Dogs: Does size really matter?

Julie Articles

Tips to judge what breeds will fit best into your life

James Herriot wrote about all creatures great and small but when it comes to dogs is bigger really better? Does picking a pooch depend on who will fit into your lifestyle best – Mutt or Jeff? Warren Eckstein answers those hairy questions and more.


Their “mini me” size and cute expressions delight their audience of pet owners. But don’t let their little stature fool you – their “Napoleon complex” is real and many small dogs are tough as nails. Toy dogs will always be popular with city dwellers and people with limited living space. They make ideal apartment dogs and they minimize some of the bigger dog problems like shedding, long exercise periods, and cost of care. And, training aside, its still easier to control a 10-pound dog than a giant breed.


Giant breeds require a lot of exercise. Although smaller dogs don’t need any less exercise, it takes less time and space to exercise them. An hour or two daily with the larger breeds would be considered a good amount.

People who are active, outdoor types and those who love their dogs around them a lot should consider getting a giant breed and because of their size, you always feel their presence. Large dogs are often good with children because they can take the rough-housing that little dogs often can’t. But one caution: You need to watch big dogs with very young children because they can sometimes hurt the kids inadvertently.

Larger breeds tend to have shorter life spans than smaller breeds – big dogs generally live 6-10 years, small dogs, 10-14 years or longer.

Remember, the cost of everything goes up with size. For example, surgery requires more medication, bathing requires more shampoo and time, and larger dogs need more food and bigger toys.

Deciding on the size dog you want is a preference. There are not advantages or disadvantages to either one. Large dogs are gentle, love to cuddle and there is more dog for you to pet. The disadvantages are their shortened life span, the added expense, the fear they often elicit in people and the larger living quarters they require.



These dogs probably originated in Spain. They average 6-10 pounds and are called papillon (French for butterfly) because of their ears. Experts say they were bred as working dogs, ratters, but most of the time you see them in old French paintings as lap dogs, adornments and that’s how they live today.

They love to be pampered but still can act as good little watchdogs. They are great in apartments, good with kids and are generally affectionate.


Contrary to their name, Great Danes are from Germany. They are elegant, courageous and display great endurance. Great Danes were often referred to as super dogs because they hunted wild boar, and were used as guards and during wartime. You could definitely call these guys the gentle giants because they’re good with kids.


This dog was originally a sled dog, known as a member of the Spitz family. Over the years, they’ve been bred down in size but because of their heritage, they have the heart of a big dog in the body of a small dog. They can act spirited, brash and often try to take over everything. They also like to be spoiled but are also good with children that they know. Pomeranians tend to have a short temper and weigh between 5-7 pounds.


This is the world’s tallest dog and can stand over 7 feet on its hind legs. The male dogs are about 120 lbs. and 32 inches at the shoulder. Originally they were bred to hunt giant elk and wolves and hunt with their eyes. (Many breeds hunt with their noses.) Wolfhounds need a fair amount of exercise – approximately an hour a day. They are great with kids, calm, sensitive and are often aware of their size so they compensate with gentleness. They’ve been around for 2,000 years and at one time were given as gifts from one king to another.


Pronounced show-lo-eats-quent-lee, these dogs are also known as “Mexican hairless” and are one of the world’s oldest and rarest breeds. Thought to date back to 1500 B.C., they were bred for “therapeutic value.” Since hairless dogs have a higher normal body temperature they were used as living hot water bottles. Xoloitzcuintli are hairless and odorless and originally hail from Mexico. They were used in religious rituals and are seen as a symbol of goodness and unselfish love. Plus, they were often buried with their owners and thought to be a guide into the afterlife. Xoloitzcuintli come in three sizes but the toys are generally less than six pounds.


These dogs are very calm, easy-going and patient around kids. They were once used to pull carts and turn spits, as well as act as watchdogs and companions. Sometime after 1550 a working dog was brought up to a monastery in the high St. Bernard pass of the Swiss alps which is how they got their name. They are credited with saving lives and have been known to work together in teams. Known for being good rescue dogs, some stories have it that they work in groups of four to find victims in the snow – two lay down on either side of the victim for warmth, one licks the face to revive him or her, and the fourth goes for help.


It’s the smallest dog in the world and can weigh less than one pound though their average weight is 5 lbs. They come from the Mexican city of Chihuahua and were, at one time, a status symbol for the ruling classes. However, the lower classes used them for food. Now, they are known as “clannish,” that is, they prefer their own kind and can be temperamental. They are like owning a big dog in a little dog suit – they display the quintessential “Napoleon complex” and are not generally recommended for kids since they are so small that little kids can hurt them inadvertently.


These dogs can range from 130 to 150 pounds and come from a cold weather climate so they have a heavy coat to protect them from icy waters and webbed feet for swimming. Even though they’re built for cold weather they are OK in a hotter climate – their coat insulates them from the heat as well. They are often used as water rescue dogs and are as much at home in the water as on land. They are well-known for saving children and are very loyal, intelligent and sweet. Newfoundlands need a fair amount of exercise – 1/2 hour to an hour a day of running time. They are excellent with kids.


These little dogs are a bundle of assertiveness. Even if you have 10 other dogs in the house your Yorkie will be in charge. They know how cute they are and take advantage of it all the time, but they are great apartment dogs and easily litter box trained. They can be good watchdogs but need lots of grooming.