How to Choose the Best Dog Breed for Your Family

Shelties make wonderful family dogs.
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As parents, we do our best to give our kids every opportunity to grow, mature and become independent when they're ready. But all the toys and education in the world can't take the place of the lessons that can be learned from a furry friend. Dogs have a natural ability to love unconditionally and are walking demonstrations of how kids should treat other people. Of course, it's not a good idea to run around sniffing the bottoms of others, but greeting people with a smile and an open mind is just one of the many life lessons that children can pick up from a canine companion.

In more practical terms, getting a pooch is the perfect opportunity to teach your kids about caring for another living being. The dog will be a constant reminder of the importance of food, water and daily exercise. Their new furry friend will also help your children understand that every cognizant creature needs love and affection.

If owning a pup is so great, then why doesn't every family have one? The answer often comes down to responsibility. Dogs require a tremendous amount of care, attention and money. If your family is up to the challenge, don't just head out to purchase a pet on a whim. Take some time to figure out what you and your family want in a dog. It's nearly impossible to find a pooch without any flaws, but you can take steps to find a breed that'll fit in nicely with your expectations.

Next, we'll talk more about dog breed features that you'll want to mull over before picking out your pup.

Dog Breed Features to Consider

Most people have a breed or two that they prefer. Now that you have kids, however, it's time to take practical information (instead of personal bias) into consideration. Here are some of the issues you need to consider when choosing a dog:

Size: Generally, small or toy-sized dogs such as Chihuahuas or some of the smaller terriers are not the best choice for families with children younger than age 7. These pups are fragile, and an inadvertent squeeze or a fall off the bed could do serious damage. The opposite is true for large dogs, which can sometimes be too rough with babies and small children. Big breeds are also not ideal for smaller homes, like apartments or condos.

Exercise needs: Again, big dogs, like German shepherds or Labrador retrievers need space to run around. If you have a fenced-in backyard or are able to take your pooch for long, daily walks, a large breed might be perfect for you. If you travel frequently or can't commit to the exercise needs of an active pup, you should probably consider a pooch that requires less cardio and more affection, such as a Pomeranian or a shih tzu. Whatever you do, don't believe your kid when he says, "I'll walk him every day, promise!" He won't.

Grooming requirements: There's no doubt about it; long-haired breeds like border collies and poodles corner the market on adorability. But that fluffy coat and array of decorative bows require frequent grooming sessions by you or a professional. If you prefer not to spend more time and money grooming your pup than you do on yourself, you might go for a short-haired breed, such as a beagle or dachshund. These kinds of dogs usually only require an occasional bath and brush.

Shedding: Large or small, long-haired or short, dogs shed. It's a fact of life that can't be avoided. If the idea of sweeping up regularly makes you cringe, there are certain breeds, like border terriers and bichon frises that shed less than others.

Allergic potential: Dogs with hypoallergenic coats are an option for people with pet allergies. Schnauzers and Irish water spaniels are just a couple of the breeds that produce less dander, the allergy-causing culprit.

Lifespan: Smaller breeds tend to live longer than large breeds. Although there's no money-back guarantee a pup of any size will hit a certain birthday, a breed's general longevity is certainly something to consider if you don't want your child to face a hard goodbye at an early age. For example, the lifespan of a typical English bulldog is eight to 10 years, whereas bichon frises average 12 to 15 years.

Best Family Dog Breeds

A mutt is as good, if not better, than any purebred pup. Plus, by adopting one, you can save a life.
A mutt is as good, if not better, than any purebred pup. Plus, by adopting one, you can save a life.
Photo courtesy Chris Obenschain

Since your kids will undoubtedly be playing with your new canine friend, it's important to choose one that'll not only get along with them, but will also tolerate the inevitable tail pulls, eye pokes and other indignities. The last thing you want is a dog that bites. Many experts insist that highly trainable breeds are smarter, making more appropriate for families [source: Eckstein]. Although it can be difficult to avoid, some experts advise against puppies of any kind if little kids are involved, thanks to young dogs' tendency to bite and scratch [source: Schultz].

When selecting a family dog, it sometimes pays to rely on breed reputation. Certain pups, like Labradors or golden retrievers, come by their good name honestly. Here's a quick rundown of a few popular family breeds and the traits they're known for:

  • Golden retrievers: Intelligent, tolerant and good-natured
  • Labradors: Obedient, loving and energetic
  • Pugs: Friendly, playful and surprisingly tough (even if they do feature a face only an owner could love!)
  • Bassett hounds: Curious, smart and friendly
  • Beagles: Sweet, gentle and calm with kids
  • Shetland sheepdogs (shelties): Intelligent, affectionate, protective and obedient
  • Shih tzus: Spirited and sweet but difficult to housebreak
  • German shepherds: Smart, faithful and protective
  • Poodles: Obedient, energetic and gentle with children

There are countless breeds to choose from, but don't forget about those loveable mutts! If saving a life is high on your priority list, simply visit a local animal shelter or rescue group to find a furry friend. Staff members have usually spent enough time with each pup to know if the dog will thrive in a home with children.

Of course, any discussion about dog breeds begs the age-old question: Are there breeds that families should not consider? Some pet experts insist that each and every breed can be a great addition to your household if cared for appropriately and treated with love. Still, many families choose not to consider breeds that have a reputation for excessive strength and aggressiveness, like Rottweilers, chow chows and, most notoriously, pit bulls. However, plenty of families have raised kids around these breeds with no issues, so it's really a judgment call on the part of the parents.

No matter what breed you select, you must always closely monitor your pet's interaction with children. Dogs are wonderful, but they're still animals, and that's a fact you should never forget.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • American Kennel Club. "Homepage." 2011. (Aug. 10, 2011) http://www.akc.org
  • Animal Planet. "Dog Breed Directory." 2011. (Aug. 10, 2011) http://animal.discovery.com/breedselector/dogselectorindex.do
  • ASPCA. "Questions to Ask Yourself Before Adopting." 2011. (Aug. 10, 2011) http://www.aspca.org/adoption/adoption-tips/questions-to-ask-before-adopting.aspx
  • Eckstein, Sandy. "The Best Dog Breed for Families and Children." WebMD. 2011. (Aug. 10, 2011) http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/the-best-dog-breed-for-families-and-children
  • Schultz, Jaque Lynn, C.P.D.T. "Things to Consider Before You Adopt a Dog." Petfinder. 2011. (Aug. 10, 2011) http://www.petfinder.com/before-pet-adoption/before-dog-adoption.html