The Best Dog Breed for Families and Children

WebMD helps you identify the best dog breed for your family by answering commonly asked questions about dog breeds.

By Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed by Mark J. Stickney, DVM

The kids have been begging for a puppy for years. You've been able to put them off with some fish, maybe a hamster, or even a cat. But this time, only something with four feet from the canine family is going to do.

Although many people are happy to get a mixed breed puppy, others like to know a little more about what that cute little ball of fur will look like in a year. If that's the case, then it's time to look at purebred dogs. But how do you find the best one for your family? We asked Gina DiNardo, assistant vice president of the American Kennel Club and second-generation dog fancier, for some advice.

Q: What kind of research should I do when trying to decide which breed is best for my family?

A: You should consult your veterinarian and then look on the AKC web site. Look at each breed you're interested in and determine the exercise requirements, the grooming requirements, the temperament, and trainability of each breed. Once you've narrowed it down to a few breeds, then talk to some experts on those breeds. You can go to a dog show and talk to breeders, or use our web site and call people from the national club.

After you're sure it's a breed you're interested in, then spend time with each breed, either by going to a dog show or contacting a local breeder. A good breeder will let you interact with their dogs because any dog they place with your family will be with you for life. So they want to be sure not only that the dog is right for you, but also that your family is right for the dog.

Q: Are some breeds just more “kid friendly” than others? Which ones?

A: The highly trainable breeds are great with kids because they're usually eager to please and are usually more family oriented, rather than attaching themselves to one person. Look at the sporting group. These are dogs that were bred to work side by side with man, taking direction from their owner. They also are some of the most popular family dogs -- your golden retrievers, your Labrador retrievers. Some of your herding breeds also are highly trainable, such as German shepherds and collies.

Q: Are there some breeds that just shouldn't be around children?

A: No, all breeds, if socialized properly and brought up with children will be fine with children.

Q: What about size? Is it OK to get small dogs if you have small children?

A: Usually, I say to get a larger breed if you have smaller children because they're more durable. If a small child pulls on an ear or steps on the foot of a large dog, that dog is going to tolerate it more. If a child steps on the foot of a miniature pincher or a Chihuahua, the dog could be injured and sometimes that's how a child gets bitten. The dog reacts to being injured and bites the child. So I always say the larger dogs, the sturdier dogs, are better for small children.

Q: My child has allergies. Are there truly hypoallergenic dogs?

A: There are no 100% hypoallergenic dogs, but there are dogs that shed less. Those dogs produce less dander, so people with allergies tend to tolerate them better. Those are breeds like the Bichon, the Portuguese water dog, the Kerry blue terrier, the Maltese, poodles.

I'd also suggest you spend time with the individual dog you're thinking about bringing home. Even in the hypoallergenic breeds, you may have a sensitivity to one particular dog more than another. You also can be sensitive to their saliva, so let them lick your hand or kiss your face just to be sure that doesn't cause a reaction as well.

Q: How can I be sure our new pet will match my family's energy level?

A: Look at what the dogs were bred to do. If you want a quiet, mellow dog, don't get a dog that was bred for hunting. If you want a high-energy dog, look at the sporting breeds, the herding breeds, and a lot of the working breeds. These are dogs that were bred to work outside with man all day long. So they're going to have a lot of energy. But keep in mind that dogs bred to work usually need both physical and mental exercise or they're going to be unhappy. And an unhappy dog can be a destructive dog.

The best way to be sure a breed will match your family is to talk to the breeders and find out what that breed requires, what it's like, then decide if you're willing to meet that dog's needs on a daily basis. It's really important that you're honest with yourself and evaluate how much time you want to spend on your new dog. There are a lot of dogs that don't require a lot of exercise, but there are a whole host of others that do.

Q: Where's the best place to buy my new puppy? A pet store? Online? At a dog show?

A: Go to a reputable breeder. You can find them through the AKC or a parent club, like Golden Retriever Club of America. Or you can find breeder ads online. The key is to do your research and interview the person you're considering getting your puppy from to determine if they are reputable. Some key questions to help you do that:

  • Are they aware of any health problems in the breed, and do they do health testing on their litters for those problems?
  • Do they socialize their puppies?
  • Do they guarantee for the life of the dog if there's a problem they'll take the dog back?
  • Will they work with you to help you raise your puppy, or do they just want to take your money and run?

The answers to those questions can help you determine if this person is a responsible breeder or just someone selling puppies.

The socialization is especially important. A puppy that's not socialized correctly during the first eight weeks of life won't be as outgoing and friendly as a puppy that is.

You want your puppy exposed to all kinds of situations so he'll be comfortable with those things later in life. If a breeder knows a puppy is going to a home with children, they'll be sure that puppy is exposed to children almost from the start. Then by the time you get the puppy, it's comfortable being handled by children.

Puppies need to be exposed to lots of different sights, sounds, people, and places on a daily basis from the time it's a very young pup through about 9 months old. You can't just tuck your puppy away in your house, not let it meet other people or dogs, and expect it to do well in these situations later in life.

Another good thing about getting a puppy from a responsible breeder is that you have a fountain of information and knowledge to help you along the way. It's nice to be able to call someone five weeks or five months later and say “I'm having this training problem. What can I do?”

Q: What's the ideal age to bring a puppy home?

A: You should not be sold a puppy younger than 8 weeks old. It's just not in the best interest of the puppy.

Some breeders want to keep their puppies up to 12 weeks. But really anywhere between 8 weeks and 4 months is fine.