Could a Small Breed Dog be a Good Fit for Your Family?

Family Matters on 02.14.13
Contributor bio | twitter

Last summer my daughter turned 10, and reminded me for the umpteenth time that I had promised her that we would consider getting a small dog when she was old enough to take care of it. Her longing for a small dog began when she was four, and she had religiously pestered me ever since. 

I have always been a big-dog person, and personally have never really found much use for small dogs. Although I had my doubts, I looked carefully into area breeders and shelters, and after looking through many varieties, pure breeds, and mixes, settled on what I was told was a “designer” dog- the Malti-Poo.  Since Jack has entered our home, our hearts have never been the same. From the minute we met him, we were completely taken by his teddy bear cuteness, his intelligence, and his love and devotion. 

The thing I love most about Jack aside from his winning personality, is his portability. I hated the idea of getting a dog that would stay home all day.  Our lifestyle is pretty mobile, and yet we have our long stretches at home too.  Jack enjoys coming with us almost everywhere we go, and seems to get preferential treatment and be welcomed into most establishments we bring him to. I’ve learned a few things about small dogs that are very different from larger breeds, and wanted to share them, in case you are considering a small dog for your family. 

  • Children should really be over the age of seven before you consider bringing a small breed puppy home. Even large breed puppies are delicate to some extent, but you can multiply this fact times ten for small breed pups.  Without meaning to, kids can cause serious harm to a puppy this size, just by playing with him.  If your child tends to be rough, or isn't used to handling small animals, than you might wait until your children are older, or consider a larger breed. You also want to make sure that your small breed pup is at least twelve weeks old before you take him home. 
  • Small breeds should always be walked on a harness, especially around other dogs. Similar to the reasons noted above, larger dogs can hurt a small breed very easily without meaning to. Your small breed should be trained and socialized as much as possible for reasons not only pertaining to good doggy etiquette but also for his own safety.
  • Small breeds and toy breeds don’t always have the same exercise requirements as larger dogs, so you should really get a good sense of your family's long-range activity goals.  For instance, if you are a family who hikes, or enjoys water sports, then smaller breeds are not as compatible with certain activities. Make sure that the dog you are choosing can keep up with you, and is not going to get overtired or fearful in certain environments. 
  • If you are someone who works a lot and will be leaving a small dog home often, then this is less than ideal due to the fact that so many small breeds are dependent on human interaction and companionship.  They can also tend to get into trouble if they are not getting enough attention. 
  • As long as you are working with an ethical breeder, you should be able to trust the health history of the breed, but make sure you inquire about degenerative issues that many small breeds are prone to, and ask for a vet history of the parents.  Also make sure that you understand their grooming requirements  Our Jack is hypoallergenic, and needs brushing a few times a week otherwise his hair tends to mat and tangle. If you decide to adopt a pet, you won't necessarily get a good history, so just know the basics before making a commitment. 
  • Many “purse” dogs can be at risk for lots of problems when they are carried in bags that do not create enough support for their backs and necks. If you have an interest in taking your dog with you as a companion, make sure you are very discerning about the type of carrier you choose for your small companion. 
  • Small dogs can have particular training requirements and it’s good to get a book on small breed dog training.  Some can have issues with potty training due to the fact that their bladders are much smaller and need to be emptied more often. 

Although we were sure that our Jack would be my daughter's dog, the novelty of caring for him wore off quickly.  Although an excellent experience for teaching kids responsibility, it’s also wise to be realistic about who really ends up caring for the dog over the long term.  At night, when it’s time to snuggle in for bed, you can always find Jack snuggled up next to his "other" owner. Although we have our own ideas about whose dog he really is, I am without a doubt wild about him, and he knows it.

Photo Credit: "Jack" by Austin White

Top Articles on Pets 
4 Ways to Help Your Toddler and Dog Get Along 
5 Ways to Help a Child Prepare for the Loss of a Pet
Spread the Word About Pet Adoption with Petfinder