Short-legged dog breeds have an ancient history. Bred throughout history as hunters, herders, and companions, they are now popular pets and frequent show champions. This article explains why some dogs are born with short legs, and introduces nine of the most popular short-legged dog breeds.
Why Are Some Dogs Born With Short Legs?
The simple answer to this question is that they were bred to serve specific purposes throughout history. Terriers and Hounds are hunters. Corgis are herders. The Asian dogs on this list are, quite interestingly, purposely bred to look like miniature lions.
Terriers: These dogs were proven early to rid homes and farms of vermin and rodents. Their short stature and strong legs allow them to capture burrowing animals. Farmers bred these dogs to be hard workers and family friends.
Hounds: These dogs were proven to be excellent trackers and hunters. Bred by hunters throughout Europe, these dogs have a distinctive appearance and large personalities.
Herding: These dogs were proven herders and watchdogs who could be trusted to herd and guard animals. Their short legs and remarkable agility made them popular with Welsh farmers, who bred them as herders and companions.
Chinese Dogs: These dogs were designed by ancient Chinese breeders to look like miniature lions. They were treasured and considered sacred dogs owned primarily by royals and monks.
The scientific answer to this question is that they all have a common retrogene, FGF4 (fibroblast growth factor 4). They share a form of dwarfism known as chondrodysplasia. These dogs are born with short legs because their bones harden too soon as they develop, stunting their growth.
How Did This All Occur?
A rather complicated question. Here is a vastly oversimplified answer to this complicated question: a long time ago and in a single genetic event, an altered gene copy was introduced to the species. In other words, their adorable and useful short legs are the result of a retrogene inserted into their DNA sequence. This article from the New York Times offers an explanation of how retrogenes alter DNA.
Short-Legged Dog Breeds
The popular dog breeds on this list come from different places and have different histories. They belong to several American Kennel Club (AKC) groups of dogs, but they all have two things in common: small legs and big personalities.
The Terrier Group
There are several popular short-legged terriers. They are brave, rough-and-tumble hunters. Both cute and fun, terriers are popular pets.
1. Cairn Terrier
The Cairn Terrier rose to fame as Toto, Dorothy’s tiny companion in “The Wizard of Oz.” This breed has historically been known as a sturdy hunting dog who dug through the cairns, or stone markers, on the Scottish Highlands to rid them of vermin.
About 10 inches tall and weighing around 14 pounds, this breed is known to live between 13 and 15 years. Brave, sturdy, active, and intelligent, Cairn Terriers want room to dig and explore.
2. Scottish Terrier
The Scottish Terrier was bred to be a fierce hunter of foxes and badgers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was frequently seen with his Scottish Terrier, which made the breed popular. The Scottie’s silhouette was common on depression-era advertising, and is still popular as a retro design.
This terrier is roughly 10 inches tall and weighs up to 22 pounds. Scottish Terriers generally live about 12 years. They are known as dignified, confident, and independent. These qualities combine to make them good watchdogs and pets.
3. West Highland White Terrier
The West Highland White Terrier is another popular breed from Scotland, where they were used to exterminate rodents and vermin. Sturdy and strong, these dogs have long been valued for their digging skills. These terriers are currently depicted in the logos of Juicy Couture and Black & White Scotch whiskey.
Westies weigh between 15 and 20 pounds and reach the height of about 12 inches, and can live up to 15 years. Spunky, intelligent, and bold, they are fun but independent pets.
The Hound Group
Short-legged hounds are some of the most popular dogs on this list. They are efficient hunters, good watchdogs, and adorable pets.
4. Basset Hound
The Basset Hound is not as quick as a terrier, but it makes up for this in tracking ability. This hound was a favorite hunting dog of the French nobility. Known for its big eyes and expressive face, the Basset Hound was made famous as the dog featured in the Hush Puppies footwear ads.
Basset Hounds weigh between 40 and 65 pounds and are up to 15 inches tall. Average life expectancy of this hound is 12-13 years. The Basset Hound is exceptionally loyal, patient, and easy-going, making it a good pet.
Dachshund is a practical name; it means “badger dog” in German. Bred to be efficient hunters of underground prey, the Dachshund is perfectly suited for its job. Popularized by Dachshund owner Andy Warhol and many other celebrities, this dog is truly iconic.
Standard Dachshunds are around 9 inches tall and weigh up to 32 pounds, while miniature Dachshunds are 5-6 inches tall and weigh up to 11 pounds. Their life expectancy is 12-16 years. With a common name of “wiener dog”, this extremely popular breed is known for its bold personality and unique look.
The Herding Group
These two Corgi breeds are the short-legged herders that have served their masters well throughout history. Energetic and affectionate, they are sweet and popular pets.
6. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi is a smart, efficient herder that was first brought to England by its Flemish masters in the 11th century. Their short legs make it easy for them to duck under the hooves of cows and sheep. Their popularity has risen in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who reportedly has not been without a pet Pembroke since she got her first one in 1933.
Pembrokes stand at 10-12 inches tall and weigh up to 30 pounds. They can live around 13 years. This breed is known to be strong, athletic, and highly affectionate. They are good watchdogs because they are smart and alert. The Pembroke loves to play and is a devoted pet.
7. Cardigan Welsh Corgi
The Cardigan Welsh Corgi, less popular than its younger cousin the Pembroke, is another imported herding dog. Unlike the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the Cardigan has a tail and rounded ears. Like the Pembroke, Cardigans love physical exercise and mental stimulation.
At 10.5-12.5 inches tall and weighing around 35 pounds, this Corgi is roughly the same size as the Pembroke. Cardigans generally live between 12 and 15 years. This breed is affectionate and good with children. It is friendly and gets along well with other pets.
Asian Dogs in Other Groups
Belonging to the AKC group “Toy,” the Pekingese is from China, where it was a favorite pet of emperors. Also known as “Sun Dogs” and “Sleeve Dogs,” Chinese royals are said to have carried these dogs in their wide sleeves. Legend says that Buddha tamed the lion to create the Pekingese, which was a sacred and royal dog. Guarded closely by Chinese royalty, this breed was unknown in the western world until the 19th century.
Pekingese reach a height of 10 inches and weigh around 14 pounds. Their life expectancy is 12-14 years. Somewhat particular pets, Pekingese will put up with children – to a point. They seemingly have not yet forgotten their royal beginnings. They are good pets for sedate families.
9. Tibetan Spaniel
Tibetan Spaniels, belonging to the AKC “Non-sporting” group, are from Tibet but are not particularly Spaniels. Along with the Tibetan Mastiff, these dogs served as guard dogs and companions to Tibetan monks. Like the Pekingese, they said to have descended from lions, and were seen as sacred. This breed was traditionally used to turn Buddhist prayer wheels in monasteries by walking on treadmills.
Tibetan Spaniels, affectionately known as “Tibbies,” are roughly 10 inches tall and can weigh up to 15 pounds. They have a lifespan of 12-15 years. Although these dogs were also known as “Sun Dogs” and given as gifts to Chinese royalty, they are more affectionate, friendly, and tolerant than the Pekingese.