The family dog is an icon, dating from Old Yeller and Lassie to Snoopy and modern day pets like the Obama family's canine, Bo. But, assuming you don't need a Lassie to save Timmy from the well or a Snoopy to fly airplane missions against the Red Baron, what should you look for in a family dog?
Medium-sized dogs make great family pets because they have a good mix of attributes. They don't have the high energy level of small dogs or the health issues of large ones. They are active, but can be good armchair companions too. Size-wise, these dogs weigh anywhere between 35 to 65 pounds (15 to 30 kilograms) and range in height from 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 centimeters) paw to shoulder.
When choosing a family dog, consider how the breed acts around people, particularly children, and other animals. Ideally, you want a dog that is loyal and affectionate yet obedient and trainable. Think about the needs of the dog, as well, not just the family. Will the pet need regular exercise and room to roam, or will it be a good house dog, able to be confined for periods of time? What are the breed's maintenance requirements and can you fulfill them? So, with those traits in mind, here are some mid-sized breeds that make great family dogs.
The Border collie raises your family's IQ but as well as its work ethic. This dog is an extremely smart, hard-working and task-oriented breed. The Border collie is loyal and can be good with children. It's also wary of strangers, making it a good family watchdog.
However, while the Border collie may be a good family dog, it's not good for every family. This dog is high maintenance -- it needs training, stimulation and plenty of exercise. Without these, this pet can be destructive or hyperactive.
A Border collie is best with older kids who won't chase their pet. Why? This dog herds anything that moves, including a playful child. The Border collie will head off a running child, in an effort to corral him. This can frighten a child. It also creates a continuous cycle -- dog chases child; child runs faster; the frustrated collie nips or bites the child in get him in line.
Space is also a must for this dog; it won't do well in an apartment. Give your Border collie room to roam, but be sure it's a fenced area. With this dog's herding nature, you could lose your pet to a speeding car without an enclosure.
So, who is the right family for a border collie? If you're an experienced dog owner with time and energy to devote to a pet, have older children, and a home with outdoor space, you may have found your match.
The Brittany could vie for Best Personality among dogs with its happy, friendly temperament and the ability to get along with children and other animals. This animal was originally bred as a hunting dog, which is why it's probably so loyal and eager to please its owner. These traits combine to make the Brittany an ideal family pet.
So, what does a Brittany need from you? Train this dog early to ensure it becomes a well-socialized and obedient dog, living up to its reputation. Regular walks and physical exercise is a must because a bored Brittany acts very much like a bored child, causing trouble and sometimes damage. With regular exercise, this dog stays generally healthy, athletic and lively. One thing to note -- the Brittany needs a certain amount of outdoor space, so an apartment or townhouse is not the best environment. A fenced-in yard, however, works great.
Maintenance is also very simple with the Brittany. It sheds seasonally, but it's a short-haired dog. With regular brushing, it's fairly easy to keep your Brittany and your house in good shape.
This dog may look more like a race dog you'd see on a big-screen TV in Vegas, but the whippet makes a great family dog. This "miniature greyhound" is fast and athletic, but also loyal, even-tempered and obedient. It is an ideal companion and great with children because it is well-behaved with a quiet nature. Unlike many other athletic breeds, the whippet does well inside, even in an apartment, just as long as it gets a nice long walk or some other type of exercise each day. This dog loves to sleep and lounge around so don't be surprised if it's a couch potato, especially when you're not home.
However, there are some scenarios in which the whippet doesn't thrive. While it can be outside in nice climates and loves activity and exercise, it is not an outside dog. The whippet needs a nice, soft warm bed at night as its coat is not made for cold weather. Since the whippet has a sensitive exterior, it requires kindness. This breed doesn't respond well to harsh commands or management, so handle your whippet firmly, but with gentleness.
Children around the world fell in love with this dog, thanks to Disney's "Lady and the Tramp," and what's not to love about the cocker spaniel? This dog is friendly and behaves well with children, adults and other pets, making it an excellent choice for a family pet. It has a very energetic personality and wants to please, so you'll have a constant companion at home. In fact, since this breed usually weighs nomore than 30 pounds (13.7 kilograms), a cocker spaniel often behaves like a lap dog.
But, no one, not even this pet, is perfect. Those lovable, floppy ears that make these pets so endearing make them also prone to ear infections. Another challenge is potty-training. Much like a stubborn toddler, a cocker spaniel may need time before it effectively uses the bathroom outside. Until then, you may find damp spots and "little presents" around your home. But, because these dogs love their people, a little patience and positive reinforcement will help your pet come around.
With a cocker spaniel's coat, regular grooming and baths are a necessity. A dog groomer can give your cocker a short, all-over cut which helps with matting and cleanliness. Fortunately, these pets are so cute, they can pull off any hairstyle.
Charlie Brown's beagle, Snoopy, was an independent creature who often made his owner exclaim "Good Grief!" In reality, beagles make excellent family pets -- they are friendly, healthy and intelligent. Historically, beagles ran in packs, so they get along with other animals, and a beagle will befriend other household pets if trained and socialized properly. This dog is very relaxed and patient with kids, and can be a good childhood companion. Beagle puppies do require a lot of work, so if you already have young children, you might consider a more mature beagle.
Some things to think about with beagles -- this dog instinctively follows its nose. Regular exercise and daily walks help control this urge, but use a leash or have a fence when your beagle is outside just in case they sniff an interesting scent and want to trail in another direction.
Beagles are good family dogs because they enjoy being in the house, but don't take advantage of this. These dogs do best when left alone for no more than four or five hours at a time. If by itself for eight or more hours a day, a beagle may cause trouble or make noise. And while barking can be irritating, a beagle's baying will drive you batty. Like any loving, friendly animal, beagles do best with their people.
Give your beagle love, attention and a good dose of exercise, and it will be a family's lifelong friend.
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.
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