When Did Dogs Become Small? Explained with Facts

Dogs have been our loyal companions for thousands of years, evolving alongside humans and adapting to various environments and lifestyles. 

While we’re familiar with the diverse range of dog breeds, from towering Great Danes to tiny Chihuahuas, have you ever wondered when and why dogs became small? 

In this article, we’ll embark on a fascinating journey through history and evolution to uncover the origins of small dog breeds and the factors that contributed to their diminutive stature. 

Along the way, we’ll also explore the role of selective breeding in shaping these pint-sized canines and the intriguing tales of their rise to popularity.

The Origins of Small Dogs

To understand the origins of small dogs, we must delve deep into canine history. Dogs, or their ancestors, first became domesticated around 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. 

These early dogs were not bred for specific traits; they were selected for their ability to assist humans with hunting, guarding, and companionship.

Small dog breeds, as we know them today, can trace their roots back to ancient times when humans began selectively breeding dogs to serve different purposes. 

The shift towards smaller canines can be attributed to a combination of environmental, societal, and practical factors.

Ancient Small Dog Breeds

Egyptian Influence: One of the earliest records of small dogs comes from ancient Egypt. Small dogs, possibly resembling modern-day toy breeds, were kept as companions to nobility and were even buried with pharaohs as their loyal companions in the afterlife.

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Chinese Crested Dogs: The Chinese have a long history of breeding small dogs for companionship. The Chinese Crested Dog, with its elegant, hairless appearance, dates back centuries and was a favorite among 

Chinese emperors.

Tibetan Spaniels: These small and spirited dogs, originating in Tibet, were cherished as temple dogs and companions for monks. They were known for their agility and watchdog abilities.

The Renaissance of Small Breeds

During the Renaissance period, small dog breeds experienced a resurgence in popularity, particularly among European nobility. 

This era saw the emergence of breeds like the Pomeranian, which descended from larger sled-pulling ancestors but were selectively bred to become small and fluffy companions.

The Role of Selective Breeding

The evolution of small dogs was significantly influenced by selective breeding. Breeders began to focus on specific traits, including size, appearance, and temperament. Over time, these efforts led to the development of distinct small dog breeds.

Toy Breeds: The term “toy” in toy breeds refers to their small size and the fact that they were often bred for companionship rather than utilitarian purposes. Breeds like the Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel fall into this category.

Miniature Versions of Larger Breeds: Some small dog breeds are miniature versions of larger breeds. For example, the Miniature Schnauzer is a downsized version of the Standard Schnauzer, while the Miniature Pinscher resembles a smaller Doberman Pinscher.

Crossbreeding: Crossbreeding was also employed to create small dog breeds. For instance, the Shih Tzu is believed to be the result of crossbreeding between the Pekingese and the Lhasa Apso.

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Why Smaller Dogs Became Popular

Several factors contributed to the popularity of small dog breeds throughout history:

Indoor Living: As society became more urbanized, people started living in smaller spaces, such as apartments. Smaller dogs were more practical for indoor living, as they required less space and exercise.

Companionship: Small dogs became favored companions for the elderly, royalty, and aristocracy. Their size and affectionate nature made them ideal lap dogs.

Fashion and Trends: Small dogs were often seen as fashion accessories. Royals and socialites would carry them in their arms or fashionable bags, making them a status symbol.


The journey of small dogs through history is a fascinating one, filled with tales of loyalty, companionship, and human ingenuity. 

From their ancient origins in Egypt and China to their resurgence in popularity during the Renaissance, small dog breeds have left an indelible mark on our hearts and society.

The evolution of small dogs was not a random occurrence but the result of deliberate selective breeding, societal changes, and cultural preferences. Today, small dog breeds continue to capture our affection and bring joy to countless households worldwide.

As we celebrate the rich history and evolution of these tiny canines, we can’t help but marvel at the incredible journey that transformed them from humble working dogs to beloved companions that fit perfectly in our laps and hearts.