Holle is a retired English and creative writing teacher. She is a professional freelance writer and former dog trainer.
I love dogs, but I haven’t always been concerned about which breeds make the best family dogs. That was before I had children of my own, however, and it was long before I had nine grandchildren.
They say wisdom comes with age and experience, and I suppose that’s true. I certainly don’t want any aggressive dog breeds around my family now. Please understand that I really don’t like labeling any dog breeds as “aggressive,” as some individuals within such breeds can be completely unaggressive and safe dogs for kids. For instance, my daughter had a pit bulldog that was great with her kids, but I wouldn’t recommend the breed as a whole among the best dogs for kids—unless you’re certain about the dog's bloodlines and temperament.
A little bit about me. For one thing, I know a lot about kids. I am a mother, a grandmother, and a former teacher. I also have a lot of experience with dogs and different dog breeds. I’ve been a dog trainer and a dog breeder, having spent more than fifty years with dogs. Over the years, my dogs have served in many capacities: hunting, therapy, guarding, watching, and companionship. You’ll see some of them in the dog pictures I’ve included.
If you're thinking of getting a dog and have children in the house, you might want to consider doing a little research. Every year, children are bitten, mauled, and even killed by family pets. Of course, it's important to remember that every dog is an individual and cannot be completely defined by its breed. But some basic temperaments are often common within specific dog breeds. Below are my picks for the best dogs for kids.
One of the best dog breeds for families is the Labrador retriever. This breed seldom bites. In fact, it's ranked at the top of the list of non-biters. Labs are playful and love to romp with kids. Since they're rather large, they're not easily hurt by children, so they usually have no reason to bite in self-defense. Most labs are natural retrievers, so it won't be hard to train them to play fetch or frisbee.
Labs have a double coat that keeps their body warm and dry, so they won’t mind playing outdoors even when it’s cold. They love water too, so they might even join the kids in swimming and wading. Their coats are easy to care for and the breed is generally pretty healthy.
Most dog breeds include good and bad points, and the Lab is no exception. These dogs can be extremely stubborn and strong-willed. They can also be super destructive—when they're young. The breed usually matures pretty slowly. We had a couple of Labs that were champion diggers, so our back yard was often riddled with potholes.
Another great family dog is the Golden Retriever. They are similar in size and temperament to the Lab, and are usually ranked #2 on the non-biter list. We used to breed Goldies, and they’re wonderful dogs! They're big and cuddly, much like a teddy bears. They'll keep the kids busy in the back yard playing chase and fetch, and dad can take the Goldie hunting on the weekends. What more could you ask of a family dog?
Okay, the Golden Retriever isn’t perfect. They love to chew. If they don’t have enough chew toys, then your shoes, clothing, kids’ toys, and other personal belongings could be destroyed. Goldies aren’t particularly stubborn, but they can be easily distracted during dog training sessions. I’ve seen this first-hand. While working with our Golden Retrievers, everything would be going well until a bird flew overhead or a squirrel was nearby.
Great Danes do very well with kids. They are not as energetic as Labs and Goldies, but they do enjoy a good romp. These dogs thrive on human interaction and do not do well in kennels. They truly think they're part of the family and actually seem to prefer children to adults. They're very patient, as you can see from the pictures. In my opinion, Great Danes are the best dogs of all. I’ve owned, bred, and trained them and currently have two neutered males. One of my daughters has a female Dane and she’s great with kids too, including toddlers and babies.
I honestly can’t think of many big negatives with these giant dogs. They don’t cost nearly as much to feed as you’d think, nor do they require lots of exercise or tons of room. I suppose the biggest disadvantage with this breed is that they don’t usually live long. Still, in my opinion, having 8-10 years with these amazing dogs is better than having 15-20 years with other dog breeds.
The Newfoundland is a giant teddy bear of a dog that positively adores children. Remember Nana from Peter Pan? Nana was a Newfie left in charge of the Darlings’ children. This really isn’t as far-fetched as you might think, as this breed is often referred to as “the babysitter dog.” They’ve even been known to rescue drowning kids, adults, and other animals. Newfies have sweet dispositions and are loyal, affectionate, playful, and eager to please. They’re very patient with kids, too.
The Newfoundland usually forms a powerful bond with its human family and frets when left alone too long, which could result in destructive behavior and stress-related problems. Most Newfies drool a lot, too. if you can spend a lot of time with your dogs, and if a little “doggie juice” doesn’t offend you, this is one of the best dog breeds for families with kids.
The Basset Hound was bred to be passive and easy-going. They hunt in packs, so they have to get along well with other dogs and with their handlers. I’ve owned a couple of Basset Hounds and have known others. The male we have now, Sparky, loves kids and completely lacks any signs of aggression whatsoever. He’s super soft and cuddly and he’s playful for short periods. Basset hounds are pretty lazy dogs, so Sparkplug isn’t really into long stretches of exercise. After a few rounds of playing tag with the grandkids, he’s ready to find a warm lap.
Whenever the grandkids come to visit, Sparky gets super excited. When a grandchild is sick enough not to go to school, he or she often spends the day with me, usually on one of the living room sofas. When that happens, we can count on Sparky to spend the entire day snuggling on the couch with the sick kid.
Like other scent hounds, Basset Hounds can become totally mesmerized by an interesting smell. If they do so when not on leash, they can easily wander off and possibly get hit by a car, stolen, or ending up in some other type of trouble. Also, you’ll never see the Basset Hound on a smartest dogs list.
If all you know about the Greyhound is that they’re fast racing dogs, you don’t know the real dogs. Believe it or not, greyhounds are actually laid back, calm, lazy dogs. They’re also quiet, and even though they’re large, they’re surprisingly graceful. They’re sensitive too, and they respond well to dog training that includes a lot of praise. Greyhounds enjoy playing vigorously with kids for short periods of time, then they’re ready for a break.
Greyhounds are rarely aggressive with humans or with other medium-sized and larger dog breeds. As sight hounds, however, they might be tempted to chase cats and very small dogs. If you socialize them to such animals early, however, their prey-seeking tendency can often be avoided. Many retired racing greyhounds are available through Greyhound Rescue organizations.
I used to breed, train, and hunt with Brittany Spaniels, and ours loved the kids. These dogs are medium in size, weighing around 35-40 pounds. They’re sensitive and happy dogs that are usually eager to please. They’re also natural retrievers, so their exercise requirements can be fulfilled by playing fetch with the kids. Most Brittanies are calm and quiet and are not aggressive with other dogs, other animals, or with strangers.
Because these dogs are so sensitive, loud noises and chaotic situations can upset them, and this might lead to nervousness. In turn, the stress can lead to destructive behavior. If you and your household are usually calm and reasonably quiet, and if your Brittany gets adequate exercise, it can make one of the best dogs you could find.
We’ve owned numerous English pointers, and they were all great with kids. When my oldest daughter, Mandy, was a baby, we had a big male named “Herman.” Mandy would often climb all over Herman, and he never got the least bit perturbed. In fact, he seemed to love the attention. The other pointers we’ve had were the same way with kids, too. This breed is quiet and patient, but younger dogs and puppies can be super energetic. We found that as long as the canines got enough play and exercise outdoors, they were very calm when indoors. Ours were also fairly easy to train, although a slight stubborn streak is sometimes evident.
This is one of the best family dogs that can pull “double duty.” It can serve well as a companion and playmate, and it can also make a great hunting dog. With a well-trained Pointer, the adults, teens, and young kids in the family will all be happy.
When I was a kid, I always thought the Bulldog was the meanest and scariest of all dog breeds. I think that was due to how they were portrayed on cartoon television shows. You know—the big, mean dogs with the spiked collars that were always a threat to the main cartoon characters. Of all the Bulldogs I’ve known, none matched that description.
The Bulldog is an easy-going breed that gets along fine with kids and other animals. Most have wonderfully sweet dispositions. My grandpup, Dooly the Bulldog, loved “his kids,” “his kitties,” and his canine “cousins.” In fact, Dooly loved everyone and everything. He was calm and patient and when he was younger, he was also very playful.
On the downside, some members of the Bulldog breed drool. Also, like other dogs with short muzzles, they can develop breathing problems. It’s important not to let your bulldog get over-heated. The Bulldog can sometimes be strong-willed, too, so it’s important for you to establish pack leadership while the dogs are still puppies.
If you don't have room for a big dog, you might want to consider small dog breeds. While many small dogs are snappy, not all are. Consider the Beagle. This little fellow might not be large, but he has a sturdy build. Most beagles are calm, affectionate, and enjoy playing with children. They're smart too and always seem to be smiling from ear to floppy ear. Always keep your “Snoopy dog” on a leash outdoors, though. These guys often follow their noses and can get lost if unattended. Your Beagle can end up being a “howler,” too. When unhappy, some of these dogs want everyone in the neighborhood to know about their plight.
Consider Adopting a Mutt
If your heart isn't absolutely set on a purebred, consider rescuing a puppy from an animal shelter. In fact, they often have purebreds, too, although there's nothing wrong with a bonafide mutt. A rescued dog seems to somehow know that you saved them. If you choose to adopt a dog that’s an adult animal, be sure to learn its history before taking it home. If you adopt a puppy, it's very important that you have it checked by a vet before falling in love with it. Parvo, a deadly disease, often runs rampant through shelters.
Even if you adopt one of the best family dogs, it’ll need to be properly socialized. Expose it to lots of different people, animals, activities, situations, and noises. Once you bring your new pet home, teach your kids about proper respect for animals, too. They need to understand that owning a pet is a long commitment and that animals have feelings just like they do. Sometimes kids taunt and tease pets in play, not realizing that they might be terrorizing the animal. The best family dogs will be patient and understanding with kids, but all dogs have their limits.
Questions & Answers
Question: What about a German shorthair pointer & Labrardor retriever mix? Would it make a good pet?
Answer: A Lab would, but I don't have enough experience with German shorthair pointers to answer.
Question: If we intend to have kids, can we get a pup first or should we wait to rear them both at the same time so they are used to each other?
Answer: It really depends on personal preference and on the breed chosen. For example, toddlers can be too rough, unintentionally, on smaller breeds. Small kids will often do better with a larger, very patient breed like a golden retriever or lab. For some more fragile breeds, it would be better to wait until the child is older. My kids and grandkids grew up with Great Danes (puppies and adults), and it worked out beautifully!
Bea Fitz on August 14, 2020:
I think German Shepherd should be on here!
Lucy Deleon on September 23, 2019:
I want all of those dogs
Catheren on November 09, 2018:
I have nearly all those dogs
ep96 on August 07, 2014:
Some of these are pretty good suggestions, but I think if Beagles and Golden Retrievers are going to be on the list, Pit Bulls should be as well. They scored higher than both of the other two breeds on the American Temperament Test and make wonderful family dogs if raised correctly (as any dog needs to be). They have the nickname "nanny dogs" for good reason.
Dog dog on July 20, 2014:
I have a border collie. And she is amazing
faiyaaz on February 05, 2014:
yes it is good
Susan Sisk from Georgia, USA on June 15, 2013:
Great information! I'm glad that you are recommending big dogs. They are often overlooked today, in favor of small dogs.
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on November 21, 2009:
I'm sure you'll be happy with your new "furkid." Make sure it's not deaf - some Dalmations are. Since it's a cross, it will most likely be fine.
Thanks for reading!
Terrapanthera from The Netherlands on November 21, 2009:
Oh, this is just the confirmation I needed! We picked out a lovely mix between Heidewachtel, Labrador and Dalmatian. Not from an asylum though, Sofie and her 9 brothers and sisters come from a loving home. Just 4 weeks to go and our family will expand ........ Can't wait!
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 01, 2009:
We've adopted several pets from shelters. I agree! Breed rescues are also a good place to look.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 23, 2009:
Good advice. Shelters are great places to find those "furkids" and hopefully most people will start spaying and neutering their pets to help with pet overpopulation. Good hub!