Whether you can't get used to the quiet of being an empty nester or you're helping someone else pick out a canine companion, there's no doubting the benefits of dog ownership for mind, body and spirit. "It's hard to overestimate how important a dog, or any pet, is," says Dr. James Campbell, director of the geriatric center at the MetroHealth System in Cleveland. "Dogs are the perfect antidote to the 'plagues of old age' – boredom, loneliness and lack of role definition. They'll get you to play or get out for a walk, give purpose to your day and provide companionship."
Small dog breeds can be an especially sound choice for several reasons. They don't require a large yard, they won't knock over furniture, and they are easily lifted and transported. While all dogs need daily walks, little guys can get their exercise fix indoors if the weather's bad.
So let's cast a spotlight on six small, manageable companions. (Of course, they're not the only good choices. Mixed-breed dogs can also be great pets, at a far lower cost than purebreds.) Always get your pets from a reputable breeder, shelter or rescue center to ensure good health and temperament. If you're purchasing a dog for the first time, this guide from the American Kennel Club can get you started.
The Yorkie: Small Dog, Full-Size Personality If you don't tell your Yorkshire terrier he's a small breed, he'll never know. Barely tipping the scale at 8 pounds, Yorkies have "the tough personality of a big dog in a small body," says Cheryl Rangel of Wheeling, Ill., president of the Yorkshire Terrier Club of America.
This affectionate, brave and curious pup is ready for anything, whether a walk, playtime or exploring a park. "He's also more than ready to sit in someone's lap or on the sofa and garner all the attention he possibly can," Rangel says. His confident attitude lends itself to mischief, though. A Yorkie can bark to excess when excited, left alone or seeking attention, behaviors which can be limited with training. He'll also terrorize a squirrel or challenge a dog 10 times his weight, so stay nearby when you stroll, Rangel advises, and don't leave him unattended in areas with potential predators, like hawks.
The Corgi: A Natural Watchdog Don't let those little legs fool you. Originally bred for herding, the Pembroke Welsh corgi is athletic and can excel at dog sports, like agility or herding. But you need to engage this attentive working dog's mind, too. Practice obedience, teach him tricks and let him play with puzzles or treat-hiding toys.
With daily walks and outings, corgis will stay calm and relaxed in the house. Highly trainable, they'll quickly learn the ropes. They're happy to accompany you around your home and will assume it's their job to guard the castle. But be aware that this part of their nature can lead to a lot of barking, as your corgi will alert you to anything that seems out of place or potentially threatening/
The corgi's smooth, medium-length coat is fairly easy to maintain with weekly brushing, but more frequent grooming will be needed during shedding season.
The Poodle: More Than Good Looks The poodle is a thinking breed, widely employed as a guide or therapy dog. When you get a toy or miniature poodle, "you get the same brain, but in a smaller size," says Leslie Newing of the Poodle Club of America. Poodles love mental challenges — a daily job, a new trick or obedience practice. Once they've figured out their daily routine, you may find your dog one step ahead of you. Poodles also bond tightly with their owners and read human emotions well. They're happy when you are and stressed when you're upset. Like some other small breeds, the poodle can make noise belying its small stature. Barking can be managed with consistent commands or distraction.
Poodles are an athletic breed. A couple of daily walks and the occasional romp will keep your pet fit and happy. "They do need consistent grooming," Newing warns, "but the show-dog haircut isn't required outside of the ring." See a groomer to find a cut that will be easy to maintain at home. Regular brushing between visits will keep your poodle's curly, non-shedding fur healthy.
The Dachshund: A True Companion The sturdy dachshund, affectionately known as the "weiner dog," retains the bravery and sense of adventure of his ancestors, who were badger hunters. Exploring the outdoors remains important to the doxie today. His low-to-the-ground nose loves to go to work, so he'll appreciate occasional games of sniffing out hidden treats. He'll also thrive in formal sports, like K9 Nose Work or Earthdog, and weiner dog races are major social and recreational events for dachshund enthusiasts.
The doxie has three coat types: wirehair, longhair and shorthair, which is the easiest for owners to maintain. The standard dachshund weighs in at 16 to 32 pounds, but a miniature may be more manageable at about 11 pounds. An adult-only household is a good environment for a doxie, who will relish your full attention and greet strangers with a loud bark.
The Maltese: Cuddly and Playful A little bundle of white fluff, the devoted Maltese sticks by his people and is happy to keep your lap warm. But don't overlook his playful side. Maltese are lively and enjoy a daily walk, as well as playtime and exposure to the world. As with most small breeds, good socialization training can help prevent unwanted behavior. "The better socialized they are, the less they bark," says Karen Marquand, director of Small Breed Rescue of East Tennessee. "But if they don't go out much or see many visitors, they will bark at new sights, sounds and people."
A Maltese's soft white coat, which resembles human hair more than fur, requires frequent brushing, as well as regular, professional grooming, which can get expensive, Marquand says. A shorter haircut can make maintenance easier, but periodic snipping and face wipes to minimize tear stains will still be required.
The Pomeranian: A Perky Lap Warmer Weighing just three to seven pounds and standing less than a foot high, the friendly and affectionate Pomeranian is content in even the smallest household. The Pom enjoys his lap time, but when you're not sitting he'll gladly accompany you around the house, bouncing on his hind quarters to see what you're doing. The Pom is an energetic breed. Given his size, he can get the exercise he needs inside your house, but should still get a daily trip around the block to satisfy his sense of adventure. Keep an eye on him in public; oblivious to their small stature, this breed won't hesitate to roughhouse with the big dogs. "Pomeranians are a bit more active and a bit barkier than Maltese," Marquand says, but patient training and socialization can help enforce good habits.
The Pomeranian's luxurious coat requires some care, Marquand says, including a trip to the groomer every few months. Between trips, your weekly brushing and occasional snipping will prevent matting.