Small breeds – the positives and the negatives

For many, the term ‘small dog breed’ is synonymous with the popular Toy breeds; however, this isn’t always the case. There are a number of small breeds classified in all of the dog groups – Utility, Terrier, Herding, Hound and Working – that fall within the small breed weight range of between 1kg and 9kg.

The most popular dogs of yesteryear were medium to large breeds who worked alongside man. Today, the small breeds are more popular for those living in a city where accommodation sizes have declined and space is limited.

What the smaller breeds lack in size, many make up for in personality. Some small breeds are very busy dogs, needing plenty of exercise. Others are ‘too big for their boots’, often standing up to dogs twice their size with a courageous and fearless character.

Small dogs are easy to handle and costs are lower

Quite obviously smaller dogs eat less food and veterinary bills for some procedures are lower. Small dogs are also easier to accommodate in a travel crate inside the car. Hotels and restaurants also seem more tolerant of them.

‘Small’ doesn’t mean ‘maintenance-free’

Some breeds are very demanding of attention and cannot be left alone for long periods. They need company during the day – either human or canine. Grooming requirements vary according to the breed, but some of the longer-coated dogs need daily attention to keep their coat in good condition.

Also consider the temperament of the breed you fancy. Some breeds can be stubborn and independent, and they do require some basic obedience training. Small dogs are not all ‘couch potatoes’ – some are very active and need a daily walk to burn off energy.

Very small dogs are fragile

Tiny dogs can easily be injured and need to be under constant supervision. Never place a small breed puppy on high furniture where he may jump off and hurt himself. It is also advisable not to let your small breed constantly climb flights of stairs, as this may aggravate any predisposition to spinal and joint problems. Consider where your pet sleeps – for his own safety. It is far safer to teach your small breed puppy to sleep in a dog basket alongside your bed, rather than in your bed where he may be hurt or fall off.

If you have a small breed puppy weighing under 1kg, you must be aware of the symptoms of hypoglycaemia, a dip in blood sugar. A puppy with low blood sugar will stagger or look weak. Immediately rub a little honey on his gums or place some under his tongue, then take him to your vet or emergency animal hospital.

 Smaller breeds live longer than medium and large breeds

This is a major benefit of choosing a smaller breed – you’ll have a companion for many years, with some breeds reaching 17 or 18 years of age. It is also important to consider your current lifestyle and future plans. It is not uncommon for small breeds to outlive their senior owners, and provisions should be made in a will as to who should care for the dog in the event of the owner’s passing.

 They are not always ideal for families with small children

Many people think ‘small child, small dog’, but this does not mean that all small breeds are suitable for families with children. Those who are very tiny and fragile are not breeds for children. Always consider the temperament of the breeds you like before choosing one to suit your family.

Some small breeds have health problems

Just like medium and larger breeds have specific health problems related to their size, smaller dogs may also have health issues. Genetic health conditions may be noted in a specific breed and prospective owners must do their homework when choosing a breed.

If a specific condition is common in the breed of your choice, be sure to ask the breeder about it and what precautions are being taken. Problems noted in smaller breeds include heart conditions, spinal and joint problems, dental concerns, dislocated kneecaps (patellar luxation), pancreatitis and brachycephalic syndrome – respiratory difficulties noted in the flat-faced breeds.

They are prone to weight gain

Consult your vet about the correct diet for your small breed according to his lifestyle. Some smaller breeds do tend to pile on the pounds. Being overweight puts your dog at risk for cardiovascular, respiratory and joint problems and also type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Owners want to shower their pets with love and many do so with food treats, which is detrimental to the pet’s health. Occasional treats are fine, but too many will lead to weight gain.

Many smaller breeds are very alert and may bark to get your attention

They make outstanding indoor ‘guard dogs’ where they will immediately let you know that they have identified something amiss. Some breeds do tend to bark excessively, which can be a problem, especially in complexes or flats. If the dog is properly socialised and trained as a puppy and the unwanted barking addressed quickly, this problem can be rectified. If not nipped in the bud, it may become a difficult one to solve. In this case a reputable behaviourist should be consulted.

 Small breeds feel the cold 

Small dogs are indoor dogs. In winter a small breed with a thin coat will need a dog jersey and additional blankets in his bed to keep warm, even inside the house. For hygiene purposes, change the dog jersey every day. Some owners also include a small heating pad in the dog’s bed, but if you want to do this, be sure that your dog won’t chew on the cords. A safe alternative is a bean bag that you heat in the microwave. First monitor your dog; the heated buckwheat does have an odour that some dogs find irresistible.


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