Best Dog Breeds for Kids

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on March 09, 2014
4 min read

Are you planning to add a dog to your household and wondering what breed to choose?

Although many breeds are praised as "good with children," there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Your neighbors across the street may love their labradoodle, but that doesn't mean you should get the same breed.

Before researching dog breeds, ask yourself a few questions about your family situation, says Susan Nelson, DVM. She's a clinical associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University.

How old are your kids? If you have smaller children, like toddlers and preschoolers, you might think you're better off with a smaller dog. But Nelson says it's just the opposite.

"You want a dog that can take the bumps and not turn around and nip. Bigger dogs can handle the rough play of younger children, while smaller dogs, like Yorkies, can really get hurt if a child falls on them."

Where do you live? If you have a big backyard or nearby open spaces, large or very active dogs that need to roam will do well. In a city apartment, you'll probably want a smaller furry friend.

How active are you and how much time do you have to spend with the dog? Some dogs are great with kids, or anyone, as long as they're given plenty of physical and mental exercise.

"Jack Russells are really high energy and can be a lot of fun for kids, but they aren't right for a family who doesn't have the time to keep them active," Nelson says.

Once you've thought about some of these questions, then it's time to research the breeds that match your needs.

Some of the breeds that are good with children include:

Golden retrievers. These dogs rank among the most popular breeds in the U.S. for a reason. They're friendly, intelligent, eager to please, and easy to train.

"They're also particularly kid-hardy, so if you have toddlers who are prone to bumping into them, it's not a problem," Nelson says. "They're almost always very friendly."

Labrador retrievers. Like golden retrievers, these dogs are sweet-natured, trainable, and sturdy.

Labrador retrievers also have one small advantage over golden retrievers: they're short-coated. "That doesn't mean they don't shed, but they don't need as much brushing," Nelson says.

Cavalier King Charles spaniels. If you're looking for a smaller breed, the cheerful cavvy is an excellent family dog.

"They're sturdier than some of the really small breeds like Yorkies, but still small enough to be a lap dog, and generally they are just happy little dogs," Nelson says.

Standard poodles. Smaller poodles can sometimes be yippy and nippy, but the standards -- almost the same size as retrievers -- are more even-keeled.

"They're smart, they're friendly, and they can handle getting knocked around by kids," Nelson says. "They do have a lot of energy, so you have to be prepared for that."

Because they don't shed, standard poodles may also be a good choice if someone in your family has mild allergies.

Beagles. Another slightly smaller breed, beagles are generally social and friendly. "You don't meet too many mean beagles," Nelson says.

Some terriers. Not all terrier breeds are good with children. The smaller terriers can be more excitable, aggressive, and prone to biting. But breeds like the soft-coated wheaten terrier and the West Highland white terrier relate well to kids.

"They are very active, like all terriers, though, so you have to keep them busy," Nelson says.

Another gentle terrier that needs a bit less exercise is the Boston terrier. "They're easy to train and funny, like little clowns."

Bernese mountain dogs. "They are gentle and love to be close to people," Nelson says. Their size and their need for exercise means a Bernese might not be a good fit for apartment dwellers, though.

Mixed breeds. The "mutt" may be the best family pet of all -- but not all mixed-breed dogs are equally family friendly.

Some good mixes, Nelson says, are schnoodles (schnauzer-poodle crosses) and cockapoos (cocker spaniel-poodle crosses).

If you're adopting a mixed-breed dog from a shelter, ask if they do temperament testing.

Also, take your children with you to check out how the dog reacts to kids. "If they're scared and hanging back from the kids, be cautious," Nelson says. "A scared dog is more likely to bite."

Whatever breed you choose, do your research carefully. "We see so many disasters when people get a dog and they didn't research the breed well enough in advance," Nelson says. "Think carefully about things like your family's lifestyle and how it would match with the dog's energy and need for exercise, the space the dog needs, and its grooming requirements. Then you're more likely to find the perfect dog to fit your family."