Best Small Dogs for First-Time Owners

Bringing a dog into your family for the first time is a big deal, and we couldn't be more excited for you. If you find yourself wondering, "What kind of dog should I get?" it's important to note that some breeds tend to be better for inexperienced owners than others, and one of the qualities new dog owners often look at is size.

Though not all small breeds are easier to own than their larger counterparts, there is an appeal to a dog who will never get so big that he can knock you over, even if your obedience training hasn't gone as planned. Small breeds have their own challenges, however, like the fact that they can be more fragile by nature and so it may be easier for them to be injured by rough play, being dropped or even caught underfoot.

To help you with your selection, we surveyed 218 veterinary professionals (including veterinarians, veterinary technicians and office managers) and asked them to name the best dogs for new owners. See the top 10 small breeds chosen in the slideshow below.

Best Small Dogs for New Owners

Yorkshire Terrier

Tara Gregg, Animal Photography

No. 9: Yorkshire Terrier (tie)

Small and spunky, the Yorkshire Terrier is a toy breed with a big personality. He's typically intelligent and playful, often getting along with the family cat and taking charge of larger dogs in his home. He can be a great partner for long walks and tends to do well in sports like agility or rally. However, he's not a great choice for families with small children because his tiny size makes him a bit fragile, plus he can become nippy with overzealous kids. He requires consistent, structured training as well as regular grooming, but he can be a wonderful breed for your first dog.


Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

No. 9: Havanese (tie)

Tied with the Yorkie, the Havanese can also be a fabulous addition to a family that's never owned a dog. She's often bright, lively and enjoys being spoiled. Because of her small size, she does need to be protected from roughhousing, but this breed tends to play well with gentle children. Her long coat requires daily brushing and occasional professional grooming, but overall, she's generally a tremendous companion.


Eva-Maria Kramer, Animal Photography

No. 8: Maltese

The little Maltese is awfully cute with that silky white coat and shoe-button eyes, but he's got an endearingly bold personality to go along with it. He often retains a puppylike attitude all throughout his life, which is one of the main reasons he's known for being such a fantastic pet. It's worth noting, though, that his gorgeous coat is far from maintenance free.

Pug Tongue Out Looking at Camera

Leesia Teh, Animal Photography

No. 7: Pug

How can you resist that wrinkly face? The fun-loving Pug is generally a real charmer who tends to get along well with everyone she meets — children, cats and other dogs included. She's not a jogging partner, but she does typically enjoy going out wherever you might go. She's large for a toy breed, compact and muscular, so she's a bit hardier than other small breeds, but she still needs supervision when playing with children.

Shih Tzu Smiling at Camera

Barbara O'Brien, Animal Photography

No. 6: Shih Tzu

The Shih Tzu was bred for Chinese royalty, and he can see love (both giving and receiving) as his primary purpose in life. This typically playful breed tends to be proud — but not arrogant — and responds well to indulgences. He's likely to be happiest in your lap, although he can be intelligent and mischievous, so consistent training is a must. You might even find he has an aptitude for agility or obedience.

Papillon dog

Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography

No. 5: Papillon

With a name that's French for butterfly, you'd expect the Papillon to be striking and pretty, and you'd be right. But even if this breed's distinctive ears didn't make her a standout, her tendency to have a "big dog" personality, energy and intelligence certainly would. Her tiny size doesn't generally hold her back from anything the larger breeds do — she's often a powerhouse in organized sports like canine agility or flyball and may easily handle long walks. She may become yappy if not gently and consistently trained early on, and her house-training habits can leave something to be desired. Like other tiny dogs, she needs to be protected from rough children and dogs.

Boston Terrier

Karin Newstrom, Animal Photography

No. 4: Boston Terrier

Portable, friendly and enthusiastic about, well, life, the Boston Terrier is generally happy to do almost anything, as long as he's with his family. He's often willing to be either a couch potato or an athlete, and he's usually got the intelligence and agility to learn just about anything you care to teach him. Bostons are sturdy despite their small size, and although he's not known to be a nuisance barker or difficult to housebreak, like any dog, he requires exercise, training and socialization to avoid behavior issues.

Bichon Frise on a couch

Leesia Teh, Animal Photography

No. 3: Bichon Frise

Generally affectionate and eager to please, the Bichon falls near the top of this list for good reason. The cotton ball of white fur is typically a born cuddler and a natural at learning tricks. He's usually a bold and happy pup, but he does require consistent training to avoid becoming yappy or snappy. He also might not be a perfect pick for families with small children or rambunctious older children, especially if the Bichon in question is among the smaller of his breed, as he could be injured or frightened to the point of biting.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Leesia Teh, Animal Photography

No. 2: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Like his bigger spaniel cousins, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel might enjoy flushing birds and going for long walks, but more often than not, he's just waiting for a lap to hop into. He's a sturdy toy breed that generally prefers to be with his person all the time. Typically animated and cheerful (although sometimes stubborn), he can be a strong competitor in agility or obedience, and he tends to have an intuitive nature that can make him a wonderful therapy dog. Cavaliers do well in families with older children who will play fetch and hang out with them, and they are a good choice for families who want a small dog who can hike in the woods or run on the beach.

Toy Poodle Standing in Grass

Tara Gregg, Animal Photography

No. 1: Poodle (Miniature or Toy)

The Poodle comes in three sizes: standard, miniature and toy. Though the standard is far too large to be considered in this slideshow, both the miniature and toy versions of this breed are just the right size. Her reputation for being prissy is ill-deserved — in fact, she's often among the smartest of dogs and, as is clear by her status as No. 1 on this list, tends to be a tremendous addition to the family. Many Poodles are relatively easy to train (including house training), hardworking and happy. She can be a tough competitor in sports like obedience and agility, and she tends to love attention, whether it comes in the show ring or at home with her family.

Please remember that if your favorite diminutive dog didn't make our list, that doesn't mean he's a bad breed or a poor choice — far from it. Each individual dog is different, as is every owner and training experience. The breeds listed here were simply chosen by veterinary professionals because, generally speaking, they exemplified qualities that made them among the easier breeds for people who don't have a lot of experience with dogs.

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