Dogs are wonderful for teaching children responsibility, cooperation and bringing joy into their lives. It’s important to choose the right breed for your kids though, as some cope better than others with a family environment. Here are 15 of the best choices.
- What Makes a Great Family-Friendly Dog?
- 1. Beagle
- 2. Golden Retriever
- 3. Rough Collie
- 4. Poodle
- 5. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- 6. Newfoundland
- 7. Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
- 8. Weimaraner
- 9. Vizsla
- 10. Australian Shepherd
- 11. Border Collie
- 12. Cross and Mixed Breeds
- 13. Eurasier
- 14. Irish Setter
- 15. Labrador Retriever
If so, you could be making a great choice. A canine companion teaches compassion, builds a stronger immune system and can even help develop social skills.
It’s always important to weigh up the pros and cons of a family pet, but if your lifestyle suits a dog, they can be a great addition to the family.
Not all breeds are suitable for family homes though. It’s important to choose a dog that’s robust, playful and has plenty of tolerance for a child’s behavior – especially if you have young kids. With that in mind, here are 15 of the best breeds for children.
What Makes a Great Family-Friendly Dog?
When choosing a family dog, you need to consider both your lifestyle and children’s requirements. Here are some of the main factors when choosing a family-friendly pup:
- Age of Your Children – One of the most important considerations is the current age of your children. Younger children need a breed with more patience, as they may not fully understand how to interact with a dog. Similarly, a high-energy dog may be a great choice for active families with older children, but probably won’t suit families with a baby or toddler.
- Age of the Dog – Getting a puppy isn’t the only option when adopting a new pet. There are millions of dogs that need to be rehomed, and many of these could make brilliant family pets. The great thing about older dogs is that they tend to be calmer than puppies, which can be a relief if you’re also caring for energetic kids. Make sure you discuss the dog’s temperament with the adopting organization before you make a decision though.
- Temperament – A dog’s training, socialization and personal history have a big effect on how he/she behaves around children – the breed is just one factor. With that said, some breeds are known for their patience, protectiveness or playful energy.
- Robustness. A family dog needs to be able to cope with loud noises and potentially clumsy children. This is why small and delicate breeds, such as the Chihuahua, are often not a good option.
- Grooming and Exercise Requirements – Caring for children is a full-time job, so finding the time to maintain a dog’s coat and provide long walks can be difficult. If you’re tight on time, look for a breed with minimal grooming requirements and that doesn’t need hours of walking each day. With that said, all dogs are a big time commitment.
Keep in mind that children need to be taught how to respectfully interact with dogs. We’ve written an in-depth guide to keeping children safe around dogs, and the tips apply to any breed.
It’s also important to be honest about why you’re getting a family dog and whether this is really a good decision for both your family and the dog. While dogs can make brilliant pets, they are a big responsibility and require daily exercise, grooming, mental stimulation and love.
If you’re too busy to meet a dog’s needs for the rest of its life – which is likely to be 10 years or more – then adopting one may not be fair on the dog, your children and yourself.
A Quick Caution
The breeds in this article have been chosen because they tend to be patient and gentle towards children. Every dog is an individual, however, so there’s no guarantee a dog will tolerate children just because it is one of these breeds.
If you adopt a puppy, make sure you use the crucial socialization period between 6 weeks and 4 months to teach your dog to feel comfortable around children. If you’re adopting an older dog, speak with the shelter or rescue for details about the dog’s suitability for family life.
Most importantly, remember that no dog should be left alone with a young child. Supervision is essential at all times.
Beagles are joyful little dogs that are intelligent, loving, and full of personality. This makes them great for families, even those with young children.
There are two varieties of Beagle: those that stand under 13 inches at the shoulder, and those that stand between 13 and 15 inches at the shoulder. Though small, they are practically bursting with energy, making them the perfect companion for active families. Of course, this means they require plenty of mental and physical stimulation, so only adopt one if you have enough time to meet their needs.
Beagles are short-haired, which makes them less time-consuming to groom. If you’re a busy parent, this could be an essential trait for your family dog. They do shed though, so be prepared to spend more time vacuuming.
2. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever is one of the most iconic family dogs. They are a remarkably playful, confident and gentle breed that do extremely well in a family-oriented environment, making them a popular companion for most age ranges.
They may not be the best choice for busy families though. Aside from needing lots of exercise, the Golden’s thick coat requires daily maintenance to prevent tangles and mats (click here for our list of the best brushes for Golden Retrievers.) Brushing can be a great way to teach your children how to responsibly care for animals though.
Keep in mind that Golden’s are happiest when playing and interacting with their owners, other people or animals. Like most dogs, they don’t like to be left alone for long periods.
3. Rough Collie
This breed is one of the most recognizable in the world, due to the long-running TV show Lassie which starred a standard Collie named Pal. During the 19 years of the show’s run, Standard or Rough Collies became one of the most popular dogs in America, especially with families.
The key attributes of the Collie, aside from the flowing coat, are their intense loyalty, protectiveness, and intelligence. Collie breeds of all types rank among the smartest dogs, which makes them perfect for active families, or for those who want to train the family dog to do tricks.
They are also famously fond of children, and will put themselves between young children and strange people, animals, and other perceived dangers.
With that said, this breed probably isn’t the right choice if you’re busy. The long coat requires lots of maintenance, and the dog’s intelligence means you need to provide plenty of mental stimulation. For active and energetic families, however, they are an option to consider.
The Standard Poodle is another intelligent and fiercely loyal breed. They are one of the oldest formally recognized working breeds, and their fun nature makes them great for families who want an active canine companion.
There are several types of Poodle. The Miniature Poodle is much smaller, standing under the Standard’s 15 inches at the shoulder, but still larger than the Toy’s 10 inch height. They all share the breed’s innate intelligence and willingness to learn, but I recommend either the Miniature or Standard for families, as the Toy may be too small and delicate.
Don’t worry if you think the typical poodle hairdo looks a bit silly – you’re not alone. Many owners opt for the much simpler, and more natural sporting clip that shows off the breed’s lean frame and beautiful coat. With that said, all Poodle variations require regular grooming.
5. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier, despite the misgivings many people have, is a fantastic dog for families. They are tough, robust animals that are just as happy playing as they are lounging on the couch and cuddling. If you have active (and loud) young children that want to play with their pet, a Staffy is one of the best options.
They can be headstrong if not trained. But if you can dedicate time to proper puppy training and socialization, or if you adopt an older dog that has already been trained, they make wonderful pets.
Staffordshire Bull Terriers are relatively low-maintenance, but they do love to romp and play, so outdoor exercise is essential (as with any dog). This is a great opportunity for you and your kids to bond with your pup and build a relationship that will be full of love and mutual affection for years to come.
It’s worth noting that Staffys often don’t cope well when living with other dogs. So, if you already have a dog, they might not be the best option.
The Newfoundland, or “Newfie” among enthusiasts, also goes by the moniker of “nature’s babysitter.” Despite their large size (over 200lbs in many cases) the Newfoundland has a reputation for being patient and watchful guardians over even the youngest of children.
Though they are large, Newfoundlands are gentle with those they see as part of their family, and are often cited as amongst the most loving and caring of dog breeds. In fact, the official breed standard for the Newfie lists a “sweet temperament” as the single most important and defining characteristic of the breed.
Obviously, owning a dog that outweighs most of the members of your household comes with its own challenges – especially as they are known for drooling! But if you feel you’re up to the task, there is almost no better companion for your children.
Keep in mind that Newfoundlands are a relatively inactive breed. They aren’t a great choice if you want to go on long family walks.
7. Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier is one of the less well-known breeds on this list, and that’s something of a shame. The Wheaten is a fantastic family pet due to its fun and gentle nature.
Originally bred as do-it-all farm dogs that could handle everything from ratting to herding, the Wheaten is a very trainable dog that’s great for families with lots of younger children. Anecdotally, I’ve also found they get along great with cats, but your Wheaten may feel differently!
Wheaten’s are named for their coat, which aside from being soft and flowing, should be a beautiful golden color reminiscent of wheat. While the coat looks brilliant, it requires lots of maintenance, which is something to keep in mind if you’re already busy. They typically top out at around 40lbs and are usually under 20” tall, so they are far from large and are perfect for apartment living.
The German Weimaraner is one of the larger breeds on this list (though not as large as the Newfie). They typically weigh over 70lbs, but don’t let that put you off from bringing this intelligent breed into your home.
Weimaraners are sweet and patient with kids. They are also active dogs, which makes them perfect for families with energetic children. They do require a good bit of exercise, so be prepared to give them plenty of outdoor walks, but for active families they can be a great choice.
Other than their exercise needs, they are relatively low-maintenance due to their short coat. While they can be a bit mischievous, they are highly trainable due to their intelligence and interest in pleasing their owners.
Vizslas are particularly common in their home country of Hungary, where they were originally bred as hunting dogs by gentleman breeders around the end of the 9th century AD.
Since being brought to America, their popularity has grown year by year, largely due to their success as a family dog. They are intelligent, loyal and easy to train, making them great for active families.
They need lots of mental stimulation though, so make sure you have enough free time to meet their physical and mental needs. If you have an energetic family who love walks, however, they can make brilliant pets.
10. Australian Shepherd
The Australian Shepherd or “Aussie” was, as the name suggests, originally bred as a herding dog. Today, they are most commonly found in active homes as family pets, but are still sometimes used as sheep herders.
Australian Shepherds are an agile and active breed. They love spending time outdoors, whether on a hike, participating in agility trials, or just running around the backyard as fast as their legs will carry them. This makes them a great choice for families with energetic and active kids.
They are also highly trainable and relatively easy to housebreak. It’s important to socialize them properly, as they are naturally protective of their owners and family. This loyalty makes Aussies a wonderful companion for your kids though.
Tip: If you’re thinking of adopting an Australian Shepherd, you may want to read our guide to Aussie dog brushes.
11. Border Collie
The Border Collie is the dog I grew up with.
They’re another intensely intelligent herding dog that make a great companion for active families who want a dog to train. And make no mistake, this dog is smarter than you can imagine if you haven’t dealt with them before, so they require plenty of mental stimulation.
Borders are naturally inquisitive and very loyal. These traits combine to ensure that whatever you’re doing, they’re going to be right there with you.
They also excel at agility work, so this may be something for you to consider as an outlet for all that energy. Beyond that, they’re great at games of fetch and frisbee, and are perfect running companions if you like a bit of outdoor exercise yourself.
Borders are great with all kids, but they especially excel in homes with older, active kids that can keep them engaged. As a parent, you’ll also appreciate the breed’s natural protective instinct.
12. Cross and Mixed Breeds
The breeds on this list can all become loving companions for your family, but you shouldn’t ignore mixed or cross breeds. There has been an explosion of “designer” breeds, such as the Labradoodle, Cockapoo and Cavachon over the last decade, and these can often provide the traits of a popular breed but with a lower chance of genetic health conditions.
Aside from designer breeds, local shelters always have lots of cross breed dogs that are desperate for a loving home. The great thing about adopting an adult dog is you can see how he/she interacts with the members of your family before you make a decision. The shelter should also have tested the dog’s suitability for being rehomed with children, cats or other pets.
The same general rules apply when adopting an older dog as a family pet. Look for medium or larger dogs, as smaller pets may be too delicate for family life. Remember to consider how much exercise, mental stimulation and grooming the dog requires, and decide whether you have enough time to meet his needs.
The Eurasier is a somewhat uncommon breed, but they are a great choice for families with children. Eurasiers are calm, patient, and gentle, and don’t require as much exercise as many breeds on this list. They are also highly robust, which is important around boisterous children.
Like many family-friendly breeds, the Eurasier requires plenty of attention and company. While they don’t require as much grooming as Golden Retrievers or Rough Collies, they still need a thorough brushing at least twice a week.
14. Irish Setter
The Irish Setter has been a beloved breed for over 200 years – and for good reason. Their energetic and playful nature, especially with children, makes them an excellent choice for families. While Setters can be suitable for any child, their high energy levels makes them best suited to older children.
As with most of the dogs on this list, this breed hates spending time alone. They thrive when surrounded by an active and loving family, but struggle if they don’t have a companion nearby.
The Irish Setter is also, I think, one of the most beautiful dog breeds. The breed’s enduring popularity is an indication that I’m not alone in feeling this way!
15. Labrador Retriever
If you know anything about the Labrador Retriever, you’re probably not surprised to find it on this list!
America’s number one dog, the Labrador retriever remains incredibly popular due to the breed’s easy-going nature and charming, and even a bit goofy, personality. They are patient and playful, making them ideal for young children who may not have the finest grasp on how to behave with dogs.
Older kids can also enjoy training and other activities that will stimulate both child and pup alike. As a natural retriever of waterfowl (hence the name) swimming, playing fetch, and other similar activities are a perfect fit for the Lab, and are great fun for the whole family.
Dogs can make brilliant companions for children. They teach compassion, responsibility and respect for animals, while often becoming the child’s best friend.
With that said, it’s important to consider whether a dog suits your lifestyle, as any dog is a big time commitment. If you’re a busy parent who doesn’t spend much time at home, you may not be able to meet a dog’s physical, mental and grooming needs. It’s also unrealistic to expect your children to take care of the dog’s needs, as they are likely to lose interest once the initial excitement has worn off.
If you’re sure a dog is right for your family, the next step is to adopt an animal that fits your lifestyle. While every dog is an individual, some breeds tend to be better suited to family life than others. The 15 in this article are a good place to start, and provide an overview of the traits you should look for in a family pet.
What do you think of dog breeds in this article? Do you have a favorite? Let us know in the comments below!