Living little carries some big risks
The smallest dogs in the world weigh less than 7 pounds. They can easily slip through cracks in a fence, get stepped on or even hugged a little too hard.
A few other "little" problems are inherent in the popular "toy" pooches that people love to tote in purses, push in strollers or carry along on errands. They can be expensive, can't keep pace with big dogs on long walks, shouldn't roughhouse with kids and are often targeted by thieves.
But pet owners say the small setbacks don't overshadow the diminutive dogs' outsized personalities.
"There is vulnerability about small dogs. You have to protect them," said Debra Beilstein, secretary of the Yorkshire Terrier Club of Los Angeles. Her Yorkie, 13-year-old Mica, weighs 3.8 pounds.
She says their stature doesn't keep them down.
"Yorkies don't think of themselves as small," Beilstein said. "They have big personalities, lots of attitude."
The Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Yorkshire terrier and Maltese are American Kennel Club-designated toy dogs that weigh under 7 pounds. The Yorkshire terrier is the most popular toy breed in the country. It ranks No. 6 on this year's list of all Kennel Club-registered breeds.
Small dogs like Yorkies still require big-time care, American Kennel Club spokeswoman Jessica Rice D'Amato said.
"Just because they are small doesn't mean they need less exercise or mental stimulation than other breeds," she said.
And because the small dogs are so adorable, children tend to squeeze them like they do teddy bears, which can cause injuries, Beilstein said.
Perhaps a bigger problem than predators is the tendency of small-statured dogs to tumble from their owners' arms and get hurt. Dr. Al Townshend, a vet in Chestertown, Maryland, said that's the most common reason he sees toy dogs.
Despite the risks and problems of pocket-size pooches, they can give big-time performances.
Pam Shelby, a retired teacher from Beaumont, California, said her Yorkie, Desi, became a champion in agility contests. There's nothing like taking your dog through the hurdling, jumping, climbing and swerving paces of the obstacle-laden contests, she said.
Those who own toy dogs say they make up for their small stature with a large presence. Dr. Jack Stephens, an Idaho vet, says Yorkies have a reputation of being a little cocky, almost too confident, an attribute shared by his pet Chihuahua.
"You will not find a smaller dog than Torrey, nor one more strong-willed in personality, territory or aggressive than her," he said. "With 10 dogs in our household she 'rules' them all by sheer personality."
Critical thinking challenge: What advantages do small dogs have over big dogs?