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The Best Dogs For Kids

While dogs are generally too much responsibility for a young child to handle on their own, they are definitely one of the best family pets around. If you, as a parent, are prepared to accept the primary responsibility to feed, groom, and care for the animal, a dog may be the perfect choice for your family.

Any breed of dog can be a loyal, loving member of your family when raised and trained properly. There are some breeds, however, that are just better suited to being around children than others. Some breeds can be downright dangerous around kids if they are not trained extremely carefully from the very beginning, and are best avoided altogether.

The breeds listed below are all known for being gentle, and most are suitable for children of all ages. Any one would make a good choice as a family pet, but they vary greatly in size, energy level, and playfulness. You need to determine for yourself what attributes are most important to you and your family, and find a dog that is a good fit for your household’s lifestyle.

Disclaimer:  Any dog has the potential to do physical harm to humans, especially children.  The following suggestions are in no way meant to be a guarantee that any breed or specific animal will not become aggressive.

Hunting Breeds

Hunting breeds have been bred over the years specifically for intelligence and playfulness. They have a strong desire to please their owners, making them highly trainable, and therefor excellent family dogs. They are definitely not apartment dogs, though. Hunting breeds need room to run, because they are naturally very energetic.  If you opt for one of the breeds in this list, be prepared to spend time playing with them and taking them for walks regularly, because they need to remain active to stay healthy.

  • Labrador Retriever:  America’s most popular breed (as well as Canada’s and England’s), Labs make wonderful family pets.  They are incredibly energetic, so make sure that you are prepared to spend plenty of time helping them work off that energy!  They are a large breed, so they do eat quite a bit of food.  Their short, slick coat makes grooming very easy.
  • Golden Retriever:  Another very popular family dog, Golden Retrievers are usually a little smaller and calmer than Labs.  Their gentle nature makes them especially tolerant of the kind of physical affection that toddlers like to display.  As hunting dogs, they still need plenty of exercise, and their characteristic golden coats need to be brushed very regularly.  [Note: This is by far my favorite breed.  My family has had Golden Retrievers since I was twelve years old, though, so I might be just a wee bit biased. 😉 ]
  • Brittany:  Brittanys are another hunting breed that is very family-friendly.  They are much smaller than Labs or Goldens, and their coat is slightly longer than a Lab’s. Their energy level is very high, so they need lots of exercise to stay happy and well-behaved, just like a Lab.
  • Springer Spaniel:  Springers are fairly similar in size and temperament to the Brittany, but have a longer, curlier coat. Springers come in several varieties, such as English and Welsh. They are further divided into field and show varieties, with field dogs being smaller and lighter.  (Note: A very rare condition known as Sudden Onset Aggression has been observed in show-variety English Springer Spaniels.  While the condition is rare, you may wish to opt for a field-variety Springer instead, as the syndrome has never been observed in that variety.)
  • German Shorthaired Pointer:  The German Shorthair is similar in size and energy levels to Labs.  They have a reputation for being a little harder to train, though, and may not do well around other, smaller pets. If you have small pets, you may want to pass on the GSP, or be aware that it may take significant training to keep them from being aggressive toward the other pets.

Other Breeds

While hunting dogs are nearly all good choices, there are some other breeds that make excellent family pets too.  The following list is incomplete, of course, but should give you a few of the best breeds outside of the gun dog group.

  • English Bulldog:  Who doesn’t love these stocky, broad-shouldered, wrinkle-faced little guys? They are playful, docile, and easy to please.  And while all dogs require regular exercise, Bulldogs need much less exercise than most breeds.  This makes them much better suited for families with homes that don’t have large yards for playing. Don’t expect your Bulldog to follow instructions very well, though–they score very low on trainability scales.
  • Beagle:  Much like Bulldogs, Beagles are docile, affectionate, and easy to please.  They also have tremendous amounts of stamina, though they don’t need a lot of exercise to remain happy.  They are very intelligent, but they get bored and distracted very easily, which makes training them for obedience very difficult. They can also be very vocal dogs, which can make them far less popular with their neighbors than their owners.
  • Basset Hound:  Basset Hounds are similar to Beagles, but have very short legs and very long ears.  They are the stereotypical “lazy dog” and spend much of the day napping happily.  If you are looking for a laid-back dog, this is the breed for you.  Like beagles, though, Basset Hounds have a tendency to bark a lot.  If you want a quiet dog, you may want to consider another breed.
  • Bernese Mountain Dog:  They’re big, they’re fluffy, and they’re friendly.  This isn’t a breed to even consider unless you have a lot of room, due to their bigger size and exercise requirements. Bernese Mountain Dogs can grow to about 120 lbs.  They are great family dogs, though.  Due to their thick, fluffy coats, they are not suited to warm climates.  An excellent choice for Canadian families, eh?
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel:  Another affectionate, playful breed, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is much smaller than its big hunting dog cousins.  Like most spaniels, the CKC enjoys running around and need lots of play time and exercise to be happy and stay in good health.

Breeds to Avoid

I know that I will get lots of hate mail over this list, but there are just some breeds that you shouldn’t take chances with around children. Yes, each dog is different, and even the gentlest breeds occasionally produce nasty animals that shouldn’t be around children.  Some breeds are just naturally aggressive, though.  While proper socialization from the very outset can keep a naturally aggressive dog in check, it isn’t worth risking your family’s safety to choose such aggressive breeds.

The following list contains some of the breeds noted specifically by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as being involved in fatal attacks, as well as a few that are generally known to be over-protective and aggressive.

  • Pit Bull/American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Rottweiler
  • German Shepherd
  • Siberian Husky
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Akita
  • Chow
  • Doberman Pincer

Pit Bulls are not particularly common, yet they kill more people yearly in the U.S. than any other breed. Pit Bull fans are very vocal that the breed is not naturally aggressive or violent, and that their negative portrayal in the media is unfounded. Statistically, though, the breed is consistently one of the deadliest breeds in the world.

I would also caution parents against many of the “toy breeds”.  Many small breeds are highly aggressive and can bite without provocation.  I have personally been attacked by a dog only once in my life, and it was by a Bichon Frise.  Despite her tiny size, the unprovoked attack was bad enough to leave a nasty, permanent scar on my leg.

Getting Your Dog

Don’t let this list be your only determining factor when you pick a dog for your family.  Even if I’ve listed a breed in this article as being good with kids, make sure that you get plenty of relevant information on the breed.  You will (hopefully) share your living space with your new dog for many years to come, so make sure that you do your research.

If you are buying your new dog as a puppy, ensure that you are buying from a reputable breeder.  Many areas have an active community of dog owners and breeders who can guide you in selecting a good breeder, and avoiding so-called “puppy mills.”  These are breeders who focus on producing as many litters of puppies as possible, as quickly as possible, while ignoring the health and safety of the animals.

Another way of getting your dog is to adopt one from a rescue shelter such as the SPCA.  And while adoption is a wonderful way to help animals in need, it also has some potential pitfalls that you should consider.  Most importantly, you will probably have little idea of how the dog has been trained if it is already grown.  Much of an animal’s temperament is based on its upbringing, so bringing an unknown, grown dog into your house may carry more risk than training a puppy yourself.  Also, rescue dogs are often mixed breeds.  Much of the time, determining what breeds were mixed is difficult or impossible.  If you do get a mixed breed, try to get one that has at least one of the suitable breeds listed above in its bloodline, and avoid animals with any of the aggressive breeds listed.