A toy breed dog is a very small dog kept as a pet, as compared to a very small working dog, although both pet and working dogs can be very small.

When an all-breed association or kennel club divides dog breeds into groups for purposes of competition, the Toy Group contains most of the smallest dog breeds in the club’s registry. There has been much discussion as to whether the designation signifies only a dog’s size (weight, height, or both), or also refers to how a breed is used or its temperament. This has sometimes led to misunderstanding or bad feeling in the world of purebred dogs; there seems to be no consensus.

It seems safest to define toy dogs as being determined by the size of the dogs, and leave discussion of function and temperament to the various breed clubs. However, this can also be problematic, as there is no firm agreement on what height or weight makes a dog a toy, and the upper height limit of some toy dog breeds is over 12 inches at the withers, which places these dogs within the height range of dogs in some other groups as well.

What makes a toy breed?

Does size matter?

Inconsistency in the placement of small terriers into various kennel clubs’ groups illustrates the point. The Tenterfield Terrier, for example, is in Group 2, Terriers of the ANKC. It was slated for placement in Group 1, Toys, but quickly reclassified after objection from owners, who argued that the Tenterfield was a working terrier. In the AKC, the Toy Fox Terrier, a dog of similar type to the Tenterfield, was placed in the Toy Group without objection from owners, but is in the Terrier Group in the UKC. The diminutive Yorkshire Terrier is undisputedly a toy. The Australian Terrier is one of the smallest terriers, but is in the Terrier group.

Form versus function

Another area of contention is the idea that toy dogs are only companion animals, slow moving, with little need for exercise and with low endurance. Papillons give lie to this; although dainty and small they are quite capable of taking long walks with their humans and often excel at the energetic sport of dog agility. The UKC defines Italian Greyhounds as having been bred exclusively as pets; the AKC states that these dogs were bred as gazehounds, dogs that hunt by sight, and are quite fast and hardy, but they are nevertheless members of the AKC Toy group.

List of toy breeds