Reviewed and updated on May 3, 2020 by Katie Grzyb, DVM
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To determine which dog is best for your particular family, Dr. Holly Putnam, DVM and former board member for the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, suggests that you consider the size of the dog as well as your family’s lifestyle and what energy level would fit best.
Regardless of whether a dog is a purebred or a mutt, these three factors can help you choose a good family dog:
Temperament – This is the dog’s personality. You should be looking for an agreeable temperament. For instance, a calmer dog has the ability to form strong bonds and be a great companion for your kids.
Size – Size alone does not determine whether a dog will be good with kids. Size should be looked at in relation to both temperament and energy level. Some larger dogs tend to be docile, while some smaller dogs can be excitable. “For instance, if you have a family with small children, a large, rambunctious dog may inadvertently knock the children down,” says Dr. Putnam.
Energy level – This is a matter of preference for your family. Be realistic about the lifestyle you can provide to a dog that needs more exercise than average. If you can’t meet a dog’s needs, his excess energy can lead to behavior problems down the road. Dr. Putnam gives the following example; “If you are an avid runner and looking for a canine companion, a leisurely Basset Hound may not be the best match.”
To get an idea of a potential new pet’s temperament and energy level, be sure to do a meet and greet or several before you make the decision.
“When considering adopting a dog, you will want to observe how they respond to all members of your family,” says Dr. Putnam.
Dr. Putnam also recommends watching the dog’s body language:
Does the dog approach you and your family with a wagging tail or body, or do they cower in the corner of the room?
How willing is the dog to play or share with your family? Some dogs become possessive of what they believe is theirs. This can escalate into a dangerous situation with young children who tend to pick up everything, including the dog’s toys or food dish.
In addition to the meet and greet, Dr. Putnam says that you should with the shelter or rescue workers to find out a little bit more about the dog and their likes and dislikes. Here are five sample questions to ask about potential family dogs:
Is the dog safe for all members of the family? Some dogs are perfectly happy to socialize with everyone in the family, while some prefer only adults or one gender.
What energy level does the dog have? You may want a dog that will accompany you and the family on long walks, or one that can be carried in your arms the majority of the time.
What ongoing care will the dog require? Is it a long-haired dog who will need regular grooming, or a senior who may need more frequent veterinary visits?
What age range are you looking for? Would you prefer a puppy who may require lots of training but will likely socialize well with the entire family, or would you prefer an adult dog who is potty trained, but may be more shy or need time to get used to the routine of your home?
Will this dog get along with other pets? If you have other pets at home, you will want to choose a dog that has shown to be social with other pets, and be sure that your animals like the new dog.
Remember that while these dogs may have characteristics that make them great family pets, you will still need to work on daily training and socialization to help them become good canine citizens.
Here’s a list of dogs that tend to make the best dogs for kids and families:
1. Top Pick: Mutts!
While your family might be considering only purebred dogs, don’t count out mixed breeds. Mixed breeds often provide the best traits of two (or more!) great breeds in one dog.
When you adopt a mixed breed dog, you are saving the lives of two dogs—the dog you adopt, and the dog you’ve now made space for at the rescue.
By adopting, you can also get more behavioral background on the dog. The shelter or rescue workers spend their days caring for the dogs, so they can let you know about the ins and outs of a dog’s personality and habits.
In terms of size, if the dog is a mutt and also not fully grown, you might only get a best estimate on their size as an adult.
2. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever is a confident, smart, kind, and loyal dog. Neither aggressive nor timid, the Golden Retriever is extremely patient, which makes them a perfect match for kids.
While the breed does need a lot of exercise, they love to play (retrieving games are their favorite—for example, your Golden might love playing with frisbees).
You’ll often find that the fun-loving Golden Retriever is affectionate and obedient, as well, meaning that your kids will fall in love instantly.
Proper care for their glorious golden coats requires twice-weekly brushing.
3. Labrador Retriever
This is one of THE most popular dog breeds, and for good reason—the Labrador Retriever is playful, patient, loving, protective, and reliable. Another perk—Labs are highly intelligent and take well to training.
They require A LOT of exercise (they love swimming!), so be sure your family is up for the challenge. Make sure that they have plenty of room to run around and play.
Whether they’re Black Labs, Chocolate Labs, or Yellow Labs, they all share the same sense of stamina, strength, and obedience that makes them such a popular breed.
These affable dogs get along well with other animals and pretty much everyone they meet, plus their short coats mean that they only really need a weekly combing to keep them clean and healthy. However, Labradors do shed, so you should be prepared for cleaning up their hair regularly.
Besides their often-distinctive haircuts, the Poodle also happens to be a very smart and gentle dog.
Proud and elegant, this dog breed is both caring and loyal and is seldom annoyed or bored.
Poodles are available in both miniature and standard sizes, meaning you can choose the specific Poodle size that best matches your living environment. They’re great for kids with allergies, as they shed very little.
Each breed comes with different perks. The Standard Poodle breed, for example, is very obedient, smart, playful, and adventurous. Although they are often shy with strangers, they get along great with people and kids that they know.
Miniature Poodles, on the other hand, tend to dedicate themselves to one person in particular, but they are good with other pets and kids. They are smart, responsive, obedient, and playful.
No matter the particular breed of Poodle, however, their coats do require scheduled grooming.
5. Irish Setter
Known for their red coat, the Irish Setter is playful and energetic, loves being around people, and plays well with children.
In fact, this breed loves being with their family so much that they hate to be alone, which means they’re on their best behavior when surrounded by their loved ones. (Check out some easy ways to prevent separation anxiety in your dog here.)
This dog needs lots of exercise and is a good match for energetic kids.
A smart and trainable companion, the Irish setter is perfect for people with a yard, and they’re great at greeting new people that come into your home, as well.
Irish Setters do have a longer coat, so they will require regular grooming and brushing to prevent them from getting hair mats.
While this breed isn’t exactly a common household name—mostly due to their need for regular exercise—they’re actually one of the best dog breeds for active and energetic families with older kids.
The Vizsla has a lively disposition but a gentle manner, and is both loyal and affectionate.
The breed is also obedient, confident, and smart. Vizslas form close bonds with family members and are able to learn new tricks quickly.
They have a short coat, so their grooming routine is quite low maintenance.
Nicknamed "Nature’s Babysitter," the Newfoundland is considered to be one of the most intelligent breeds in the world, and these dogs just happen to love children and are very protective of them.
Gentle, kind, and patient, this breed is almost like the Mother Teresa of dogs. Both younger and older family members will quickly fall in love with this large, wonderfully sweet dog.
The Newfoundland best suits a family with large, open spaces, and although they are known to drool and shed excessively, they should not be left to live outdoors in the yard (no dog should). Their long coats will also require regular grooming and upkeep.
The Newfoundland is also a great swimmer and has been known to save lives in emergency situations. They are easily trained and quite task-oriented, so don’t be afraid to provide them with stimulation that requires a little extra work on their part.
8. Bull Terrier
Unfairly branded as an aggressive animal, the Bull Terrier was actually bred to be a companion dog—friendly and loving towards adults and kids alike.
Keep in mind that your Bull Terrier may often have mischief on their mind, especially when it comes to other small animals and dogs. Avoid problems by keeping your pet mentally and physically active every day.
A Bull Terrier's short, flat coat is easy to care for, and the breed does best with easy access to a yard for play.
The Beagle’s small size (they can easily be carried!) and calm temperament make this breed a great choice for families.
Beagles were originally kept as hunting dogs, and their sturdy build means they’re never too tired to play games. If your kids love the outdoors, this breed will fit right in, since there’s nothing they love more than exploring outside and taking to the trails.
Smart, friendly, and happy, the Beagle usually gets along with other pets, too (except for a bit of chasing here and there). They do shed, so they require frequent brushing and bathing.
For a devoted, patient pup that’s sure to act affectionately towards kids, the Bulldog is your go-to breed. The Bulldog has a sturdy build that is perfect for kids. However, he won’t win any awards for "most energetic dog."
A docile, friendly, and loyal dog, the Bulldog gets along well with other pets and dogs, too. The Bulldog is comfortable living in large houses as well as small apartments.
Most are also pleasant with outside visitors and compatible with other pets, which makes them the perfect fit for a busy, social family. Their smaller size makes them suitable to both large houses and small apartments, as well.
If you are interested in getting a Bulldog, keep in mind that the compressed nature of their jaw means they’ll need a little extra care with teeth cleaning, and wheezing, snoring, and some drooling are par for the course.
The folds around their tail and facial wrinkles will need to be cleaned to prevent dirt buildup. On the other hand, their coat needs minimal care.
So now that you know a thing or two about kid-friendly dogs, choosing a new dog for your family should be a little bit simpler.
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