10 Popular Small Breed Dogs For Special Needs

10 Popular Small Breed Dogs For Special Needs%22 Lucy the therapy dog laying in Green

The number of adults and children with special needs or suffering from anxiety or stress seems to be increasing every day.  The use of Service and Therapy Dogs to help is also growing.

There is strong scientific and anecdotal evidence that looking at, caring for and petting pets, especially dogs, can reduce tension and improve mood in humans. MRIs, urine and blood tests have shown increases in certain hormones like oxytocin and decreases in the stress hormone cortisol. Dogs are nearly always happy to see you and often seem to intuitively understand you and your feelings. They can sense when you need help or love without you having to say anything. They can also be good listeners and don’t seem to judge. Their big eyes and soft coats can often make you feel better. Some service, Therapy and Special Skills Dogs can be trained to help with tasks or alert to sounds (eg for hearing impaired) or chemical changes (diabetes) or actions and feelings (PTSD).

Therapy and Service Dogs can offer support, comfort and companionship to seniors, hospitals, universities, schools and even those suffering from some forms of anxiety or special needs  Some senior residences have visits daily from therapy dogs who give the residents a little taste of unconditional love, even when they may longer feel a connection with the outside world.  In hospitals, we have seen dogs provide relief and distraction for patients awaiting treatments or away from their families and friends.

Gizmo the WonderDoglet

One of the most committed and active small Therapy Dogs we know is our Best Fren Gizmo the 3.5 lb WonderDoglet.

Gizmo the tiny Therapy Dog-640x848

Adorable Therapy Dog Gizmo from Gizmo’s Frens

Children with special needs can feel emotional support and a boost in their confidence when spending time with a pet. We have several stories of Autism Service Dogs changing lives of families. Therapy Dogs have been known to make inroads with youth at risk.  University campus visits are becoming more popular, helping to relieve stress during exam periods.  Even our first responders, social workers, and psychiatrists may need a Therapy Dog’s support and love during times of crisis.

We have been to the library filming with our little best Fren Gizmo and seen firsthand the amazing effect he has on children, helping them read out loud. He is also a qualified emergency response dog.

TH Gizmo pic

Gizmo’s gorgeous girlfriend Zoe The Therapy Dog is also a pint-sized rescue miracle worker featured in our Dogs Make a Difference TV episode. She works with Pets on Wheels of Scottsdale, Inc..


 10 small breed dogs making a big difference:


Talent Hounds Buster Rocking his Vest

Talent Hounds Buster Rocking his Vest

A great companion dog, the chihuahua is a wonderfully proud alert, lively and adventurous little dog. The small size of the Chihuahua makes it an ideal therapy dog.  Loyal, they often bond with one owner in the family. They come in a variety of colours and can be either long or short coated. Because they are so tiny, they can easily be lifted onto hospital beds. They may also be good at doing tricks and entertaining like our talented friend Buster who visits seniors each weekend. Our Chi friend Piranha Banana is also a US therapy dog.


adorable purple small poodle


Elegant. Proud. Clever. Poodles are impressive dogs who boast a top position on the smartest breeds list. Behind the blue ribbon wins, impressive hairdos, and prancing feet,  you’ll find an affectionate, loyal and cuddly breed with an ancient history and many talents.  Poodles can also be well-suited for people who suffer from allergies.

Poodles are popular therapy dogs in schools because of their friendly and family oriented character.  With their various sizes of toy, miniature, medium and standard, the poodle’s combination of brains and beauty excels in obedience and trick training and can make it an ideal therapy dog whatever its size.

Yorkshire Terrier

Lucy (4)

During World War II, a friend of an injured corporal in the United States Navy brought the soldier a Yorkshire terrier puppy named Smokey. The pup had such incredible effect on the morale of both the corporal and the other injured soldiers in the ward that the doctor, Dr. Charles Mayo of the famed Mayo Clinic, began to take Smokey on his rounds. Smokey reportedly became one of the first-ever official therapy dogs.

Yorkshire terriers, also known as Yorkies, are easy to transport, and they love interacting with people. Despite their small size, these pooches are brave and love to investigate their surroundings. Their big personalities and energetic nature make them perfect therapy dogs as they can be easily lifted onto hospital beds, onto laps and even put under an airplane seat in an airline approved carrier so your unconditional love and support can always be by your side.

We featured Lucy, the Smallest Working Dog in our dogs make a difference TV episode and also Bella the Service Dog whose owner is hearing impaired.


Welsh Corgi

Corgis are a favourite dog breed of the English Monarchy but aren’t just for royalty.  They can make excellent therapy dogs. A member of the herding group, corgis are usually an even-tempered, smart and affectionate breed. These short and sturdy dogs are known for both their obedience and friendly attitude.  Corgis can make excellent companion dogs for people in nursing homes or with disabilities.

They can be known to sense things even before you do and as such are empathetic dogs whose loyalty and affection can be so therapeutic when their owner is sad, grieving, lonely or ill.  A great family dog, they still must be watched and trained as their herding instincts may come into play around young children.

French Bulldog

Adorable Beau the Frenchie in Dinner Jacket

Adorable Beau

French Bulldogs love to cuddle with their human friends in need of companionship. These usually non-confrontational, affectionate and even-tempered dogs were selectively bred from larger bulldogs to make lap dogs. During the Industrial Revolution, the dogs were introduced to France and soon gained popularity with Americans. In the late 1800s, they became known as French Bulldogs.

French bulldogs are known for their muscular frames, heavy bone structures and smooth coats. They have short faces and bat-like ears. Due to their compact size and affable attitude, French bulldogs, also known as Frenchies, make excellent therapy dogs. Just remember that snort and snurgle isn’t necessarily your partner, Frenchies tend to make the most hilarious noises and put smiles on everyones faces. Aria recently adopted little Beau and he sure makes us smile.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

king charles spaniel

The majestic King Charles Spaniel, named after King Charles II of Britain, was bred to be a loyal companion dog.  For hundreds of years, paintings of aristocrats have featured depictions of King Charles Spaniels lounging on the laps of their noble owners. Times haven’t changed much, have they?  These centuries of companionship have given the King Charles spaniel lots of practice in providing snuggles and comfort. They love to interact with people and their warm temperament and obedient nature makes them the perfect therapy dog.  Although King Charles Spaniels seem to be excellent for people of all ages, their calm and sweet nature makes them work particularly well with children and the elderly. Due to their small size, King Charles Spaniels easily can visit children and those bedridden or wheelchair-bound. Their sweet and friendly temperament can also provide comfort to those suffering from emotional problems or mental health issues.

Although King Charles Spaniels seem to be excellent for people of all ages, their calm and sweet nature makes them work particularly well with children and the elderly. Due to their small size, King Charles Spaniels easily can visit children and those bedridden or wheelchair-bound. Their sweet and friendly temperament can also provide comfort to those suffering from emotional problems or mental health issues.

Bichon Frise

Bichon Frisé

The Bichon Frise was bred to be a companion dog.  Originating in the Mediterranean, Bichon Frises accompanied sailors on sea voyages and soon became popular lap dogs for nobility in France, Italy and Spain.  Because of their warm disposition and affectionate nature, Bichon Frises can make great therapy dogs. They have increasingly become popular as assistance dogs for people with hearing impediments because they are usually steadfast and easily trainable. Because they do not shed, they also work well as therapy dogs for people who suffer from allergies.  These energetic little dogs will appeal to even those who are most unsure of dogs.


Blind Rescue dachshund Arthur

Blind Arthur

Dachshunds were first bred in Germany in the 1600s to root out and kill badgers. A fearless breed with a great sense of smell and a friendly personality, the Dachshund, a German word for “badger dog,” comes in three coat varieties: smooth, wirehaired and longhaired. Known for their elongated, low bodies and short legs, dachshunds are affectionately nicknamed hot dogs or wiener dogs.

Dachshunds work well with children, and their small size makes them easy to lift for wheelchair-bound or bedridden patients. Due to their affectionate and playful personalities, dachshunds can be especially helpful to people suffering from epilepsy, depression, autism and anxiety disorders. Blind Rescue dog Arthur is an amazing example to children with disabilities and special needs as he does not let the fact that he can not see stop him for a second. It’s OK to be different.

Our little friends Gussie and Muttley Cyrus also do amazing work in the US.


Therapy Pugs Sailor and Scarlett

Therapy Pugs – Sailor & Scarlett

As you all know, I have Kilo the Pug and he makes me laugh every day and almost smothers me with affection (pugs and kisses).

Pugs often are described as a lot of dog in a small space. These sturdy, compact dogs are affectionately known as the clowns of the canine world because they have exaggerated features, a great sense of humour and like to show off. Originally bred to be a lap dog, the Pug thrives on human companionship. Pugs make you feel like you are the most important person in the world because, to them, you are!  The loyalty of a Pug is something everyone should experience.

Superpug versus Batpug

You might as well be a celebrity as they always greet you at the door on your arrival home with huge enthusiasm. They follow you around and seem to hang on your every word and action. A Pug’s owner is the center of the universe and he will never let you forget it.  They are not only playful and charismatic but also loving and devoted. Pugs are natural people pleasers and usually get along well with both the young and old. Pugs work may work particularly well with children suffering from autism and other neurodevelopment disorders and as reading buddies.  They may also help improve mood.

The Therapy Pugs Sailor and Scarlet nod off and snore which relaxes and entertains young readers no end. See more on Sailor and Scarlett. 




After winning the crown at the 2008 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, one of the world’s most prestigious dog competitions, Uno the beagle decided to be more than just a handsome face; he completed training to become a certified therapy dog.  Uno now spends time visiting people in hospitals, schools and nursing homes to brighten up their days.  As a breed, beagles can make excellent therapy dogs. Because they enjoy being around other dogs and new people, beagles are perfectly can be suited to be therapy dogs. Their friendly and curious nature helps them interact well with children and adults alike. But remember, they are hounds and as such,  they do love to wander, smelling the sites of their surroundings so keeping them on leash outside is a really good idea.

Special Mention: Chopper The Biker Dog


We also want to give a special shout out to our pal Chopper the Boston Terrier Therapy Dog. He is an amazing talent who visits hospitals and schools and makes a huge difference in the life of many.

Let’s face it, your dog doesn’t have to be on this list to make you feel better!

Many dogs of all sizes and breeds, mixes and rescues have the capacity to do this.  Please share your story, your pics, your feelings with us.  We love to hear from you and we love to learn more about these amazing dogs and the gifts they can give.

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  • Earl Lover 1 year ago

    All lovely dogs!

  • All great dogs, Layla is my service dog and her breed is HaShiPoo 🙂

  • Interesting list! There’s several I’d expect to see missing, and a few I wouldn’t have considered. 🙂

    • Profile photo of Talent Hounds

      Yes it was almots impossible to narrow it down. The list is probably a bit subjective and reflects breeds of members of the TH community. Happy to add to it if you think of any you know we should include

  • Love this post my bulldog is so sensitive to everyone’s emotions, I can see how a French bulkdog being a smaller size would make a good service dog. Love the Pugs, I would totally love to add one to our wee family.

  • I love living with small breeds! The doxies are such wonderful companions in small packages!! Love the list of breeds you included. 🙂

  • Just goes to show you that size doesn’t matter when it comes to dogs and the support they can give to those who need it. Great post.

  • Amazing list! Small, cuddly, and lovable – what’s not to love. Better yet, just cuddling or petting them would give a sense of calm. I can see how these would make wonderful companions for those with special needs.

  • It’s amazing what the power of a dog can do for those who have special needs. Big dogs are great too! 🙂

  • Small dogs rock! I’ve considered getting my Papillon certified as a therapy dog. He LOVES people. I think he’d really enjoy spending time cheering up people in hospitals and such.

    • Profile photo of Talent Hounds

      What a great idea – We have seen a few Papillons in action and they are just lovely and can be amazing stress relievers

  • I love that any dog can be a therapy dog! These pups are not only adorable but are also doing such important work. Love it!

  • I think I just passed out from all of the cuteness!! We’ve done hospital visits, etc., and we absolutely love going, seeing all of the happy faces and sharing some joy! We loved your post – and want to smooch Gizmo!!

  • Having grown up during a time when all service dogs were Retrievers, it makes me happy to see that there are so many different types of dogs working as service dogs and therapy dogs.

  • Fun post. I love to hear about the great work that therapy dogs do. I have a friend with a therapy dog but it is not a small one. It is a great Dane!

  • How wonderful these therapy dogs can help humans in need.

  • Seeing these dogs just made my night. I love the goodness and the love that dogs give to people – oh so selfless. See you soon!

  • I’m in therapy dog training! Love the blind special needs therapy dog as well as all of the others! ~Shasta

    • Profile photo of Talent Hounds

      Yay Shasta how great. Share your journey- I bet you’ll be amazing. Arthur does incredible work (along with another blind dog Smiley). Kids really open up and relate.

  • Mr. N does therapy work with kids. He is super not intimidating looking!

  • Great post! Any breed of dog can be a wonderful therapy dog but these are excellent breed choices. Gizmo is so adorable, I know he’s an especially, special dog! My Husky is a therapy dog but a few kids have been afraid of her because she’s a bigger dog – one that kinda looks like a wolf, LOL! Most of the kids love her though!
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  • Eeeek They are all so tiny and cute!

  • Great list! My cousin who has autism has a Boston Terrier named Izzy. Izzy is wonderful with him!