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: 38% of American households have a dog, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. But you'll want to choose a breed that's just right for your circumstances and lifestyle.
So how can you 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.
What to Consider Before Adopting a Family Dog
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 always 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, our Veterinary Relationship and Technical Claims Manager and an experienced vet nurse, 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,” she adds.
2. Your Car
It’s only when you start planning your first family vacation that you'll realize you don't have enough room in your car. With two dogs and two babies, there may not be anywhere for your luggage to go.
So unless you want to get into rooftop cargo carriers, trailers, or seven-passenger minivans, consider breeds that can comfortably lie down in a crate that doesn't take up too much space in your car.
“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.”
In the meantime, take a look at our guide to safely driving with a dog for a few tips on protecting your pup — and your family — on the road.
3. Safety and Risks
Big dogs aren't any more likely to bite than little dogs, but if they do, the consequences can be worse, especially when small children are involved. Some dog rescues are cautious about rehoming larger breeds with small children for this very reason.
By introducing your pet to your children carefully and making sure they're well-socialized, 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 leash during 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 alike.
4. Ongoing Cost
"A 25-pound dog will cost me about $2 a day to feed." "A 120-pound will cost me $10 per day to feed." You'll need to anticipate these kinds of things when you’re on a tight family budget. So make sure you understand the differences in ongoing costs between bigger and smaller breeds.
The ASPCA estimates the cost of owning a small dog (including things like food, supplies, and parasite treatment) is around $512 per year. For medium dogs like Labrador Retrievers, it's $669. And for large breeds like Great Danes and Bullmastiffs, you can expect to pay around $1,040 per year.
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 about the best small dog for children, though — it really varies depending on the individual dog’s temperament.
Spaniels and Spaniel Mixes
The Cocker Spaniel, The Springer Spaniel, and the now-ubiquitous Cockapoo can make very 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, so do be prepared to put in the hard work with training and exercise to get the best from them. But confident, well-trained 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 center of attention all the time.
Of course, independence is a double-edged sword: Successful training might require persistence. And terriers often have a tough time being compatible with other family pets like rabbits and guinea pigs.
Beagles are playful, fun-loving, and full of character, making them unforgettable companions as family dogs. They’re traditionally pack dogs and 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 for 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 rather than just a single person.
They can be excitable, and because they’re so full of bounce, they might do better with older children — smaller ones can be knocked down.
Border Collies are known to be good family dogs due to their incredibly faithful nature. They're energetic and intelligent, which makes them great companions for outdoor family adventures.
They need their minds and bodies kept well-exercised, so older children might enjoy playing flyball or dog agility as a hobby.
It’s not unknown that they attempt to "herd" young children, though, which might not make them as suitable for those with toddlers.
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 they're good for families with someone at home for much of the day who can give them the affection they crave.
They have a lot of energy, so they’re another dog suited to active households with a love of the outdoors.
Large Dog 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 quick 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 socialized from an early age, they can be friendly with people and other smaller pets.
They're a little gangly, so you’ll have to be alert to them getting overly boisterous and accidentally knocking down tots with that big, feathery tail.
Bernese Mountain Dogs
Although Bernese Mountain Dogs are strong and muscular, they've been bred to be more at home in a family setting than some other mountain breeds.
They tend to be quite a patient and gentle breed, so with the right training and socialization, they can be faithful companions for children and other family pets.
Looking Beyond Purebred Dogs for Your Family
Although you can look for breeds like those mentioned here — ones with lovable, outgoing, and attentive personality traits — a dog's breed can only tell you so much. So much comes down to the temperament of the individual dog.
If you’re not so picky about the breed, animal shelters are experts at assessing each dog and pairing you with the right companion for your family. You might have to wait for the perfect pup to come along, though.
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 mixed 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-judgmental 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."
"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 Zuchons are more than capable of going for long 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."