have a low threshold for loneliness.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has been recorded for centuries in paintings alongside aristocratic families who loved their loyal companionship. These dogs have four distinct color patterns and, at different times, each color was associated with a particular noble family. This breed is affectionate, gentle, and graceful. They get along great with children and other dogs, and fit their owner’s lifestyle—they can be very active or love to stay on the couch.
The Chihuahua breed has a rich history, and can be found in materials dating back to 1530 in Mexico. These charming and graceful dogs are also sassy and have huge personalities. Their coats come in many colors and patterns, and can be long or short-haired. While these dogs are great city pets, they’re too small for rough kids. They love quality time with their favorite humans.
Chinese Crested origins go back so far, we can only make educated guesses about how the breed was created. In ancient times, large hairless dogs were brought from Africa to China. Through breeding, they were reduced in size, and later became famous for exterminating ships of rats. Today, these very affectionate, playful dogs are great companions. 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 Dachshund (meaning “badger dog” in German) was developed to dig into a badger den and dispatch its occupant. This breed’s cleverness, courage, strength, and perseverance made them ideal to battle tough badgers. These dogs come in two sizes, and three coat types. Dachshunds aren’t built for a lot of activity like distance running and leaping, but they’re usually game for anything. They’re very smart dogs and are also independent and sometimes stubborn.
English Toy Spaniel
The English Toy Spaniel has origins going back to the 1600s when they became symbols of the House of Stuart, and were bred to be companions of kings. Today, these gentle, playful, and smart dogs are very affectionate with their favorite humans, but they can be proud, stubborn, and picky about their friends. They’re playful outside and enjoy short walks.
Named after the city of Havana, the Havanese breed was the native lapdog of Cuba’s aristocrats and wealthy planters. These pups are cheerful little dogs. With a smart, trainable, and extroverted personality, they make ideal city companions because they’re excellent watchdogs, but keep barking to a minimum.
While they may look delicate, these dogs are swift and hardy. It’s believed that Italian Greyhounds were bred as noble companions about 2,000 years ago in an area that’s now Greece and Turkey. These dogs are true Greyhounds in miniature. They are alert, playful, and affectionate companions—Italian Greyhounds would much rather be in your lap than left alone. They’re very smart, but these small dogs are sensitive and can be stubborn.
The exact origins of the Japanese Chin breed are mostly unknown. However, historians agree that Japanese nobles created the breed we know today. These dogs were unknown in the West until 1854 when Japan was reopened for trade. This breed is a charming, noble, and loving lapdog who is mostly quiet. They’re fairly active small dogs who enjoy slow walks, and are great for apartments.
Maltese love sitting in the lap of luxury. It’s known that the aristocrats of the Roman Empire created the Maltese’s role as a status symbol and fashion statement. With a show-stopping, floor-length coat, Maltese are playful and adaptable toy companions. They make great alert dogs, and are happy to make new friends.
Also known as Min Pins, Miniature Pinschers are believed to go back several centuries, however, experts aren’t sure of the exact point of origin. Breed historians believe they’re a cross of the Dachshund and Italian Greyhound. Today, these proud, fun-loving dogs are very popular. While small, Min Pins are very active and athletic and require a lot of activity. They are very smart, love their families, but can be independent and make excellent alert dogs.
In the beginning of the Norfolk Terrier‘s history, it was considered the same breed as the Norwich Terrier. In 1964, it became its own breed. To tell the breeds apart, look at the ears. Norfolk ears are neatly folded over. These dogs are fearless, alert, and fun-loving. While they love to curl up in laps, they’re not lap dogs—they are always ready to adventure. Norfolks enjoy long walks and socialization.
Named after their hometown in England, Norwich Terriers are little earthdogs. Standing around 10 inches tall, they’re known to be a big dog in a small package. They were originally bred to control Britain’s rodent population. These terriers require a considerable amount of activity for a small dog and must be walked on a leash or let out only in a secure, fenced area.
Originally bred as companions for noblewomen, Papillons were favorites in European royal courts. These small, friendly toy dogs are known for their butterfly-like ears.(Papillon means “butterfly” in French) and they’re happy and alert. Papillons are comfortable living in apartments, out in the country, or anywhere in between. They are both eager to please and outgoing.
The exact origins of the Pekingese are unknown. But it’s likely Chinese emperors and their courtiers bred it down to a toy size from a larger dog. These dogs possess a regal dignity and intelligence, making them great family members and good-natured. They don’t need a yard and make great pets for an apartment, but they do enjoy walks.
Named after Pomerania—the area of northeastern Europe that’s now Poland and western Germany—Pomeranians are the smallest of the spitz breeds. The Pom gained popularity mostly from Queen Victoria who loved the breed. Now, the tiny dog is one of the most popular toy breeds. These pups are alert and smart, making them great watchdogs and pets for families. They’re very loyal to their owners, and are happy in both the city and the suburbs.
The Pug can be traced back around 2,000 years. Pugs were developed as pets for the emperors of ancient China who liked flat-faced toy dogs. These playful dogs are commonly described as a “lot of dog in a small space.” He is affectionate and loves to have fun outside or spending time with his family. The Pug lives to love and be loved in return. They live to be near their favorite people.
Weighing up to 6.5 pounds and standing at 8-11 inches tall, the Russian Toy is one of the most recent small dog breeds to become AKC-recognized, gaining full recognition in 2022. The tiny dog is elegant, lively, and has long legs, fine bones and lean muscles. In two varieties, this breed is either semi-long or smooth. The longhaired variety has a ruff on the chest and unique feathering on the extremities, tail, and ears.
The Schipperke‘s birthplace was in Belgium where the breed became popular as shipboard exterminators. Known as Belgium’s “little captain,” they’re the traditional barge dog of the Low Countries. Today, these dogs are confident, alert, and curious, making them great watchdogs. Built no higher than 13 inches, Schipperkes are small dogs who work hard and require a lot of activity.
Breeders in the Chinese emperor developed the Shih Tzu centuries ago. These dogs lived as royal lap warmers, and emperors pampered them for hundreds of years. Now, this breed is one of the most popular in the world, and makes a great companion. Equipped with a lively and friendly personality, the Shih Tzu requires minimal exercise, and their coat can be kept at “puppy cut” for easier maintenance.
Australian breeders developed the Silky Terrier in the 20th century—the main components including Yorkshires and Australian terriers. These toy dogs are typically a bit more spirited and prey-driven than the usual lapdog. This breed has a lot of classic terrier independence. Silkys are associated with Sydney, Australia, and can adapt to most living situations.
Toy Fox Terrier
During the 20th century, American breeders crossed the runts of Smooth Fox Terriers with toy dogs like Chihuahuas and Italian Greyhounds to develop the Toy Fox Terrier. These dogs are outgoing, friendly, and very lovely to their families. With an intelligent and extroverted personality, Toy Fox Terriers are easy to train and they enjoy most activities, including hunting or just lounging around.
Toy Manchester Terrier
In the mid-1800s, local mill workers in Manchester enjoyed hunting rabbits with small dogs, as well as setting a terrier loose in a rat pit while betting on the results. The Manchester Terrier was created by breeders who wanted a two-in-one dog who excelled at both. The Toy Manchester Terrier was developed because Victorian women wanted a smaller dog. Today, these dogs are very intelligent people-pleasers, and make great pets. The Toy version is slightly smaller than the Standard variety.
While Poodles are the national dog of France, the breed originated as a duck hunter in Germany. In the early 20th century, the Standard Poodle was bred down to the Miniature. Toy Poodles today are exceptionally smart and excel in all kinds of dog sport activities. The breed’s coat is nearly hypoallergenic but requires regular grooming maintenance.
It’s believed that weavers from Scotland created Yorkshire Terriers. Yorkies were bred small enough to fit into the nooks and crannies of textiles mills when chasing rodents. In 1886, the (England) Kennel Club granted the Yorkie recognition, and they quickly became fashionable as a lady’s companion. These dogs have a confident and courageous personality, making them great travelers. With a good bark and gentle nature, they’re both great watchdogs and family dogs.