Popular Toy Breeds

Toy dogs are primarily companion pets. Many of these breeds started out much larger and heavier than they are today and have been bred down to the small sizes we now know and enjoy. Generations of selective breeding have produced this cast of lovable munchkins for you to explore, in alphabetical order.


Dubbed the monkey dog because of its flat nose, round eyes, jutting jaw, and whiskery face, this scruffy toy terrier originated in seventeenth-century Germany, where it was probably crossed with small pinschers and used to hunt vermin. Impish in personality, it makes a great dog for families with older children and needs little exercise. Its hard shaggy coat, usually black or gray, requires regular brushing and occasional tidying up. A mercurial little charmer, the affenpinscher's mood can range from stubborn to playful to deeply affectionate — all within a half hour or so!

Brussels Griffon

Another terrier-type toy, at eight to twelve pounds this little gamin is a bit sturdier than the affenpinscher, one of its probable forbears back in Belgium. The Brussels griffon comes in a smooth variety, but the wire-coated version is better known. Its hard coat, usually red but also beige, black, and tan and black, needs regular brushing and occasional hand-stripping. Its gremlin-face needs occasional tidying to accentuate its domed skull, neat ears, and sparkling eyes. Easy to train and always amusing, the Brussels griffon needs minimal exercise and makes a good family pet but can be wary of young children.

Originally a peasant's dog, the Brussels griffon was an avid ratter used in the stable that grew popular as it rode around seated next to the driver in hansom cabs.


Named for its home state in Mexico where it was discovered in 1850, this is the oldest purebred North American dog. Available in both a smooth and long-coated version and usually weighing no more than six pounds, the Chihuahua makes the perfect portable pet, if you spend time on proper socialization. The smooth variety needs only a weekly rub from a rubber curry the longhaired version a good weekly brushing. This tiny companion can be litter-box trained and beyond loving attention, a cozy spot to curl up, and a warm winter coat, its needs are minimal. Not a good choice if you have small children, the Chihuahua feels safest and happiest with adults and may be nippy when it feels threatened.

Chinese Crested

Available in hairless and powderpuff varieties, this ancient breed is now virtually extinct in its native land. Fortunately, these affectionate companions accompanied Chinese explorers and traders to far-flung ports. The hairless version of the Chinese crested is not completely naked. It has a tuft on its head — its namesake crest — a plume on its tail, and shaggy socks, but the rest of its smooth body needs regular moisturizing and sunscreen when it goes outdoors.

The skin of the hairless Chinese crested needs to be moisturized and protected with sunscreen. This dog also needs a coat in cold weather.

Weighing up to ten pounds and no taller than thirteen inches, the Chinese crested like to grasp toys with their paws and hug their owners. Due to their unusual appearance, these dogs are an acquired taste, but they make wonderful pets. Burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee was an avid fancier and breeder.

English Toy Spaniel

Similar to the cavalier King Charles smaller but smaller at ten to eleven inches and eight to fourteen pounds, the toy spaniel's long silky coat comes in four colors: Blenheim (red and white); ruby; Prince Charles (white with black-and-tan markings); and King Charles (black and tan). It needs brushing twice a week. The quintessential lap dog, the toy spaniel's roots are in the Orient, but its greatest popularity came in fifteenth- and six-teenth-century Europe where it was the beloved “comforter dog” of royalty including Mary Queen of Scots. Its intelligence, trainability and gentle disposition make the toy spaniel a great family pet, but children must be taught to be very gentle with this little dog.

Italian Greyhound

Standing thirteen to fifteen inches tall and weighing about eight pounds, the smallest of the sight hounds was bred down from larger counterparts that were popular in ancient Egypt where greyhounds were mummified and carved into tombs. The miniature Italian version was bred to be the darling of aristocratic ladies, including princesses and queens. It enjoyed hunting small game and still delights in a good run. Elegant, lovable, and easy to train, this streamlined pet needs warm clothing in winter and is highly adaptable to apartment living. Its grooming needs are as basic as it gets — a weekly wipe-down with a chamois cloth. It's too delicate for roughhouse play with children and can be timid with strangers.

Japanese Chin

Originating in Asia, the Japanese Chin was bred as a lapdog for the imperial aristocracy. Once fed only on rice and sake to keep them tiny, dogs of this breed now come in two sizes — over or under seven pounds — but smaller is still considered better. Most frequently seen in black and white but also available in a variety of colors, the Japanese Chin's profuse coat needs brushing several times a week. With their trademark high-stepping gait, Chins make charming companions, perfect apartment dwellers that do well with older children.

Commodore Matthew Perry presented Queen Victoria with a breeding pair of Japanese Chins. Credited with opening Japan to international trade in the mid-nineteenth century, Perry was a devoted dog lover who also introduced the Japanese spaniel to the Western world.


Whether descended from terriers, spaniels, or a bichon prototype, this ancient snow-white breed was said to have been brought to Malta by Phoenician sailors around 1000 B.C. Bred as companions, they were the lap and sleeve dogs of royalty. Playful and full of personality, this glamorous dog has a flowing single coat worn parted down its back, with its head traditionally styled in two topknots. It does not shed but is high-maintenance in terms of grooming, needing frequent brushing and combing to keep those tresses from tangling. To make life easier, many pet owners keep it trimmed. This gorgeous little dog with the coal-black eyes stands four to six inches tall and weighs from four to six pounds. Great in small quarters and with children who have been taught to handle it properly, the Maltese's exercise needs can be met by indoor play and occasional walks.

Miniature Pinscher

Tenth in popularity among small dogs, the “min-pin” is a big dog in a small package. It was bred down to its tiny size (ten pounds, ten to twelve-and-a-half inches) from the German pinscher in the late 1800s. There may have been some dachshund and Italian greyhound genes in the mix as well. With its prancing gait and show-off tendencies, this dog is a natural in the show ring. Its coat is smooth as glass and comes in black, black and tan, or red. Its ears are either erect or cropped, and its tail docked like the larger pinschers. Min-pins are not lapdogs. They are a challenge to train because they try to outwit you but are lively, mischievous, and protective. While they don't dislike children, they will not tolerate mishandling.


Another living toy of European royalty, the papillon's name means “butterfly” in French. Originally known as a Continental toy or dwarf spaniel, it began endearing itself to the ladies of the Spanish court back in the twelfth century. Its popularity spread throughout Europe and especially to France, where its fanciers included Madame Pompadour and Marie Antoinette, but this symbol of the ruling classes was nearly wiped out after the French Revolution. There are several theories explaining how the papillon acquired its trademark “butterfly” look with the erect fringed ears. One says it was interbred with the spitz and possibly the Chihuahua, while another theory maintains prick-eared spaniels were culled and selectively interbred to achieve this result.

The drop-eared version of the breed, known as the phalene (French for moth, rather than butterfly) is now quite rare. Papillons love to bark and be with people. Their coats require regular brushing and combing to keep mats at bay. Weighing eight to ten pounds, this dog does well in most climates and living situations. It loves children but they must be taught that it really is a dog, not a toy.


Named for the city where they were held sacred, these dogs were members of the imperial court for eight centuries. At one point, 4,000 eunuchs were assigned the sole purpose of breeding and raising these living icons, also known as Lion Dogs. When the British sacked Peking in 1860, all of the Pekingese dogs were ordered destroyed so that none would fall into the hands of the invaders. Two survivors were brought back to England and presented to Queen Victoria.

Standing six to ten inches tall and weighing under fourteen pounds, the Pekingese has an unforgettable look, a flowing bundle of fur floating along with a rolling gait. Its thick double coat demands daily brushing and broad head, fringed ears, pushed in nose, and distinctive wrinkles give them a unique appearance. Self-assured, strong-willed, and choosy in its affections, the Peke is not suitable for a family with children but can live quite happily in any space with a devoted owner. It does well with little exercise, especially in hot weather when its short muzzle can cause difficulty in breathing.


The smallest of the Northern breeds, the Pomeranian is a four-legged fluffball with its thick double coat, small pointed ears, and bushy curled tail up over its back. Originating in the Baltic region known as Pomerania, this tiny toy spitz dog captivated Queen Victoria when it was brought to England, and the Pom soon became a favorite of the noble ladies. Only nine inches tall and weighing under five pounds, most Poms are solid-colored in white, black, brown, or orange. The breed's bouffant coat does best with daily brushing, and its exercise needs are minimal. A good little watchdog that is affectionate with its owners, it is mistrustful of strangers and wary of children.


Another unique and ancient dog from China, where it flourished before 400 B.C., the pug was first documented in Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. Brought to Holland by traders from the Dutch East India Company, it became the official dog of the House of Orange. Two centuries later, a pug named Fortune was the treasured companion of Napoleon's wife, the empress Josephine. Pugs were brought back to England after the sacking of Peking along with other prized canine booty, the Pekingese and shih tzu. Devotees included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as well as Winston Churchill.

Compact in build, this endearing dog with its round wrinkled face and curled tail comes in fawn and black. It stands ten to eleven inches tall and weighs fourteen to eighteen pounds. It lives to please its family and thrives on love and attention, though it will hold a grudge if mistreated. The pug is great with children but prone to breathing problems in warm weather and obesity if overindulged. Its short coat sheds profusely, requiring regular attention with a curry brush.

Shih Tzu

With roots in Tibet stretching back to the first century, this exquisite dog with the flowing coat was brought to China in the seventeenth century, where it became a favorite in the Imperial courts. Called the chrysanthemum dog because of the way its facial hair sprouts in all directions, the shih tzu is a dwarf version of the Tibetan terrier, possibly with the Pekingese and Lhasa apso. The breed was all but destroyed during the British sacking of Peking in 1860, and the remnants were nearly eliminated a second time after the 1949 Communist takeover, but somehow the shih tzu was saved from extinction. Less wary than the Lhasa, the shih tzu is a living love object with a bit of the clown in its personality. At nine to ten inches in height and weighing nine to sixteen pounds, it comes in a rainbow of colors. The shih tzu is neither the easiest dog to train nor the best watchdog, but its personality overrules its drawbacks, the biggest of which is the maintenance of its coat. If kept long, the coat requires daily brushing, so many owners make life easier by keeping their shih tzu in a shorter trim. A small apartment and a daily walk or play session will suit this dog just fine.

Silky Terrier

Often confused with the Yorkshire terrier, the silky terrier was developed in Australia by crossing the Yorkie with the Australian terrier. This tough little tyke was a formidable hunter of mice and other small mammals. With larger ears and a longer muzzle than the Yorkie, it stands nine inches tall and weighs under ten pounds. Its longer back is a likely result of cross-breeding with Skye and Dandie Dinmont terriers. The silky's silvery hair is worn parted down the middle and falls to its knees, not draping to the floor like the Yorkie coat, but it needs the same frequent brushing and combing to keep it tangle-free. Loyal and territorial, the silky likes to bark as it guards the home and can be aggressive to strange people and other dogs. It adores children, as long as they treat it with care.

Toy Fox Terrier

Newly recognized by the AKC as a separate breed, the toy fox is a smaller version of the smooth fox terrier. Tiny at under seven pounds, tricolored and smooth-coated, it's also known as the Amer-Toy. Wash-and-wear pets that fulfill their own exercise needs, these jaunty little sprites couldn't be better suited to apartment living, but they retain the instincts of the tough little ratters they once were. The Web site of the American Toy Fox Terrier Club states: “The TFT is a big dog in a little package. He considers himself ‘Superdog,’ making it clear that he has a huge ego, and will dominate almost every situation.” The breed's sharp intelligence and keen hearing make this a great service dog for the physically challenged and hearing-impaired. With its erect ears and little stub tail, the toy fox makes an endearing companion but should not be paired with very young children.

Yorkshire Terrier

This diminutive dandy had humble beginnings as a ratter among the farmers, miners, and weavers of Scotland, who developed the breed from a conglomeration of Scottish and English terriers, some of which are now extinct, and probably the Maltese as well. The Scotsmen brought the little dogs with them to Yorkshire, England, and the rest is history. Although it is among the most beautiful of dogs with its silky flowing coat, the Yorkie retains a true terrier temperament, fearless, feisty, and bold. Kept long, its coat requires daily brushing, so many owners opt for a shorter, easier-to-maintain trim. A busybody that keeps tabs on its family, the Yorkie is playful and mischievous. Although under seven pounds and only nine inches tall, the Yorkie thinks it's a big dog and relishes the role of ferocious watchdog. Born black and tan, in adulthood the black coat turns steel blue, and most Yorkies sport a topknot to keep the hair out of their eyes. A fine companion and therapy dog, it has been a great favorite in the United States since it arrived here in the late 1800s. Due to its size, small children pose a threat to its safety.

Toy Poodle

The smallest of the three poodle varieties, the toy poodle was bred down from its larger and older cousins in France during the eighteenth century. Affectionate, smart, and clean as a whistle, this dog loves to play and be with its people. Its coat comes in blue, black, gray, silver, chocolate, apricot, cafe au lait, and cream. It should be professionally groomed every four to six weeks if you want the true poodle look. Besides its fancy show styles, the coat can be kept in shorter and more manageable pet trims, sometimes groomed to look like a tiny teddy bear. The toy poodle stands ten inches tall and weighs under ten pounds but some breeders have produced an even smaller version known as the teacup poodle. Smaller is not necessarily better; some of these tinier pets can be fragile and unhealthy. The toy poodle is a wonderful pet for older children who treat it with respect and makes a great therapy dog.

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