When it comes to dividend stocks, bigger isn't always better. Investors are often excited to discover that a company pays a huge dividend, only to find it quickly slashed. Adopt a more sustainable dividend stock strategy for 2014.

Solid stocks for the New Year
Instead of subscribing to crash-and-burn dividend investing, find dividend stocks that boast reliable dividend growth and low payout ratios, even if that comes at the expense of lower current dividend yields. Here are three great dividend stocks to consider in 2014.

Corning's (NYSE:GLW) dividend yield recently hit 2.3%. The materials company raised its dividend 11% last year and has doubled it in the past three years. Better yet, Corning's low 31% payout ratio signals that the company has plenty of room to continue to grow its dividend. Even though the maker of specialty glasses and ceramics may seem like a slow-growing, boring company, its stock has returned 31% so far this year. Corning's stock jumped 25% in October on news of a deal with Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF). Also, Corning's curved Willow glass boasts many applications, including the hot solar-energy market. 

Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) pays a dividend yield of 1.9%. Its payout ratio is a healthy 29%. The world's largest medical-device maker has increased its dividend for 36 consecutive years. Medtronic increased its dividend 8% this year, and has raised its dividend nearly 50% during the past five years. As a result of Obamacare, a medical-device excise tax is skimming 2.3% off the top of the company's revenues to pay for the Medicaid expansion. But while competitor Stryker (NYSE:SYK) is slashing jobs to offset the loss of revenue, Medtronic is actually augmenting headcount. Medtronic has earned shareholders 33% year to date.

Through housing market booms and busts, Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) has increased its dividend for 50 straight years. Lowe's pays a modest 1.5% dividend yield, but the real power in its dividend is its growth story. The home improvement retailer raised it by more than 12% last year and has doubled it over the past five years. Better yet, Lowe's low payout ratio of 32% indicates that the company has room to grow its dividend in the future. Lowe's has been improving its in-store customer experience and hiring workers. Without a doubt, the company's huge dependence on the housing industry hurt it during the recent recession. But it's benefiting handsomely from the current housing-market recovery. Lowe's stock has returned 30% to shareholders so far this year.

Foolish takeaway
Be sure to look past lavish dividend yields. Make sure a company has the wherewithal to back its current dividend and, more importantly, boost it. By overlooking companies that pay lower yields, you may be missing out on the best dividend growth stocks of the coming decade.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.