Factors to Consider
Choosing the breed that most appeals to you is a highly individual matter. Many factors play into your decision to focus upon a particular breed. Looks, temperament, size, coat type and grooming requirements, sex, age, health issues, and how it will fit into your particular lifestyle are important considerations.
There's no need to stress out about your decision, however. Several breeds will likely fill the bill, easily capturing your heart. This is a process that will be both educational and fun-filled as you learn about these wonderful small companions in all their variety. Let's begin with the head-turning factor.
Usually, the first thing that draws us to a particular breed is its appearance. Some of us are awestruck by the majestic coat of the Maltese, shih tzu, or Lhasa apso. Some are smitten by the tragic-comic face and stubby body of the pug as it ambles along with its rolling gait. The art deco elegance of the Italian greyhound or the regal appearance of the cavalier King Charles spaniel may attract us, or we may be drawn to the seal-like sleekness of the min-pin or Manchester terrier.
Some are delighted by smallness; the tinier the better. If so, the Yorkie, toy fox terrier, and Chihuahua may be the perfect pocket-size pet. Some are impressed by the poodle in all its perfectly coiffed perfection, while others might be turned off by that same fancy-pants image. Some fall hard for a cute little puppy in the pet shop. Some are infatuated by a dog breed spotted in a movie or television sitcom. Physical attraction is a highly subjective thing, but it may light the spark that draws you to a particular breed.
This has to do with your own activity level as well as the dog in question. Are you a peppy person who would love a little live wire to run around the yard with you and your children, or are you the type whose idea of aerobic exercise is puttering around the apartment? Are you a homebody who craves a little love object to keep you company? Would combing the tresses of a tiny dog be as much fun for you as playing with a doll come to life?
Many small terriers, tiny toy breeds, or small dogs bred to guard and protect have little tolerance for small children, whose high activity levels can make them cranky and nippy. A tiny dog's reaction to such a rowdy ruckus can range from quivering under the bed to a full-fledged panic attack to an aggressive attack mode.
Or are you in the market for a tail-wagging goodwill ambassador, a dog that befriends everyone it meets? If you must work long hours, you're probably looking for a laid-back little buddy that won't shred the sofa when it's left home alone.
Perhaps you would like a little partner to take to obedience classes. This “sport of dogs” provides a needed outlet for a dog's energy and desire to learn and gives both of you a great sense of accomplishment. Small dogs are no slouches when it comes to winning obedience titles, and they are more fun to watch than the big breeds as they sit, stay, come, and heel in total concentration. You might consider one of the following smarty-pants breeds:
Cavalier King Charles spaniels
Serious competitors can keep going to earn advanced obedience titles, with the cream of the crop taking it all the way to national competition. There are lots of ways to keep your new best friend occupied if you have the time and desire to compete. Such activities also provide a wonderful way to make friends who share your passion for dogs.
It's important to know how big that pup will grow before you bring it home. If you live in an apartment or condo, most small dogs will fit right in, but some are more high-spirited than others. The liveliest of the little guys are such terriers as the wire and smooth fox, Parson Russell, Manchester, and Lakeland. They are fairly active indoors and do best with forty-five minutes a day of outdoor walking or playing.
Will a small dog be comfortable in my apartment?
Small dogs can live happily wherever their owners live, as long as pets are allowed. They can always find a place to curl up and be comfy, usually on your lap or close by your side.
Another consideration is weight. If you must climb stairs, you may want a dog that can easily do so too or that won't be too heavy to carry. A Chihuahua, Yorkie, Pomeranian, toy fox terrier, English toy spaniel, Japanese Chin, or papillon would be easier to tote than a pug, Scottie, Westie, or Boston terrier.
A dog's coat type is a major consideration in picking your pup. While all dogs benefit from regular grooming, some coats demand far more time and attention than others. If you get a dog that's a heavy shedder — the American Eskimo, pug, or schipperke, for example — you'll need to brush it a few times a week to keep that hair from accumulating, turning to solid clumps in the coat known to groomers as “packing.” If you get a full-coated breed and you want to keep its hair long, it will need daily brushing and combing to keep from becoming matted.
If you pick a dog that needs professional trimming to look the way it's supposed to-like the poodle, bichon frise, miniature schnauzer, Scottie, or Westie — it will need to see the groomer at least every six weeks. At $30 to $45 per session depending upon your breed, region, and groomer's pricing, plan to spend from $360 to $540 per year if your dog needs professional trimming on a four-to-six-week basis. (Learn more about grooming requirements and home maintenance that can cut down on costs.)
Grooming-wise, the easiest keepers are the smooth-coated breeds — the min-pin, smooth dachshund, Manchester terrier, smooth and toy fox terrier, Italian greyhound, and Boston terrier.
What dog would be good for someone with allergies?
If you or anyone in your household suffers from allergies, a nonshedding dog would suit you best. Consider the poodle, bichon frise, Maltese, and Chinese crested, or a dog you are certain is a poodle/terrier mix. The miniature schnauzer as well as the wire fox, Lakeland, and Welsh terrier are also good choices as they rarely shed.
For dogs of most breeds that are neutered or spayed, there is little or no difference in personality or temperament between males and females. Unless you plan to show and/or breed your dog, having it fixed is the best course of action. Intact or unneutered males are more aggressive, and they like to mark territory by urinating indoors and out on a walk. If they catch the scent of a female in heat, they can become obsessed to the point of not even caring about their food. Intact males are also inclined to wander off looking for romance.
Unless spayed, a bitch or female dog comes into heat, or estrus, twice a year. This is when she can get pregnant, so if you don't want a litter of little surprises from a neighborhood suitor, you must keep her confined. You can outfit her with a sanitary garment and give her pills to lessen that scent that drives the boys wild but realistically, you should never let her out of your sight. Usually lasting ten days, her heat will be accompanied by bleeding, also controlled by a pair of doggie britches or sanitary belt with removable pads.
While there is nothing more appealing than a puppy, they are very labor-intensive in terms of housebreaking, training, and socializing. In its early days, a pup cannot go more than a few hours between meals and potty trips.
For some of us, raising our dogs from babyhood is an integral part of the experience and we wouldn't miss it for the world. For others, adopting a mature dog from a rescue group, breeder, or shelter may be a better alternative. You would be getting a dog that is already people-oriented and house-broken, beyond the demanding stages of puppyhood and adolescence — as a bonus, it may have had some obedience training as well. You also may be saving a life by adopting such a pet.
Purebred dogs of any breed all originate from the same gene pool. Because of this common ancestry, some breeds have a high incidence of hereditary health problems. Responsible breeders work to screen out such problems in the dogs they produce. Before you purchase a pup, it is vitally important to research any known hereditary problems that occur in the breed you are considering.
Short-muzzled dogs like the pug, Boston terrier, and Pekingese, for example, are at high risk for heatstroke, a life-threatening situation. (A dog's normal temperature is 101 to 102.5 degrees but when overheated, it can shoot up as high as 109, causing permanent organ damage even if the dog is resuscitated.) These dogs have trouble breathing in warm weather, so their activity should be restricted. They also tend to snuffle and snore, but true fanciers find that endearing!
In addition, the pug's pushed-in face puts it at risk if it needs anesthesia for surgery or even teeth cleaning. Most also need veterinary intervention when they whelp, often requiring a Caesarian section rather than a normal delivery. Their large protruding eyes are vulnerable to injury and infection, and the breed is also prone to skin problems. Like all breeds with facial wrinkles, they are also susceptible to entropion, the inversion of the eyelid that can cause severe irritation, a condition that can be corrected by surgery.
Miniature schnauzers are prone to von Willebrands disease, a problem related to blood clotting that can cause complications or require surgery when giving birth. Pancreatitis, Cushing's disease, cataracts, urinary tract infections, and a skin condition known as schnauzer bumps are also prevalent in this breed.
Many small breeds are susceptible to periodontal disease, so dental care is a must. In addition to soft food, they need chew toys and hard kibble to help remove the plaque that leads to gingivitis.
Tracheal collapse is common among small and toy breed dogs, especially as they age. With this condition, the normally rigid trachea or windpipe becomes softer and weaker, lessening the air supply to the lungs. Impaired breathing can occur after strenuous activity, stress, or overexcitement and can range from a mild discomfort and coughing to a life-threatening situation.
Blocked tear ducts occur frequently in the Maltese and shih tzu, causing tear staining. Facial hair that is constantly moist becomes a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria, resulting in a reddish-brown stain. Treatment of blocked ducts can vary from irrigation by the vet to surgery to reopen them. Cataracts are often seen in bichon frises, poodles, and Boston terriers.
Poodles are also prone to patellar luxation, a dislocation of the kneecap seen in other small breeds as well. Along with dachshunds and schnauzers, they also have a high incidence of epilepsy.
Dachshunds, Lhasa apsos, and other long-backed breeds are prone to degenerative disc disease, treatable by anti-inflammatory medication and/ or surgery. Endocardiosis, a valve problem with the heart that can eventually lead to heart failure, is often seen in small breeds, as is Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, a malformation of the hip and thighbone.
Some small dogs are born with skin disorder called atopy, or allergic dermatitis. Puppies that scratch incessantly need to be taken to the vet for a diagnosis. Sometimes their discomfort and chewing at themselves can be caused by an allergic reaction to food or a substance in their environment. Some breeds are also prone to mange, a skin disease carried by mites detectable only under the vet's microscope. Although the condition may correct itself over time, such a pup would benefit from treatments to relieve the itch.
Doing your homework on a particular breed's health issues can save you a lot of heartache and money. You can educate yourself further by talking to a vet about the breed you are considering, consulting a breeder, and researching these issues online. Responsible breeders carefully select their breeding stock to keep hereditary conditions like hip dysplasia, eye problems, seizure disorder (epilepsy), brucellosis (a venereal disease), thyroid, and autoimmune diseases from their line if these conditions occur in breeds they produce.