The search for just the right dog for your household must take into account your own lifestyle and personality and how those fit the needs of the dog. Whatever the dog's size and breed, it will be an important commitment, and a member of your family for many years. If you've decided to look for a small, relatively easy-to-care-for dog ("relatively" is the key word here!), a number of choices are worth considering.
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Match the Dog to the Lifestyle
All dogs, regardless of size and breed, require plenty of daily care, companionship and interaction. Exercise, training and mental stimulation are always important. But some small, less energetic dogs are easier to care for than others, and some are better suited to the 9-to-5 lifestyle, adapting with less stress to the periods when they must be alone at home.
If a versatile companion who loves to be around people and can live in the city or country sounds like a good fit, consider a French bulldog. This is a good easy-care pick because French bulldogs do not require much exercise or costly trips to the groomer. A few 15-minute walks a day cover the exercise need. Grooming needs include cleaning the dog's facial folds after meals. Training is a good idea, because the French bulldog tends to have a mind of his own. The biggest downside of the breed is the flat face and all the breathing and cooling issues that go with flat-faced breeds. This affectionate and non-boisterous dog will need careful protection from overheating.
For a compact companion who wants to be at his owner's side, a Chihuahua is worthy of consideration. These tiny dogs require little in the way of grooming, exercise or training. For easiest care, select the smooth-coated variety, which requires less grooming care than a long-coated Chihuahua. This little dog can get most of her exercise right in the house. Short walks are fine, but she can be just as happy being toted around. Make sure she gets plenty of socialization early in life so she'll be comfortable around strangers and new situations. It's important to take into consideration that a Chihuahua tends to want to be near her owner, and not to be so friendly with people she doesn't know.
The Italian greyhound is sweet, affectionate, and loves to be around his owner. This lightweight breed is equally adaptable to the city or country life, and has low grooming, exercise and training needs. A weekly brushing is all this dog needs, and a few brisk walks should suit the Italian greyhound just fine. Training that is fun and that uses positive reinforcement couldn't hurt, and the socialization that goes with training can help alleviate this breed's tendency toward shyness. This dog will do best with an owner who really enjoys having his company a great deal of the time.
Consider a Shih Tzu when an outgoing personality in a compact package is what you're looking for. The Shih Tzu is a good pick because she does well around a variety of situations, doesn't need a lot of exercise, and has moderate grooming needs. Dogs of this breed tend to spunky personalities, are great for travel, and like being around all kinds of people. Some indoor play will suffice for exercise, although outdoor walks are good for this dog. Expect to have your Shih Tzu professionally groomed. Training needn't be a top priority, but it's always a plus with any dog. Housebreaking can be a challenge with this breed, and willfulness can be a problem if the Shih Tzu is allowed to be spoiled.
Mixes and Other Small Dogs
Not every small, easy-care dog is a purebred. Some mixed breed or rescue dogs can be a better choice and fit for your household than any purebred. Look for a temperament that fits the household, whether it's sweet and affectionate or animated and energetic. Some dogs will be happy with short walks and some indoor play, while others need much more. When it comes to grooming care, keep in mind that even some short-coated dogs shed, so if shedding is an issue, find out before you choose the dog.
By C.E. Chan
Kilcommons, Brian and Wilson, Sarah. Paws To Consider. New York: Warner Books, 1999.
AKC: How to Pick A Puppy
AKC: Get to know the French Bulldog
Gerstenfeld, V.M.D., Sheldon. ASPCA Complete Guide to Dogs. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999
AKC: Get to know the Shih Tzu
AKC: How to Pick A Puppy
About the Author
C.E. Chan has been a writer since 2003, contributing to magazines, online publications and education organizations. Her work has appeared in "Popular Dogs," "Dog World" and "The Architect's Newspaper," among other outlets. With a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Southern California, Chan worked in the architectural field for several years before becoming a writer.