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These Are the Best Dog Breeds for Kids and Families

There are only a few wrong answers here.

Having a dog in the home can be enormously beneficial for your small child. Dogs are proven to reduce the likelihood of allergies and other illnesses,  and, most importantly, also provide a lifetime companion for your kid. But knowing what the best dogs for kids really are is deeply important. If you’ve decided to finally get a family dog, you might not know what the best dog breeds for kids really are. So, what are good dogs for kids? Can toddlers get along with Labrador Retrievers?  Are Dobermans good with kids? Does it matter if they are puppies if they’re a certain weight or medium-sized? Are child-friendly dogs always the nicest? Are these even valid questions — or is temperament about how dogs are raised? 

Gina DiNardo, the Executive Secretary of the American Kennel Club, wants to make it clear out of the gate that there is no breed that is “bad” for young children. She does, however, say that some are easier and some that are softer and some that are friendly as all get out.

The only breeds I wouldn’t recommend are very small breeds,” DiNardo says. “Young children can fall on them or hurt them easily by accident and that’s one of the main ways that people get bit.”

If a dog is going to spend time with kids, per DiNardo, it should enjoy roughhousing because that’s going to be their new status quo. Play is good and medium-sized breeds — anything between a beagle and a border collie — are generally the best at playing. Beyond durability, and that’s essentially what the medium-sized criteria speaks to, it’s all about what an owner believes a good dog to be.

“If you get a dog like a Lab or a Golden, they’re going to have a lot of energy,” Dinardo says. “They’re going to be very trainable. But know that they’re going to jump around a lot.” It’s worth noting that the Labrador Retriever recently became the most popular dog in the United States for the 26th year running.

Other dogs, such as Rhodesian Ridgebacks or Doberman Pinschers, are great with families, but ultimately very protective about them, which, depending on what you want in a pet, maybe a quality you like. 

What’s important to know is that no matter the breed, there will be good seeds and bad. Keep in mind that has nothing to do with the breed itself and probably more to do with previous trauma or a lack of good training. That’s why DiNardo generally recommends that families with babies get puppies, rather than adult dogs. If you don’t want to raise a pup and a baby at the same time, that’s understandable, but there’s no way around the work of bringing a dog into a family.

“You have to do your due diligence,” DiNardo says. “You have to be able to really understand dog body language and breeds of dogs well if you’re going to bring an older dog into your family, especially with children.”

DiNardo still thinks it’s easier to skew young when adopting a pet, no matter if it’s a purebred or a mutt — the initial hassle turns into long-term rewards rather than long-term detente.

“You have the capacity to help mold that temperament and introduce it to all the things that you want the dog to be comfortable around and bring the dog up with the children. That’s not to say, of course, you can’t get a great dog from a rescue, but you must be very vigilant in determining the temperament of that dog before you let it with your children.”

DiNardo, who has raised kids and had dogs at the time, stresses that no matter how well-behaved your dog, they shouldn’t be alone with your kid until your kid is at least 10 years old.

“When I had my child, I had three Doberman Pinschers and they were wonderful. I had nothing to worry about in terms of the dog’s temperament, but I still didn’t leave them alone until my children were old enough to understand how to treat a dog.”

No matter the breed, your kid needs to learn certain rules about your dog. You should never let your kid take your dog’s toy away when they are playing with it, mess with the dog’s food bowl, especially when they’re eating out of it, and never let your kid sit on the dog, tug on the dog, or any other aggressive behavior, which seems fairly self-explanatory.

Whichever kind of dog you choose or at what age you choose to adopt them, DiNardo recommends basic obedience training for everyone.

“We want our dogs to be good canine citizens.” Some of the training could be life-saving for the pet and for you. DiNardo also recommends making your young kids be a part of the training process. “Bring the kids with you to a training class, let them watch, let them see what you’re doing. Once you get the dog trained, teach the children how to do the things that you’re learning in training. Basic skills are good for the whole family.”

While adopting dogs is always preferable to shopping, some families might want a certain breed. DiNardo has a few recommendations for families who might have certain needs.

For the Active Family: The Labrador Retriever

a labrador retriever sits on a bench in a park

As DiNardo stated above, the Labrador Retriever is one of the best pets for active families, and their well-mannered demeanor makes them one of the best dog breeds for kids. They just need lots and lots of exercise, so a backyard or long, daily walks are key.

For Families With Young Kids: The Golden Retriever

a golden retriever stands in a path

DiNardo notes that Goldens, unlike Labs, are pretty low-energy. They’re also extremely patient and trusting and can handle young kiddos who pull and tug on them without much regard for their personal space — basically, they’re great for families with handsy toddlers.

For Busy Families: The Bulldog

a bull dog sits in a pile of grass

Bulldogs are known for being extremely calm and low energy. They’ve got the body of a potato and the disposition of one, too. They’re a great low maintenance dog for families with kids who want, more than anything else, to snuggle, and are the 4th most popular breed in America. They also love kids.

Best for Families That Want a Toy Dog: The Pug

a pug looks up at its owner

Is there a single dog as cute as a pug? Probably not, and, despite their size, they’re also remarkably sturdy and muscular, making them a good dog breed for kids who like to roughhouse but might live in a smaller space. They’re also loyal, not known for being aggressive, and are stage-five-clingers.

Best for Families Who Want a New Best Friend: The Newfoundland

a black newfoundland sits in dried grass

Newfoundlands, per DiNardo, have an instinctive drive to look after kids, making them the perfect “nanny dog” — making them one of the best dog breeds for families with kids. Newfoundlands are sweet, calm, devoted, but are also big-time drool machines and shed quite a bit of their fur.

Best All-Around: The Boxer

a closeup shot of a boxer dog

DiNardo says that boxers are deeply affectionate and, in particular, love getting affection from kids. They’re also patient — so, great with toddlers — not too big, so perfect for any size home or apartment, and love to have plenty of people nearby, so are not very anxious. They just need lots of exercise — so they’re a good dog breed for kids who love to play.