The Best Dogs for Kids (Guide)
I get asked this question a lot. “What are the best dogs for kids?” Every parent wants the perfect dog breeds for their children. But finding the perfect dog breeds is sometimes hard.
Nature vs. Nurture and Why I Don’t Often Recommend Puppies
Dogs come in all shapes and sizes and temperaments, and I am a firm believer that temperament is inherently genetic. That is not to say that I think that “nurture” and how we treat our pets doesn’t come into play with what kind of dog they grow up to be.
But I have seen six week old puppies with severe aggression issues and since most puppies open their eyes between 9 and 11 days, I can’t imagine that the experiences in those 2 or 3 weeks can really change a young puppy.
And I have seen extremely abused dogs be completely kind and sweet. I have also seen emaciated and starved dogs that would never think about being food aggressive. As a professional dog trainer and specialist on dog aggression I see that most often aggressive or skittish puppies have aggressive or skittish biological parents.
Although I have certainly seen aggressive puppies come from non-aggressive parents, this is rarer than puppies that show the same temperament traits as their parents. This is why I think it is so critical for owners and breeders to breed only temperamentally strong dogs. Just today I went over to a lady’s home who wanted to sell a 2 year old female Belgian Malinois, and I had a friend that was interested.
However, when I entered her home and then her back yard the dog became very defensive and incredibly skittish. She would dart between trying to bite me in the butt and hiding behind her “human mom”. This dog is a “fear biter” in the making.
So is it nature or nurture? I can’t say for sure, but I am guessing nature has a big part to do with it. And unfortunately this lady is considering breeding the dog; despite my warning not to. This is why when I am looking for a dog for a good friend, I often recommend or search for adult dogs either from a shelter or a rescue organization. Sometimes it is difficult if not impossible to see both the “sire and the dam” (dad and mom) when you go to get a puppy.
Puppies are a “crap shoot” and their temperaments can change as they develop and work towards adulthood, but with an adult dog, usually what you see is what you get. A confident adult dog usually remains confident and a scared or skittish adult dog often remains that way especially if their triggers or fears are stressed. So as odd as some of you might find it; I like adult dogs for inexperienced owners or people who have children, instead of puppies.
Yes, even a normally aggressive puppy may bond well with his family but he might become a liability when your children have friends over and let’s face it your kids are going to have other kids over! Take my puppy for example. He is 10 months old now, and at this stage in his life he hates people.
When he was 8 weeks to about 5 months, he loved people. But he has matured and developed and become more like his mom. His mom is a working police dog, and a very serious one at that.
She also doesn’t like people she doesn’t know. And, his father is also a “sport” like police dog who is very protective and possessive of his things. So it is no wonder that when I got him he showed serious signs of aggression and possessiveness.
But at least at that time, he liked people. And, although I hate that he is not social (I socialized him very well as a baby and until I saw signs of unfriendliness) even as a professional trainer I cannot change his innate temperament. But, I wanted a competition “sport” police dog and I knew what I was getting into.
He would make a terrible pet and would likely be euthanized for his aggression. However as a professional and sport dog person, I know how to handle him and keep everyone safe (even if he has to wear a muzzle to do it). In a “normal” or pet home, he would have likely been euthanized by now. I don’t even trust him with my step children. So he spends his time with me on a leash when they are here.
And, I can tell you he leads a charmed life, in the home as a pet; so nurture has nothing to do with his naughtiness! But it is important for regular normal dog parents to know that we “professionals” can’t fix everything either. Sometimes we just learn to control things. And dog trainers are really good at “hiding” behaviors!
Good people get aggressive dogs. It is so very much easier to blame the owner for abuse or not socializing but in many cases the owners of aggressive dogs do the best they can for the dog that they own but don’t know how to deal with! I can’t imagine someone getting a dog that is like my puppy and knowing how to deal with him.
Sure people abuse dogs, but this isn’t always the case.
Consider an Adult Dog
So first off, I like adult dogs for homes with kids. And usually a good rescue organization can help people find a dog breeds that is already actively living successfully with young children. This makes life safer than a puppy (in my opinion).
Many shelters also, now, temperament test dogs prior to adoption to weed out the dogs that are overly reactive, jumpers, or even food aggressive or possessive over their things. People think that all dogs that come from a shelter or a rescue has “problems” but their “problems” could be as simple as their owners are moving, or the dog no longer matches the color of the carpet, or for whatever reason the person just never made the dog a priority.
When I trained Service Dogs for adults and children with disabilities, ALL of my dogs came to me as adults 2 years old(ish) and out of shelters.
I never used puppies because I didn’t want temperaments to change after several months and the investment in training lost and I also wanted to make sure they were physically able to do the work. And, I know if I found hundreds of dogs over the years in shelters, there are others out there! I always wished that whoever threw their dog away at the shelter would see him/her with me in public someday and realize their dog was now worth $10,000-$20,000!
Don’t discount a dog just because it is an adult! Remember you miss out on potty training, and that WILD puppy stage, and you have a better idea of what you are getting when it comes to temperament. And, if the dog grew up with and loved children you are already halfway there!
Children are not all Created Equal
Not all children are created or “parented” equally!
Unfortunately I see a lot of abuse that comes from young kids. And, some of them are too young to know any better; but lack of parenting skills and not teaching kids to be kind toward animals leads to aggression and bites and the ultimate euthanasia of animals. It also leads to emotional trauma and the disfigurement of many children.
Just recently I was told a story about a mom who had gotten a kitten for her 2 year old (I have never seen a 2 year old that “needed” a kitten nor one who could truly appreciate one). But there were no lessons about “handling the cat kindly” so the 2 year old would grab the kitten WAY too hard and then not release it until the child was bitten. The mother was considering getting rid of the cat.
And then one day she looked down to see her toddler covered in blood. Furious that the kitten had bitten her child she frantically searched for the wound. But, it wasn’t the child’s blood it was the kittens. The child had broken the kitten’s jaw nearly off!
How does anyone allow this to happen? I OFTEN wish that penalties were greater for animal abuse and neglect! The story makes me physically sick every time I share it; and yet it needs to be shared so that people can learn.
Take a normally social dog who loves kids and then allow a child to jump on it, trip and fall on it, stomp it, kick it, and poke it in the eyes continuously and you will see a social dog go to a fearful dog, and then an aggressive dog. It would be like living in a prisoner of war or torture camp.
At first you go in a normal person, and soon you end up having your spirit broken, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and resorting to aggression to save yourself.
This is how these dogs feel and why children get mauled. And, this is a clear case of nurture gone wrong. A child is seen as an equal and therefore is more likely to be bitten for bad behavior. So the next thing to do as a parent is to make sure you have a child that is kind toward all living things.
And if your child is too young and you have trouble keeping an eye on him/her (first kids need to be kept tabs on) and if this is the case your child is too young to appreciate a pet; perhaps wait until he/she is older before getting a pet. Let’s face it parents of young children don’t need the stress of training and cleaning up after something else anyway! The behavior of the children and respect they have for animals and the knowledge and parenting of the parents is more important than the pet!
For more on teaching children to be kind to animals and mindful of dogs and educating others click here.
So You Need a Puppy
Heck, I like puppies too! I like being in control of their learning and their experiences! But I also know how to deal with a difficult puppy! And if you’d like to see how I’d do that, I made these videos.
So sit down and make a list. Figure out what you are going to expect from a puppy or an adult dog throughout his life. Is there a sport you have in mind; hunting, obedience, protection, herding or agility?
Are you active? Do you go hiking or running or are extremely active, all of the time? Or, do you like to hang out with your family and chillax and watch TV or movies often?
Now do some research on the web about what kind of dog will fit your lifestyle specifically and will want to join you in your adventures? But most people should avoid “working” dogs or “working dog” lines, unless you want to compete in whatever they are talking about. A “hunting” stock Labrador Retriever is going to drive a sedentary family NUTS!
Anytime you see “working dog or working stock” before a listing this means that the dog probably has crazy drive and energy and is not going to be happy sitting around. This goes for herding dogs, hunting dogs, protection dogs and the like. A professional can deal with working dogs but a regular dog person doesn’t usually always have what it takes to live with these dogs unless they are involved in the “working dog world” or need the dog to work.
I wouldn’t even want a “hunting” stock Labrador or Golden unless I was going to do hunt competitions. That would be too much energy even for me! If you like chillaxing a “hound” may be better for you; they too enjoy some snuggling and a good TV show or animal planet marathon.
The following dog breeds are considered to be the best dogs for kids:
Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier:
If you’re looking for a good natured small dogs for kids, The Wheaten breed is one for you! Originally meant to be an all-purpose farm dog, the Wheaten comes from humble beginnings. There are four different types of Wheatens although they are a purebred dog.
They just differ by regions and coats. There is the Traditional Irish coat, the Heavy Irish Coat, the American coat and the English coat. Regardless of what type of Wheaten, they do not shed and so they are often called a ‘hypoallergenic dog.
Wheaten Terriers are known as amazing family dogs and one of the best dogs for kids. The have a very gentle temperament and they love other dogs and children. They will play for hours as puppies and they have a lot of spunk, but they are not as aggressive as other terrier dog breeds when they play, which is why they are great for kids.
The American Kennel Club describes the Spanish Mastiff as “affectionate, intelligent, kind, and noble,” and a remarkably old breed. The history of the Spanish Mastiff is long and storied. Used to guard livestock since ancient times, the Spanish mastiff is a naturally protective yet gentle breed, which is appealing to families looking for a kid-friendly guard dog.
The mastiff has a calm demeanor, and despite its massive size needs only moderate exercise.
It is, however, important to keep size in mind—that adorable, wrinkly little puppy will grow up to weigh anywhere from 140-200 pounds. If you can handle the size, this breed’s ancient and glowing reputation make them the best dogs for kids.
According to the American Kennel Club, the Weimaraner is extremely smart and eager to please, Weimaraners require diligent training and plenty of exercise to keep them engaged and healthy. A well-trained Weimaraner, however, loves living amongst a family, enjoys lots of time outdoors, is very loyal and is one of the best dogs for kids.
Another one of the best dogs for kids is the Australian Terrier. He is described by the AKC as being “plucky, spirited, and smart.” These pups are the result of interbreeding between Cairn, Dandie Dinmont, Norwich, Scottie, Skye, and Yorkshire Terriers, and were bred to be fearless with a large dose of cuddly and eternally devoted. Because of their high energy level, Australian Terriers require regular exercise, which is great if you have older active kids!
Although originally bred to hunt rabbits, the beloved beagle has adapted exceptionally well to family life. Social by nature, the cheery breed has plenty of energy for keeping up with kids of all sizes. With an ever present “hound nose”, they can’t resist tracking a scent or chasing prey, so make sure you have a secure yard. Keep in mind, they are famous for their bay, so apartment living may not be the best.
With a long history of working alongside humans as everything from hunters to cattle herders to war dogs, they thrive on interaction and make excellent guards. If you have young children, keep in mind that boxers are on the larger side and exceptionally strong
Described by the AKC, as affectionate, intelligent, and enthusiastic, this lesser known breed, but one that has my vote for favorite on this list is the Bracco Italiano. Smart, calm, and easily trainable, the Bracco is a gentle people-pleaser with plenty of patience for children. The mellow breed is also known to be good with other pets.
Famous for their egg-shaped heads, bull terriers offer much more than goofy good looks. These pups are described by the AKC as “playful, charming, mischievous, and endearing.” Although they can sometimes be stubborn, they are always devoted and thrive on affection and exercise.
The AKC proposes that the Bull Terrier does best with “early socialization with dogs and people, firm but loving training, ample exercise, and lots of quality time with their adored humans.” These dogs benefit from daily, moderate exercise that provides good mental and physical stimulation, such as long walks with the whole family.
Famous 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.
This friendly dog 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.
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.
Easy to train and even easier to love, goldens are frequently used as service dogs due to its signature mix of smarts and sweets. Golden retrievers thrive on outdoor play and never turn down a swim, so prepare the kids for long sessions of fetch at the park.
What can I say about this breed other than saying this dog breed is the AKC’s #1 most popular breed. The Labrador Retriever is quick to bond and friendly to a fault, Labradors will be a hit with the kids and the neighbors alike. If a Lab is on your list, know that he is one of the best dogs for kids! Be sure to budget for plenty of rigorous exercise to keep him happy and healthy.
Don’t be intimidated by the Newfoundland’s size—this gentle giant is famously one of the best dogs for kids. In fact, a sweet temperament is “the most important single characteristic” according to the AKC’s breed guidelines, and they’ve been beloved throughout history. The AKC characterizes Newfoundlands as “sweet, patient, and devoted” dogs who can be very even-tempered and tender.
The AKC also writes of “the Newfoundland’s reputation as a patient and watchful ‘nanny dog’ for kids.” In fact, Senator and Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy adopted a Newfoundland who helped look after their 11 children! Because of their intrepid nature, Newfoundlands love adventuring and exercising with their families.
This doesn’t have to mean exploring the American Frontier like Lewis and Clark owed their lives to their loyal Newfie, while Seaman, Lord Byron built his buddy Boatswain a tomb larger than his own. They are just as happy running around in the backyard. Obviously, the Newfoundland’s size (up to 150 pounds for a male) and extensive grooming needs should be taken into consideration.
Bernese Mountain Dog:
If you have a backyard large enough for him to romp around, then the Bernese Mountain dog deserves your consideration. Known as very gentle and affectionate by nature, they are extremely fond of children and don’t even seem to mind the most mischievous ones either. They are also very easy to train and care for, and they get along with other pets as well.
Besides their often-distinctive haircuts, the Standard Poodle also happens to be a very smart and gentle dog. They’re great for kids with allergies, as they shed very little. The Standard Poodle is very obedient and smart, playful and adventurous.
No matter the particular breed of Poodle, however, their coats do require scheduled grooming. This is a proud and elegant dog that is both caring and loyal. Seldom annoyed or bored.
Regardless of the breed your family settles on, consider adopting—if you don’t find the dog you’re looking for at a local shelter, a breed-specific rescue may be able to help. If you choose to purchase a puppy, ensure that you work with a responsible breeder, such as one that has earned the AKC’s Breeder of Merit distinction.
And as always, keep mutts in mind! Mixed-breed pups can be the best dogs for kids and have been shown to avoid some of the genetic disorders that afflict purebred dogs.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.