So, it's time to get a family dog. Just like there's no typical family, there's no typical family dog. A family with three kids and a farmhouse outside of Nashville, Tenn., needs a very different dog from a young couple with a new baby in Brooklyn, N.Y.
There are many important factors to consider about your family's lifestyle before deciding which breed will be the best fit. How much time do you have to devote to the dog? Will there be people around during the week, or is the house empty for most of the day? Is there someone in the family who regularly goes for runs and long hikes, or is everyone happy on the couch watching DVDs?
Coming up is a list of 10 great dogs for any family situation.
Newfoundlands, which were originally bred to be working dogs in the cold North Atlantic, consistently rank as the kindest, gentlest, best-tempered purebreds in the world. Newfs are also enormous (up to 150 pounds!) and one of the strongest dogs for their size, but their legendary patience makes them very suitable for families with small children. This is the dog to trust if your baby ever needs to be saved from an icy river.
However, their sweetness comes with a price: maintenance. Their thick coat needs brushing at least once a week, and it's no use denying that Newfoundlands are slobber factories. They also need plenty of space -- a moderate daily walk will take care of their exercise requirements, but make sure to have enough room indoors for them to sprawl out on the floor afterward.
Often overlooked as mere lapdogs, papillons are perfect companion dogs and make good pets for city-dwellers. Papillons aren't just a fashion accessory, so don't let their prettiness fool you. Unlike other toy breeds, papillons are spirited, highly intelligent, fun-loving and eager to please, making them ideal for the family without a lot of square footage to spare.
For all their charm, papillons aren't recommended for families with small children -- not that they'll be a danger to the child, but the other way around. Though papillons have a personality bigger than their body, they're also more fragile than other breeds, which can make them injury-prone when playing with toddlers who haven't learned their own strength yet.
The golden retriever has been a staple family dog breed for a long time, and with good reason -- this dog is an absolute sweetheart that loves anyone and everyone. Perfect for large families, small families, toddlers or teenagers, golden retrievers are also one of the easiest breeds to train, as their combination of intelligence and eagerness to please makes them much better attuned to positive reinforcement than other dogs. Their one drawback is that, being universally adored, golden retrievers trustingly assume that everyone is their friend. As guard dogs, they're more likely to roll over on their back for a belly rub than bark out a warning when confronted with a shady character or a sneaky burglar.
Pugs, along with sloths, seahorses and baby armadillos, fall into the category of animals that are at once bizarre-looking and absolutely adorable. Though their strange faces get them teased for being the dog that chases parked cars, they're actually well-tempered, friendly and serene animals that are active enough to be fun, but still small enough not to require a 5-mile run every day.
Most importantly, pugs are patient and sturdy little guys -- the perfect set of features for a family with either small children who may not play gently, or apartment-dwellers who need to ensure their pet won't wake the neighbors with constant yapping.
Labrador retrievers are dogs in the most classic sense of the word. Friendly, loyal and enthusiastic, Labs work hard, play hard and eat like gangbusters when they get home at the end of the day. They need plenty of space and attention, but they also repay that care with the pure devotion and love that has been humbling humans since we first met our canine companions.
Being good with children and highly intelligent, they're also one of the most popular service dogs in the world. Labs are a match for a family that needs a companion for outdoor activities, maybe has some small children and wants to make sure that their dog will go bananas when a stick or a Frisbee gets thrown.
While mutts aren't technically a breed, you should consider the possibility of rescuing a puppy or an abandoned older dog when choosing a family pet. Every mutt is unique, and their hybrid vigor makes them much less prone to the health problems and personality quirks that often come with some inbred pedigreed dogs. Best of all, rescuing one literally means saving a life (and potentially saving a small fortune in vet bills).
While mutts tend to be friendly, intelligent and excellent at dog sports, the one downside is that getting a mixed-breed puppy can be a bit like rolling the dice if space is an issue. All puppies are tiny, so it can be difficult to tell whether the dog will grow into a petite pooch or a pony-sized hound of the Baskervilles.
Despite the fact that it would be very, very easy for them to hide in a hot dog factory, dachshunds take themselves seriously. No one else does, but that doesn't seem to bother them. They're not particularly smart, and they're a little bit yappy and standoffish around strangers.
What's the appeal, then? Good old-fashioned goofballery. Unlike many other lapdogs, dachshunds are extremely playful, never boring, and absolutely adore being around their owners. Their coats are generally short, so shedding isn't an issue. And, the amount of exercise that even a highly energetic dachshund requires is still roughly proportional to its size. This is a dog that rewards doting, making it the perfect breed for less physically active families or empty nesters who want an animal that's low-maintenance but still has some personality.
Let's face it; a dog can be a huge time commitment. Feeding, cleaning up poop, brushing, washing, exercising -- it can be like having a small child who will never figure out that drinking out of the toilet is a bad idea.
Sometimes, the best family dog is one that doesn't really do much. At the extreme end of the low-energy spectrum, we present the basset hound. With minimal activity to keep off the extra ounces, this dog has an energy level roughly equivalent to a potato. Though reasonably active in their youth, as basset hounds age, they're content to rest on the porch or in front of the fire. Over the years, this family dog becomes more like a much-loved piece of furniture than an active nuisance.
Due to the popularity of a certain 1950s TV dog, rough collies have become a breed that's synonymous with wholesome family doghood. But while they're absolutely excellent animals, they may not be ideal for every situation.
Rough collies are better suited for families with older children. As sheepdogs, they have thousands of years of trainability behind them, but also the instinct to herd whoever or whatever happens to be around, making them a poor match for a family with a young child. That is, unless you've got the type of kid who falls into a well, gets attacked by bobcats or is pinned under a fallen roof beam in a burning mill at least once a week. Collies should come standard with those kids.
Happy-go-lucky is a word that's thrown around a lot to describe beagles. So are sweet, adorable and friendly. While all are true, this may also be a polite way to highlight beagles' personality over their intelligence. Beagles were originally bred as pack-hunting hounds, giving them a gregarious and cheerful nature that makes them perfect for larger families where they can get plenty of attention and feel like part of the team. Admittedly, beagles aren't the most brilliant dogs, which can make them slow to house train. But their friendly temperament, smallish size and good behavior around young children make them a popular choice for families.
In rat-infested New York City, the dogs of R.A.T.S. are working to rid the city of its burgeoning rat problem. HowStuffWorks goes along for the ride.
- American Kennel Club. "Frequently Asked Questions About Beagles." 2010. (May 1, 2010). http://clubs.akc.org/NBC/NBC_FAQs.html
- American Kennel Club. "Meet the Breeds: Beagle." 2010. (May 1, 2010). http://www.akc.org/breeds/beagle/
- Animal Planet. "Dog Breed Directory." 2010. (April 27, 2010). http://animal.discovery.com/breedselector/dogselectorindex.do
- Coleburg, Tiami. "Dachshund Breed Profile." Rescue Every Dog. 2010. (April 28, 2010). http://www.rescueeverydog.org/dachshund_breed.html
- Foreman, Ozzie. "Newfoundlands: An adaptable, gentle giant." Canis Major. 2010. (April 28, 2010) http://www.canismajor.com/dog/newf.html