The Best Small Australian Dog Breeds Bred Down Under
Most of the dog breeds that originate in Australia were originally bred as working dogs, and that’s the case with small breeds too.
Among the relatively short list of Australian native breeds, there are only four small dogs - and all of them are terriers. That’s why our small dog breeds Australia list will be short and sweet. Let’s jump right in!
The Best Small Dog Breeds Australia
#1 Australian Terrier
One thing is certain: the Australian Terrier is an adorable little dog. These terriers are fairly small with legs that are quite short and long torsos.
The Australian Terrier is sometimes called an Aussie by fans, but it should not be confused with an Australian Shepherd who is often also called ‘Aussie’ in endearment but isn’t native to Australia.
Probably the most adorable thing about the terrier Aussie is the shaggy coat. These dogs have a double coat, with a soft undercoat and strong dense topcoat with weather-resistant hair sometimes described as ‘wiry’. The Australian Terrier’s topcoat hairs can be around 6 cm long, but they are shorter on the legs and the face (1).
The colour of the Aussie terrier’s coat can vary, but it generally has a yellowish/sandy hue. Without going into the minuscule details (which you can find about in the breed standard), the official colour options for Australian Terriers are black and tan, sandy, and red.
These terriers are known for their confident gait that exudes freedom. They also have quite long necks (for terriers) and ears that always stand upright, giving them a unique look.
Australian Terriers are dogs full of character. A true terrier breed, they are confident, intelligent, and energetic. They can be very focused and are known to have a strong prey drive (which should not surprise us considering they were bred to hunt for vermin). However, they are also known for being loud and having a ‘bossy’ streak.
At the same time, Aussie terriers can be quite obedient. They can learn almost anything, from basic commands to fancy tricks, but consistency with training is important. It is also highly recommended to start training your Australian Terrier early, while they are still a puppy (2).
Australian Terriers are known to be very loyal and great with children which makes them great dogs for families. However, they are not the most tolerant of other dogs, so proceed with caution if you plan to introduce an Aussie into a multi-dog household.
These dogs are also highly energetic. It’s in their blood to dig and chase small animals, so it is, in fact, very likely they will dig up your garden (or whatever else their paws can get to) sooner or later. Aussies require a good amount of daily exercise, and they love human attention. If they get enough of both of those things, they will most likely be wonderful and well-behaved dogs.
Grooming & Care
Aussie terriers don’t require a great amount of grooming. Although they have a double coat, they don’t shed a lot and don’t need to be brushed every day. They are self-sufficient that way. However, it’s still recommended to brush your Australian Terrier at least once per week to keep the coat in shape.
The Aussie’s wiry coat also doesn’t need clipping, even though it can get quite long. They can benefit from hand-stripping instead, a technique that involves gently pulling out dead hairs from the topcoat.
Other than that, Aussies don’t need much in terms of grooming. Their nails should be cut, perhaps around once per month, which is true for almost any dog. These dogs don’t tend to be very smelly and their thick coat does not get dirty easily, so they don’t need to have baths very often.
Australian Terriers are descendants of various terrier breeds (including the Cairn Terrier, Skye Terrier, the Dandie Dinmont Terrier, Yorkies, and Irish Terriers) that were brought to Australia (and in particular, Tasmania) from Great Britain during the first half of the 19th century
The first dog show ever in the Australian colonies was held in Hobart, Tasmania in 1862 and it included 18 so-called Rough Terriers. This is the earliest official record of Australian Terriers, but during the first few decades of their existence, they were often referred to as Rough-Coated Terriers or Australian Rough-Coated Terriers. Ultimately, in 1909 the name Australian Terrier was officially accepted by the Victorian Poultry & Kennel Club, and it’s the name that stuck until today (3).
By the early 20th century, Australian Terriers were present in England (although perhaps not in great numbers), and seem to have also spread to India following the trade routes of the time (3). After WWII, Australian Terriers were also brought into the USA.
#2 Australian Silky Terrier
Let’s start with an interesting fact that might have already caught your attention: the Silkies are not classed in the Terrier group, but rather in the Toy group of dog breeds. Yes, that means these dogs are quite small and lightweight. Smaller than many other terriers, and with a wonderful silky coat, the Silky Terrier really looks like a toy dog, but it still has the spirit, strength, and agility of a true terrier.
The Silky Terrier has a low-set, longish body and fairly short legs. Their ears are pointed and stand upright. They have keen, shiny, almond-shaped eyes.
But what are we talking about? When you look at a Silkie, the first thing you’ll notice is the incredible shiny coat. The long coat is super soft and very reminiscent of human hair. These terriers even have long hairs on their head which part in the middle and look just like a nice haircut.
The typical Silky colour is blue and tan (any range). The ‘blue’ part is on the dog’s back, so that the top layer of the long coat appears blue, with tan present underneath and noticeable on the legs and the face.
As we mentioned, the Australian Silky Terrier might look like a lap dog but has the true soul of a terrier. They might be a bit more refined than some other terrier breeds, but these dogs still have an inherent affinity towards hunting vermin, and in combination with that, a good amount of energy (4).
These dogs are intelligent and bold, and they need a fair amount of attention and activity. If they don’t get their daily dose of work or play, Silkies can turn into mischievous little dogs, searching for all kinds of outlets for that excess energy.
Silkies are also known to be quite gentle and affectionate, which makes them great family dogs.
Grooming & Care
As you might imagine, the coat of an Australian Silky Terrier needs quite a bit of care. It’s nothing too complicated, though, just needs to be done regularly.
For starters, the hair of a Silky needs to be brushed at least every couple of days. These soft hairs tend to tangle and mat easily, so you might find that a detangling comb is necessary. These dogs will also benefit from an occasional bath with a gentle, dog-appropriate shampoo to keep that beautiful coat in top condition.
Silkies are sometimes called a ‘hypoallergenic breed’, but no dog breed is truly hypoallergenic. However, the Silky Terrier does shed very few hairs. Occasionally, their hair might need to be trimmed if they get too long.
Australian Silky Terriers are often said to be a mix of Australian Terriers and Yorkshire terriers. However, the story is likely more complicated than that. While these are the dominant ancestors of the Silky, the Australian terrier (originally called the Rough-Coated Terrier) is itself a mix of various British terrier breeds.
The thing is, in the late 19th century, which is the time both the Australian Terrier and the silky were created, terrier breeds were not as clearly defined as today and there might have been a lot of cross-breeding involved (5).
The first official mention of the Silky dates back to 1898, when the Kennel Club of NSW differentiated “Australian Rough Coated Terriers” from “Silky Haired Terriers”. By the 1920s, the Silky was already an established and beloved breed (despite some disagreements about the official name of the breed).
Interestingly, the breed became very popular in the US during the 1950s after some of the first imported Silky Terriers were featured in popular magazines (5).
#3 Tenterfield Terrier
The Tenterfield terrier is a small but sturdy breed. They are typically under 30 cm high and weigh only about 5kg. A lean, muscular build is their characteristic.
The Tenterfield Terrier is one of Australia’s two short-haired small dog breeds. These terriers are a single-coated breed, with a smooth short coat. The coat is almost always white with markings in various colours. These colours can vary from black to olive to tan. Tricolour patterns are also common.
The Tenterfield might remind you of the globally more popular Jack Russell Terrier, but it’s easy to notice the difference in the shape of their skulls (slightly arched in the case of the Tenterfield).
One interesting fact about Tenterfield Terriers is that they sometimes naturally have (almost) no tails. Tenterfields can have tails of varying lengths, from a full-length tail to a natural bobtail, and sometimes no tail at all (6)
The temperament of the Tenterfield Terrier is similar to other terrier breeds. They are naturally curious, intelligent, brave, and agile.
As they were originally bred to chase rodents, Tenterfields still often have a strong prey drive and a tendency to dig. They are naturally energetic but enjoy playing with humans which makes them great small family dogs.
Grooming & Care
The Tenterfield Terrier doesn’t require much in terms of grooming. Their short hairs don’t need much except an occasional brush for extra shine and perhaps a bath every once in a while. Otherwise, there is just the usual bunch of tasks involved in caring for any dog: trimming nails, deworming, cleaning teeth.
The detailed history of the Tenterfield Terrier is not entirely clear. However, we do know that the breed started with the dogs brought over on ships with the first Australian settlers, just like most Aussie native breeds.
The now-extinct Old English White Terrier is said to be a prominent ancestor of the Tenterfield Terrier (6).
In the early 19th century, dogs were typically bred for their working dog abilities and not looks, and having a small, smooth-haired terrier that’s adept at chasing rats might have come in useful on ships and other establishments on the land.
The first breed registry was started by a group of interested owners around 1990, but the Tenterfield Terrier has only been officially recognised as a new breed by the Australian National Kennel Council in 2002 (6).
Contrary to what one might think, the Tenterfield Terrier does not come from Tenterfield (at least not exclusively). Rather, the name has been chosen in honour of George Woolnough - Peter Allen’s grandfather, commemorated in the song The Tenterfield Saddler. George was well-known as a proud owner of terriers like today’s Tenterfield Terriers.
#4 Miniature Fox Terrier
The Miniature Fox Terrier is another adorable little Aussie terrier. They might be small, but they are fearless and quite powerful. They have a lean muscular body with a short and smooth coat. Their ears are slightly large, and can sometimes be folded towards the front.
The main colour of the Mini Foxie’s coat is white, with black markings that can be black, tan, or a combination of the two.
Just like all other Australian small breeds, the Miniature Fox Terrier has the character streaks of a true terrier. These dogs are clever and alert, energetic and able-bodied. Despite their small size, they are very courageous but can have a bit of a defensive attitude. They are very loyal and always eager to learn.
Grooming & Care
Being a short-coated breed, the Miniature Fox Terrier doesn’t require a lot of grooming, just regular dog care. An occasional bath and a brush are all it takes, along with regular vet checkups, nail-clipping, and looking after their teeth.
The history of the Miniature Fox Terrier is a bit obscure, but it is thought to be a descendant of the Fox Terrier mixed with various toy breeds. The breed is not yet recognised by the ANKC, but the Mini Foxie Club of Australia was formed more than 30 years ago - in 1986.
Found an Aussie breed you fell in love with on this list? Great! But do take a moment to think about whether the character of the particular breed will fit your lifestyle. All of the small Australian dog breeds are terriers, which means they certainly aren’t lap dogs and require a fair bit of exercise. If you plan to provide that, then you might be great companions!
Also, it’s good to remember that even if you are after a specific bread, you might be able to adopt a rescue instead of shopping. Browsing the RSPCA Adopt a Pet platform can be a good start, or you can try your luck with one of the many rescue groups across the country.
- Australian Terrier. ANKC. Retrieved October 8, 2022. https://ankc.org.au/Breed/Detail/37
- Australian Terrier. AKC. Retrieved October 8, 2022. https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/australian-terrier/
- Sazama, C. “The Australian Terrier: Roots and Routes of Early Dogs”. Terrier Type
- Silky Terrier. AKC. Retrieved October 8, 2022. https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/silky-terrier/
- Wallwork, R. April 20, 2022. “Silky Terrier History: The Sweet & Feisty Australian Ratting Dog”. AKC. Retrieved October 8, 2022.
- “Information On The Tenterfield Terrier: History Of The Breed”. Extract from Australian National Kennel Council LTF Extended Breed Standard of the Tenterfield Terrier.
- BreedStandard Extension adopted by ANKC Ltd 2009. Retrieved October 8, 2022. https://www.tenterfieldterrieraust.com/history