By Alicia Kort
Anyone who grew up with a dog knows what a joy it is to count a pup as one of their first friends. While any dog can be good with kids, some breeds are particularly well-suited to share a home with younger family members, thanks to some key traits. With all the different sizes, coat types, and activity levels, you’re bound to find the best match for your kids.
So, if you’re looking to adopt a kid-friendly dog, here are some of the best dog breeds up to the task. Read on to learn more about how to find the best dog to grow up alongside your kids and how to set them up for success in their new home.
Key skills family dogs should have for children’s safety
How you approach family dog training will depend on both the dog you adopt and your family. For example, a puppy’s training will be different from an adult dog’s; puppies go through a critical development period between eight and 16 weeks and are more likely to adapt well to new people and situations during that time, so if your puppy has good experiences around kids of all ages during this time, they’re likely to continue to do well around them.
Adult dogs, on the other hand, should be socialized around children more slowly and gently. Remove your adult dog from any situations causing them stress immediately, and use positive reinforcement training to reward and encourage good behavior around children.
You also need to prepare your children when adopting a dog. While dogs need to be trained in how to behave around children, children also need to be taught how to treat dogs, even with breeds that are “good with kids.” A child-friendly temperament can help, but overly enthusiastic kids can make any dog feel uncomfortable. Kids who have never or rarely interacted with a dog must be taught the basics, like no ear- or fur-pulling or pushing. They also should learn the signs that a dog needs space and not to crowd a dog who is uncomfortable. Dogs who feel ill at ease are more likely to react, so it’s very important that kids are schooled for their own safety.
How can I assess a dog’s compatibility with my children?
Before picking a pup, behaviorist Karen B. London, PhD, has some advice about some factors to consider about your family and any potential family dogs.
Your children’s age
- Up to about seven years old: Young children do best with the calmest dogs and need constant supervision with any dog for both of their safety. “That’s especially true for toddlers and preschool-age kids who may upset even the most laid-back of dogs with their unpredictable movements, unexpected sounds, and funny smells,” London says.
- Eight to 13 years old: “This is where there is the most variation in the ways dogs interact with kids. Dogs who are tolerant of noise, touching, surprises, and unpredictability are still highly desirable for kids of these ages,” London says.
- Ages 14 to 17 years old: “Kids of this age generally interact with dogs much the same way adults do, but that can vary a lot, too. So, the best dogs for teenagers, especially older teenagers, are not all that different than the best dogs for any family. The issues are mainly about compatibility and preference,” London says.
The dog’s energy level
Not all dogs have the same energy levels — some dogs are bred to be lap-dogs and are content to cuddle all day long while working dogs are used to having responsibilities and being active. If you don’t exercise a dog enough, it can become an issue for you and them.
“A bored, under-exercised dog with pent-up energy is more likely to be mouthy with kids, to leap up on them, to steal their toys, and do all kinds of things that can get in the way of the relationship many parents seek,” London says. “Unless the parents happen to have a lifestyle that naturally lends itself to providing the dog with a ton of exercise (long-distance runner or livestock farmer, for example), the best dog for kids will not require herculean efforts in the physical-activity department.”
The dog’s grooming needs
Much like people, dogs with long hair are higher-maintenance than dogs with short hair. Pet parents will have to commit to grooming their dogs, which doesn’t only mean brushing and trimming; dogs need baths, nail trims, and care around their eyes and ears — and that can take longer than they think.
“A long-haired dog with high grooming needs can be great if the family is into that, but if it’s likely to become yet another chore and a source of conflict, it’s not going to be good for anyone … parents, kids or dog,” London says.
Just because a breed might be considered kid-friendly doesn’t mean that an individual dog of that breed is the right fit for a family with young kids. The dog’s size, overall shape, fur type, or even age can be factors, as is the child’s age. Talk to the shelter or breeder about a dog’s personality and see how they react to being around children. Dogs brought into families with kids need to be adaptable, patient, friendly, and not too protective of resources.
Can small dog breeds be good family dogs for children?
Small dog breeds can be good family dogs, but because many are delicate, young children might not know how to play with them and should always be supervised to avoid accidentally harming them. The best small family dog is one who displays the qualities that make any dog well-suited for kids. Kids are full of surprises, so the ideal child-friendly dog is relatively calm and not reactive. Adaptability is also key because children change as they grow up.
Best dog breeds for families with children
If you’re searching for a companion for your kids to grow up with, read on to learn about some of the best family-friendly breeds. Keep in mind, though, that just because a breed is generally known for being one of the best dog breeds for kids does not necessarily mean that an individual dog of that breed will get along well with all children, nor are all of the pups on the list below good with very young kids.
Bruce and Rebecca Meissner / Stocksy
1. Mixed-Breed dogs
Adult rescue dogs can be great fits for families with kids because their personalities are fully formed, and the shelter or rescue staff usually have spent enough time with them to give you a strong picture of who the dog is. They may even Once you bring your rescue home, it will likely take them a few weeks to come out of their shells and acclimate, but you’ll still have far more insight into their personalities than you would with a puppy. Try to find a shelter dog who is patient, gentle, and affectionate, and one the rescue staff specifically says is good with children or has even been fostered by a family with kids. They may even specify which dogs will do better with older kids rather than young kids.
bernardbodo / AdobeStock
The Beagle is a small pup, weighing up to 24 pounds, with a sunny disposition — they love being around other people, including younger and older children and dogs. Beagles were originally trained to hunt in packs, so they don’t like being left alone and can become destructive if left alone for too long. That said, once you’re a part of their pack, Beagles will want to be by your and your family’s side all the time. They require one hour of interactive play — they won’t be satisfied running around in the yard by themselves. They can also be escape artists, so pet parents will need a five-foot tall fence. They’ll also need to keep them leashed on walks because they’re scent-driven hunting dogs who will follow their instincts and run away.
Petr Bonek / Shutterstock
3. Smooth Collie
When a Collie comes to mind, you might immediately think of Lassie and her majestic fur. The Smooth Collie, who can weigh up to 65 pounds, is her short-haired cousin. Known for their signature long snouts and big brown eyes, Smooth Collies have sweet dispositions that make them the perfect pals for both older and young kids. They’re patient, generally know their own strength, and don’t play too rough. Smooth Collies need at least an hour of exercise and space to run around. They might not shed as much as their long-haired counterparts, but they have an undercoat that needs to be brushed during shedding season and regular grooming.
Dmitry Borovikov / Stocksy
4. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever, also nicknamed the “Lab,” is one of the best breeds for kids. This kind and patient pup will become a fast friend and companion to children of any age. They’re content with cuddling on the couch, but are intelligent, high-energy dogs who need a lot of play, including fetch, swimming, and long walks. Your shoulder might wear out from throwing the ball before they’re tired of retrieving it. Labrador Retrievers can be yellow, black, or chocolate and weigh up to 80 pounds. Their coats are water-resistant but double-layered, so they need to be brushed regularly.
Alex / AdobeStock
5. Irish Setter
The Irish Setter is famous for their beautiful, shining coat of red, chestnut, or mahogany fur and their status as one of the best playmates for children. This friendly yet exuberant breed weighs up to 70 pounds and is better suited to living in a home rather than an apartment, where they might bounce off the walls due to their high energy. They’re also a little clingy, so they’ll prefer interactive play with the family over solitary activities. To care for the Irish Setter’s ruby coat, owners will need to brush it twice weekly and go to the groomers regularly.
Taryn Elliott / Pexels
6. Basset Hound
The Basset Hound is famously good at tracking scent and also for being great with both younger and older kids. With the Basset Hound’s droopy face and perpetual puppy-dog eyes, their appearance matches their chill personality. And because they were raised in packs, they prefer human and animal company whenever possible. They are more than happy to lie next to you on the couch during movie marathons or a reading session, but they still need some exercise — let them put their noses to the test with a scent-tracking challenge to their favorite treat. This low-slung pup is surprisingly heavy, weighing up to 65 pounds while reaching just 15 inches at shoulder height. Although it might not look like this dog can shed, Basset Hounds’ short coats shed regularly and need to be brushed weekly.
Cindy Prins / Stocksy
7. English Cocker Spaniel
Cocker Spaniels are one of the best dogs for kids. The English Cocker Spaniel has the nickname “merry Cocker” for a reason: these pups have charming and affectionate dispositions and are gentle and patient around children of all ages. These pups, who can weigh up to 35 pounds, have silky, feathery coats that kids and adults will never want to stop petting, but which needs to be brushed and combed weekly and will require monthly trims. The English Cocker Spaniel enjoys relaxing at home with family as well as activities like hiking, long walks, playing fetch, or other mentally-stimulating games. These pups can grow bored easily, so like children, they need to be entertained sometimes.
RDNE Stock project / Pexels
8. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever is another breed that instantly comes to mind when you think of “family dogs.” Adaptable, patient, and sweet, Golden Retrievers aim to please their people and are very devoted dogs to even the youngest member of your family. These pups are obedient and happiest when they have a mentally-stimulating activity to do, which is why Golden Retrievers are often search-and-rescue dogs. Golden Retrievers can weigh up to 75 pounds and reach 24 inches in height at their shoulders. Their fluffy, soft coat and feathery tail require quite a lot of brushing (at least twice weekly) because they have a water-repellent double coat.
Fotoluminate / Shutterstock
9. Shih Tzu
The Shih Tzu was bred to be a lap-dog for Chinese nobles, which explains their lion-like mane of fur and regal little trot. This loyal, affectionate dog only weighs up to 16 pounds and reaches 10.5 inches at shoulder height, so while this pup is great with older kids, they are delicate; young children might not know how to play with a Shih Tzu and should always be supervised to avoid accidentally harming them. Because they are lap-dogs, they only need minimal walks and some indoor playtime to keep them happy. The Shih Tzu’s impressive coat does need to be brushed daily (including the top knot and mustache), and they need baths monthly. Shih Tzus’ top knots either need to be trimmed short or tied up, or they will irritate their eyes and make it so they can’t see.
Jen Grantham / Stocksy
10. Wheaten Terrier
It’s no surprise that Wheaten Terriers used to be farm dogs because they certainly wouldn’t look out of place near cows or sheep. These pups are vivacious, high-energy, and devoted to their families. Wheaten Terriers make good companions for younger and older children but can be a bit protective of their family and, therefore, wary around strangers and not the most welcoming toward other dogs. High-energy and active, the Wheaten Terrier would do well with an active family as they need up to two hours of exercise a day. And because this terrier also served as a rodent hunter, they are still prey-driven and need to be kept on a leash when being walked. With their soft and silky wheaten coat, little dark beard, and big bangs, this furry friend requires a daily brushing and frequent trips to the groomer to ensure their fur doesn’t mat.
e-Kis / Shutterstock
11. Standard Schnauzer
With their impressive, wiry beard and wise eyes, the Standard Schnauzer kind of looks like a grandparent in dog form — and given how protective they are of loved ones and how loving they are, the Standard Schnauzer fits that personality, too. Schnauzers are solid, medium-sized dogs who can reach up to 50 pounds and 19.5 inches at shoulder height and make good pets for kids of all ages. The Standard Schnauzer prefers to participate in family activities rather than to be left to their own devices. These large dogs are great hiking companions and very playful, so pet parents will need to devote part of their days to exercising with their Schnauzer. Despite their curly coat, the Schnauzer does not shed very much but needs regular brushing and clipping or hand-stripping because their coat grows quickly. Their beard also needs to be wiped clean daily.
Teresa Jang / Pexels
12. Bichon Frise
The Bichon Frise is an intelligent, eager-to-please charmer. These sweet little dogs, who only weigh up to 18 pounds, just want to spend as much time with their families as possible. Due to their patient and adaptable nature, this breed is good with children, but young children should be taught how to interact with them because they are on the smaller side. These dogs are moderately active, so they should be walked and played with at least once a day, respectively. The Bichon Frise is famous for their halo of curly white fur, which is a bit more high-maintenance than some of the other dogs on this list; they should be brushed daily and taken to the groomers for a clipping and bath once a month. That being said, they are considered hypoallergenic dogs because they are low-shed.
Dogs to avoid with kids
There are some deal-breakers related to dogs and kids, especially younger kids.
- Dogs with high drive: “The results are far too often games that go bad: mouthiness, leaping up, slamming, knocking over, or even nipping and biting,” says London.
- Dogs with sound or touch sensitivities: “These dogs are usually happier in homes without children, and children will likely be happier with a dog who does not have these issues,” says London.
- Dogs that are high-strung: “Dogs who tend to be constantly on edge and dogs with any history of aggression — not only biting, of course, but also growling or lunging as well as being possessive of toys, food or bones should not be in homes with children.”
FAQs (People Also Ask):
What are the best dog breeds for families with children?
Some of the best dog breeds for families with children include the Beagle, Smooth Collie, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Irish Setter, Basset Hound, and more.
Are there specific dog breeds that are more patient with younger children?
Dog breeds that tend to be more patient with younger children include relatively gentle and adaptable dogs, including the Labrador Retriever, Bichon Frise, and Shih Tzu.
Can small dog breeds be good family dogs for children?
Small dog breeds can be good family dogs, but because many are delicate, young children should be supervised when with them so they don’t accidentally harm them.
How can I assess a dog’s compatibility with my children?
A dog’s compatibility with children varies based on both the dog (including their energy level and individual traits) and children (including their age and temperament).
Can family dogs serve as emotional support for children?
Yes, family dogs can serve as emotional support for children (and adults).
Are mixed-breed dogs suitable for families with children?
Mixed-breed dogs do well with children as long as they display the traits that generally make any dog compatible with children, including friendliness and adaptability.
Do family dogs need regular exercise and playtime with children?
Yes, family dogs need regular exercise and playtime, although the exact amount will vary from breed to breed.
Alicia Kort is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She’s currently the senior commerce editor at Apartment Therapy. She’s been published in StyleCaster, Electric Literature, Newsweek, Interview, Brooklyn magazine and more. In her free time, she runs, reads, and spends time with her dog-nieces, Maya and Lady, and her cat-niece, Pepper.