Are There Small Dog Breeds That Can Live Outside?

A friend of mine recently announced he was ready to get a small dog for his family. Being a dog owner, I asked him all sorts of questions to make sure he was prepared.

He stumbled on one of my questions “Will your dog spend its time inside or outside their home? Maybe a little of both?”

He assumed every dog breed could live outside all of the time.

We did some research together.

We found out there are very few small dogs that can live outside.

Are there small dog breeds that can live outside? There are 3 small dog breeds which are sturdy enough to stay outside for longer periods if weather conditions aren’t too extreme:

  • Norwegian Elkhound
  • Tibetan Terrier
  • Welsh Terrier.

These 3 dog breeds are resilient enough to stay outside most of the time.

But it’s not ideal for any dog to stay outside all of the time. There are

several factors that will determine if a dog – small or big – can stay outside. So let’s explore them.

1. The Need To Socialize

This is the biggest reason that any dog, should not be left outside all the time.

I know what you are thinking. Can’t work dogs like sled dogs or cattle dogs live outdoors without any human care?

They can because there is more than one dog in the pack. They can keep each other company.

What about stray dogs don’t they survive outside all the time?

Once again, stray dogs tend to hang out with each other. They may survive for a few years of hard living, but they are not typically the healthy or well-behaved dogs you’d want as a pet.

Dogs are pack animals.

Your dog is a member of your pack.

In a recent university survey, 40% of dog owners identify their pet as a member of their family. This shows the strength of the human-canine bond.

So no dog, big or small, should live outdoors without love and companionship from either a human or another dog.

Small breeds for companionship

The emotional health of many small-breed dogs is directly tied to the amount of attention and stimulation they get from their human.

Working dogs need to work, sporting dogs need to play and companion dogs need companionship.

Breeds like Shih Tzu, Pug and Lhasa Apso that are specifically bred to keep people company require that close human-canine bond to be fulfilled.

Forcing this type of breed to live separately from you can result in a dog with any number of behavioral issues.


Small dogs get bored if no attention is provided to them!

And a bored dog often becomes a bad dog, exhibiting negative behaviors as a way to entertain itself.

Many small breeds get adequate amounts of physical exercise just running outside to go to the bathroom, but they still need the mental stimulation that can only come from spending time with their people.  

A dog that spends hours and hours alone outside is bound to become bored and unhappy.

2. Breed of Dog

Small dog breeds that can live outside

Norwegian Elkhound

The Norwegian Elkhound stands approximately 20 inches tall at the withers.

It typically weighs around 50 pounds.

Originally bred to be a guard dog and hunting companion, the Elkhound is well-suited to outdoor living. It has a thick coat that requires weekly brushing.

This breed is a good protector of children and is loyal to its family.

Tibetan Terrier

The Tibetan Terrier measures 14-17 inches at its withers.

It weighs in under 30 pounds.

They were originally bred as companions by Tibetan monks, and as companion dogs they do desire a strong bond with their humans.

A Tibetan Terrier would not thrive in isolation, but their wooly coats and hardy disposition help them endure cold temperatures.

small dog breeds that can live outside Tibetan Terrier
Tibetan Terrier

Welsh Terrier

The Welsh Terrier is about 15 inches tall measured at the withers.

It weighs around 20 pounds.

It has a reputation of being a rugged dog, originally bred to protect against badgers and other nasty vermin.  

Its wiry coat is of the “broken” type and requires regular grooming.

Welsh terriers are friendly, playful, and love people.

small dog breeds that can live outside Welsh Terrier
Welsh Terrier

Toy dog breeds

Toy dogs like Maltese, Chihuahuas or Yorkies are not small dog breeds that can live outside.

Though toy breeds may enjoy an active lifestyle, going hiking or camping with their human companions, they are not considered hardy enough to endure life outdoors.

Toy breeds are also not suitable for long periods of isolation.

Just as a bird dog has a biological need to retrieve things, most toy breeds have a need to warm your lap. It’s what they’re bred for!

Small dog breeds that can’t live outside

Once upon a time, most dogs were left outside most of the time.

Puppies, old or sick dogs or the most spoiled pocket pooches were the exceptions to the rule.

Lately, dogs have been moving indoors, sharing the house, and sometimes even a bed, with their humans.

Today we have a better understanding of a dog’s need to socialize and be a regular part of the family. However, the reasons to keep a small dog indoors go even deeper.

The brachycephalic breeds

Several types of small dogs are brachycephalic, meaning they have “pushed in” faces.

The list includes:

  • Pug
  • Japanese Chin
  • English Bulldogs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Shih Tzu Pekingese
  • Brussels Griffon.

The shortened skull bones of a brachycephalic breed prevent them from regulating body heat the same way other dogs can.

Even if the shade is available, brachycephalic dogs are prone to overheating when temperatures reach over 80 degrees.

If left unattended for several hours outside during a warm day, dangerous and even deadly overheating could occur.

Subject to prey

Very small dogs can be prey to nearby wildlife and other dogs.

While it’s not likely an issue for urban pet owners, those who live in the suburbs and more remote areas should be concerned about predators.

Foxes, coyotes, small wild cats, and large birds of prey have been known to attack and, in some cases, kill small pets who were left unsupervised in the yard.

Bigger dog breeds

There is an argument that bigger dog breeds can be more resilient outside. You can read our article about Labradors being an inside or outside dog.

But remember, big or small, working dog or not, all dogs need either canine or human companionship. For that reason, keeping dogs outside without any interaction is not a good idea.

3. The Weather

Yes, some dog breeds, like Huskies, are built for extreme weather but most dogs are not.

Even the small dog breeds that can live outside with their thick coats like the Norwegian Elkhound, the Welsh Terrier, and the Tibetan Terrier, can’t survive all the time in extreme cold and heat.

4. The Dog’s Environment Outside

Remember, even more important than where your small dog lives, is giving your pet the attention, affection and training it deserves.

If those needs are met, there’s no need to feel guilty about putting your pooch outside for a few hours. Just make sure it is safe and properly sheltered.

To help you select the dog enclosure that best suits your dog, check out our comprehensive guide.

Securely fenced yard

A securely fenced yard is ideal.

Take a walk around your property and look at it from the perspective of a small dog.

Are there holes or gaps in the fencing where a dainty dog could squeeze through?

Make sure outbuildings are secured and toxic yard and garden chemicals are put away.

The kennel

A kennel or run is a good option if your yard isn’t secure.

A kennel for a small dog should be at least 4 feet wide and 8 feet long.  

Place the kennel on the highest part of the property to avoid flooding.

Check out our recommendations for a kennel or run for your outside dog here.

Please don’t chain your dog

Do not chain or tie an unsupervised dog outdoors.

Being kept on a chain encourages aggression in many breeds, and it is also a safety hazard.

A tight, tangled chain can quickly become life-threatening as many small dogs have delicate necks that are easily damaged.

Wearing a collar

Be sure your dog wears a collar that displays license and rabies tags as well as a current phone number.

Microchipping is a good idea for all pets, especially those who spend a lot of time outdoors.

Proper shelter

Remember, if it’s too hot or too cold for you to be comfortable outdoors, it’s too hot or cold for your dog to be left outside without proper shelter.

When it comes to shelters, size matters!

A dog’s shelter should be only about 3 inches taller than the dog’s head when it sits and big enough for the pooch to turn around in.

If too large, the dog won’t be able to radiate enough body heat inside the shelter to stay warm.

Also, make sure the shelter is raised off the ground slightly and placed on high ground to avoid flooding.

Face the door away from prevailing winds and change the bedding regularly.

Attach a flap at the door during cold weather.

The best place for a shelter is inside another building. Consider housing your small dog inside a garage or outbuilding instead of in an open yard.

Without the right shelter, most tiny dogs do not have the body fat needed to warm themselves in cold temperatures.

A dog depends on its fur, skin, tissues, and fat to protect itself from hypothermia.

Small breeds that weigh less than 10 or 15 pounds, to begin with, do not have the reserves to fight the extreme cold. The same is true for short-haired types like Chihuahuas and Mini Pinchers—breeds who often shiver even when they’re indoors.

Meals and water

Adapt feeding and watering habits during cold weather.

Small frequent meals help keep a dog’s metabolism charged which keeps them warmer in cold weather.

Instead of putting out one giant scoop of food in the morning, bring your pet three or more mini-meals during the day if you can.

Use the same method for water.

A large bowl of water can get hot in the sun and icy in the cold—both of which might deter your pet from drinking.

Check and refill the water each time you bring a fresh meal.

Try burying your dog’s water dish about halfway into the ground to prevent it from being knocked over.

Signs It’s Time To Come Inside

It’s possible to provide the best care but still have your dog suffer negative effects from too much outdoor living.

If your pet displays any of the following signs, it may need more time indoors or even a trip to the vet:

  • Weight loss
  • Sore or scratched-up pads
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Limping or other changes in gait
  • Negative behavioral changes such as aggression, disinterest in play, digging or other destructive habits.

Caught in a Compromising Position

Are you a bad dog parent?

Sometimes it’s necessary to leave your small dog outdoors for several hours at a time.  That doesn’t make you a bad pet parent! Work, kids and other commitments must also be considered.

How to enjoy the best of both worlds

It is possible to have the best of both worlds: a happy, healthy well-adjusted small-breed dog and life without an animal underfoot 24/7.

Here are 2 possible solutions.

Option 1

If you have a screened-in back porch or a laundry room/mudroom with backyard access you might consider making that your pooch’s domain instead of sending it all the way outdoors.

Install a dog door to give your pet bathroom access on demand.

Option 2

Another option is to crate train your dog, keeping it safe and out of the way but still indoors with you.

Most small breed dogs take well to crate training, and once trained, many dogs seek out their crates as quiet, peaceful places to retreat when they need a nap or the household gets too busy.

Keep a cozy bed and a few favorite toys inside the crate to make it even more appealing to your dog.

One Big Happy Family

There’s no magic formula to measure how much outdoor time is too much.

Though many small breed dogs thrive on close human companionship, some dogs appreciate more independence than others.

A Boston Terrier that already enjoys hanging out on the back deck by himself will no doubt adapt better to “forced” outdoor time than a Yorkie who can’t bear to let you out of her sight for any reason.

If you’re looking for a new dog and already know it will need to spend a majority of time outdoors, choose a breed that’s suited to that lifestyle and to your environment.

If a change of lifestyle is forcing you to send an inside dog out more often, remember to practice patience.

Allow the dog to adapt to changes slowly.

Put it outdoors for an hour at a time and increase the separation time little by little.

Either way, be certain to provide your furbaby with daily walks, plenty of playtime, training, affection, proper grooming and mental stimulation, good nutrition, and safe shelter.

When all those needs are met, your dog will feel like a valued member of the family no matter where it lives.

More About Small Dog Breeds

Author - Tammie

Tammie is a dog mom to 2 Shih Tzus. Her canines love hitting the hiking trails and exploring nature with her. She believes small dogs can be so much more than spoiled lap warmers if their human companions will just show them how. Tammie volunteers for a local rescue organization and fosters dogs in need of a patient home.

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