Small or Large Dog? The Pros and Cons

Russian borzoi dog with Italian Greyhound outdoor portrait

There are big differences when it comes to owning a small or large dog.

Would you like to own a dog and haven’t yet chosen a certain breed? The size of the new family member can be important too. Especially with very small (under 6 kilograms) and very large dogs (over 40 kilograms), size has an impact upon day-to-day life with a dog.

Owning a small dog

What actually is a small dog? There is no set definition. It depends on perspective for many: For Mastiff owners, a dog weighing 15kg is small, but it is big compared to a Chihuahua. In the following article, we refer to dogs weighing up to 6kg when we discuss small dogs. With large dogs, we refer to canines with a shoulder height of over 60cm.

Small dogs – companions wherever you go

Very small dogs are practical day-to-day companions: Feather-light toy dogs in particular fit in every bag and can often enter shops or restaurants that remain off limits to many fellow canines. Toy dogs include, for instance, Chihuahuas or Toy Poodles.

Do you live in a city and regularly use the bus and underground? Small dogs travel free of charge in many cities, whilst all dogs that don’t fit in a bag need a ticket.

A small dog takes up less floor space too. If you’ve ever travelled with a dog on the packed underground or have tried to fit your Doberman’s four limbs under a restaurant table, you’ll be familiar with the problem.

There’s enough space even in the smallest home: With small dogs, the range of dogs for small apartments is particularly big. Be it a Maltese or Pug, small dog breeds generally don’t need as much space as large or very large dog breeds. If a St Bernard wags its tail in a 40m2 apartment, it will soon knock the porcelain off the coffee table.

Caution: Small hunting dogs aren’t necessarily happy with little space. Although popular Jack Russell Terriers only weigh around 6kg, they are real power packages and are only suited to city living in exceptional cases. Attic apartments are suitable for small dogs too. They either climb the stairs themselves or you can carry them up.

Small dogs live longer

Although there are exceptions to the rule, generally the smaller the dog, the longer its life expectancy. A Shih Tzu has an average life expectancy of 16 years. Chihuahuas can even live to the age of 20.

Small dogs eat less

There are also advantages with food costs. It may sound banal, but small dogs eat less. For instance, if we compare the daily serving of a wet food: A dog weighing 5kg needs around 280g per day. If a dog weighs 40kg, it should eat over 1,300g of the same wet food every day – around four times as much. This is reflected in monthly costs too. Veterinary costs and basics like harnesses or bowls are often also cheaper for small dogs.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy with German Shepherd © Grigorita Ko /
Much more time is usually required for grooming with large dogs.

Less grooming

This factor is less important with short-haired dogs that don’t pose any particular demands in terms of grooming. But you will be familiar with the problem if there is a Havanese in your family: Combing and brushing take up a lot of time, as well as searching for ticks or leaves and getting it dry after walks in the rain. However, compare the time needed for grooming to a large dog like a Bobtail. An XL dog means more fur and much more time required.

Are you keen on dog sport? The options with small dogs are limited. Of course, even small companions can learn tricks or do an agility course. However, everything should be tailored to its size. Dogs with short legs don’t make suitable companions for cycling or horse riding. You should take your dog’s size into consideration with hiking too, although if necessary you can take it with you using a special dog rucksack.

Small dogs are more prone to yapping – although this has more to do with the owners than their size. Many think that small dogs need less training because of their size. But the same applies for mini dogs too: A well-trained dog makes life more relaxed for humans and canines. So definitely devote plenty of time to training.

Extreme breeding harms toy breeds

As in so many areas, there are also breeders who are prone to extremes regarding size. For instance, Teacup Chihuahuas, i.e. especially small Chihuahuas, can suffer from severe headaches and eye infections because there is too little space for the brain in the small skull.

A kerb proves a real obstacle for some too. This makes a normal canine life impossible. Don’t buy from breeders who advertise attributes like “very small”, because such extremes come at the cost of good health.

Owners appreciate the advantages of their mini dogs, but they often have to put up with claims like “that’s no real dog”. As a fan of compact dogs, don’t be misled – you know what your four-legged friend has to offer! If necessarily, point out in a friendly but forthright way that despite its cute appearance, a mini dog isn’t a cuddly toy. Anyone who wants to stroke it should always ask beforehand.

Advantages of small dogs

  • Take up less space
  • Easy to carry
  • Less grooming required even with long fur
  • Lower food and veterinary costs
  • Can often travel free on public transport
  • Greater life expectancy

Owning a large dog

Would you like a protector alongside you – at least optically? In that case, an XL dog is right for you. Although size alone doesn’t mean that your dog will defend you, strangers do have more respect for large dogs. This can also play a role if you live in the countryside and your dog assumes the role of watchdog.

Large dogs are excellent companions on long walks. If you like long hikes or are looking for a companion for jogging or cycling, you have found the right companion. However, this isn’t the case for all XL dogs.

In addition, you should consider breed-specific characteristics. Afghan Hounds like to run long distances, but aren’t always easy to retrieve. Large dogs with a strong bone structure like St Bernards or Molossers are no athletes and are less keen on sporting activities. Not many are suitable for dog sport like agility, because many prefer not to jump in order to protect their joints.

Training compulsory for large dogs

Large dogs aren’t necessarily better trained, but training is compulsory to cope with day-to-day life. Hardly anyone can hold back a Mastiff weighing 80kg when it pulls at the lead. Although this will prove challenging, you have no choice with a huge dog.

This is a good thing, because you will benefit from your dog being well-trained when it is of adult age. Since some large dog breeds tend to be quite lazy, you will ideally have a calm, cool companion alongside you.

Border Collie and Jack Russel terrier on grass © annaav /
Training is important with dogs of all sizes. However, XL dogs must always be able to be retrieved.

Large dogs need space

Space can play a role even with the car – just try getting an adult Great Dane into a small car. Even with dogs that aren’t overly large, you need roomy sleeping spots, more space in restaurants and a huge carry case.

In addition, you can’t just carry XL dogs – after all, some breeds weigh more than the average human. The situation becomes critical when it comes to climbing stairs. You should forbid this entirely during the puppy phase. Heavy adult dogs should also avoid stairs. If you live on an upper floor, a chairlift should be available.

Feeding a large dog naturally costs more, because it needs bigger daily portions. Even veterinary costs for anaesthetic or deworming products can be more expensive, because a dog weighing 50kg upwards needs more of them.

Grooming takes up more time: If a Newfoundland gets wet, it takes a lot more time for it to get dry than with a smaller dog. Regular grooming takes on new dimensions with a maxi dog.

Advantages of large dogs

  • At least optically a protector for you
  • Often – not always – more relaxed in encounters with fellow dogs
  • More dog to love

Small or large? Perhaps somewhere in the middle is right for you?

Toy or giant – are you unsure whether a small or large dog is a better fit for you? Maybe somewhere in the middle is right for you. Attend a dog exhibition to get a feel for different breeds and sizes.

The Poodle is one of the most versatile breeds in terms of size, since it ranges from Toy to King Poodles. Bear in mind that size isn’t everything – in the end, your pet’s character is what matters most!

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