Which Are The Best Dogs For Kids; and Which Breeds Aren’t?
I get asked this question a lot. “Which dog breed is the best for kids?” Every parent wants the perfect dog for his/her children.
But finding the perfect dog 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. And, I have 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 mom and dad.
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 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 whomever 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 half way 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 kitten’s. 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.
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.
Breeds to Avoid and Breeds to Research if You Have Children
Several years ago I would have advocated for Pit Bull or Rottweilers with kids. But nowadays ruthless people are overbreeding both breeds. Not only can you end up with an aggressive dog or an overly protective dog (neither or which is good for young kids unless you are a professional and know what you are doing) you can also end up with a dog with severe health issues like hip dysplasia or a tendency toward cancer (also sad for kids who love their dog).
I would also not recommend crazy herding dogs; so if you get a “working” stock border collie you will likely end up with a dog that chases and nips your kids. If herding dogs are not stimulated they often find their own job to do, and herding kids is one of their favorite sports.
Aloof breeds; Akitas, Chows, Malinois, Dutch Shepherds, and the like are not something that will want to share their space with visiting “friends” of your child. We had a Chow when I was a kid, and one night when a friend spilled a little bit of her milkshake on the carpet and was wiping it up my Chow ran and bit her… not good! My dog could tolerate her being what she considered “normal” like sitting, walking, standing but as soon as the picture was not normal; bent over and scrubbing the carpet the dog became very aggressive.
The above also goes for extremely protective breeds. You may want to feel that your family is safer with a guard dog… but having friends in and out constantly increases the risk of having your dog bite doing something that feels natural to him.
I would also stay away from very small dogs. I just read an article that stated that a study that involved researchers from the University of Pennsylvania as well as 6,000 dog owners found that Dachshunds had the highest incident of biting followed by the Chihuahua and then the Jack Russell.
The reason that you don’t hear about this on the news is because they are small dogs and rarely inflict enough damage to need hundreds of stitches or reconstructive surgery and therefore most bites are not reported. Small dogs, in general, are often less tolerable of children and their antics and childlike behaviors; they are often worried about being stepped on or grabbed so they get defensive and aggressive to keep that from happening.
Plus a child stepping on a small dog on accident could break or even kill it.
Breeds to Consider
I personally love Mutts! They have so much to offer and usually get the best of whatever breed they are mixed with and tend to be healthier. Although I would have never chose a Chow as a Service Dog… I often took Chow mixes from shelters because they passed the temperament tests.
One of my favorite breeds is the Greyhound when it comes to living with kids. They are mellow, sweet and usually tolerant of children. They are happy to lay around the house all day with you or to go for a walk (in moderate weather or a sweater) or a run or a hike. They have thin skin, so they can be easily scratched or injured but are very resilient and most are saved from race tracks and live with rescue families who want only the best for their new owner and the dog.
I also love Bassett Hounds. Although their brain is in their nose and they can’t always be trusted off leash they make wonderful house “sloths” and are very mellow and tolerant.
Elkhounds are another breed that I love that aren’t very well known.
I like collies although they are “herding” dogs the instinct to herd has often been mellowed out by breeding good family collies together to make a wonderful family pet.
Of course the Labrador and Golden Retriever are high on the list and several other “sporting” dogs. However care needs to be taken that these retrievers are given the emotional and mental stimulation and exercise they demand. Retrievers and sporting dogs like the Weimaraner and Vizsla and Brittney Spaniels are great companion dogs, they need serious training and stimulation to activate that brain that was bred to hunt all day! These are very active dogs by default!
I also love Pugs! Although they aren’t the healthiest breed can still “break” easily with small children; I can’t help but love their sweet temperaments! And for older children I like Papillons (if you want a small dog).
I also love Newfoundlands and Boxers although both can have health issues and Boxers are known for being super active!!
It All Comes Down to The Individual Dog and Your Experience Level
And what you need in a dog as far as activity.
The most important part is the individual dog and the genetics of the puppy (how their parents like people, etc.).
Take Your Time
Do your research visit several dogs or puppy litters until you know exactly what you want; and don’t just fall in love with the first thing you see or you might be putting your children in danger!
And don’t bring your kids until you know which dog you will be getting. Kids fall in love with any dog and want it!
Parents need to make rational informed decisions when it is as important as selecting a new family member that they will have for the next 10-20 years!
What do you think?
Please help to share this so people can find the right dog or puppy for their family!
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.