Did you know that some of our most beloved small dog breeds have been around for centuries? Or that some were once larger dogs that have been bred smaller over the centuries? Or that royalty from Europe and Asia all shared a passion for these diminutive canines? Here's the lowdown on 12 breeds that have pawed their way into our hearts.
Interested in your favorite dog breed's backstory? We're here to help! Impress your friends and family with these 12 fun facts about small dog breeds.
Pugs are one of the oldest breeds of dog. They are believed to come from China as early as 400 BC where they were known as Foo or lion dogs. Eventually, they spread to Europe and became hugely popular. Pugs are affectionate and playful, although they can be stubborn when it comes to training. Pugs are available in fawn, black, apricot fawn, and silver fawn.
Low-slung and fearless, the dachshund was originally bred in Germany to dig badgers from their dens (and, if you’ve ever met a badger face-to-face, you know that’s a dangerous job). But as the days of badger hunting ended, the dachshund’s role changed from hunter to house pet. These jolly, alert dogs are a joy to be around and make excellent pets. They come in two sizes: standard (16-32 pounds) and miniature (11 pounds and under), and have three options for coat types: smooth, wire, and long-haired.
Surprisingly, the French bulldog was first developed in England, not France as the name might suggest. But eventually lace-makers from England brought these funny, bat-eared charmers with them when they moved to Normandy, France. The dogs kept the lace-makers company as they worked their looms. The breed gradually charmed its way across the Atlantic and first appeared at the Westminster Dog Show in 1896. Today, the Frenchie—as it is affectionately called—remains a popular choice, particularly for urban owners because the breed does not require as much activity as some other breeds.
The Chihuahua proves that big things can come in small packages. The tiniest of all dog breeds, the Chihuahua has been warming our hearts with his oversize personality since ancient times in Mexico. Although a Chihuahua doesn’t weigh more than 6 pounds, it should not be turned into a purse dog. A happy Chihuahua is one that is treated like a real dog, not a living toy. They make excellent, alert, loving pets, although they might not be the best choice for a family with small, exuberant children. Chihuahuas are available in a host of colors and both short- and long-haired types.
The long, beautiful coat and large appealing eyes of the shih tzu are two reasons why this breed has remained popular for centuries. A product of early Chinese breeding, the shih tzu is a sweet, happy-go-lucky breed that loves to be with its family. These portable pooches weigh between 9 and 16 pounds, so they are easy to pack up for a family vacation. They come in a variety of colors, too. Just remember, their flowing double coats require weekly grooming to keep them from getting matted. Or you can keep your pet’s hair clipped short for easy maintenance.
A native of the Scottish Highlands, the West Highland white terrier is a delightful little dog with a terrier’s typical confident, rough-and-tumble personality. Its thick, wiry double coat that was developed to protect it from the harsh Scottish winters is easy to maintain with regular grooming. Like all terriers, the Westie—as it is affectionately called—is a hunter at heart, so if your family has small pets such as hamsters and guinea pigs, you should introduce your puppy to them when it is young. Westies make great travel companions, only being 11 inches tall at the shoulder. They are generally long-lived and extremely happy dogs.
European royalty treasured the little white dog from the island of Malta so much that large sums of money were often spent on a single animal. They have soft, silky white hair and heart-melting button eyes. What’s more, Maltese are not just another pretty face. They have a sharp mind that learns tricks and commands quickly. Adult dogs weigh less than 7 pounds, so they make an extremely portable pet. They are sweet, happy, outgoing little dogs, but they do require daily brushing to keep their coats from matting.
When you first meet a Pomeranian, it’s hard to believe that this cute little fluff ball is a direct descendent of much larger spitz-type dogs that used to herd livestock in Poland and Germany. But once Queen Victoria fell in love with the breed, smaller and smaller puppies were selected as royal companions until today's Pomeranian we know and love was developed. Pomeranians, or Poms as their fans call them, are perky, active dogs that come in a wide variety of colors. Because they are so cute, they are easily spoiled, so early obedience training is helpful.
A companion of European royalty since medieval times, the bichon frise continues to win the hearts of pet owners around the globe. This happy, joyous breed never seems to have a bad day and makes an excellent companion for people of any age. It is prized for its dark eyes and curly, white double coat. The breed also carries its plumed tail over its back, making it look particularly jaunty. It's intelligent, too. In fact, these dogs were often trained to perform tricks in circuses. Bichon frise do not shed, so regular grooming is a must to keep their coats from matting.
One of the few non-British breeds in the terrier group, the miniature schnauzer was developed in Germany by crossing the taller standard schnauzer with other, smaller breeds. It has an alert intelligent expression highlighted by its wiry eyebrows and beard. Miniature schnauzers have the heart of a terrier, ready to battle with vermin or bark when a stranger is near. They are a lot of fun to have around and love to play with anyone willing to toss a tennis ball. Miniature schnauzers have a hard, wiry coat that sheds little, but it requires regular grooming to keep it looking good. Coat colors include salt and pepper, solid black, and black and silver. This happy breed grows 12-14 inches tall.
Often called “love sponges” by their owners, Cavalier King Charles spaniels are never happier than when they are in the laps of their owners. Developed in England in the 16th century, they are frequently pictured in oil paintings from those times. King Charles II was particularly fond of the breed and always had a small pack around him. Eventually this small spaniel took his name. It’s a jolly, friendly little dog that fits well in either urban or rural situations. Because of its gentle, loving personality the Cavalier makes a great pet for children and seniors. The breed has a silky coat that requires regular grooming to prevent matting. There are four coat colors to choose from: Blenheim (chestnut and white), tricolor (black, tan, and white), ruby (solid red), and black and tan.
Frequently seen upstaging their human costars in movies and television, the Jack Russell terrier is a bright, quick little dog that can be as amusing as it is challenging. The breed was developed in England by the Reverend John Russell to help hunt fox. He wanted a brave dog that would not back down from an encounter with the angriest of foxes. And, he wanted a dog that had a mostly white coat so he could see it on the hunt. Over the years, differences have arisen among breeders about what makes a true Jack Russell; now the breed is generally divided between Parson Jack Russell terriers, Russell terriers, and those who still call them Jack Russell terriers. The main difference between the types is height, but all share the same happy, determined attitude. They are true clowns and can entertain their owners for hours, but early training and plenty of exercise is a must to prevent this breed from taking over your home. Jack Russell terriers come in three basic coat types: smooth, wire, and broken (a mix of wire and smooth). They are primarily white with brown or black (or both) markings.