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Small Companion Dogs: Little Canines With Big Dog Attitude

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I can't imagine a time without the companionship of a dog. Over five decades, my family have shared our lives with 8 different dog breeds.

We all seek companionship, and dogs are no different in this regard. They are social animals who will try to find their place within your family. | Source

We all seek companionship, and dogs are no different in this regard. They are social animals who will try to find their place within your family. | Source

Small Companion Dogs With a Big-Dog Attitude

Are you looking for a small companion dog with a big dog attitude? Then this guide is for you.

There are about three hundred different dog breeds of all shapes, sizes and characteristics. Still, they all have one thing in common—their ability to bring out the best in us, their ability to "knit" a family together and the enrichment they bring to our lives.

Within the plethora of dog types, there are smaller companion dogs. These dogs, small in stature but large in character, offer people loyalty, companionship, and a sense of well-being gained from providing care to the canine friend sharing your home.

Small Companion Dogs Investigated

This article investigates the attributes and suitability of the following dogs classified as “small companion dogs”:

• Affenpinscher

• Italian Greyhound

• Papillion

• Affenpinscher

• King Charles Spaniel

• Pomeranian

• Australian Terrier

• Lhasa Apso

• Poodle (Toy)

• Bolognese

• Maltese

• Papillion

• Chihuahua

• Pekinese

• Shih Tzu

• Yorkshire Terrier



Why Do People Want a Smaller Dog?

Not everyone can cater to the needs of a larger dog. Perhaps through lack of space, poor health, or concern about the impact of passing years on your ability to be active. Many of us may have always had a dog in our life, and the emptiness they leave behind often cries out to be filled by another "best friend."

Should you be considering taking another dog into your home, you may want to examine the option of a smaller companion dog. The heterogeneous nature (diverse character) that small companion dogs offer provides the new dog owner with a considerable choice

The smaller dog is better suited to living within a smaller household. These dogs are also more able to climb up on your lap or share your couch. Primarily, many dog owners are looking for a companion, perhaps to replace a lost and faithful friend.

Reasons for Wanting a Smaller Dog:

  • Companionship
  • Better suited to a small home
  • To combat loneliness
  • A playmate for children

For many people, life is not complete without the presence of a dog within the home. I certainly fit within this category— since I was seven years old, there have only been two years out of the last 56 where there has not been at least one dog sharing the family home.

The Affenpinscher

  • Origin: Related to the Belgian Griffon. Similar-looking dogs are prevalent in sixteenth-century paintings.
  • Appearance: Broad in the skull with black eyes and short ears. This breed has a short neck on a square body. The wire-haired coat is quite long around the head and legs.
  • Character: An affectionate dog that does have a reputation for being stubborn and a bit fiery. Sometimes quick-tempered, especially to strangers. That said, they are also playful and fun-loving.
  • Height: 23 to 30cm
  • Weight: 2.8 to 6kg
  • Colour: Black, black with a light tan, yellow, red & grey.
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Life Expectancy: 11 to 14 years
  • Care: Requires about 30 minutes a day of exercise. A weekly regime of grooming is sufficient to maintain a healthy coat. Not a natural selection for a household with young children, although if introduced as a puppy and trained, they will respond well to such an environment. The Affenpinscher can be vocal.

The Australian (Silky) Terrier

  • Origin: First called the Sydney Silky Terrier, this breed resulted from crossing the Yorkshire Terrier and the Australian Terrier.
  • Appearance: It possesses a wedge-shaped head with not too broad a skull. The dog has dark eyes and prick ears, with an intelligent expression and a thin neck on a moderately elongated body. It has a broad and quite deep chest on short legs. The coat is around 14cm in length, flat and silky, with short hair on its feet.
  • Character: Known for being lively, happy and intelligent with a reputation for being wilful.
  • Height: 22 to 26cm
  • Weight:
  • Colour: Blue, silver or slate-blue with tan on the muzzle and around the cheeks and underside of the tail.
  • Hypoallergenic:
  • Life Expectancy: 11 to 14 years
  • Care: Requires regular grooming to prevent tangles and matting. This breed is prone to dry, itchy skin. However, frequent shampooing with an appropriate shampoo will maintain good health.
The Silky Terrier: a characterful and lively canine.

The Silky Terrier: a characterful and lively canine.

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The Bolognese

  • Origin: The Bolognese is understood to have been brought into England from the Canary Islands. However, this breed existed in Bologna in Northern Italy since the fifteenth century.
  • Appearance: This dog breed has a short head with a broad skull and a short muzzle. The Bolognese has dark eyes and drop ears. The chest is deep, and it has short legs and round feet. The tail is curled. The dog's coat is long, dense and curled.
  • Character: Noted for being a calm, reserved and loyal breed.
  • Height: up to 30cm
  • Weight: 2.5 to 4kg
  • Colour: White
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years
  • Care: Regular grooming is needed. Care is required when around other animals as they tend to chase what they perceive as prey—a Bolognese is a dog that requires plenty of exercise.

The Chihuahua

  • Origin: There is some debate on the actual origins of this breed. The Chihuahua draws its name from the province in Mexico, where it often occurred. Originally a wild dog before being tamed by Indians. Some say that it a pygmy breed that ran wild, surviving in the woods.
  • Appearance: Unusually, this breed has two distinctive looking types. The first type, known as the apple-head, has a round head with a broadly rounded skull. It has a short, pointed muzzle with a deep stop. The second is known as the deer-head and has a longer nose.
  • The Chihuahua breed has eyes that can be coloured black, brown, blue or red. The Chihuahua's ears are large and pricked. The body is elongated with a deep chest. The feet are tiny, and the tail is long. There is a smooth-coated and a long-coated variant of this breed.
  • Character: An affectionate, devoted, intelligent, courageous and curious dog.
  • Height: 15 to 25cm
  • Weight: 0.9 to 3.5kg
  • Colour: All colours and shades
  • Hypoallergenic:
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 20 years
  • Care: Over-feeding can be an issue with this breed, and they are prone to becoming overweight. They tend to feel the cold and will often burrow under blankets and cushions. While they appear cute, they are also easily startled and can react fiercely in such circumstances. Care needs to be taken when around young children. This tiny dog displays little fear and readily stands up to dogs far bigger than itself.
  • This breed is often considered an ideal companion for a person living on their own. Chihuahuas often form a bond with a single person in the household and can become robustly protective (often over-protective) of this person.
The Chihuahua may be tiny, but your home will never be the same as their antics and mindset is that of a much bigger dog.

The Chihuahua may be tiny, but your home will never be the same as their antics and mindset is that of a much bigger dog.

The Piccolo Levriero Italiano (Italian Greyhound)

  • Origin: Surprisingly this canine is not an Italian breed (despite its name). This dog’s roots go back to much earlier times in Egypt and Greece. Believed to have been introduced into England from France by King Charles I. Originally (as a larger dog) bred to catch rabbits and mice. In England, subsequent breeding resulted in a dog that was much smaller and more refined.
  • Appearance: A flat skull with a pointed muzzle equal in length to the head. A long neck on a short body with arched loins and a deep chest supported by legs that are long and fine-boned. This little greyhound has a long tail, and its coat is smooth and short.
  • Character: An affectionate, happy, intelligent dog. It is also a good watchdog with a fiery personality.
  • Height: 33 to 38cm
  • Weight: 3.6 to 5kg
  • Colour: Solid black, slate-grey, white on chest and toes.
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years
  • Care: An adult dog will require around 1 hour a day of exercise. Meals need to be fed little and often. Good dental hygiene is a must for these dogs as they are prone to dental problems.

The King Charles Spaniel

  • Origin: Originated from working gundogs and considered the choice of kings—British monarchs held King Charles Spaniels in high regard during the 17th century.
  • Appearance: King Charles Spaniels have a short and sturdy build. This breed has a domed skull and a flattened face with large eyes. The coat is medium-long and silky.
  • Character: An even-tempered dog that is adaptable and playful. This spaniel has a great deal of patience and is a friendly canine who gets along well with other household pets.
  • Height: 30 to 33cm
  • Weight: 3.6 to6.3kg
  • Colour: Black and tan, tri-colour, blenheim, ruby.
  • Hypoallergenic: No
  • Life Expectancy: 9 to 14 years
  • Care: Feeding requires care as they can be prone to becoming overweight—need around 30 minutes of exercise per day. Regular grooming is needed.

The Lhasa Apso

  • Origin: An ancient dog breed with a thousand-year history. This breed is the result of crossing a Tibetan Terrier and a Tibetan Spaniel.
  • Appearance: This breed has a narrow skull with a blunt muzzle. Its eyes are dark brown, and ears are drooping. The body shape is elongated with a deep chest and well-sprung ribs. The legs are short. The Apso has a curled tail and long coat that is straight and dense.
  • Character: A self-assertive breed. Generally happy and intelligent. The Lhasa Apso tends to bark.
  • Height: 25 to 28cm
  • Weight: 6 to 8 kg
  • Colour: Sandy, golden, honey, slate or reddish. Apso's can be bicoloured white with black or brown.
  • Hypoallergenic:
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years
  • Care: Requires around 20 mins of exercise per day. This breed is prone to obesity, and consequently, it is best to avoid feeding too many treats. Provided they are well trained as puppies, they can socialise well with family and other pets.

The Maltese

  • Origin: Belonging to the Bichon group, the Maltese is the oldest of the breed. This dog breed takes its name from the island of Malta, where it originated.
  • Appearance: A flat skull with a short muzzle. An intelligent-looking dog with dark eyes and triangular ears. The Maltese has a shortish body that has a strongly-boned structure. The Maltese dog has a coat that is very long, dense and silky.
  • Character: An affectionate, lively and intelligent dog.
  • Height: 21 to 25cm
  • Weight: 3 to 4kg
  • Colour: White
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years
  • Care: A dog well suited to home living. They require daily brushing to avoid their coat matting, and the hair around the eyes will need regular cleaning to prevent staining.
Maltese and Pomeranians.

Maltese and Pomeranians.

The Pomeranian

  • Origin: The Pomeranian is a descendant of the Deutscher Kleinspitz, which was a robustly built dog. But after being introduced into England, the Pomeranian dog was actively adapted to be smaller, lighter and with enormous coats.
  • Appearance: A fox-like head with a broad skull. The muzzle is short and pointed. An intelligent expression with dark eyes and small prick ears. It has a short neck and a short, broad and rather a deep chest. The legs are of medium length, finely boned and with small feet. The Pomeranian has a tail curled up over its back. The coat is long, straight and woolly. There is feathering around the legs and feet.
  • Character: An intelligent and friendly breed. The Pomeranian is prone to being a dog that barks. They also tend to display bravery that belies their small size, and they will readily confront much larger dogs. Their nature also makes them good watchdogs as they are alert and vocal to any activity within or near the home.
  • Height: 28cm
  • Weight: 1.9 to 3.5kg
  • Colour: Black, white, brown, wolf-grey and orange.
  • Hypoallergenic: No
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 16 years
  • Care: An energetic dog requiring a minimum of 20 mins a day of exercise. Requires grooming at least once, but preferably twice a week.

The Toy Poodle (Canis lupus familiaris)

  • They have an elegant stance which the typical poodle cut plays too.
  • Character: An intelligent and hard-working breed with a bright and alert disposition.
  • Height: 25cm or less
  • Weight: 2.7 to 4.6kg
  • Colour: Black, blue, apricot, red, silver, white and a combination of these colours.
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years
  • Care: This breed requires a lot of attention to its coat, needing to be groomed every 4 to 6 weeks. The dog owner can do this for themselves with a pair of clippers if confident enough. However, most owners elect to have a professional groomer on hand. They require a great deal of mental stimulation and physical exercise. A good family dog, although care needs to be taken if considering introducing them into a home with very young children. A dog breed that wants to be in the thick of any family activity—don't even try to leave them out; they won't let you.

The Papillion

  • Origin: This spaniel-type dog takes its name from the butterfly-like appearance of its long, fringed ears.
  • Appearance: Always partially coloured, they can be white with patches of virtually any other colour. The eyes rims, nose and lips are black. The tail is carried proudly and arched over the body.
  • Character: A friendly and happy breed that is intelligent and alert. Although the Papillion is best known as a lapdog, they are surprisingly active and playful.
  • Height: 20 to 28cm
  • Weight: 3 to 4.1kg
  • Colour: White, white and chocolate, black and white, red and white
  • Hypoallergenic: No
  • Life Expectancy: 13 to 15 years
  • Care: Requires grooming at least a week to maintain hair and skin health. As with all small dogs, the Papillion can be prone to problems with their teeth. Regular brushing of the teeth will reduce tarter and pay dividends.
Butterfly-shaped ear. "Papillion" means butterfly in French.

Butterfly-shaped ear. "Papillion" means butterfly in French.

The Pekingese

  • Origin: Held in high regard by previous Chinese Imperial families. They have a reputation of being fearless, historically revered as being lions shrunk to miniature size by Buddha.
  • Appearance: The Pekingese dog has a massive head with a broad skull and a very short, wide, and wrinkled muzzle. The ears are heart-shaped and pendulous, while the body is reasonably short with a broad chest and narrow waist. The legs are short and broad. The tail is long, and the coat is long, straight and profusely feathered.
  • Character: A self-willed (some say stubborn) dog that is intelligent, lively and courageous.
  • Height: 26cm
  • Weight: 3 to 6.4kg
  • Colour: All colours allowed except liver and albino.
  • Hypoallergenic: No
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years
  • Care: Pekingese make good apartment dogs, although they do like to run around. They can be challenging to train as they tend to consider themselves in charge. Regular brushing is required. Care needs to be taken with young children as these dogs will defend themselves if roughly handled or startled.

The Shih Tzu

  • Origin: Opinions vary as to the origin of this breed. Most consider the Pekingese as being one source along with the Tibetan Terrier or Lhasa Apso.
  • Appearance: The Shih Tzu has a broad head with a short, square muzzle. Dark eyes and large, drooping ears. They have an elongated body with a broad and deep chest with well-sprung ribs. Its legs are short and fine-boned, and the tail is curled while the coat is dense and straight.
  • Character: An independent, lively and intelligent dog.
  • Height: 27cm
  • Weight: 4 to 7.2kg
  • Colour: All colours
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 16 years
  • Care: Requires daily brushing. The Shih Tzu owner should be prepared for the wheezing and snoring from these dogs. Prone to sunstroke so should not be left outside in the heat. An adaptable breed, they are happy in apartments or bigger spaces. Regular short walks suit this dog.

The Japanese Spaniel (Japanese Chin)

  • Origin: The Japanese Chin is a breed considered to be the forebears of today’s Pekinese.
  • Appearance: The Japanese Spaniel is a small, well-balanced dog with a large head, short muzzle and dark round eyes. It has a profuse mane around its neck and shoulders. The tail is plumed and arches over its back.
  • Character: An intelligent and independent dog that is very loyal.
  • Height: 20 to 27cm
  • Weight: 1.4 to 6.8kg
  • Colour: Black and white, red and white, sable and white, lemon and white, tri-colour.
  • Hypoallergenic: No
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 14 years
  • Care: Requires grooming regularly. Responds well to exercise. Care needed when mixing with small children due to the small and somewhat fragile size of the dog.

The Yorkshire Terrier (Canis lupus familiaris)

  • Many people have limited house and garden space. These dog companions display all the attributes of a large dog but are bundled into a more petite frame.
  • Origin: This charming breed originated in Leeds and Halifax, in Yorkshire, England, in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
  • Appearance: A small head with a flat skull and a short muzzle. Its ears are small and pointed, and it has a short body with a straight back. The coat is long, straight and glossy.
  • Character: Known for being intelligent, lively and courageous.
  • Height: 18 to 23cm (at the shoulder)
  • Weight: up to 3kg
  • Colour: Dark steel blue from the back of the head. Bright tan on chest, face, cheeks and feet.
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes. Yorkshire Terriers have hair rather than fur. They also do not shed. These factors, therefore, significantly reduce the potential for an allergic reaction.
  • Life Expectancy: 12 to 16 years
  • Care: Requires about 30 minutes a day of exercise. They need regular brushing to keep their hair from tangling. They are more adventurous than often perceived and are playful. As with most terrier-type dogs, they should not come into contact with pets such as rodents.

Dog Ownership: The Benefits to You

  • Companionship
  • A faithful friend
  • Routine to your day
  • Encourage exercise
  • Increased sociability
  • Lower stress levels

The benefits associated with dog ownership are many, and sometimes these are not always immediately identified. As well as the more predictable aspects of sharing your life with a canine companion, there are benefits from increased sociability (who has not experienced greeting and meeting other dog walkers). Occasionally, these daily meetings can become a good source of human interaction and routine—something that can be extremely beneficial to those living on their own.

Many aspects of dog ownership can deliver health benefits. Exercising your dog can help improve mobility, lower blood pressure, improve your immune system and bring you into contact with other like-minded people.

Pitfalls Associated With Dog Ownership

  • Cleaning doggy mishaps (accidental doggy doo’s)—they will happen!
  • Dog hair on carpets and furniture.
  • Overspill of food and water splash on floors at feed time.
  • Avoid dog ownership if you have allergies to their hair.
  • Children’s inevitable disinterest once the novelty of a new puppy wears off.
  • Dog minding when going on holiday.
  • Veterinary care costs: At some stage, you will need to visit a vet, and fees can be expensive.
  • Dog walking. Who does it, and who has to deal with the dreaded doggy bags?
  • Dogs eat! It can be easy for the first-time dog owner to underestimate the cost of feeding your dog.

When considering whether or not to take a dog into your life, there are many aspects to think about. however, something often overlooked is the impact on the dog itself in sharing your home.

What Does Your Dog Want From You?

  • Will my new owner give me the exercise I need?
  • Will I be left on my own for long periods?
  • Will I be living with other dogs or animals?
  • Is the house noisy or full of children?
  • What happens if I need to pee?
  • How often will I be fed?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on October 12, 2020:

I love Chihuahua's. They are such lovely little dogs. My friend has one and she is so gentle. She lets me pick her up and cuddle her and all sorts! My mother currently has a Pomeranian called Princess Chanel lol. She certainly lives up to her name! She may be small but she's the boss of her other 2, much larger dogs lol.

Ben Reed (author) from Redcar on October 12, 2020:

Jack Russell dogs are full of character. Currently, my house is home to a Chihuahua called Caeser. He certainly lives up to the name and typical of the breed, he is very protective of my wife. Caeser is a "deer head" type Chihuahua, and a great addition to our family. Strangely, the very first companion dog I remember within the home, some fifty years ago, was an "apple head" type Chihuahua we named Binky. He was a very different character, gentle and friends to all.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on October 11, 2020:

I must say, the toy poodle is a very cute dog indeed. I had a Jack Russell for 15 years. He was a lovely dog.

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