Best overall dog breeds for families

May 24, 2024 - 12 min read
A Boxer dog, Havanese, King Charles Spaniel, Labrador, and Beagle all cut out with a white outline, on a solid green background

Finding the "perfect" dog to fit your family can be a delightful yet daunting task.

With so many breeds and temperaments to choose from, it’s important to find a dog that complements your family’s lifestyle, space, and activity levels.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best dog breeds for families, from steady guardians to fun-loving floofballs.

What to consider before picking a family dog

Choosing the perfect family dog involves more than just picking a breed that looks cute or has a good reputation.

A pedigree is not a guarantee, and every dog—regardless of their breed's legendary "tolerance level" or "relaxed attitude"—still deserves plenty of exercise, attention, training, and respect to be their best.

With that in mind, here are some key factors to think about to ensure that the dog you choose is a great fit for your family’s!

Your child(rens) ages

Dachshund licking a child's face

For families with toddlers or very young kids, breeds known for their patience and gentle nature, like Golden Retrievers, might be a good fit. They tend to tolerate the occasional rough handling and are usually very good-natured.

If you have older kids, you might consider breeds that thrive on more training and interaction, like a Miniature Schnauzer or a Standard Poodle. Older children can participate more in training and exercise, which can help build a strong bond and teach responsibility.

Of course, it's a good idea to supervise interactions between your children and your dog to keep everyone safe, especially during initial introductions.

Your family's energy level

Different breeds have different exercise needs. High-energy dogs like Labradors require plenty of physical activity. If your family enjoys outdoor activities like hiking or running, an active breed might be a great match.

However, if you prefer a more laid-back lifestyle, a breed that requires less exercise, like a Bichon Frise, might be a better fit.

Puppies vs. adult dogs

Yes, puppies are undeniably adorable, especially when paired with babies. But the reality is, puppies also require a lot of time, patience, and training.

This can be particularly challenging for families with infants and toddlers because they already take a lot of...well, time, patience, and training.

Here's a perspective from a former rescue manager on Reddit:

"I placed many dogs in families with small children, and found puppies and small kids to be a recipe for disaster. Generally, the parents were too busy to give the puppy adequate time and training, or the kids were too rough with the puppy, which resulted in behavioral issues."

This definitely isn't the story for every parent raising young kids with a puppy. Some of us have enjoyed success (and adorable videos, to boot).

But there are other potential benefits to adopting an adult dog that might be worth thinking about. First, it's a lot easier to tell what a dog's actual temperament and personality are.

Puppies are a risky bet. You can’t really predict their adult personality, despite a breed’s reputation there are always exceptions.

Secondly, adult dogs tend to be a lot less hyperactive than puppies, which can make the transition to a new home smoother.

Finally, they may already be house-trained and have some basic obedience training under their collar. (A big win if you're already trying to potty train one little one!)

Your living space

Toy poodle

While you don't have to own 50 acres of land and a 5,000+-square-foot home to have a happy dog, your home is still a factor in choosing the right breed.

Larger and/or more energetic breeds generally need more room to move around, both indoors and outdoors. So if you live in an apartment or a home with a small yard, a smaller breed or a dog with lower energy levels might be a better fit, unless you plan on taking your dog out for ample exercise every day.

And before you bring your puppy home, take some time to dog-proof—keep hazards and poisons locked away and make sure there aren't any escape routes for a curious canine. If you have young kids, you're familiar with the whole house-proofing routine. Just make sure your kids know what's safe for doggos and what to keep away.

Family allergies and health concerns

If someone in your family has allergies to dogs, it's a good idea to choose a breed known for being semi-hypoallergenic. Breeds like Poodles, Bichon Frises, and Schnauzers are less likely to cause allergic reactions due to less shedding, but they still have dander and saliva, which can trigger allergies.

Try to spend time with a potential dog before bringing them home to ensure there aren't big allergy issues. You can reduce the impact of allergies by staying on top of grooming, vacuuming frequently, and using air filters, but remember that no dog—even a hairless one—is entirely allergen-free.

Your lifestyle and time

A white chihuahua in a pink and grey carrier, situated in a car

Some breeds are more independent, while others crave constant companionship and can suffer from separation anxiety (hi, velcro dogs!) if left alone for long periods of time.

Consider your work schedule, social life, and travel habits when choosing a breed. It's important to pick a dog whose needs align with your family's routine and availability, or you'll set everyone up for more stress (and possibly some Puppy Blues).

Your household environment

Just like people, some dogs are more reserved than others. A shy or nervous dog might not thrive in a loud, bustling household, while a more outgoing dog might love the constant activity. The best you can do is try to learn as much as you can about a dog's background and parentage before adopting them.

If you're buying from a breeder, it's pretty simple: ask to meet the parents! It's a bit more tricky to gather info in a shelter environment, where a dog's personality might not shine due to stress or fear (especially if they're relatively new). Shelter assistants and kennel managers can be a big help; don't be afraid to ask questions.

Grooming and upkeep


While grooming shouldn't be the ONLY thing you focus on, it's no fun to be blindsided by a $150 biweekly grooming session. Different breeds have different grooming needs.

That gorgeous long-haired Havanese will require frequent brushing and grooming to prevent mats and tangles, while that Lab might shed more every day but never set foot in the groomer's.

It's worth seeing what groomers are available in your area and how much time and money you're willing to spend on upkeep for your pup. Pro tip: mobile groomers may charge a bit more, but they could be well worth it for the time and energy you save.

Potential unexpected expenses

Some breeds are prone to specific genetic conditions, and you can mitigate the risk by choosing a reputable breeder who tests for common genetic disorders.

But you can't possibly predict when (or why) your perfectly healthy pup might decide to eat an entire corn cob and wind up needing surgery, or generally, how much trouble a puppy gets into before they reach age one.

OK, well, we can give you a rough idea:

In cases where the unexpected happens, a good pet insurance policy may reimburse you for the cost of treating accidents and illnesses. You'll want to get it right after you bring your pup home, as pre-existing conditions typically aren't covered.

A close-up of a concerned yellow Labrador Retriever with a gentle expression, receiving an examination by a veterinarian whose hands are shown holding a clipboard, in a clinical setting.

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A close-up of a concerned yellow Labrador Retriever with a gentle expression, receiving an examination by a veterinarian whose hands are shown holding a clipboard, in a clinical setting.

12 great family dog breeds

You could probably guess a few of the breeds we've selected (spoiler: Golden Retrievers!). But we've also added a few other breeds that might surprise you.

Let's get into it!

Labrador Retriever

Why they’re great: Labrador Retrievers are known for their friendly and outgoing nature. They’re incredibly versatile, excelling in roles ranging from service dogs to beloved pets. (They’re also the second-most popular breed in the US, following the French Bulldog.)

Ideal family: Active families who enjoy outdoor activities and are looking for a sociable, easy-going dog.

Labs are rugged and can play rough and tumble, but at the same time have the temperament to put up with with children that don't always understand boundaries.

Things to consider: Labs have a tendency to easily put on weight, so a healthy diet and regular exercise are crucial. And since Labs are "mouthy breeds," they might enjoy putting your kids toys (or hands) in their mouths. Keep an eye on them, especially if they're teething. Finally, Labs are prone to some hereditary health issues, so ensure you get them from a reputable breeder!

For more about family-friendly Labradors and other breeds great for inexperienced owners, visit our guide to the best dogs for first-time owners.

Poodles (Toy, Miniature, and Standard)


Why they’re great: Poodles are the epitome of elegance and intelligence. Available in Toy, Miniature, and Standard sizes, there's literally a Poodle to fit every family!

Known for their near-hypoallergenic coats, Poodles are great for families with mild allergies. They're also highly trainable, making them excellent companions for activities like agility, obedience, and even just fun tricks at home.

Ideal family: Families looking for a smart, versatile, and affectionate dog that’s easy to train and loves being involved in family activities.

My oversized miniature poodle has been extremely good with my 5 year old who has been obsessed with him since day one...he’s a perfect size where he’s not big enough to be overwhelming to my kid but not dainty enough to be in danger from him.

Things to consider: Poodles need regular grooming to keep their curly coats free of mats and tangles. Keeping their fur short can help. And we weren't joking about their brains. Poodles thrive on mental and physical stimulation, so daily exercise and interactive play are essential to keep boredom at bay.

Golden Retriever

Golden retriever sitting

Why they’re great: Ah, Goldens. The quintissential American family dog. And it's no wonder. They've earned their reputation for being gentle, intelligent, and highly adaptable. They’re fantastic with children and are often used as therapy dogs due to their calm and friendly demeanor.

Ideal family: Families with kids of all ages looking for a patient and protective pet.

Things to consider: Goldens might be sweet pups, but they require plenty of exercise to be their best and need regular grooming to keep their coats healthy. They also have a few genetic health concerns, so choosing a responsible breeder is important.

We had a wonderful Golden Retriever with small kids, but I had the time and inclination to take him on 3-5 mile walks 5 days a week...tired dogs are good dogs.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Cavalier king charles spaniel

Why they’re great: Cavaliers are known for their affectionate and gentle nature. They are excellent with children and love being part of family activities.

Ideal family: Families looking for a small, friendly, and adaptable dog that’s good with kids and doesn't require a ton of exercise. (Apartment dwellers, take note!)

I work in vet med and King Charles are absolutely one of the best breeds I have had the pleasure of working with. Super sweet and have an all-around good disposition.

Things to consider: Cavs require regular grooming and, sadly, often develop genetic health issues like heart disease without careful breeding. Here's what one Redditor who works in vet med has to say about responsibly buying a Cavalier:

"Make sure you're going through an ethical breeder who has both the dam and sire echocardiogram’d by a radiologist to high heaven. Heart issues are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, issue this breed has."

Looking for other small family-friendly breeds? Visit our guide to some top favorites.



Why they’re great: Boxers are energetic, playful, and protective, making them excellent family pets. They’re known for their exuberant personalities and are great with kids.

Ideal family: Active families that can provide plenty of exercise and playtime. They do especially well with older kids, due to their size and strength.

Things to consider: Boxers can be boisterous and require training to manage their mass; otherwise, smaller kiddos might be in for some hard knocks. They are also commonly seen with hip dysplasia and heart issues, so great breeding is key.



Why they’re great: Beagles are friendly, curious, and great with children. They are small to medium-sized and have a keen sense of smell, making them excellent companions for active families.

Ideal family: Families with FULLY FENCED YARDS looking for a smaller, energetic dog that loves to explore.

Things to consider: Beagles are hounds, so they love to follow their noses, which means a fully fenced-in yard is a must, and off-leash situations should be avoided.

Whether adopting or purchasing from a preservation or reputable breeder, families need to be prepared for a fun dog who is loving but also independent, intelligent, and needs to be entertained daily! As much as the Beagle loves to lounge around, they do require daily exercise to burn off their endless energy!

Beagles can also quickly pack on weight (we'll award them "most likely to be found hunting under a high chair for snacks"), so a healthy diet and exercise are key. And, of course, be ready to put in consistent training time. Beagles are sweet, but they can definitely have a stubborn streak.



Why they’re great: Goldendoodles combine the friendly nature of Golden Retrievers with the intelligence and hypoallergenic qualities of Poodles. They’re great for families with mild allergy concerns and a multi-pet household.

Ideal family: Families seeking a loving, active companion that tends to get along with pre-existing pets and are willing to put time and money into training and grooming.

Things to consider: Doodles are energetic, bouncy, and smart, and they require regular exercise and training to stay out of trouble. And while Doodles have exploded in popularity, they aren't *quite* as low-maintenance as many pet parents may be led to believe. Their coats do retain some of hypoallergenic-ish qualities of Poodles, they can still shed, and their coats may need even more maintenance than either of their parent breeds.

If you get to considering a Doodle...please know the coat is very high maintenance (extensive daily brushing) as well as costly in regular 4-6 week grooms (at $100-$200 per groom, area dependent.) A pure Poodle, Golden, or Lab [may be an] easier choice!



Why they’re great: Havanese dogs are small, affectionate, and highly adaptable. They have a friendly disposition and love to be the center of attention, making them great companions for families with children.

Ideal family: Families looking for a small, loving, and adaptable dog that thrives on human interaction.

I have a 7 month old baby and a 2 year old Havanese. He is amazing with my baby girl. I just keep sanitizing wipes on hand because he can't get enough licks in when it comes to her feet and hands. They adore each other!

Things to consider: Like most dogs with luxurious long fur, Havanese require regular grooming to keep their coats looking their best. They also benefit from regular mental stimulation and socialization to prevent boredom and ensure a well-rounded temperament.



Why they’re great: Labradoodles combine the friendliness and trainability of Labs with the intelligence and low-shedding coat of Poodles. They’re popular among families prone to allergies.

Ideal family: Families looking for a playful, affectionate, and energetic dog that is less allergenic.

Things to consider: Labradoodles require regular exercise and grooming. They can inherit health issues from both parent breeds.

Bichon Frise

Bichon Frise

Why they’re great: Bichon Frises are like little balls of sunshine, bringing joy and cheer wherever they go. Their hypoallergenic coats are perfect for families with allergies, and their playful nature makes them a hit with kids. Always up for a game or a cuddle, these affectionate furballs thrive on human interaction.

Ideal family: Perfect for families wanting a small, affectionate, and fun-loving dog that’s always ready to join in on family activities.

Bichons are the best family dogs. They are energetic, sturdy, and love everyone. My son was 9 when we adopted our Bichon. They were best friends for 17 years. In all that time, the dog never even snapped at anyone.

Things to consider: Bichons need regular grooming to keep their coats looking fluffy and clean. Daily exercise and mental stimulation are essential to prevent boredom and keep them happy. Watch out for potential health issues like allergies and dental problems.

Cocker Spaniel

A happy English Cocker Spaniel with a golden coat panting lightly and looking to the side against a plain light background.Why they’re great: With their soulful eyes and silky coats, Cocker Spaniels are the epitome of charm. They’re gentle, sweet, and fantastic with children. Always eager to please, Cockers love being involved in family activities, from playtime in the yard to snuggle time on the couch.

Ideal family: Ideal for families seeking a loyal and loving companion that’s great with kids and can join in on both indoor and outdoor adventures.

My Cocker Spaniel is almost 5 and by far the absolute best dog I’ve ever owned. He is gentle, loving, curious, playful and well-mannered. He loves a snuggle and loves to play fetch...sometimes he’s super needy, but he listens very well to my commands inside the house.

Things to consider: Cocker Spaniels require regular grooming and frequent ear cleaning to prevent infections. They need daily exercise to stay fit and happy, and like most dogs, they should be trained and socialized well to avoid becoming overly wary or mistrustful of other dogs.

Miniature Schnauzer

Mini SchnauzerWhy they’re great: Miniature Schnauzers pack a big personality into a small package. They’re intelligent, friendly, and make excellent watchdogs with their keen sense of alertness. Their less-allergenic coats are a plus for families with allergy concerns, and their energetic nature keeps everyone entertained.

Ideal family: Great for families wanting a small, energetic, and smart dog that loves to be involved in family life and playtime.

Miniature Schnauzers are non-shedding, typically good with kids, energetic, highly trainable sweethearts. Ours is 13 years old and still going strong.

Things to consider: Miniature Schnauzers need regular grooming to maintain their sharp looks and health. Daily exercise and mental challenges are crucial for these spirited pups. Some Schnauzers can get overly protective of their "kids," so take care to ensure yours is properly socialized and trained to avoid aggressive behaviors towards perceived outsiders.

The bottom line

Whew. It was tough to narrow this list down to just 12 breeds!

The truth is, there are plenty more options out there. Whether you’re seeking a protective companion, a loving friend, or an energetic playmate, you can bet there’s a purebred—or lovable mix—that’s just right for you and your family.

And once you welcome your new furry friend home, keeping them healthy is key. Dog insurance can help cover unexpected medical expenses, helping your pet enjoy a boop-filled life for years to come.

Leanna Zeibak
Content Manager

Leanna Zeibak is a Content Manager at ManyPets. In her spare time, she paints pet portraits and bakes far too many chocolate chip cookies.