If you believe good things come in small packages, a toy dog breed might be for you. Whether you’re looking for a lap dog to curl up with or a hiking buddy for weekend adventures, there’s likely a toy breed pup that will check all the boxes on your wishlist. So let’s cover everything you need to know about toy dog breeds, including common characteristics, how to choose the breed that’s best for you, and frequently asked questions.
What is a toy dog breed?
Like German Shepherd Dogs and Alaskan Malamutes, toy breed dogs descend from the gray wolf. Selective breeding for desirable traits, including smaller size, has led to the development of the toy breed dogs we know and love today.
Size can be measured by weight or height. The smallest dog breed by weight is the Chihuahua but by height it’s the Prague Ratter. Toy breeds typically weigh less than 10 pounds and top out around 12 inches in height, making them a good choice for people with limited space.
Toy breeds are also easy to pick up and fit nicely in under-the-seat carriers for those interested in air travel with their pup. These dogs are usually kept as companion pets thanks to their often friendly and affectionate personalities. However, because the toy breeds span several genetic groups, there are some toy breeds that are in the spaniel and sighthound groups and have retained their working dog instincts. So when picking a toy dog breed for your family, one size definitely does not fit all. Though they may have similarities, each breed has its own unique qualities.
Lastly, don’t let the name fool you. Though small and adorable, toy breed dogs are not playthings and should always be treated gently and with respect.
Toy breed characteristics
These small dogs come in various shapes and sizes, but they share some general characteristics.
- How big do toy breeds grow? Toy breeds rarely exceed a height of 10-12 inches. This small stature makes them relatively easy to handle and transport.
- How much do toy breeds weigh? Toy breeds usually weigh between 4-10 pounds. However, some breeds, such as the Chihuahua, may weigh less than 4 pounds.
- How long do toy breeds live? Toy breeds tend to live longer than larger breeds. They have an average lifespan of 12-16 years, though some small breeds may live 20 years or more.
- Is there a toy breed personality? Grouping all toy breed dogs under the same personality type is impossible. Some are more feisty, others more vocal. And some, when they feel threatened or anxious, can be a little nippy when they get defensive. Researching the behavioral traits of breeds you’re interested in is the best way to understand their likely personality. That said, many toy breeds are known for being affectionate, loyal, and playful. They make great indoor companions, and many are very social with humans—as long as those humans are respectful of their small size when interacting with them.
- Are there toy breeds that don’t shed? All dogs shed, though some toy breeds have a low-shedding coat, potentially making them a great option for those with allergies or those who don’t want to deal with excessive shedding. Examples of low-shedding toy breeds include the Bichon Frise, Shih Tzu, and Chinese Crested. Dogs with furnishings (e.g. cute eyebrows and beards) also send to be lower shedding.
- Can toy breeds be trained? Yes, toy breeds can be trained just like any other dog breed. In fact, even though an untrained toy dog may seem like less of an issue when they’re 5 pounds, toy breeds deserve (and will benefit from) the same socialization and basic obedience as larger dogs. When training your toy breed, keep in mind they may require additional patience and positive reinforcement due to their small size and sensitive nature. And be mindful of using training treats. Little dogs need much smaller treats so avoid overfeeding.
How to choose a toy breed
There are steps you should take when choosing a dog breed. Researching and making decisions upfront will help you find the best fit for you and your new pup.
- Think about your lifestyle: How much time do you have to dedicate to a dog, and what activities do you enjoy? For example, do you want a dog that’s comfortable at home alone for long stretches, or are you interested in a dog that’s always up for road trips and days at the office?
- Consider the ideal activity level for your dog: Some toy breeds, such as the Japanese Chin, require less exercise and may be better suited to apartment living. On the other hand, dogs originally bred to work, like the Affenpinscher, need more daily exercise.
- Consider other pets and family members: If you have other pets or children in the home, choosing a breed that will get along well with them is important. Because of their small size, not all toy breeds do well with young children still learning the concepts of "gentle" and "space." Breeds like the Havanese, Pug, and Rat Terrier are sturdier and often more tolerant of kids.
- Find a reputable breeder or rescue organization: If you’re interested in adopting a toy breed, make sure to find a reputable organization that gathers as much behavioral and health information about their dogs as possible and works hard to match dogs with their ideal family. When it comes to finding a breeder, choose a responsible person that screens their puppies for genetic health conditions, freely and openly answers questions, and ideally lets you meet the puppy’s parents before you finalize the adoption.
Popular toy breeds
There are so many different toy breeds to choose from, each with their own lovable characteristics and appearance. Here are a few of the most popular toy breeds:
- Toy Poodle: Toy Poodles offer a "big dog personality" in a small, curly-coated package. These athletic, intelligent, playful pups form close relationships with their people. And their sensitive nature and willingness to please make them great candidates for therapy dogs.
- Maltese: Don’t let their small size fool you. Maltese have a ton of energy. These affectionate, playful dogs make friends wherever they go and are surprisingly good watchdogs.
- Chihuahua: Chihuahuas are the smallest dog breed in the world, but you wouldn’t know it based on their giant personalities. They tend to bond closely with one or two people and will shower them with affection and loyalty.
- Pomeranian: Pomeranians are cheerful pups with playful personalities. They like to show off, so provided they’re treated respectfully, they will happily keep those around them entertained for hours.
- Yorkshire Terrier: Affectionately called Yorkies, these are lively, playful dogs that—despite their tiny size—are more than willing to protect their beloved families if the need arises. Yorkies crave attention from their people and like to accompany them wherever they go (so it’s a good thing they fit easily in a handbag).
- Italian Greyhound: A smaller, more slender version of the Greyhound, IGs are spirited, playful pups with a need for speed. They enjoy spending time with their humans (preferably on a lap) and love to be the center of attention.
- Pug: Pugs always love curling up for a snooze. But these little charmers also enjoy games of fetch and trips to the dog park. Kids love the Pug’s playful nature, and Pugs love kids. Win-win.
- Havanese: The Havanese is an extroverted breed that thrives on attention and companionship and tends to be less vocal than other small dogs. These petite dogs are excellent with kids and often entertain them with their latest tricks (a carryover from their early days as circus dogs).
- Bichon Frise: The Bichon Frise’s plush coat and adorable face make them irresistible snuggle buddies. Their curious natures and charming personalities have turned many unsuspecting people into fans of the breed—and their surging popularity has no end in sight.
- Shih Tzu: This quiet breed makes a good lap dog and willing playmate. They love to be around their humans and have trusting, affectionate personalities.
Frequently asked questions about toy breeds
- Are toy breeds good with children? Toy breeds can be great with children if properly socialized and trained. However, their small size may make them more fragile and prone to injury, so supervision is crucial.
- Are toy breeds good with adult company? Again, socialization is key. However, toy breeds are typically very social and enjoy spending time with their human companions. They make great lap dogs and are often content just being by your (or your company’s) side.
- Do toy breeds need a lot of exercise? While toy breeds don’t require as much exercise as many larger breeds, they still need regular physical activity to keep them healthy and happy. So daily walks and playtime should be part of their routine. It’s not only good for them, but it’s a fun way for you to bond with your furry friend.
- Are toy breeds healthy? Different breeds are prone to different genetic health conditions. One way to determine their risks is to use the Wisdom Panel breed library to research the toy breeds you’re interested in. And all dogs are susceptible to common health concerns such as obesity, dental disease, parasites, infections, and injuries—which is why routine vet visits and preventive care are so important. Toy breed dogs, particularly "teacup" dogs that are incredibly small, can be more prone to issues such as dental disease, patellar luxation, birthing complications, mitral valve disease, bone fractures, and hypothermia. Adopting from a reputable breeder and forming a good partnership with a veterinarian will help you keep your toy breed dog healthy throughout their life.
Learn more about your pup with a Wisdom Panel DNA test
If you want to learn more about the genetic background of your small dog, consider using a Wisdom Panel DNA test. Our tests can provide valuable insights into your dog’s breed composition, ancestry, potential health risks, and behavioral traits.