The best dogs for children & the whole family

4 April 2024 - 8 min read
Six dogs looking up on a white background

The best dogs for children & the whole family

So you’ve sat down together to decide on the right pet for your family, and you’ve settled on getting a dog.

You’re in good company. 36% of households have a dog, according to the 2024 Pet Population Survey - that’s around 13.5 million dogs in the UK.

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You'll want to choose a breed that's just right for your circumstances and lifestyle. But how to decide which breed of dog is right for your family?

What characteristics make a good family dog?

Picking a good family dog is challenging: it's not always about the breed, but a dog's temperament. The best family dogs tend to have characteristics that take into account: 

  • Energy levels - this depends on you and your family; a high-energy breed will suit active families. A low-energy dog will suit families who appreciate a chill. It's important to match your dog's energy to your family, so avoid picking a low-energy one if your house is busy. 

  • Grooming needs - getting a dog that's easy to groom may help with the busyness of family life. It takes time to bathe, clean and groom some dogs. If you feel like you and your family won't have the time to do this, try a low-maintenance dog. 

  • Temperament - calm, patient dogs tend to fare better with children and will grow with the hustle and bustle of a family home.

  • Size - this is up to you and your family. Smaller dogs tend to be more excitable, while larger dogs may knock smaller children over. 

Considerations when you are looking to get a family dog

Getting out and about

Make sure you can meet the exercise needs of your chosen breed, whether big or small. That’s not always easy, especially when you have small children in tow who don’t appreciate a long walk in the cold.

It’s not necessarily true that big dogs need more exercise than smaller ones. It’s probably not a good idea to choose a large dog if you can’t commit to a couple of walks a day.

Sarah James is our Veterinary Relationship and Technical Claims Manager and an experienced vet nurse. She says:

“Think about your current lifestyle and hobbies. If you’re people that have an active lifestyle, go out every weekend, are into hiking and so on, you’ll want a dog that can keep up."

“Likewise, if you like spending time on the water, then look into a dog that’s OK being in and around water.”

Your car

Trust me on this: it’s only when you start planning your first family holiday with two dogs in the boot and two babies in car seats that you realise there's nowhere for the luggage to go.

So, unless you want to get into roof boxes, trailers or seven-seater vans, consider breeds that can comfortably lie down in a crate.

“Think about the size of the dog compared to your home and your car,” says vet nurse Sarah. “You’ll need something with enough room to transport it, so it’s worth thinking about that before you get a dog – rather than finding out your car’s not big enough when it’s too late.”

Take a look at our dog travel accessories best buys for a few things to make car trips with pets a bit easier.

Safety and risks

Big dogs are no more likely to bite than little dogs, but if they do, the consequences can be worse, especially with small children. Some dog rescues are cautious about rehoming larger breeds with small children for this reason.

By introducing your pet to your children carefully and making sure they're well-socialised, you'll set yourself up for success.

Even if your family dog’s a gentle giant, there’s the potential for accidentally knocking over small children by running into them, or even dragging or pulling them over when they insist on holding the lead on walks.

Whether you choose a bigger breed or not, take a bit of time to make your home safe and comfortable for kids and pets.

Running cost

My 10kg dog costs about 50p a day to feed. My 50kg dog’s food bill is more than four times that. When you’re on a tight family budget, make sure you understand the difference in running costs between bigger and smaller breeds.

PDSA says the cost of owning a small dog (including things like food, parasite treatment and pet insurance) is around £50 a month, but for a large dog, it’s £80.

Some dog breeds are notably more expensive to insure than others, generally because they're more prone to certain health conditions.

Small dog breeds that are good with children

To start, there's no such thing as the best dog for young children. However, some breeds tend to get along better with them than others. 

These three smaller breeds make great companions for families. There are no hard and fast rules on the best small dog for children though; it varies depending on the individual dog’s temperament.

Spaniels and Spaniel crosses

Cocker Spaniels and the now ubiquitous Cockapoo can make really good family dogs.

These lively and fun-loving breeds are a nice size for children and tend to be enthusiastic and eager to please.

They're busy dogs with boundless energy. You should prepare to put in the hard yards with training and exercise to get the best from them. But confident Spaniels can thrive in a hectic family environment.

Cairn Terrier

Image of a brown Cairn Terrier licking its snout

Cairn Terriers pack a lot of personality into a little dog. They’re good family dogs because they have an independent streak which means they may be able to cope better with not being the centre of attention.

Of course, independence is a double-edged sword. Training might take persistence, and as they’re terriers, they might not be compatible with other popular family pets.


Image of a beagle playing catch with a child

Beagles are playful, fun-loving and full of character, making them an unforgettable companion as a family dog. They’re traditionally pack dogs, so they tend to be super friendly with both people and other dogs.

They do have a bit of a reputation for mayhem though. You’ll need to prepare to see the funny side of their rowdy and stubborn moments.

Best small dog Breeds for families - Notable mentions

  • Bichon Frise – This small, playful breed will flourish in a family with children. However, these hypoallergenic dogs are subtle with their anxiety, so you may need to teach children the signs of this. Gentle, affectionate and inquisitive, a Bichon Frise could be the right choice.

  • Boston Terrier – These cheeky chaps and ladies are super extroverted and get along well with pretty much everyone. A great choice if you’re looking for a friendly dog to complete your family.

  • Cocker Spaniel – Well-socialised Cocker Spaniels are some of the best companions for kids. But you will need to teach them to be patient and respectful. These breeds love to play and they’re energetic, making them ideal for active families. 

Medium dog breeds that are good with children

There are some terrific choices of calm, friendly family dogs in the medium-sized category.

Wheaten Terrier

Image of a brown Wheaten TerrierThis Irish breed is extremely family-orientated and affectionate. Their sense of fun makes them happy companions for children and they tend to be equally attached to the whole family, not just a single person.

They can be excitable and because they’re so full of bounce they might be better with older children – smaller ones could be knocked down.

Border Collie

A close-up of a black and white Border Collie wearing a colorful party hat, looking straight ahead with a curious gaze.

Border Collies are known to be good family dogs due to their incredibly faithful nature. They're energetic and intelligent so a great companion for outdoor family adventures.

They do need their minds and bodies kept well exercised, so older children might enjoy getting involved with flyball or dog agility as a hobby.

It’s not unknown for them to attempt to ‘herd’ young children though, which might not make them as suitable for those with toddlers.

Hungarian Vizsla


Vizslas tend to be sensitive and gentle, so they can be good companions for children big and small. They often stick like glue to their family members so are good for families with someone at home for much of the day who can give them the affection they crave.

They do have a lot of energy, so they’re another dog that’s suited to active households with a love of the outdoors.

Best medium dog breeds for families - notable mentions

  • Whippets – These very active dogs are well-known due to their speed, but with their short coat and friendly nature, they can make a good addition to smaller, calmer families.

  • Springer Spaniel – With bundles of energy and a strong sense of individuality, Springer Spaniels love being outdoors, and their friendly nature makes them perfect for active, outdoorsy families.

  • Goldendoodle – A Goldendoodle’s personality very much depends on its parents since it’s a crossbreed, but if you want a dog that needs daily exercise, positive reinforcement and a social family, this is a good choice.

Larger breeds that are good with children

If you've got the space in your home, car and heart, these bigger breeds make wonderful family companions.



Huskies might look like domestic wolves but they tend to be easy-going and gregarious, making them a good fit for families with children.

Huskies are known for having an even, predictable temperament but they do need a lot of exercise and aren’t as fast to train as some more eager breeds, so consider whether your family has enough time to devote to them.

Irish Setters

Face of an old beautiful Irish Setter pet dog as panting in summer

Setters aren’t as thick-set as some other larger dogs, making them a better fit for young families than some more powerful breeds. When they’re socialised from an early age they can be friendly with people and other smaller pets.

They are a little gangly though so you’ll have to be alert to them getting over-boisterous and accidentally knocking down tots with that big, feathery tail.

Bernese Mountain Dogs

Bernese Mountain dog sitting on the grass

Although Bernese Mountain Dogs are strong and muscular, they have been bred to be more at home in a family setting than some other mountain breeds.

They tend to be quite a patient and soft breed, so with the right training and socialisation can be a faithful companion for children and other family pets.

Best large dog breeds for families - notable mentions

  • German Shepherd – Given their hunting background and existing service in police and rescue organisations, these diligent, loyal and intelligent dogs can make excellent family companions.

  • Basset Hound – People often don’t see Bassets as large dogs, but they are heavy – while stubborn, these charismatic dogs are equally well-known for their loyalty and affection. With good training, they make excellent family dogs.

  • Golden Retriever – Seen as the family dog in media, their positive reputation makes sense – with a sweet, inquisitive personality and patient disposition, they’re the go-to family dog for many.

Best dog breeds for families

Although you can look for breeds like those mentioned here, with lovable, outgoing and attentive personality traits, the breed can only tell you so much about a family dog. So much comes down to the temperament of the individual dog.

If you’re not so fussy about the breed, dog rescues are experts at assessing each dog and pairing you with the right companion for your family, although you might have to wait for the perfect pup to come along.

Read our guide to buying a puppy for some checks you can do to spot a well-socialised and outgoing puppy.

Case study: How I found my perfect family dog

Phil Jones is a Business analyst at ManyPets and has a Zuchon. Here’s how he and his wife decided this was the perfect cross-breed for their family.

"We wanted to have a dog for the kids to grow up around. We felt it would benefit the kids’ mental well-being to have a non-judgemental family member to cuddle, talk to and stroke and also physically grow up with a routine of getting out for walks.

"We had a rough idea that we didn't want anything too small or too large. A dog that didn't slobber over everything and most importantly, a dog that was hypoallergenic as my wife and I have allergies.

"Our lifestyle is an important consideration as well. We do like to get out and go for walks and I especially want to go to the Lake District more as the kids grow up. We also spend a lot of time at the beaches of North Wales doing more walking.

"Through a process of elimination, we decided on a choice between a very active breed – a Border Terrier – or a Zuchon: a much calmer cross between a Shih Tzu and a Bichon Frise.

"We finally decided on a Zuchon as we felt a Border Terrier was just a little too much for us.

"We also found out from further investigation that the Zuchons are more than capable of going for longer walks when we want to head out over the fields or down into the woods.

"The last thing we wanted to do was make a mistake by bringing a new dog into our lives which doesn't fit our family needs. It's why this isn't a decision to rush into."

Protect your family dog, from young to old

No matter what dog breed you choose, we’re sure they and your family will have the best of times together.

Of course, it’s important to get dog insurance early on in their life to stay prepared.

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Derri Dunn
Content marketer

Derri is a personal finance and insurance writer and editor. After seven years covering all things motoring and banking at GoCompare, Derri joined ManyPets in 2021 to focus on pet health. She has fostered cats and kittens for Blue Cross and Cats Protection and is owned by tabby cat Diggory and two badly behaved dogs.