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11 Best Small Dogs for First-Time Owners (With Pictures)

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By Nicole Cosgrove


If you’re getting a dog for the first time, small dog breeds are a great choice. They require less space, eat less food, and are easier to manage. If a small dog jumps on you, it’s not as dangerous as a large breed that weighs nearly 100 pounds or more.

But not all small dogs are suitable for beginners. Some require experienced owners to manage their behavioral quirks and issues. Here are our picks for the 11 best small dogs for first-time owners.

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The 11 Best Small Dog Breeds for First-Time Owners

1. Bichon Frise

Bichon Frise
Image Credit: Kellymmiller73, Shutterstock
Weight Male: 13–15 lbs, Female: 8–11 lbs
Height Male: 9–12 inches, Female: 9–11 inches
Life expectancy 12–15 years

The Bichon Frise is a small, sturdy dog known for its exceptional personality. They have beautiful white goals that are plush and velvety to the touch. Though branded as hypoallergenic, no dog truly is. The Bichon merely sheds less and is less likely to irritate owners with allergies. These dogs are exceptional watchdogs, but they won’t do much but alert you to an intruder. Bichons are excellent for city environments and small homes or apartments and love socializing.

2. Havanese

Image Credit By: Vista Photo, Shutterstock
Weight Both sexes: 7–13 lbs
Height Both sexes: 8.5–11.5 inches
Life expectancy 14–16 years

The Havanese is the only dog breed native to Cuba and a cheerful little dog that’s ideal for city dwellers. The breed is known for its curled-over tail and gorgeous, silky coat that comes in many colors. These dogs are highly adaptable and have excellent social skills, so they like to go for walks and meet people and pets. Havanese will alert owners to things happening outside, but they can be trained to quiet the barking.

3. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Image Credit: Leah Kelley, Pexels
Weight Male: 13–18 lbs, Female: 13–18 lbs
Height Male: 12–13 inches, Female: 12–13 inches
Life expectancy 9–14 years

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is strongly connected to British history and combines the athleticism of a sporting dog with the gentleness of a toy breed. These dogs are regal and boast a sweet, gentle expression with large doe eyes and a silky coat. Cavaliers get along with dogs and children well. Both active owners and more quiet environments are suitable for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who takes on the personality of the owner.

4. Maltese

Maltese dog with tear stain standing on the floor
Image Credit: Augustcindy, Shutterstock
Weight Male: 6.6–8.8 lbs, Female: 6.6–8.8 lbs
Height Male: 8–10 inches, Female: 8–9 inches
Life expectancy 12–15 years

The Maltese is an affectionate, agreeable breed that’s perfect for a first-time owner. Known for the long, silky coat, Maltese are compact, luxurious-looking dogs with big dark eyes. They have an aristocratic appearance, but they’re alert watchdogs and hardy pets. Maltese dogs often do well in agility classes. They can be willful, but they’re low-shedding and sociable dogs that are forgiving of new owners’ mistakes.

5. Norfolk Terrier

norfolk terrier
Image Credit: Niwiko, Shutterstock
Weight 11–12 lbs
Height 9.1–9.8 inches
Life expectancy 12–15 years

Norfolk Terriers are adorable and loyal dogs that have feisty and confident personalities. As the smallest of the working terriers, Norfolk Terriers share traits with their larger counterparts, like a high prey drive and boundless energy. They bond strongly with their owners, sometimes to the point of possessiveness. Their coats are hard and wiry, but they have low-maintenance grooming needs.

6. Papillon

Photo by MusicFox Fx on Unsplash
Weight Male: 7.9–9.9 lbs, Female: 7.1–9 lbs
Height Male: 7.9–11 inches, Female: 7.9–11 inches
Life expectancy 13–15 years

The Papillon is a toy breed with a lot of athleticism. Despite the refined look, the Papillon is a happy, alert, and friendly dog that attracts attention with its long, silky coat, plumed tail, and wing-shaped ears. These dogs are remarkably adaptable, thriving in warm and cool climates, city and country, and alone or with families of other dogs and children. Papillons excel at agility dogs, and their high trainability makes them suitable for all types of tricks.

7. Toy Poodle

brown toy poodle at home
Image Credit: NDAB Creativity, Shutterstock
Weight 4–6 lbs
Height Under 10 inches
Life expectancy 10–18 years

The Toy Poodle is a tiny version of the larger Standard Poodle, which is an exceptional hunting and working dog. All varieties of Poodles have the same build and proportions, but the Toy comes in a smaller package. The Toy Poodle may be clipped with the classic Continental Clip or left natural, though it’s a low-shedding and low-allergen breed either way. These dogs are remarkably smart and easy to train, which is ideal for a beginner dog owner.

8. Pug

pug dog in a shirt on the beach
Image Credit: 220 Selfmade Studio, Shutterstock
Weight 14–18 lbs
Height Male: 12–14 inches, Female: 10–12 inches
Life expectancy 12–15 years

The Pug is a historic breed that was the companion of Chinese emperors and a mascot of the Royal House of Orange. These dogs are extremely popular for their wrinkly faces and big sparkling eyes. They’re adaptable and happy to be in the city or country, with active owners or families with kids, and get along with other dogs and cats. Because of their brachycephalic head shape, it’s best for Pugs to live in climates that aren’t too hot and humid.

9. Shih Tzu

Shih Tzu sitting on the patio
Image Credit: Frauke Riether, Pixabay
Weight 8.8–16 lbs
Height 7.9–11 inches
Life expectancy 10–16 years

The Shih Tzu has been referred to as the “Lion Dog” for millennia. These cute miniature dogs are solid and lively but show affection for owners and children. They’re perfect for both apartments and homes with large yards but they can thrive anywhere. Their grooming needs are a little higher maintenance than some other breeds, but that’s part of the fun of ownership.

10. Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkshire Terrier standing on the pavement
Image Credit: Josep Monter Martinez, Pixabay
Weight Under 7 lbs
Height 7–9 inches
Life expectancy 13–16 years

The Yorkshire Terrier, nicknamed the “Yorkie,” is a classic terrier with a luxurious, glossy coat. They were raised to hunt rats in mines and mills before becoming lap dogs for Victorian women. The compact, toy-sized dog thrives in cities, but they can do well in just about any environment. Their coats are more like human hair than fur, so they don’t irritate allergies as much.

11. Chihuahua

chihuahua dog wearing a reindeer hat
Image By: HG-Fotografie, Pixabay
Weight  3.3–6.6 lbs
Height  5.9–9.1 inches
Life expectancy 12–20 years

The Chihuahua is a tiny dog with a huge personality. They’re among the oldest breeds of the Americas, dating back to pre-Columbian times. This balanced, graceful dog is fiercely loyal and charming, but they can become dominant without good training. They’re ideal for the city, but it’s best to keep them in warmer climates. Though they get along with children, it’s easy for them to become injured due to their size.

Are Small Dogs Better for First-Time Owners?

Small dogs are considered a good choice for first-time owners because they’re easier to manage and often more adaptable than large breeds. They weigh very little, so they can be picked up easily and take up little space. Many of the dogs on this list are highly adaptable as well, so they can live with families, single owners, or active people in the city, country, or suburbs. Most of these dogs can thrive in any climate as well.

That said, size isn’t the only consideration. Some small dogs can be a handful if you’re not prepared to train them, such as the Dachshund or the Chihuahua. Though they’re small, they can have destructive behavior or aggression. Similarly, smaller breeds that are designed for work, such as the Welsh Corgi or Mini Australian Shepherd, are more suitable to a farm environment and an owner who knows how to provide structure and boundaries.

Divider 5Final Thoughts

The small dogs on this list are excellent options for a first-time dog owner, but it’s important to consider the specific personality of the breed and your living situation. You could also find older rescue dogs that have fully developed personalities and some training, such as housetraining, as a good introduction to dog ownership.

Featured Image Credit: Dorottya Mathe, Shutterstock

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