The 12 Best Small Family Dogs Ready To Join Your Pack
As a parent, few things are better in life than hearing your children laughing and scampering about with their little furry friend. Studies suggest dogs pay close attention to the humans in their household and as a result, kids are quite capable of training them.
How To Choose the Best Small Breed Family Dog
Before adding a small dog breed to your home, make sure your children are old enough to treat and handle the dog respectfully. "Little dogs can be tough, no doubt, but they shouldn't have to accept rough handling or be put at risk by toddlers whose coordination may not be good enough yet to allow them to step carefully," Fear Free's Kim Campbell Thornton, FFCP, tells Daily Paws.
She also recommends that if you're not adopting a dog from a shelter, meet with several breeders and be honest with them about what you're looking for in a dog and what your family life is like. "Let them guide your choice," she adds. "They know their puppies and can help you choose the one that will fit best with your family and lifestyle."
Also consider the time and cost of grooming when making your decision. Campbell Thornton says any dog with a curly or long coat, such as a miniature poodle, bichon frise, Havanese, and shih tzu, requires regular brushing at home and frequent trips to a professional groomer. "If your family is already busy, go for a smooth-coated dog such as a toy fox terrier or Boston terrier," she advises.
As you scan the options below for the best small family dogs, you'll notice every one is a perfect 10 on the adorableness scale!
Beneath the floof of a bichon frise (pronounced BEE-shon free-ZAY) beats a heart of gold and a cunning mind. A fan favorite at dog shows, the bichon is also an ancient breed from islands in the Mediterranean, where their silly antics took center stage in both royal courts and circus tents as far back as the 1300s. So endearing, they pick up on tricks quickly and offer a double bonus of not shedding much.
Even though they're named after their place of prominence in Havana, Cuba, the energetic Havanese is actually a cousin of the bichon. And talk about a performer! This clever pupper with the bouncy step responds so well to positive reinforcement training that—get this—some have learned to herd chickens and ducks! In addition to being a lively family buddy, a Havanese is also a great dog breed for retirees.
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Look up "lap dog" in the dictionary, and there sits a shih tzu! Once known as "under the table" dogs in China 1,000 years ago, they really aren't supposed to do much of anything but be gentle, cuddlesome sweethearts who expect all, yes, all, of your attention. Surprisingly, they didn't arrive in the U.S. until the 1950s. Now pet parents who want a child-friendly dog can't get enough of this fluffy playmate.
Known as the "American Gentleman," a dapper and bright Boston terrier is also a total goofball! Considered one of the most popular and best small family dogs, they positively love to play. However, as a brachycephalic breed (flat-faced), they actually don't require a lot of exercise. Chasing balls, dodging sprinklers, and showing off for treats makes daily life simply a delight.
And the congeniality award goes to … the spunky schipperke! This bouncy Belgian wonder fits right into the groove of an active family with a sparky personality that lights up even more in the company of children, other dogs, and even cats once officially introduced. Here's a pup who benefits from regular socialization and daily vigorous exercise so you know how to channel all his energy. Build him an agility course and you'll be endlessly entertained.
Another perfect pooch for the pack on the go is the miniature schnauzer. A native of Germany, they used their fuzzy snoot to root out vermin, so with that kind of intelligence and pluck, just imagine how this tenacious terrier will take to tricks! They're a "Velcro dog" and eager to follow you around and be first on the scene for a new adventure. They're a bit more barky than most pups, though, so work with a behaviorist to understand what they're trying to tell you and how to control it.
If someone in your household has dog allergies but still longs for an intelligent, athletic canine friend, the snuggable miniature poodle might be the answer. As the poster pup for being nearly hypoallergenic (no breed is completely), they're one of the best-behaved small dogs and super easy to train not only for fun, but also for purpose. Since they're such sensitive sweeties, they do prefer a more mellow living environment, so keep that in mind.
Campbell Thornton says Bolognese dogs are smart, comical, and curious, and they want nothing more than to spend time with their people, doing whatever they're doing! Also known as "Bolos," these precious little snowballs were coveted companions among European nobility as far back as the Renaissance. However, they're surprisingly ruff 'n tumble, always ready for a hike or romping in the backyard.
Add one part poodle to one part cocker spaniel and this equals the tender-hearted cockapoo. Considered one of the most popular hybrid breeds in the U.S., they're a lovable, happy-go-lucky doggo who's never met a stranger. As such, they don't like being alone for long, and might develop separation anxiety without proper training (always best to consult a trainer or behaviorist!). Fortunately, they're eager to play and explore with abandon, becoming your true canine pal.
Coton de Tulear
Another former royal favorite, this time from Africa, is the Coton de Tulear. Pronounced "ko-tawn day too-lee-are," this perky puff of fluff gets her name from the French word for cotton as well as the Madagascan port of Tulear. Quite the people-pleaser, training with treats works well with this quick-witted pooch, who's also a top travel companion. Campbell Thornton says as an added bonus, cotons aren't yappy, although they'll sound the alarm in the event of anything out of the ordinary.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Honored in paintings over the centuries and beloved by kings and queens, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is also completely content in your home, especially if they can nestle right beside you pretty much all day long! Alert, friendly, and kind, they can switch between being furry comfort or a rousing game of fetch in an instant! All creatures in the house, human and otherwise, will love this calm family dog.
Toy Fox Terrier
Now here's one of the best small family dog breeds you might not think of at first—the toy fox terrier. Also called an "Amertoy" terrier because the toy version of the English smooth fox terrier originated in America, expect a lot of spirit—and maybe a bit of mischief!—from this affectionate four-pawed chum. They love interactive toys and games (they're so brilliant, you might even be able to teach them to talk with buttons!) and cohabitate best with older children.