Choosing a Dog for a Family with Children

A natural moment between a boy and his dog. (Photo by Beth Twist)
A natural moment between a boy and his dog. (Photo by Beth Twist)

Asking Questions

So you have settled down and started a family, but you feel like there's one thing missing: the perfect dog. But now do you choose the right dog who will be good with your kids? Some breeds seem to have a bad reputation, so obviously you want to avoid those, right? Well, not necessarily. There are several things that you should consider when looking for a dog who is good with children, and they may not be what you think.

Instead of asking, "What breed should we get?" start with a different question: "Should we get a puppy, a young dog, or an adult dog?" Adult dogs have already established a personality so you will be able to tell exactly how the dog will behave with your kids specifically. But a younger dog or puppy is more yours to mold (but a lot more work to instill manners and potty train).

Other important questions you will need to ask include: How can I teach my children the proper rules of behaving around an animal (not poking the dog in the eye, being dominant over the dog, etc)? Am I getting the dog just to teach my kids responsibility or because I want it to be a part of the family? Can we really make the commitment to this animal for fifteen years, regardless of whether we have more children or have to move?

Things to Remember

Remember, a puppy can be almost as much work as a new baby! You will need to invest in puppy kindergarten or some other form of basic obedience class if you want to have a well-behaved dog. They need to be taught where to pee and poo, what not to chew on, and how to exist in the human world. They require lots of exercise and medical care.

Children should never be left alone with a dog, regardless of the breed or how well they seem to behave together. They should be supervised at all times.

But a dog will definitely be an invaluable addition to your family and the lives of your children. Your children will learn responsibility, respect for animals, among millions of other tiny everyday lessons. Good luck!

A Couple Breed Recommendations

That said, there are several breeds that are well-known to be better with kids than others. Keep in mind, though, that my slight endorsement of these breeds does not mean that every single specimen of the breed or mix of the breed with be good with kids. Age and temperament are still far more important than breed!

So what are these breeds? Breeds that tend to be good with kids are the ones that have been bred to be gentle and to give love equally to everyone. This means that retrievers (bred to have a soft mouth to retrieve trophies their masters have shot) are generally better than the guard dog breeds. It also means that, for example, Border Collies and the like tend to bond closer to one person (the "shepherd") than to the rest of the family. Again, this does not mean that an Australian Shepherd or Doberman Pinscher do not make excellent family dogs (there are thousands of happy families that will tell you otherwise!), merely that they were not originally bred for that purpose.

This is why Labrador and Golden Retrievers are very popular with families. They're big and cuddly, tend to be tolerant of little fingers poking them, and can be taught very easily to have a soft mouth. They also love everyone they meet equally, and therefore there is no favoring of the "master" of the house.

There are also the "Gentle Giant" breeds. I'm namely thinking of the Great Dane or the Newfoundland, either of which can be a great addition to a family, as long as he's trained not to accidentally knock over your little ones. They tend to have much lower energy than the small terriers, and if you can stand a little drool every once in a while, most of them are very friendly.

Dogs are great at giving big, wet kisses! (Photo by Trisha Shears)
Dogs are great at giving big, wet kisses! (Photo by Trisha Shears)

Standard Poodles are good, too, because while you may not know it, they were bred to do quite the same thing as labs and goldens! They're retrieving water dogs (which is why the classic poodle cut came about: to protect their joints from cold water), and they remain very playful well into adulthood.

If you are looking for a smaller dog, the Beagle is a popular choice for families. They, too, have plenty of love to give and are a more manageable size for most families than a big, hefty lab. But they can be stubborn, and most of them are quite avid howlers!

Keep in mind that even though many of the smaller breeds like Yorkshire Terriers or Chihuahuas may be small and seem easier to control, they tend to be nippy and are easily frightened of children. You might be skiddish around kids, too, if you couldn't easily escape all those probing little fingers!

A Reminder About the Breeds

But the breed generalizations above are just that: generalizations. There are many retrievers out there who have been beaten or abused, are terrified of children, and would be a terrible danger to your family.

Ultimately, disposition is up to the individual animal! Do not let any breed hype convince you otherwise.

So ask yourself the questions in this order:

  1. What do we need in a dog's temperament? Lots of energy or none? Friendly or more aloof?
  2. What age dog do we want? Puppy? Young? Adult? Senior?
  3. What sizes and breeds are we considering? Tiny? Giant? Somewhere in between?
  4. Which individual dog will be perfect for us?
For more information about the pros and cons of choosing a purebred dog versus a mixed breed dog, check out this article.

How to Choose a Dog

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My Advice

My advice would be to adopt a dog or puppy from a rescue and to choose the age based on how much effort you and your children are willing to put into potty training and basic puppy manners.

The reason I suggest a rescue is because they will be fostering the dog, most likely with other animals and even with children, and will therefore be able to help you understand what the personality of the dog is. They will also give you the opportunity to have your children meet the dog before you adopt, and what better way to feel good about the new relationship than to see it first-hand? And don't worry, if you want a purebred dog, rescues have lots of those, too!

For more information on all of this, read another hub I wrote called Rescue, Buy, or Adopt? There is more detailed information there on each of those three options.

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Comments 13 comments

perfumer profile image

perfumer 8 years ago from California

Good info Helena - very thoughtful!


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 8 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks, perfumer! I really appreciate it!


Whitney05 profile image

Whitney05 8 years ago from Georgia

The age of the dog is a better question than breed. Totally agree! With a family of children, one must decide whether a puppy would be a fit or an older dog. Great info. Really! Definately agree with adopting, as it always seems that rescue pups and dogs are more grateful to you for saving them from the kennel. Plus with mix breed dogs, they tend to get the traits from all the breeds that make them. But, at the same time, you can find purebred dogs at kennels, too.


Betty Jo Petty profile image

Betty Jo Petty 8 years ago from Arkansas, U.S.A.

We have mixed Rat Terrier/Chihuahua dos and small grandsons (live-in), and they all love each other. They have been raised together, which might help. We have given puppies away, and the people just love them!..

Maybe it's up to the individual dogs, plua however they have been raised. Hi Helena, I'm Betty Jo Petty


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 8 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks for sharing your story, Betty. It definitely helps if the dog is around children from a very young age, but adding a puppy can be too much for some families at certain times. It really comes down to the right dog for the right family, much the same way that you would pick a spouse! :)


FitnessDog profile image

FitnessDog 8 years ago

You really covered everything you need to think about when choosing a dog for a home with kids. I especially like the part about consider the dog more than the breed. Three years ago, we brought a 5-month old Pit Bull Terrier in our home (from a home that we knew) with our 4- and 6-year-olds. He is a wonderful with the kids, extremely patient and very loving.


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 8 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thank you for the affirmation, FitnessDog! Pitties are notoriously kid-friendly if they've been properly socialized; I'm glad you found such a great pal for your kids! It's always about the dog because the breed is only a part of who each dog is.


teacup-yorkshire 7 years ago

Fully agree about the supervision with kids. Generally in my experience yorkies (and many other breeds) are great with kids, it's better not to take the risk. Dogs can be a bit unpredictable if they get their tail pulled or poked in the eye accidentally by young ones.


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

You're so right. Just because a certain breed is "usually good with kids" does NOT mean that every dog from that breed is! And maybe more importantly, is that kid good with dogs? Children do not innately understand that pulling a dog's ears would hurt the dog. Thanks for weighing in!


pitacaps 7 years ago

nice information helena! i found that a lot of it was accurate and I completely agree about the order of the questions! there was just one thing. while i was reading about your recommendations for bigger dogs the first breed that i thought of was the newfoundland. they are extremely tolerant and great with children if bred the right way. but i love what you put together. its great for unsure families! :)

--pita--


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks so much for your kind words, pita! You are so right; Newfies are one of the gentle giant breeds. Every single one of them I've met has been the sweetest, most calm dogs in the world. I will add that to my hub right now. Please weigh in any time!


a person 5 years ago

well, this hasn't helped me at ALL, because,i really need to find a dog breed, and it's between maltese, and yorkies. Witch one should i choose! PLEASE HELP!


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 5 years ago from Manhattan Author

Hi person, thanks for the comment. I'm not sure how you narrowed down your search to Maltese and Yorkies. Both can be great with kids, but they need a lot of training because they are so hyper. If you really have your heart set on those two breeds, it sounds like your next step is to find a reputable breeder of each and talk to them. For a step-by-step look at that process, you can check out this hub: http://hubpages.com/animals/ReputableBreeder

You could also contact breed rescues (just Google "maltese breed rescue" or "yorkie rescue" or something like that). Both a reputable breeder and a breed rescue will be able to help you make your final decision about which breed will be best for your family.

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