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 - 33% of households have a dog, according to the 2021 Pet Population Survey - that’s around 12.5 million dogs in the UK.
But how to decide which breed of dog is right for your family? When you’ve got children, a good place to start is the dog’s size.
Here are four reasons why:
1. 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, but 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. “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,” she says.
“Likewise, if you like spending time on the water, then look into a dog that’s OK being in and around water.”
2. 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 in the back that you come to the realisation that there’s not actually anywhere 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 that only takes up half the boot.
“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.
3. Safety and risks
Big dogs are no more likely to bite than little dogs, but if they do, the consequences can be worse, especially where small children are involved. Some dog rescues are cautious around rehoming larger breeds with small children for this reason.
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.
4. 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.
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
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 really varies depending on the individual dog’s temperament.
Spaniels and Spaniel crosses
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 – be prepared 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 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 all the time.
Of course, independence is a double edged sword so training might take persistence and as they’re terriers they might not be compatible with other popular family pets like rabbits and guinea pigs.
Beagles are playful, fun loving and full of character, making them an unforgettable companion as a family dog. They’re traditionally pack dogs, so tend to be super friendly with both people and other dogs.
They do have a bit of a reputation for mayhem though – you’ll have to be prepared to see the funny side of their rowdy and stubborn moments.
Medium dog breeds that are good with children
There are some terrific choices of calm, friendly family dogs in the medium-sized category.
This 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 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.
Vizlas 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.
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 actually 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.
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
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 dog breeds for families
Although you can look for breeds like those mentioned here, with lovable, outgoing and attentive personality traits, breed can only tell you so much about a family dog. Really so much comes down to the temperament of the individual dog.
If you’re not so fussy about 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 Analysts 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 having a non-judgemental family member to cuddle, talk to and stroke and also physically growing 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 to.
"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."