Do you want to add a dog to your growing family? The best way to set yourself and your kids up for success is to select a breed that matches your lifestyle and fits in well with all family members. Not all dog breeds are suited for living with children, and a lot of problems can arise from trying to integrate poorly matched pups into your life. Let’s look at the traits a perfect family dog should have, and which breeds fit the bill!
Characteristics of good family dogs
Dogs that do well in families with children have to:
- Be social and friendly
- Not have a high prey drive
- Not require large amounts of exercise
- Be easily trainable
- Not exhibit reactive or aggressive tendencies
- Not be a working-bred dog
Whenever you are considering a certain breed for your family, look at what that breed was originally developed for. Genetics are strong, and your dog will exhibit breed-specific characteristics and traits.
Some breeds were developed as companion dogs – these are great family dogs. Other breeds were created to be intense and tireless workers, such as the German Shepherd Dog or the Border Collie. These are usually less suited for family life, as they have a high prey drive and a lot of exercise and training needs, which can be impossible to fulfill with small children around.
Let’s look at some of the breeds that are great family dogs:
Maltese are perfect dogs for families with kids. Small, social and low-maintenance, they are an ideal match for busy families that have a full schedule. Maltese are very trainable and easy to care for – they do not have prey drive or a tendency to show problematic behaviours. A unique feature of this breed is that it only comes in one colour: All Maltese are snow-white with black noses.
As a very small dog (they weigh 5-10 pounds), a Maltese won’t take up much space and will not throw your kids over when he jumps around. The only area in which your Maltese will require special care is his grooming regime: His long, flowing coat will need a lot of brushing and bathing if you keep it untrimmed. Many owners decide to keep their Maltese in a short clip, which makes managing his hair much easier.
Another tiny breed, the Shih Tzu is a very laid-back dog. Once Shih Tzus reach about 10-12 months of age, they prefer to sleep the day away – often even refusing to go on walks that are longer than a mile or two. They are perfect dogs for families who are busy with their kids’ hobbies and pastimes. If you spend your weekends and weekday afternoons driving your children to soccer, gymnastics and music practice, a Shih Tzu will happily ride along in the car and not be sad if he misses out on a walk.
Their characteristic short nose can at times lead to repetitive sneezing, snoring or laboured breathing. It is important to find a Shih Tzu breeder that only breeds healthy parents with well-developed nasal passages.
Show line Labrador
If you are looking for a larger dog, a show-line Labrador will fit the bill. Labradors once were developed as hard-working water retrievers. In the last decades, the breed diverged into two different versions: the “field line” (these are the dogs that are still highly active and athletic and are used as hunting dogs) and the “show line” (these are heavier, larger Labradors that are easier to train since puppy age and do not have such an intense work drive). A field line Labrador would be a poor match for a family with kids – it would be impossible to fulfil the needs of this high-drive dog while also taking care of raising the little ones.
A show line Lab however will be a much better fit. These dogs are happy to play fetch in the yard or tag along to a soccer game at the park, but they also enjoy sleeping and snuggling. Some show line Labs can become a bit reactive if they are not socialized properly. Try to take your Labrador along anytime you take the kids somewhere – this way he can learn that the world is a friendly, welcoming place.
Greyhound, Whippet & Italian Greyhound
Sighthounds can be wonderful family dogs for families with older children. All sighthounds have a very light built and could get injured if younger kids are too rough with them. With their thin skin, slim body and light bones, they require gentle handling and do not do well with rough-housing.
The Greyhound is a very large, but docile dog. If you are open towards adopting an adult dog, many race tracks have retired racing Greyhounds available for adoption. These pups like to sleep for most of the day, and they love sunny spots!
If you are looking for a smaller dog, the Whippet and Italian Greyhound are smaller versions of the large Greyhound. Whippets reach up to 40 lbs in weight, while Italian Greyhounds top out at 10 lbs. Especially for these smaller sighthounds, it is extremely important that children are gentle and careful in playing with them.
Setting dogs and kids up for success
Set your kids and dogs up for developing a great relationship by establishing some ground rules for their interactions. Teach your kids to:
- Not bother the dog while he is sleeping, eating or chewing a bone
- Never do anything that they know the dog will dislike, such as pulling his tail, blowing in his face, spraying him with water, taking away his toys
- Play with the dog in positive ways. Dogs love to find treats hidden by children, play hide and see with kids or fetch their favourite tennis ball
- Make sure that the dog has fresh water available at all times
Kids as young as 5 years old can be responsible for small chores related to the dog. For young children, this can be as simple as putting away the dog’s leash after a walk or filling his food bowl. Pre-teens and teenagers can be asked to walk the dog or brush him regularly as well.
The bottom line
Many families make the mistake to purchase a dog breed that requires extensive training and exercise. This is usually not sustainable with a busy family life. When picking a dog for your kids, decide on a breed that does not require extensive daily activity to be happy. Companion breeds, show-line breeds and sighthounds fit the bill perfectly.
Do not overestimate your ability to handle a high-energy breed such as a German Shepherd or Australian Shepherd. Instead, set yourself up for success by picking a low-maintenance breed and involving your kids into daily care and feeding routines.