Buying a dog with your family in mind is an important decision. There are some breeds that are known to be excellent with children. We discuss which dogs would best suit family life.
As your children grow, you may start to think about adding a hairy family member to the clan. Selecting the right dog can make a huge difference to the success of this venture. Ideally you want a dog that you can trust around your children, one that fits with your lifestyle and one that ideally doesn’t significantly add to your workload. Pet ownership has significant health benefits socially and relating to health, in particular with allergies, obesity and cardiovascular disease, so there are definitely benefits of pet ownership for families.
Children with special needs
Pet ownership can help children develop empathy and also gives them someone to talk to in times of need. Assistance dogs are specially trained to help children with autism and those with health concerns such as diabetes and epilepsy. If you have children with special needs, consider contacting one of the many organisations that trains companion dogs for children. Otherwise you can consider a particularly trainable and low maintenance breed and organise a private trainer to do the work for you. If you do have a special needs child, it will be even more important to get a dog with the right temperament.
Should you get a puppy or adult dog?
Puppies can be a lot of work. A bit like toddlers they often get into things, need to be kept occupied and need lots of training to help them grow into stable, well behaved adults. You will need to have at least 2 hours of free time each day to train and socialize your new puppy. The first 16 weeks of your puppy’s life is crucial for normal social development. And maintenance of social skills and training needs to be continued intensively through the first 12 months of a young dog’s life. We all know those fearful, anxious dogs that are unable to be walked around other dogs or bite small children. Many people assume these dogs were abused in the past, where it is much more likely they didn’t receive adequate socialization during critical stages of their development.
If you don’t have much spare time, consider adopting an adult dog that is already trained and socialized. There are so many lovely, well-trained and socialized dogs in shelters that have ended up there through no fault of their own. If you ask the operator for a dog good with children, most will have been temperament tested and you can ensure a good match for your family and lifestyle. Shelters are full of pure-breeds if you have your heart set on a certain breed and there are specialist rescue organisations for many breeds. You may also want to consider fostering a dog to ensure dog ownership is all you imagined and that those promises the kids make to help with the dog are kept beyond the first honeymoon period of a week!
If you do decide to buy a puppy, make sure the breeder allows you to visit his/her home prior to the sale to inspect both parents and never buy from a pet shop, as they all purchase their puppies from puppy farms (even if they assure you they don’t!), leading to long term health and behavioral problems.
Pure-bred or cross-breed
There are many wonderful cross-breed dogs that combine the best of traits in various breeds, for example poodle crosses are often good for those with allergies, though this cannot be guaranteed. If you do have a child with allergies, consider a trial first with the dog. You can also ask the breeder or owner to allow the dog to sleep on a towel, which you can then take home with your prior to purchase to help determine whether this dog is likely to cause problems for your children. For a more thorough discussion about pet allergies read our article on best dogs for people with allergies.
After significant research we have compiled a list of several breeds that are considered to be good for a family with children. These breeds are laid-back, adjustable and content to be with the family. While they will need exercise and training, they do not require a 10km run every day to wear them out so they don’t dig up the yard. They are also not going to spend the entire family budget on food and toys. They are also considered intrinsically suited to the ever-changing life of a busy family. However this list is of course not exhaustive and any dog has the potential to be a good fit for your family, so long as their temperament is calm and they have been trained and socialized appropriately.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Topping the list of family-friendly breeds is the adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. A small dog that won’t bowl the kids over, loves attention, requires only short daily walks and doesn’t need to be taken to the groomer every 6 weeks. They are just as trainable as any other breed, but less hyperactive and boisterous compared to some of the other terriers. They are loyal companions who are perfectly happy hanging around with the family and don’t require hours of training to keep them mentally stimulated. They can be prone to heart disease, ear problems and dental disease, so pet insurance is recommended.
Retrievers are loveable dogs. You would have to try really very hard to make a retriever aggressive towards children, most just love attention and love to spend time with their family. They do have a long coat, so require daily brushing and your house will be full of tumbleweeds of hair, but this is a small price to pay for such as lovely large dog. An adult retriever does require daily exercise, as does any dog, but they are also content to laze around with the family. They love to be with people, so they are not suited to spending large amounts of time on their own. If you do decide on a retriever, make sure the parents have been hip scored for hip dysplasia and be aware they can be a little hyperactive as teenagers (around 6 months old), so will need more exercise and training during this period.
These are busy dogs that need lots of socialization and training, but for families that are active, they are a great fit. They are fun, playful and very even tempered. They do require 6 weekly trips to the groomer (or some work at home) to keep their coats neat, but they don’t shed so you won’t end up with hair all over your house. They are not necessarily suited to very boisterous kids as they can be fragile and some can be a little neurotic if they are not trained and socialized when young.
The ever-popular, intelligent beagle is great for high-energy kids and active families. They are sturdy dogs with a very positive nature and are very happy spending lots of time outside smelling the breeze, so long as they get to enjoy lots of family time as well. They do tend to shed a little, but have a very short low-maintenance coat. Asides from occasional ear infections they are not particularly prone to costly health problems, but will need exercise to ensure they don’t gain weight.
The beautiful Bichon Frise is generally a great family dog. They are very happy dogs that love people and are generally very trainable. They have a high maintenance coat and will need regular brushing and clipping every 6-8 weeks, but will not shed. They require moderate exercise and are small enough to take with you on family excursions.
One of the larger breeds suitable for kids. These dogs can be goofy and playful, but are also content to hang with the family. They do not require the high degree of mental stimulation and training that working dogs require, but they will still need regular exercise. They have a double coat and don’t shed a great deal, but will require regular brushing and clipping every 2 months.
What do you think the best dog for a family is? There are so many wonderful dogs out there and with over 300 breeds recognised internationally the decision comes down to temperament more than breed in many cases. For families, investing in pet insurance can be the best decision you make. That way you know your family’s finances are not going to be spent on your dog’s knee reconstruction rather than a holiday. And don’t forget to consider adopting a pet, that will be eternally grateful for a second chance at a loving family and has already been temperament tested to ensure their compatibility with family life.