Choosing the best family dog is not as easy as one might think yet can be a fun process for the entire family. Determining who we are as a family, what we are bringing to the table, we can’t only think about what kind of dog we want, because the dog is only half the equation; we are the other half.
Which dog is best for your family depends on knowing your own family’s desires: lifestyle, time available to spend training a dog, ages and energy level of the children and energy to help integrate a dog into your family and, yes, your financial capacity. Should you get a puppy or an older dog depends on all the above factors and will ultimately make choosing a compatible family dog a worthwhile and important endeavor.
Ask each family member what she wants in a dog
By including each family member’s wishes in how she sees a dog fitting into the family, you might be surprised to find out that one of them really doesn’t want a dog, the other one can’t wait to teach tricks and one spouse wants to have a hiking buddy, while another is kind of fearful of dogs. Knowing this will help facilitate the decision making process when searching for a doggie companion for your entire family.
Best family dog breeds
These breeds, or a combination thereof, are known to have an overall good resume to thrive in a family with kids.
Labrador Retriever because of their innate temperament to be loving, very trainable and easy to maintain. Labs love to be a part of whatever the family is doing; they are energetic and can go the distance — hiking, beach time or as a travel companion. Plus, Labs will keep you laughing for years.
Golden Retrievers have enough energy and willingness to be a part of anything the family wants to do. Goldens are known to be playful and have the ability to hone in on what’s going on in a family dynamic, often bringing a calming presence to a situation. It’s why they are often used as service dogs for people with autism and, did I mention, Goldens are very trainable.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are great family dogs — outdoorsy but don’t require extensive amounts of exercise. These sweet and gentle dogs love to be cuddled, don’t have exceedingly high energy, yet love to play and run. Cavaliers are happy to be a house dog with long walks in the neighborhood, joyfully greeting other people and dogs. Easy going and trainable, Cavaliers are adaptable to new situations and people.
Collies are great family dogs with the stamina to keep up with the most active family. They are easy going, adventurous, faithful and very intuitive to the needs of each family member. Remember Lassie, the famous TV star who so devotionally took care of Timmy? Smart as a whip, but won’t try to outsmart you and a very willing partner. Collies are a bit more of a maintenance commitment, given their longer coat. But, if you’re looking for a fantastic disposition, a Collie is a great choice.
The West Highland Terrier makes a great family pet due to his smallish medium size, but with a big-dog personality that can go the distance with any active family. He’s sturdy, but not too big. This smart, confident dog is willing to learn and loves to do tricks. The Westie may not be as cuddly for those who are seeking that kind of disposition, but some may surprise you. They need a little more patience with training because of their independence but will give you their all if you do put the time in. Westies need a bit more maintenance because they are white and need to be groomed, but their steadfast nature of courage and alertness goes a long way to keeping you entertained for years. They have a long life expectancy, too.
Pugs are little dogs, who are easy going and pretty trainable, but with a lower energy level that might be great for families who are more indoorsy than outdoorsy. Pugs are not in need of too much physical stimulation, yet playful enough to want to learn some tricks and play fetch with the kids. They’re adaptable to new situations, not too protective and quite social. They have a clown-like personality, so they’ll keep everyone smiling.
Standard Poodles are also known to be clowns. I call them humans in a dog suit. They are smart, playful, proud, willing partners and enjoy each family member equally. They need both physical and mental stimulation and, if you don’t oblige, they will come up with their own agenda. Well, most dogs will do this, but there’s something about a Standard Poodle where they have an uncanny way of letting you know they need something from you and know that in return, you’ll be the wiser for it. They’ll definitely keep you on your toes. Don’t be fooled or put off by the show Poodle cut, most people don’t keep them that way, and instead keep them in what’s called a puppy cut. Standard Poodles are low-shedding but need to be groomed regularly. Standard Poodles have (for the most part) a lower energy level than the smaller sized Toy and Miniature Poodles and get along great with other dogs.
Are mixed breed dogs good for families?
There are other breeds who are family-friendly dogs. I chose the most common purebred dogs to give you an idea of what characteristics they have, so you can think about which dog breed or dog breed mix might be the best dog for your family.
Any mix of these dog breeds is something to seriously consider because one can get the best of both worlds with a mutt. One of the largest service dog organizations, Canine Companions For Independence, started its own breeding program with Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers because it felt that this was the way to glean the best characteristics of each in one dog, leading to a dog with a more solid temperament.
Other great mutt/mixes are:
You might be getting the picture that Poodles mixed with other breeds make for great family dogs, offering trainability, intelligence, gentleness and loyalty.
What is the best dog for families with children?
If you have a baby or toddlers, choosing the right dog becomes even more important for obvious safety concerns. This requires a good, honest look at the energy level of the baby or toddler and their willingness to go along with the program.
Is your child of the more independent ilk, wanting to carve her own way or is she more timid, and will need to adjust to a dog and feel satisfied with long cuddle times on the couch? The more independent child will be better off with a medium to larger breed dog, so they won’t be tempted to carry a smaller dog around not understanding that the dog may not like to be carried all the time. Since they can’t pick up a bigger dog, it could be an opportunity for this child to learn how to teach a bigger dog tricks and spread the joy rather than needing to tell them to “please put the dog down; she really isn’t liking being held” more often than you’d like. The more timid or quiet child might love cuddling with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, melting everyone’s hearts.
Children need to be taught how to interact with dogs and dogs need to learn to be appropriate with children. Family Paws Parenting Education is a fantastic resource for parents to get the support they need to safely and happily raise dogs and children together. Being proactive rather than reactive is key to creating safety and harmony in the home. It doesn’t happen without the guidance from the parents.
Thinking critically rather than emotionally about which might be the best doggie companion for your family will offer the greatest opportunity for a long and happy life for both the dog and for your family. Once you decide on the right pup for your family, then let the emotions fly, because you’re now ready to fill your home with more joy than you’ve ever imagined possible.