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The Best Small Dogs for Kids (6 Child-Friendly Dog Breeds)

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

There are several small dog breeds that are ideal around children.

There are several small dog breeds that are ideal around children.

Finding the Perfect Small Dog for Your Household

Just because a dog is small does not necessarily mean it is well-behaved around children. I have seen my fair share of clients asking for advice on how to help stop their Dachshund from biting their toddler. I have also seen some ugly bites from small dogs. Of course, the damage a small dog inflicts on a child cannot be compared to the bite inflicted by a dog weighing 80 pounds or more, but things can still get ugly.

There are many small dog breeds with temperament issues; however, it is also true that there are small dogs that do well around children.

Six Small, Child-Friendly Dogs

Obviously, such lists need to be read with a grain of salt since as mentioned, no generalizations can be made. Even within a litter of puppies, many variances can take place among them and there can be significant temperamental differences between one puppy and another. Also, the behavior of a puppy will not necessarily stay the same through growth, so no guarantees can be made that a puppy will grow up to be a stable dog blessed with a wonderful temperament.

Here are some small dog breeds with the "potential" for being great companions for well-mannered children.

1. Pug

Pugs are in general very tolerant of children. The breed is childish on its own, engaging in silly endeavors just to amuse its family members. According to the American Kennel Club, "The pug is small but requires no coddling and his roguish face soon wiggles its way into the hearts of men, women and especially children, for whom this dog seems to have a special affinity."

2. Miniature Schnauzer

Outgoing, eager to please and intelligent, this dog generally makes a wonderful family pet. According to the American Kennel Club, schnauzers are hardy, healthy, intelligent, and fond of children. Versatile and excellent watchdogs, Schnauzers can ultimately make sturdy playmates for kids. Miniature schnauzers should never be overaggressive or timid per the AKC's standard.

3. Beagle

The AKC depicts Beagles as versatile dogs that stay happy only when around their family. It is not a casual fact that Beagles are among the top choices for families. With Snoopy being a beagle, people naturally feel this breed makes a good choice for children. The AKC cautions though that Beagles take their food very seriously, therefore children should be cautious and treat them with respect when they are eating. This, of course, also applies to any dog regardless of breed, temperament and size.

4. Havanese

The national dog of Cuba, Havanese are easy-going, smart, and well-behaved fellows that do well as family dogs. Their friendly and good-natured disposition makes them excellent children's companions. According to the American Kennel Club, they make great playmates for youngsters; however, as with other small-sized dogs, they may not do too well with small children. (See below.)

5. Shih-Tzu

These dogs are great family companions that are generally accepting of children. However, their likeliness to be underfoot may cause problems and not because of temperament problems. The American Shih Tzu Club recommends that children sit when playing with Shihtzu puppies and that they slide their feet across the floor to avoid accidentally stepping on them. Especially when puppies, children may hurt them accidentally. (See below.)

6. Bichon Frise

These cute white cotton balls are playful and make great companions for children. Sociable, happy-go-lucky, obedient, and faithful, Bichons make a great addition to families with children. However, according to the Bichon Frise Club of America, it is best to think it over in households with very young children. Often mistaken for a stuffed animal, children may poke their fingers in their eyes or pull their tails, possibly triggering a defensive bite.

Seven Breeds Not Suitable for Very Young Children

These are just a few examples of small dog breeds that may not do too well with small children either because of temperament or size. Many breeders will refuse to place puppies of small breeds in families with small children. However, in general, no dog does well with a small child who treats the dog as a toy. For this reason, it is best to wait a bit to get a dog as the child matures and learns how to treat dogs kindly. In the meanwhile, a "Furreal" pet may be a great, safer alternative!

1. Maltese

According to Michele Welton, Maltese dogs are not suitable for young children. Being very fragile, a clumsy child could easily injure a Maltese by accidentally stepping on these delicate dogs. Sitting on a Maltese, squeezing the dog or dropping it on the patio can prove to be quite dangerous. Many Maltese are also overwhelmed by the quick movements and acute voices of children. Stress, fear, avoidance, and defensive biting may occur. According to the American Maltese Association, Maltese dogs love children but they do not always make the ideal pet for a young child. The dog can be easily injured by rough handling. Supervision is a must.

2. Yorkshire Terriers

As cute as these dogs can be, just like the Maltese, Yorkshire terriers are delicate, especially the smaller specimens. Michele Welton claims them to be intimidated by the roughhousing and mischief of small children. According to the American Kennel Club, Yorkies do best with children who are kind, well-mannered and over the age of six."

3. Cavalier King Charles

These dogs love to be a part of the family and require good training and socialization when puppies. According to the American Kennel Club, they generally do well with well-mannered children that are gentle with them. However, loud boisterous children may easily frighten a dog of this breed.

4. Shih-Tzu

These dogs do well with older, well-mannered children, but they are not suitable for very young children. This is not because Shih Tzu do not like children, but simply because when they are puppies they could be seriously injured. According to the American Shih Tzu Club, this is why breeders who allow a Shih Tzu puppy to go to a family with small kids emphasize the importance of having the children interact with the puppy only by sitting on the floor.

5. Havanese

Michele Welton classifies this breed as not suitable for small children, no matter how well-meaning. Their clumsiness may easily hurt the dog and they may feel overwhelmed by their sudden movements and loud voices.

6. Dachshund

Because of their vulnerable back, these dogs may be seriously hurt if accidentally dropped by a clumsy young child. Children are okay with them as long as they are not allowed to roughhouse. However, they may not do well with small children, but often when this happens it is because of a Dachshund's unpleasant experience with a small child, explains Ann Gordon in the book "Dachshund".

7. Chihuahua

This breed is the smallest and most vulnerable; small children can easily injure or kill a Chihuahua puppy just by throwing a toy. According to the Chihuahua Club of America, young children who tease or scare a Chihuahua puppy may trigger fear aggression which may lead to a bite even in a dog with a stable temperament.

As seen, there may be some dog breeds that do better with children, but as of yet, no dog breed can be claimed to be "bomb proof with children". The making of a dog that is good with children is the balanced result of nature and nurture. A genetic predisposition to being tolerant and well-adjusted along with good experiences and loads of socialization around children, pave the road to a potentially great companion for children.

Small dogs are susceptible to injury around small children.

Small dogs are susceptible to injury around small children.

Remember: The Dog Isn't Always to Blame

Parents play a primary role in teaching children how to behave around dogs. A recent study revealed upsetting results when it came to the knowledge children had about dogs, which was passed down by parents.

Parents Must Teach Their Children How to Behave Around Dogs

It is incredibly important to teach children how to handle small dogs well. Many small dogs are in great peril around children. Poor Dachshunds may suffer serious back injuries from a child handing the dog rough, whereas tiny dogs such as Chihuahuas are at risk of being stepped on or hurt by a rambunctious child.

Most of all, children need to be taught how to behave around dogs, regardless of whether the dog is large, small or a puppy. Often the finger is pointed towards the dog, when the child is ultimately to blame.

In one case, according to Nicholas Dodman, one of the world's most respected veterinary behaviorists, a dog bit a child and was euthanized. On post-mortem examination, it was found that the poor dog had a pencil jammed in its ear, penetrating the dog's eardrum! Dr. Dodman finds that in many cases it is not the dog that starts the trouble—it's the child.

No black and white generalizations can be ultimately made on the best small dogs for children, as there are many variances to keep in mind. Here are some tips and considerations to up the chances for success.

Tips for Choosing a Small Dog for Your Family

  • While small dog breeds with a higher level of tolerance should be generally safer, consider that all dogs have the potential to bite if pushed far enough.
  • Get your small dog from a reputable breeder who has already started puppy socialization with children. Also, consider that generally reputable breeders are willing to take the dog back if there are any problems, while for backyard breeders sales are for the most part final.
  • Avoid questionable sources such as pet stores, backyard breeders and ads in newspapers.
  • Adopt only puppies that are over eight weeks old. Many small breeds are better off adopted after 12 to 13 weeks old.
  • Read the breed standards carefully and research small dog breeds with calm, tolerant temperaments.
  • Small does not translate into safe. Countless small dogs bite children and some even cause lots of damage.
  • Make compatibility with children your main criteria when searching for a small dog breed.
  • Make sure the puppy learns good bite inhibition, one of the most important life lessons a dog should know.
  • Most of all, train your children how to properly handle dogs. Never leave a dog with a child unsupervised, no matter its size. Let children know that a dog should never be bothered when eating, sleeping or chewing on a bone.

If you are planning to purchase, adopt, or rescue a dog and you have children, do your research and talk to as many breeders, dog owners, and trainers as possible. No generalizations can be made about dogs, so it is important to understand that behaviors atypical to the breed may arise in certain dogs regardless of research, genetics, and environmental influences.

Further Reading

© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli


Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 05, 2012:

Kali, they are generally OK with children in general, but if you read the details you will see they are not suitable for very young children either due to their small size or because of little tolerance to the sudden erratic movements of little ones.

kali on April 05, 2012:

grate little hub, but i have one question, why did you say havanese and shih tzu's are good w\ kids, and also bad? anyway, good job

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 13, 2012:

Pandula77 you are welcome, good luck in finding your new canine companion!

Seafarer thank you, for posting the question which inspired me to write this hub!

Karen A Szklany from New England on March 13, 2012:

Thank you for this very information-packed and well-written hub in response to my question!

Dr Pandula from Norway on March 13, 2012:

Just when I am thinking of buying a puppy for my son. Great hub and thank you very much!

Better Yourself from North Carolina on March 11, 2012:

Great hub, Great information! Thanks for sharing!

Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 11, 2012:

Thank you yogakat. My mom got me a cat when I was only 5 and she told me she was concerned about the decision after I put the poor cat inside the refrigerator! luckily, she was fine just licking a slice of left over chicken!

YogaKat from Oahu Hawaii on March 11, 2012:

Well written and chock full of information. Completely answered the question. Too often parents do not teach their children to respect and cherish their pets. The reason to have pets in a child's home is to teach them respect and care for others. My children respected and loved our bevy of pets. Voted up and awesome, useful, interesting.