Introduction to the Toy Dog Group
This group of dogs might be small, but they have had a big impact on our lives. A dog in this group is even credited with having an influence on the course of European history .
Admittedly Toy Dog Group breeds have largely been developed as companions. Often they were seen as a decorative animals, usually for the more affluent sections of society. But in most cases they have a background as working or hunting breeds. These dogs are just as much dogs as any of the fellow canines, only smaller. Some are as happy running laps, as sitting on laps, and must be given the chance to do so.
So these dogs are not to be sniffed at! This is not just a metaphor. Just ask some of the bigger dogs who may have made this very mistake. Want proof of their unquenchable spirit? Just watch recent footage of a Yorkshire Terrier taking on a coyote . Clearly these little dogs can be both wonderful companions and fiercely loyal and devoted dogs.
Toy breeds are vital in opening up the privilege of dog ownership to many who could not manage a larger pet. It might be due to limited space in the home. Or the infirm or elderly who cannot give a standard sized dog the exercise and stimulation it needs.
These dogs might in some cases be an easier option. But an appropriate level of exercise and stimulation is vital. There is also no opportunity to skimp on the training. Early socializing and consistent positive reinforcement is essential. This will ensure these dogs do not become yappy or destructive in the home.
Toy dog breeds offer overwhelming benefits. Many have made wonderful therapy dogs. Their gentle natures and cute looks lend themselves to boosting patient morale.
Other huge advantages can come with the not-so-huge toy dog. Many toy dogs are eminently suitable if you have other pets such as cats or other small animals. The toy breeds also make excellent watch dogs. They may not have the size to tackle an intruder but, with the help of training, they are adept at sounding an alarm.
These dogs also travel more easily and their food requirements are less expensive. It is also a boon for some to have a dog small enough to take advantage of secure dog flaps. My back door would be just a framed dog-flap if I tried to provide this for my Old English Sheepdog.
This group is also known as companion dogs. So it should come as no surprise that they get very sad without a companion! Many of these dogs are certainly not suited to being left alone for long periods of time. Training to prevent or mitigate separation anxiety is a priority. This should be put in place as early as possible (internal link)
Many of these dogs do rank as excellent choices for a first-time owner. Most respond to training very well and are adaptable. An added bonus is that they tend to have longer life-spans on average than breeds in other groups.
History of Toy Dog Group Breeds
The word ‘Toy’ has been used to reference small dogs since around 1863. In technical terms a dog breed has to weigh typically less than 15lb when fully grown to qualify. But there have been concerns that this does give the wrong message. This name suggests a dog to be a frivolous object. Indeed the American Kennel Club has considered changing the category name to ‘companion dog’.
It is easy to see how the idea of a toy dog was established. A fan of Jane Austen might remember Lady Bertram in ‘Mansfield Park’. She famously cares for her Pug more than for her children. This Pug is the stereotypical lapdog, pampered and fussed over like a little child. Commentators do see in this not only a criticism of a terrible mother. But it is also a reminder from Jane Austen that toy dogs should be allowed to be a dogs .
But not all diminutive dogs were so lucky. The Pug was clearly established ‘upstairs’ with the privileged but another small dog ‘The Turnspit dog’ worked ‘downstairs’ from as early as the 15th century. These tiny dogs were small enough to fit inside a wheel in the kitchen and power the spit turning as demonstrated in the above image.
This poor animal also became a labor-saving device in other areas. These included: churning butter, pressing fruit and even operating water pumps. They were even brought to draughty churches on Sundays. The poor Turnspit dog was placed on the feet of members of the congregation to keep them warm.
Fortunately today the toy breeds’ only role is as valued companions. But many of these cute canines, such as the Yorkshire Terrier, are not just lapdogs. Rather they are miniaturized versions of hunting or working dogs. This must be reflected in the care, exercise and training provided.
Finally, we should not forget that toy dogs have played a vital part in the modification of larger breeds. The very popular French Bulldog (link) emerged partly from a toy English Bulldog. The other chief ingredient was the Pug (link)
So these dogs are most certainly worth celebrating for so many reasons. As a taster of this wonderful group of dogs we offer an overview of 5 popular toy breeds. For more information and a detailed breakdown on all these breeds, please visit the breed guide.
Pomeranian (aka German Dwarf Spitz) (aka Wolf Spitz) (aka Pom)
Background and History
This dog can surely claim to be the foxiest looking of all breeds. It’s not only a fox that comes to mind, how about an Ewok? They most certainly resemble the tough teddy-bear faced resistance fighters from Star Wars.
In fact they do have links to a rising Empire. Not galactic in this case, but the Roman Empire. The original larger forebears of the breed came from the Old Duchy of Pomerania. This is a historical region which fringed the Baltic Sea and in modern geography would now straddle Germany and Poland. These medium-sized dogs were originally used to herd livestock. But their striking foxlike appearance gained notice in Rome. As a result they became companion dogs in wealthy Roman households.
The Corgi may be the modern dog breed of choice for the British monarchy but it was the Pomeranian who had the right royal connections in Victorian England. The long-reigning Queen Victoria was the original ‘pom, pom girl’. She became a leading patron of Pomeranians when she became besotted with the breed on a visit to Italy in 1888. Henceforward these little dogs travelled everywhere with her. They even enjoyed the protection of her secret police. She was even reported to have around 35 Pomeranians in the royal kennels. During this period specialized breeding took place to further miniaturize the Pomeranian.
This royal patronage soon led to the founding of the first Pomeranian breed club in 1891. Official recognition by the American Kennel Club soon followed in 1900. Since then their popularity has not waned and they achieved 23rd in the 2020 AKC rankings .
Characteristics and Temperament
The Pomeranian is a shrunken Spitz dog. The Spitz sub-grouping relates to wolf-like dogs and includes: the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute and the Samoyed. The word ‘Spitz’ means pointed in German. These breeds tend to have the triangular ears and sharp features akin to those of a wolf. The Spitz dogs are famous for being hardy and athletic. The iconic image of a Spitz, most famously the Siberian Husky, is hauling sledges over miles of icy wastelands.
The dynamic Pomeranian retains this ‘Spritz-spirit’ in pint-sized form. This breed is relatively speedy and nimble for their size. They are also hardy little dogs with boundless energy.
Like other Spitz dogs, recall can be an issue for the Pomeranian. This context of this emerges from the original Spitz dogs being prey-driven. These dogs hunted for their own food inspiring an instinct to chase but with early training this should not be a huge problem. But the Pomeranian is at the active end of the spectrum in the Toy Dog Group. They do need a good walk two or three times a day and lots of interactive play. A well-exercised Pomeranian will be a very well-behaved and contented little dog.
A good exercise regime should also be part of a strategy to prevent or reduce separation anxiety. Along with recall, this training must be put in place as early as possible. Spitz dogs and toy dogs are generally human-oriented. They really suffer without a companion and the Pomeranian falls into both categories.
This little Spitz is also a good watch-dog. The Pomeranian will bark an alarm, but the flip-side is they are prone to yap a lot. Early socialization training should include them getting used to friends and family. This will ensure that this does not become a protracted problem.
This is another diminutive dog who is not cowed by larger dogs. But the Pomeranian should be socialized to avoid any aggression towards other canines. Owners also report that these dogs also need training not to soil indoors.
But the Pomeranian is an intelligent little dog and is highly trainable. They are also very adaptable. as long as they are with their humans. So these little dogs are ideal holiday companions
This breed is very affectionate. But as with all dogs, small children must be ready to learn how to treat them with respect. They will need to learn cues from the dog signaling that it wants to be left alone. Otherwise this dog can occasionally snap.
In keeping with its Spitz heritage, the Pomeranian has a double-coat. This is long and requires daily brushing to avoid matting. Regular cleaning of the area of fur around the eyes to remove any discharge or other dirt is essential. These dogs should also be bathed every 1 to 2 months. A huge positive is that this breed is hypoallergenic. They do not shed frequently, reducing further the spread of allergy-inducing dander. This makes them a good dog for first-time owners
Another bonus to these healthy little dogs is that they tend to have good longevity. Many Pomeranians have a life span between 15 and 17 years.
Owners should be aware that they are prone to dental problems. Some of the breed also suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia. They can also have luxating patellas (knee-joint pain) and other joint-related problems.
Links to other breeds: This breed is closely related to the larger German Wolfspitz.
Background and History
The Chihuahua takes the title of smallest breed in the world. In terms of breed standards generally the smaller this dog is, the better.
Some of the toy breeds may claim royal patronage. But the Chihuahua goes one better. According to legend these dogs are descended from the sacred dogs of the Aztecs. These dogs were venerated as guides into their heaven. Queen Victoria may have had 35 Pomeranians, but the noble families of the Aztecs were rumored to have kept around 1000 each. The smallest dog maybe but can any other breed claim numbers that big?
The modern Chihuahua’s prominence as a breed continues undimmed. They have become a national symbol of Mexico and are named after its largest state. Their continued national significance is also reflected in their participation in the Cinco de Mayo. Every 5th of May this festival celebrates Mexico’s victory over the French Republic in 1862 at the Battle of Puebla.
This connection with Mexico continues to be widely celebrated in popular culture. As a consequence this tiny dog often finds itself the star on the big silver screen. One of the many examples of this is the fine canine comedy trilogy ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’ . But it is possible that the Chihuahua may have originally come from China before arriving in Mexico.
This breed was largely popularized in the United States where Chihuahuas having charmed tourists were then brought home. The Chihuahua began to become established in America in the 1890s. They were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1904. Since then they have remained popular and are ranked at 34 in the 2020 AKC popularity ranking. The Brits are also keen on this little Mexican dynamo. The Chihuahua is currently rated as the 34th most popular breed based on 2020 registration data.
Characteristics and Temperament
The Chihuahua is an alert and resilient little dog. Like many others in the toy dog group of breeds they certainly do not like being looked down upon. They are not easily cowed by bigger dogs and this often combines with a high level of possessiveness towards their owner(s). Occasionally this leads to aggressive responses to other animals or people.
Thus early and consistent socialization training is strongly advised. This should include calm introductions to other dogs. Positive reinforcement for good behavior around other dogs is very effective as these dogs absolutely thrive on praise.
But the very good news is that these dogs are amongst the most intelligent in the toy dog group. This makes them highly trainable and able to learn a range of commands. This also makes them an excellent choice of breed for the first-time dog owner.
These dogs love to be the center of attention. This makes them excellent family dogs as well as suited to those who live alone. But they can be unnerved by small children. Any children must learn that these little dogs demand absolute respect. The Chihuahua is a useful little watch-dog. They will bark an alert when anyone approaches the house.
For a small dog Chihuahuas need lots of exercise and will typically need to walk 3 or 4 times a day. These dogs are very elegant and graceful in their movement. They enjoy lots of interactive play as they are irrepressibly energetic.
This breed can have a smooth or a long coat. Interestingly the long-hair is sometimes attributed to a connection with the Papillon breed. But dogs from the same litter can come in either variety. Smooth coated Chihuahuas only needs occasional brushing. The long coat will need brushing most days to avoid matting. Also the longer-haired dogs do tend to shed more frequently. This dog can come in various colors but can be solid or patched. But all Chihuahuas come packaged, with incredibly cute bat-like ears. They also have very rounded, endearing eyes.
The Chihuahua has a very good life expectancy of around 14-16 years. But some dogs have a molera or a soft spot on their head that does not close as they grow out of puppyhood.
Owners should be alert to their shivering. This can be an indicator of stress, as well as the more obvious possibility that they are cold.
Some dogs from this breed can be susceptible to hip and elbow dysplasia. Also luxating patellas (knee-joint pain) and other joint-related problems. They can also be prone to suffer from dry eyes.
The Pug (Collective Noun: A Grumble)
Background and History
We go from the smallest to the largest of the toy breeds. Yes, the ever charismatic and popular Pug finds itself the giant of the toy world.
It could also claim to have regal connections far older than the Pomeranian’s heyday in Victorian England. Pugs are a very old breed of dog from as far back as 5th Century BC China. They were reportedly the favored dog of Emperors and the ruling families. Whether by accident or some incredibly artful design their forehead wrinkles fittingly resemble the Chinese symbol for ‘prince’.
Other Pugs were known to be living perhaps a more spiritual existence in Tibetan monasteries. Along with the Pekinese these dogs were recorded as favorites of the Buddhist monks. Some speculate that these two breeds in fact share a common ancestor.
The Pug arrived in Europe largely as gifts along the Silk Road. These Pugs would probably have been presents from powerful Eastern trading partners. So through the trading of the East India Company Pugs begin to arrive in Europe around the 16th century.
These dogs later proved particularly popular in the Netherlands. This culminated in it becoming adopted as the dog of the House of Orange. This partly stems from the actions of a Pug called Pompey. This little companion dog arguably changed the course of European history. Pompey barked an alarm as Spanish assassins approached the tent of William of Orange . His importance is memorialized in a statue at the church of St. Ursula in Delft.
When William and Mary of Orange ascended to the throne of England in 1689 they brought their pugs with them. Enjoying royal favor, the Pug soon gained wider popularity. From then on the pug spread rapidly across England and then to the United States. It is still a very popular little dog and finds itself ranked as the 29th most popular breed according to AKC 2020 registration data. They also consistently feature in the top 10 most popular breeds in the UK.
Character and Temperament
The collective noun for a group of 3 or more Pugs is known as a ‘grumble’. Yes they do naturally have a bit of grumpy-looking disposition. But this is as affectionate and happy-go-lucky a dog as you are ever likely to meet. It is thought ‘grumble’ refers to the snorting and grunting sounds they make during their interactions with each other.
The Pug is generally a very easy-going and relaxed breed of dog. If well-socialized they make superb pets. They are also very friendly towards other dogs. The Pug is generally great with children. With its cute looks and lovely manner the Pug has proven a very successful therapy dog. They are a good choice of breed for the elderly or infirm as long as sufficient exercise can be put in place.
Like their relative The French Bulldog they do play hard. But they certainly rest hard afterwards. A well-exercised Pug will be a very calm and mellow member of the household if it enjoys sufficient exercise and interactive play.
The Pug is an intelligent dog who enjoys interactive play. They relish mental stimulation. This will improve their cognition or ‘dognition’ making them even more receptive to training. Their mild-manner makes them excellent with small pets such as cats.
Play and exercise are crucial as these dogs are prone to be overweight. It does not help that a Pug will fully exploit its cuteness. If there was an Olympic sport for begging it is likely that a Pug would consistently be competing for gold.
Like their cousins the French Bulldog, this breed has occasional bouts of stubbornness. But this is trumped by their eagerness to please and generally respond well to training. Emphasize recall in the training as this can be an issue for some Pugs. Pugs get very lonely and perhaps ‘grumble’ without their human companions. So training for separation anxiety must also be introduced early.
They have low-maintenance short fur which should be brushed around twice a week. Although in hot weather try to brush them every day to help with cooling (link). The Pug also has a short springy tail. This is a well-built, compact little dog and is strong for its size.
All of this makes them an excellent breed to consider for a first-time owner and this, alongside their suitability for apartment living, contributes to their continuing popularity.
Additionally, Pugs have a good life-span, and can live up to around 15 years. They are brachycephalic which means they cannot gain sufficient cooling through panting. This carries with it the risk of heat stroke unless you take steps to keep them cool.
The folds on the face and the muzzle of a Pug should be regularly cleaned to avoid the build-up of bacteria. This will prevent skin infections. Also a Pug’s claws should be clipped regularly to ensure their comfort when walking. The Pug has protruding eyes which can also be vulnerable to injury. This means that small children must be trained not to go near the area around their eyes. Some Pugs have protruding lower jaws (called underbite). This does need timely treatment or it could lead to painful complications for your dog.
In short if you choose this breed as a companion, you will find very little cause to ‘grumble’.
Background and History
The Pug may have been favored amongst royalty in Holland but it was the Toy Poodle who adorned the decadently ornate royal courts of France. This pint-sized Poodle was popular between the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV1 (during the 17th and 18th centuries). The Toy Poodle then also has royal connections. This certainly played its part in securing an important accolade for the Poodle. This breed is celebrated as the National Dog of France.
This miniaturized version shares all the history and character of its larger brethren (link). The Poodle was an accomplished hunting dog and as an excellent swimmer the Poodle would flush out or retrieve waterfowl. Its name ‘puddeIn’ which is the German word meaning to splash in water. Although the French call the Poodle ‘Caniche’ meaning female duck. This term related to its quarry but it could just have easily signified how easily this impressive dog took to water. Is your Toy Poodle fond of splashing through puddles? If so try to remember that your little dog is just enjoying its heritage on a smaller scale!
In the 19th century the smaller Poodles left the hunt for the circus. Their high trainability and natural athleticism made them popular at the circus. By 1907 the name Toy Poodle was being used generally for the very small Poodles. But it was in the states that this further downsizing took place. The Toy Poodle became an instant hit. By the 1950s the Toy was accepted as an official size by the American Kennel Club (the height must be under 11 in). Any Poodle slightly larger than this is categorized as a Miniature Poodle.
Character and Temperament
The Toy Poodle is a very popular little dog. It has all the blessings of a Toy Dog (link) mentioned above combined with the virtues of the acutely intelligent and versatile Poodle (link). It is certainly a significant contributor to the consistent popularity of the range of Poodles. The AKC rate the Poodle as the 6th most popular breed according to 2020 registration data.
The Toy Poodle is a founding breed for so many of the new designer-breeds. These include: the Yorkie Poo, the Malti-Poo, Westiepoo and Cockapoo.
This is largely for the same reasons that make the Toy Poodle in itself a fantastic breed. They are highly recommended for the first-time owner. As indicated by its hunting and circus legacy this is a hyper-trainable dog. The Toy Poodle is also very active and athletic. This breed numbers among the more energetic of this group and requires two or three walks every day.
This Toy Poodle tends to be very adaptable and they are very suitable for apartments. Although they can be very sensitive to noisy environments.
Another huge bonus is that these breeds, like all Poodles, are hypoallergenic. This means that it does not shed much and this reduces the release of small shards of skin called dander. As a consequence allergic reactions are minimized . The coats can be a variety of solid colors but breeders have striven to avoid spots or patterns of any kind.
Daily brushing is still recommended, particularly during spells of hot weather. Poodles can be susceptible to hot weather. Owners should take measures to ensure they remain cool. Ears should be cleaned regularly as part of the grooming routine. This will avoid fungal infections
The Toy Poodle is an excellent companion dog. But it really does not like being without its human companion(s). Early training to manage separation anxiety is essential. This will prevent unwanted and persistent yapping and destructive behaviors (link).
As a very human-oriented dog, some of this breed do not naturally get on with other pets. This can be supported by early and effective socialization.
The Toy Poodle has a respectable life span of between 12 to 15 years. In health terms they can suffer from eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma . Some have been known to develop epilepsy and hypothyroidism.
Background and History
Finally we come to the breed which puts the Terrier into the Toy Dog Group. This little dog hails from the West Riding of Yorkshire in England.
The Yorkshire Terrier appeared in 19th century England. This was at the behest of mill owners and miners. They saw the virtues of terriers across the border in Scotland in clearing mines and mills of vermin. Thus they developed their own version.
The Yorkie proved an excellent ratter. But was also used to hunt and remove larger prey such as badgers and foxes. As noted above the Terriers are not easily intimidated by larger opposition.
A variety of Terrier breeds were used in creating the Yorkshire Terrier. This includes: the Scottish Terrier, Skye Terrier and Paisley Terrier. Also the Black and Tan Terrier (further supported by the fact that this remains a common color of this breed). A dog called Huddersfield Ben is generally acknowledged the founding dog of the breed in around 1865.
With its silky coat and adorable cuteness it was not long before this Terrier was shaking off its working class roots. It soon left the the mills and mines to become the adored companion of the Victorian ladies in England.
The Yorkie is one of the first breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1878. Since then it has climbed feistily and tenaciously up the charts. It is now consistently featured in the top 10 breeds according to the AKC rankings. According to 2020 registration data it stands tall (admittedly on small legs) as the 13th most popular breed in the United States.
Character and Temperament
Terriers really don’t care about their size and Yorkshire Terriers are the epitome of this. Among the smallest of Terriers they most certainly showcase the indomitable terrier spirit. If you need any further evidence of this look no further than the Yorkie who takes on a coyote in defense of her family .
The Yorkie is also a good little watch-dog and will bark an alarm if unknown people approach the house. Like other small dogs they can be yappy but this can be reduced through good early socializing training. Part of this socialization should be to get them used to visitors as early as possible.
These dogs also love to be off the leash. This could be because of some residual prey-chasing instinct but they generally respond well to training. Recall training is very successful with this breed using appropriate positive reinforcement. They are intelligent and can generally learn a range of commands.
The Yorkshire Terrier is very energetic and lively. They need one good walk each day and enjoy interactive play.
A good level of exercise will help the Yorkie manage separation anxiety. Along with the majority of toy dogs this breed can suffer acutely with this. Unfortunately this can prompt unwanted yapping and destructive behaviors. Other suggested methods to help with this can be found here.
They are excellent family dogs and like to be at the center of everything. But be aware that some of this breed can be occasionally snappy if not treated with absolute respect. So children must learn to treat this little dog with appropriately at the outset.
As an added bonus this coat is not only silkily elegant. But it is also hypoallergenic and shedding is minimal. The Yorkie does require daily grooming to avoid tangling or matting. If the coat is kept shorter then 2 or 3 times a week will suffice. Particular attention should be paid to cleaning facial hair. This can get unkempt and matted following eating.
These dogs tend to have very good longevity and their life-span can be up to 14-17 years old.
The Yorkshire Terrier can be prone to hepatitis where the liver becomes inflamed. Dental problems can also sometimes occur including tooth decay and gum disease. The Yorkie can also suffer spinal problems and loose knee joints. Finally older dogs can also develop cataracts.
Links to other breeds: The Biewer Yorkshire Terrier is a piebald offshoot of the Yorkshire Terrier. The founding dog was born to two Yorkies in Germany in 1984. They were recently recognized as a breed by the AKC in 2021.
Still not found your ideal companion?
If you are not sure a breed from the Non-Sporting Dog Group is right for you, the please feel free to browse the other groups including: The Terrier Group, The Non Sporting Group, The Hound Group, The Sporting Group, The Herding Group and The Working Group.
List of Toy Dog Group Breeds:
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
English Toy Spaniel
Toy Fox Terrier