Small dog breeds have a reputation for being hard to train. Sometimes that's deserved, but it's often because a small dog isn't going to create as much havoc as a larger breed, so the owner doesn't bother to train the pet properly. However, many toy breeds, such as Chihuahuas, are difficult to housebreak, requiring a great deal of patience. If you're in the market for a small, easily trained dog, you have plenty of candidates from which to choose.
Toy or Miniature Poodle
Among the smartest of all canines, poodles are among the easiest to train. As long as your training is consistent, they quickly figure out what it is you want and retain the information. Most poodles are naturally obedient, and want to stay by your side. Toy poodles stand 10 inches or less at the shoulder when full grown, while miniature poodles stand more than 10 inches but no more than 15 inches.
Toy and miniature poodles are prone to certain genetic conditions. These include Legg-Perthes disease, a congenital malformation of the hip joint, and slipped kneecaps. The metabolic disorders, Cushing's disease and Addison's disease, are also common in the breed. With good care, expect your poodle to share your life for about 15 years.
Papillon or Phalene
The papillon, named for his "butterfly" ears, and the phalene, the drop-eared version, are the same breed. These little dynamos are friendly and smart. Because of their temperament and portability, they make good therapy dogs, but are athletic enough to shine in canine activities such as agility. These dogs stand between 8 to 11 inches at the shoulder at maturity, weighing between 4 to 9 pounds.
Papillons and phalenes are prone to hip dysplasia and slipped kneecaps. Progressive retinal atrophy, which results in blindness, affects the breed. Papillons and phalenes often live into their mid-teens.
Cute as a canine can be, the Havanese is also quite bright. He's also devoted to his people. If you want an easily trainable small canine who loves to cuddle, he's your guy. At maturity, the Havanese stands between 8 and 11 inches high at the shoulder.
Like many toy breeds, the Havanese is subject to Leggs-Perthe disease, slipped kneecaps and hip dysplasia -- elbow dysplasia also affects them. Deafness is a breed issue, as is heart disease. Havanese usually live to the ages of 12 to 15.
Norwich and Norfolk Terrier
These two tiny terriers were once the same breed, and the primary difference between the two is that the Norwich carries his ears erect while the Norfolk's ears are droopy. As small as they are, they are true terriers and like having a job. They excel at various canine sports, partly because they are easy to train and eager to work. They are also fine watchdogs. When full-grown, the Norwich and Norfolk terrier stand between 9 and 10 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 11 or 12 pounds.
These terriers may experience similar orthopedic problems as other toy dogs, along with the heart condition mitral valve disease. These dogs often experience vaccination sensitivity, developing hives and other allergic reactions. Speak with your vet about a vaccination protocol for your pet. Expect your Norfolk or Norwich terrier to live to his mid-teens.
If you're looking for something a little different in small, smart dog, consider the Affenpinscher, also known as the "monkey dog." He gets that moniker from his facial resemblance to an ape. The Affenpinsher learns quickly and thinks creatively. Maturing between 9.5 and 11.5 inches tall and weighing between 7 and 9 pounds, he's an alert little dog and makes an excellent watchdog.
Besides the typical small dog orthopedic problems, Affenpinschers may have heart murmurs. Their life spans typically range from 12 to 14 years.