The Most Popular Family-Friendly Dogs
While Lassie and Lady and the Tramp are fun to watch, they’re probably not the best way to choose the family dog. Let petMD help you discover the best dogs for kids.
You can choose good family dogs based on three major factors:
- Temperament – This is the dog’s personality. You should be looking for an agreeable temperament. For instance, a calmer dog has the ability to form strong bonds and be a great companion for your kids.
- Size – Size should be looked at in relation to both temperament and energy level. Some larger dogs tend to be docile, while some smaller dogs can be excitable.
- Energy level – This is a matter of preference for your family. Be realistic about the lifestyle you can provide to a dog that needs more exercise than average. If you can’t meet a dog’s needs, his excess energy can lead to behavior problems down the road.
Always meet the dog and ask the breeder or shelter worker a few questions before making such an important decision.
Here are five sample questions to ask, according to Holly Putnam, DVM, board member for the Association of Shelter Veterinarians:
- Is the dog safe for all members of the family? Some dogs are perfectly happy to socialize with everyone in the family, while some prefer only adults or one gender.
- What type of energy level is the dog? You may want a dog that will accompany you and the family on long walks, or one that can be carried in your arms the majority of the time.
- What ongoing care will the dog require? Is it a longhaired dog who will need regular grooming, or a senior who may need more frequent veterinary visits?
- What age of dog are you looking for? Would you prefer a puppy who may require lots of training but will likely socialize well with the entire family, or would you prefer an adult dog who is potty trained, but may be more shy when friends come visit?
- Will this dog get along with other pets? If you have other pets at home, you will want to choose a dog that likes other animals, and be sure that your animals like the new dog.
Here are the 10 best dogs for kids and families:
- Bull Dog
- Bull Terrier
- Irish Setter
- Labrador Retriever
- Golden Retriever
For a devoted, patient pup that’s sure to act affectionately towards the kids, the Bulldog is your go-to breed. The Bulldog has a sturdy build that is perfect for kids who like to roughhouse. However, he won’t win any awards for "most energetic dog." A docile, friendly, and loyal dog, the Bulldog gets along well with other pets and dogs, too. The Bulldog is comfortable living in large houses as well as small apartments. Most are also pleasant with outside visitors and compatible with other pets, which makes them the perfect fit for a busy, social family.
If you are interested in a Bulldog, keep in mind that the compressed nature of their jaw means they’ll need a little extra care in the teeth cleaning area, and wheezing, snoring and some drooling is par for the course. On the other hand, their coat needs minimal care, although the folds around their tail and facial wrinkles will need to be cleaned to prevent dirt build-up. (Check out this piece for more on puppy and dog coat care.) Their smaller size makes them suitable to both large houses and small apartments, as well.
The Beagle’s small size (they can easily be carried!) and calm temperament make him a great choice for families, and if your kids love the outdoors, this breed will fit right in, since there’s nothing they love more than exploring outside and taking to the trails. Beagles were originally kept as hunting dogs, and their sturdy build means they’re never too tired to play games. (If you’re afraid you might bore your new Beagle, don’t worry, these ideas will keep your pup busy and engaged.)
Smart, friendly, and happy, the Beagle usually gets along with other pets, too (except for a bit of chasing here and there). However, they do shed, and require frequent brushing and bathing. Check out more about why a Beagle might be the perfect fit for your family here. While your Beagle most likely won’t have a bird named Woodstock as his best friend, you can, by all means, name him (or her) Snoopy.
8. Bull Terrier
Unfairly branded as an aggressive animal, the Bull Terrier was actually bred to be a companion dog—friendly and loving towards grown-ups and kids alike. This well-framed dog also has a high threshold for pain, making it perfect for rambunctious children who are learning how to properly treat dogs.
Keep in mind that your Bull Terrier may often have mischief on its mind, especially when it comes to other small animals and dogs. Avoid problems by keeping your pet mentally and physically active every day. Their short, flat coat is easy to care for, and the breed does best as a housedog with easy access to a yard for play. Find out more about how to properly care for a Bull Terrier here.
With a variety of breeds classified as Collies, such as the Border Collie and Bearded Collie, your options for this family friendly pup are not only limited to the classic “Lassie” dog, a Border Collie, but we'll focus on that type of Collie here. Collies are a gentle and predictable breed, rarely misbehaving and easily trainable—which is perfect for families that are unfamiliar with dogs. Collies get along great with children and love to please their owners and protect their family.
While this type of breed is typically mild-mannered, they were originally bred as herding dogs, so yours may try and herd your children! This might be amusing at first, but it’s probably best to discourage the child-herding (no matter how handy you may think it could be). Because of the Collie's long hair, the breed requires regular grooming to keep its coat in tip-top shape. A sensitive and intelligent breed, Collies are both gentle and stubborn, so keep obedience training in mind. (Get some basic obedience training tips here.)
Nicknamed "Nature’s Babysitter," the Newfoundland is considered one of the most intelligent breeds in the world, and they just happen to love children and are very protective of them. Gentle, kind, and patient, this breed is almost like the Mother Teresa of dogs. Both young and old will quickly fall in love with this wonderfully sweet, large dog.
The Newfoundland best suits a family with large open spaces, and although they are known to drool and shed excessively, they should not be left to live outdoors in the yard. This breed wants to be inside with its family. The Newfoundland is also a great swimmer and has been known to save lives in emergency situations. (If you’ll be swimming with your pup, check out this piece for some pool safety tips for dogs.)
They are easily trained and are quite task oriented, so don’t be afraid to provide them with stimulation that requires a little extra work on their part. Learn more about this patient and loyal breed and why they might make the perfect fit for your family here.
While this breed isn’t exactly a common household name, because of its need for regular exercise, it’s actually one best dog breeds for active and energetic families with older kids.
The Vizsla has a lively disposition but a gentle manner, and is both loyal and affectionate. The breed is also obedient, confident and smart, forming close bonds with family and able to learn new tricks quickly. Sensitive, gentle and full of energy, check out this page for more info on the Vizsla, and consider them with your list of other family-friendly dog breeds.
4. Irish Setter
Known for its red coat, the Irish Setter is playful, energetic, loves being around people, and plays well with children. In fact, this breed loves being with their family so much that they hate to be alone, which means they’re on their best behavior when surrounded by their loved ones. (Check out some easy ways to prevent separation anxiety in your dog here.)
This doggy needs lots of exercise, and is a good match for energetic kids. A smart and trainable companion, the Irish setter is perfect for people with a yard, and they’re great at greeting new people into your home, as well. Learn more about the friendly Irish Setter here.
Besides their often-distinctive haircuts, the Poodle also happens to be a very smart and gentle dog. The breed is available in both miniature and standard sizes, meaning you can choose the specific Poodle size that best matches your living environment. They’re great for kids with allergies, as they shed very little.
Each breed comes with different perks. The Standard breed, for example, is very obedient and smart, playful and adventurous (although often shy with strangers, they get along great with familiar people and kids). Miniatures, on the other hand, tend to dedicate themselves to one person in particular, but they are good with other pets and kids, and are smart, responsive, obedient and playful, making them a great match for kids, too. No matter the particular breed of Poodle, however, their coats do require scheduled grooming. (Learn how to find the perfect dog groomer here.)
This is a proud and elegant dog that is both caring and loyal. Seldom annoyed or bored, find out more about why the Poodle makes a great kid companion here.
2. Labrador Retriever
This is one of the most popular dog breeds, and for good reason—the Labrador Retriever is playful, patient, loving, protective, and reliable. Another perk—Labs are highly intelligent, and take well to training. They require a lot of exercise (they love swimming!), so be sure your family is up for the challenge, and a little extra room for them to run around and play in would be optimal.
Whether it’s the black, chocolate or yellow variety, you’ll find that all Labradors share the same sense of stamina, strength and obedience that makes them such a popular breed. They are affable dogs that get along well with other animals and pretty much everyone they meet, plus their short coats means they only really need a weekly combing to keep them clean and healthy. Check out more about what makes Labrador Retrievers so great right here.
1. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever is a confident, smart, kind, and loyal dog. Neither aggressive nor timid, the Golden Retriever is extremely patient, which makes them a perfect match for kids.
While the breed does need a lot of exercise, they love of play (retrieving games are their favorite—for example, your Golden might love playing with dog flyer disc toys), which makes this an easy goal to achieve. You’ll often find that the fun-loving Golden Retriever is affectionate and obedient, as well, meaning your kids will fall in love instantly. Proper care for their glorious golden coats requires twice weekly brushing, and while the breed is adapted to live outdoors, they’d really prefer to be indoors, with their humans, most of the time.
Special Mention: Mutts!
While your family is sure to fall in love with any of the previously mentioned purebreeds, don’t count out mixed breeds, either, which often provide the best traits of two great breeds in one dog. “When considering adopting a dog, you will want to observe how it responds to all members of your family,” says Dr. Putnam. “Some dogs are very social with everyone, while others prefer only adults or one gender. Does the dog approach you and your family with a wagging tail or body, or does it cower in the corner of the room? How willing is the dog to play or share with your family? Some dogs become possessive of what they believe is theirs. This can escalate into a dangerous situation if young children are unaware that the dog may aggressively defend what it wants.”
Dr. Putnam also suggests considering your family’s lifestyle, and what type of energy level would fit best. “For instance, if you have a family with small children, a large, rambunctious dog may inadvertently knock the children down,” she said. “If you are an avid runner and looking for a canine companion, a leisurely Basset Hound may not be the best match.
- Bull Dog
- Bull Terrier
- Irish Setter
- Labrador Retriever
- Golden Retriever