Best Dog Breeds for Kids: What to Consider When Taking Pet For Your Child

Boy with retriever outdoor
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Great Dane or Chihuahua? Saint Bernard or Poodle? Cocker Spaniel or Jack Russell Terrier? When it comes to choosing a dog for your family, there are many choices to be made: Large or small? Energetic or laid back? Lap guard or dog guard? These are all questions that most potential dog owners ask themselves before bringing a canine companion home, but perhaps the most often asked question is “what are the best dog breeds for kids?”

A Google search will turn up as many lists of “good” and “bad” canines as there are breeds of dogs, but one of the most important things to remember is that this question really boils down to a matter of opinion (and preference), though there are many factors to take into consideration to help you make your decision.

When it comes to choosing the right dog for your family, you will want to take into consideration a dog’s size, temperament, and the amount of care and exercise required. Additionally, you’ll want to be aware of other crucial factors, like the importance of training your dog and teaching your child pet safety. This article will highlight these traits of some of the most popular dogs owned by families with children to help you make a decision.

Baby playing with a dog

What are you looking for?

Probably one of the most important questions you can ask before bringing a dog home is why do you want to get a dog for your family? Are you looking for hiking companion or a purse dog? A smart hound or a simple-minded pooch? Affectionate slobber monster or a well-behaved spectator? Also consider your family’s lifestyle: Do you live in a house or an apartment? Do you have a fenced yard? Who is going to be responsible for walking the dog (in the rain)?

Unfortunately, many families don’t think about many of these questions, and end up purchasing (or adopting) a breed of dog that is not compatible with their family’s lifestyle, and the end result is the dog being turned into an animal shelter where his future is uncertain at best. For families with young children (or families that will soon have young children), these questions are even more significant.

Big or small?

Depending on your family, you may think this is an easy question. The truth is that there are benefits and disadvantages to owning both gentle giants and tiny pups when you have children. For large dogs, the unfortunate reality is that a bigger body also equals bigger teeth and bigger paws, and injuries (whether accidental or not) can subsequently be more devastating.

Large dogs also have a tendency to knock over small children, and their sheer size and weight can make new parents nervous about their infant children being in the way of Fido’s giant frame. The benefit for the dog is that he is not very likely to not be the one injured due to his sturdy size, and he may be more likely to put up with being crawled on.

Big and small dog

Small dogs, on the other hand, are not simply kid-sized canines. Tiny dogs have tiny bones, which can break easily by an over-enthusiastic toddler. And while a toy dog like a Yorkshire Terrier may not have a fatal bite, those sharp teeth can still cause trouble if he becomes overly anxious around an excited child. Small dogs will also be less likely to be able to “get away” from a child and may therefore respond with aggression. A good rule of thumb is that if the dog is small enough to be picked up with one hand, you may want to think twice if you have children under the age of five.

If you’d like to know about the best breeds to consider, we have an article on the friendliest dog breeds that are great for children.

Temperament: laid-back or energetic?

A dog’s disposition is probably the most important factor you can consider when adding a pooch to your family. Regardless of the information you can find online about a certain breed, remember nothing replaces intuition. Not every dog will conform to “breed standards,” and the majority of dogs that families will adopt are not purebred anyway, so he can display characteristics of multiple breeds. Characteristics to be wary of include fear, aggression, jealousy, possessiveness, and anxiety.

A fearful dog can bite when scared or provoked, while an aggressive dog may attack without warning. Jealous dogs may not respond well to not being the center of attention and can act out when they are feeling unloved. Possessiveness over food or toys is especially a problem for families with young children who can’t yet understand that the dog’s food bowls and chew toys are off-limits. Anxious dogs will likely become more distressed when loud crying, banging pots and pans, and tail pulling are in full-effect.

If you are in the market for a dog to add to your family, keep in mind that a dog’s temperament will likely change with age, so a puppy’s initial excitement will likely mellow out as he gets older. A puppy can “grow up” with your children, which can be a positive thing, although this is not a guarantee that he will necessarily get along with the kids. Don’t write off adopting an older dog, however!

With an adult dog, what you see is what you get, and older dogs often tend to be more laid back (and possibly house trained) which is usually a good thing with the chaos of children. However, be sure to spend a lot of time with a potential adoptee to determine his nature. See how he responds in different scenarios and work with a professional dog trainer to work out any issues right away.

Aggressive big pitbull, NOT for kids

Another issue to consider when researching breeds of dogs is the group they are assigned to. There are different lists, but most dogs fall into one of these categories: herding, hunting, companion, sporting, non-sporting, hound, terrier, toy, and working. Your dog’s breed group can help you determine where his temperament will likely fall along with unique concerns, such as the tendency of herding dogs to want to herd small children!

How much care?

No matter what kind of dog your family will choose, every dog requires an extraordinary amount of care and attention to be a healthy and happy pet.

Dogs pulling a woman

Consider all these areas of care before choosing a dog:

  • Grooming. Some dogs require nothing more than an occasional bath to look their best, while others require daily brushing and professional grooming. Consider your family’s budget and time commitment on this subject, and do your research on your specific dog’s coat and requirements before making a choice. Also, think about your family’s allergies: do you or your loved ones have an allergic reaction to pet dander? If so, you may want to consider a hypoallergenic breed that have hair instead of fur and consequently do not shed.
  • Exercise. Most dogs that fall in the sporting or working groups require a lot of exercise, though toy dogs shouldn’t be couch potatoes either. Every dog needs at least a daily walk to help maintain their physical and mental health, but certain breeds need vigorous exercise. Consider if your family will have the time to take Fido swimming or to the dog park. Active families may enjoy owning a dog that thrives playing fetch or running around the park with kids.
  • Socialization and training. All dogs need to be properly socialized with other dogs and humans as early in life as possible. The result of a well-socialized dog is often a well-mannered and good-tempered dog, though professional training can correct negative behaviors. Training, however, is an ongoing task. So try to get the entire family involved in practicing basic commands and teaching your dog skills like how to walk on a leash.
  • Lifespan. Getting a dog is a lifetime commitment—for the life of the dog, that is—which is sadly not as long as our own. Lifespans vary greatly based on breed, so be aware that a giant like a Great Dane has a lifespan almost 10 years less than some other breeds of dogs. Consider the age your children will be once your dog has come to the end of his life.

No matter on which of these factors are important to you, you can’t deny that having a dog can teach children about responsibility. However, to ensure that your children know how to behave around your new dog, consider reading our article on teaching your children to be friendly with dogs.

What breeds are good?

Here is a list of the top ten dog breeds that are most regularly attributed as being kid-friendly dogs:

  • Labrador Retriever. Yellow, chocolate, or black, the lab has been registered as the most popular dog in the United States for almost 20 years running. Their short coat is easy to maintain, and they are a popular choice as service animals due to their kind nature. Affectionate and loving, this breed aims to please.
  • Mixed breed dog. The majority of dogs founds in shelters are not purebred. These “mutts” are often healthier than their purebred cousins (the latter of which can be plagued with genetic conditions such as hip dysplasia). Potential owners can “shop” to their heart’s content to find a dog with an energy level, size, and temperament perfectly suited to their family.
  • Golden Retriever. High in intelligence, the Golden’s hallmark characteristic is their excellent temperament. Bred to retrieve, this dog has a lot of energy so potential adopters should be prepared for frequent exercise.
  • Newfoundland. These gentle giants top the scales at over 100 pounds when fully grown, but don’t let their size fool you. Newfoundlands (apart from excessive drooling and heavy shedding) are excellent family dogs due to their great temperament towards children.
  • Boxer. Although energetic, boxers are known for their patience towards children. Boxers can become very bonded to children and have been said to think of the kids as their own.
  • Bernese mountain dog. Known for their iconic black, tan, and white markings, this giant hails from Switzerland and was originally bred for farm work. They require a fair amount of exercise, and are known for being affectionate towards children.
  • Collie. Collies were made famous by the old black-and-white TV show “Lassie,” and it’s for a good reason. Highly intelligent, the collie has a knack for knowing when something is wrong. Originally bred for herding, the collie may try to shepherd your children at bedtime!
  • Airedale Terrier. The largest of the terrier breed, this black and tan wiry coated dog has been dubbed “the king of terriers” and has historically been used in police work and hunting. If trained properly (and early), this highly intelligent dog can make a devoted family pet.
  • Australian Shepherd. The Australian Shepherd is an energetic dog that requires a high amount of exercise, so this breed may be better suited for families with older children that will enjoy a daily game of fetch.
  • Beagle. This medium-sized scent hound is famous for his nose work, though he can be an excellent family dog as well due to his even temper and low exercise requirement.

What breeds are not so good?

Here are some breeds that you may want to do some extra research on before bringing into your family:

  • Jack Russell Terrier. An energetic, hyper dog, this wiry coated terrier requires a vast amount of exercise and may be too active for a family with a busy schedule and young children.
  • Chihuahua. This native of Mexico holds the world record for smallest dog on the planet, and that’s one big reason they don’t make great pets for kids. Chihuahuas tend to nip at children and often end up injured by little hands.
  • Chow Chow. Originally bred as a guard dog, Chow Chows (apart from their iconic blue-black tongue) are known for distrust of strangers. This ancient breed ranks high on the list of dog attacks, and therefore may not be a great fit for families with young children.
  • Siberian Husky. This working breed dog could make a great family pet with the proper training, but the high exercise requirement, grooming, and need for consistent training usually makes this dog suited better for adults.
  • Doberman. Often used a guard dog, the Doberman’s instinct to protect may be a positive trait for families with young children, but could cause problems when other strangers are around the kids.

More specifically, there are hypoallergenic dogs that would be great if your child has allergies. You can discover what those breeds are in our article about the best dogs for kids with allergies.

Should I be worried?

Even if you own a dog that usually doesn’t appear on the list of great dogs for kids, remember that dogs are unique individuals just like people, and will not always act according to the breed standard. Dogs (just like children) can be unpredictable; therefore, never leave any dog alone with a young child no matter how confident you feel about your dog’s positive temperament. An overwhelming majority of dog bite victims are children. At the end of the day, dogs are animals, and even a well-mannered lab could turn on a child suddenly in the wrong circumstances.

Dogs and kids-infographic

Owners should make a commitment to train and exercise their dogs regularly, and parents should teach their children how to properly interact with dogs (including dogs that are not their own). Teach your child to act like a tree when approached by a strange dog (be still, keeps arms and legs close to the body, and don’t make sudden movements), and also teach them to always ask owners for permission to pet their dog before approaching.

Parents should also reinforce positive behaviors with their kids when it comes to interacting with dogs, including teaching the kids how to properly pet a dog, the importance of avoiding the face, tail, paws, and other sensitive areas, and vital lessons—like never bothering a dog while he eats.

Where can I find my dog?

So you’ve done your research about different breeds and feel that you’re ready to add a new member to your family. At this point, you will want to find a reputable breeder—or better yet—visit your county animal shelter or support a local rescue group. These rescues are often breed-specific, so whether you have your sights set on a Greyhound or a Great Dane, there is likely a rescue out there that can help you find your canine companion.

Rescue groups or humane societies can also be very helpful at matching your family with the right dog. If you decide to purchase your pup instead of rescue, be absolutely sure your dollars aren’t funding a puppy mill—which is a facility that keeps animals in deplorable conditions for the sake of making a profit. Believe it or not, most pet stores are stocked with puppies from puppy mills, which are sadly still legal in most states.

Irish setter good with kids

Just as every dog is unique, every family is unique, so what may work for another family may not work for your own. Sit down with your family and make a list of what each family member would like in a dog. (It may also be a good idea to make a list of responsibilities for the dog’s care). This list can help you avoid problems before they start. Encourage everyone in the family to be involved in the dog’s care and training. Now, all you have to do is pick a name!

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.