A lap dog is a small pet dog that can fit on a person's lap. It is a general term that can be applied to several dog breeds. The most common group of bred lap dogs is called the toy dog group. It includes popular small dogs like Yorkshire terriers, chihuahuas and toy poodles.
Lap dogs are historically associated with luxury and wealth because they do not generally perform labor or hunting tasks for humans. They are considered companion animals and, in some instances, fashion accessories. Lap dogs are thought to be some of the earliest pet animals. Their original job was to attract parasites like fleas off their owners.
Lap dogs were popular pets in royal households. The Bichon Frise is a lap dog that was favored by French kings. The dogs were taken when their masters were arrested in the French Revolution and trained to perform tricks in the streets, ridiculing the aristocracy. They would later be used as circus dogs in Europe.
Some lapdogs are specifically bred to be very small. Such selective breeding can create deformations in the animal's eyesight, breathing capacity and nervous system. They may also suffer from what is known as small dog syndrome. This is not a disease, but a behavioral problem created by the owners.
A lap dog may display dominant behavior for which a bigger dog would be disciplined. Such actions can include jumping on a person or growling. This may make the dog anxious and disturbed. Dogs are considered hierarchical animals that should know their order in the pack to feel secure. If a human makes a distinction between training a lap dog and a bigger dog, the lap dog's emotional health may suffer.
There are several considerations when choosing a lap dog. Families may want a friendly dog that is known to get along well with children. English toy spaniels are considered both playful and gentle. Others may want a more sedate dog for an older person. A Shih Tzu rarely displays aggressive behavior and is thought to be well-suited for apartment living.
Small dogs have a reputation for frequent and high-pitched barking. A Japanese Chin, also known as a Japanese spaniel, is a lap dog originally bred for the Japanese royal family. They are thought to be very quiet and even move stealthy, causing some to compare them to cats. Another quiet lap dog is the French bulldog. It is considered, however, a challenge to train.