Guide to Selecting a Family Dog

This guide is provided by Dr. Carol Young, RVT. Carol has 14 years of experience as a vet tech for dogs, cats, and horses.

Having a dog in the family dramatically enhances the lives of everyone, and increases opportunities to exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and socialize with other pet owners. Studies have shown that regular walking with dogs can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and stress, as well as decrease loneliness and depression. Dogs also help teach children empathy, responsibility, and caretaking skills. Maybe that’s why most households in the US have at least one pet.

Primary Considerations for a Family Dog

1. Your lifestyle

Think about the kind of life your family lives. Do you enjoy hiking, camping and fishing, or just hanging around the house or apartment? Do you like sports, or going to the park to play frisbee? The dog you choose depends on your lifestyle and goals, with the good news being that there is the perfect canine companion out there for you regardless.

2. Breed size

The size of your home is a good starting point. Larger breeds need more room to thrive, while medium to small-sized breeds can do well in a tiny city apartment. 

If you do live in a smaller space, but have your heart set on a large breed, be prepared to take your dog outside regularly to exercise.

3. Temperament

Some breeds are high-energy and need constant exercise, while others are mellow around the house. Temperament is essentially a dog’s personality, so think about what would mesh well with your children.

The Best Dog Breeds for Families with Kids

The best dogs for kids are gentle, patient, and trainable. Whether you adopt a dog from a shelter, or purchase a puppy from a certified breeder, you should factor in the temperament and lifestyle of your family first.

Below are listed the AKC (American Kennel Club) recommended breeds. While these are recommended, the list is not exhaustive. For example, German Shepherds, Huskies, and Standard Poodles are not listed, but shouldn’t necessarily be avoided. What’s most important is to find a dog that suits your family’s unique needs.

Labrador Retriever

labrador retriever

The Labrador Retriever is the most popular breed of dog in the U.S., and is known for being friendly, active, and obedient. They are famously great with children, and make wonderful additions to the family.



Newfoundlands are an excellent family dog, great with children, and are intelligent, loyal, and patient. It should be noted that if you live in a small apartment, this breed may not be best as they average between 100-150 pounds.

Golden Retriever

golden retriever

Golden Retrievers are incredibly affectionate, smart, and loyal dogs. They are also a patient breed, making them a perfect match for kids. Goldens are highly active dogs and need regular exercise, so keep this in mind should you wish to bring one into your home.



The beagle is a medium-size dog that’s known for being smart, friendly, and curious.  Beagles also have a short hair coat which makes for easy grooming.



Pugs are loving, charming, and even-tempered, and at an average of 14-18 pounds, are an ideal size for an apartment or small house.



Collies are large dogs that are both loyal and affectionate — perfect for kids. However, due to the fact that they were originally herding dogs, this breed is best suited for a family with an active lifestyle.



One of the most adaptable dogs on the list is the bulldog. The breed is loyal, happy, and friendly, and suitable for many different living situations, whether an apartment, house, or country home.

Irish Setter

The Irish Setter is an active, high-energy breed that loves the outdoors. Irish setters are known to be outgoing, sweet, trainable, and friendly, but do require plenty of space.

French Bulldog

french bulldog

French Bulldogs range in size from 20-28 pounds, are easy-going, friendly, and good with children. This breed is less active and does well in apartments.

Brussels Griffon

Brussels Griffon

Averaging 8-10 pounds when full grown, the Brussels Griffon’s small size makes for a good apartment dweller. It should be noted that the AKC recommends this breed under supervision with children.

Mixed breeds

There’s a lot of literature on the best breeds for families, but it’s important not to rule out mixed breeds and mutts. Mixed breeds actually have the best traits of two or more dog breeds, and if you decide to adopt a puppy or a dog, you’re saving the life of a homeless pet. You may also be pleasantly surprised when you learn more facts about rescues. Many shelters have behavioral experts that can find the best fit for you and your family. Some may also spay, neuter, microchip and vaccinate dogs before adopting them out.

Lastly, there are always exceptions to the rule, and there are many “aggressive” dogs breeds who are actually gentle, friendly, and make great family dogs. Breeding is an important factor in selecting a dog for your family, but temperament, personality, and how you and your family interact with your dog are important as well.

Tips for Choosing a Specific Dog

You’ve narrowed down your search to a specific breed or decided to rescue for a shelter. What’s next? The next important step in selecting a dog is to understand how your potential new family member will interact with your existing family (pets included).

Meet your dog ahead of time

Whether you decide to adopt or buy from a breeder, it’s a good idea to meet your potential dog ahead of time. First, check its body language. Is the dog happy to meet you? Does it approach wagging its tail, or seem fearful and timid? The best family dogs are generally friendly and upbeat in demeanor.

Also take a look at its sharing tendencies. See whether the dog is overly possessive with food or toys, and how it reacts to being touched while eating.

Check energy levels

Are you looking for an energetic dog that loves long hikes, or a mellow dog that will happily sit at home with you? Gauging a dog’s energy level is an important consideration from day one.

Understand interactions with your current pets

While your children are the most important, also make sure your potential new dog will mesh well with any current pets. Each household is unique, so use your best judgement based on the personalities, energy levels, and other tendencies of your other animals.

Consider the care involved

Veterinary care, grooming, and cleaning are other important considerations. Long-haired dogs will require more regular grooming compared with short haired breeds. Puppies will need to be potty trained and house trained. Senior dogs may require more frequent veterinary visits. Keep these in mind when selecting your dog.

Considerations After You’ve Brought Your New Dog Home

You’ve done the research and found your perfect new family member. Congrats! While your hard work will pay off in terms of years of companionship, it’s now time to think about safety at home.

One of the primary concerns parents have when bringing a new dog home to children is biting. Dogs bite as a reaction to something, such as stress, needing to defend themselves, or when they feel ill. Dogs can also bite accidentally during play.

The best way to prevent your dog from biting and nipping is socialization. By introducing your dog to a variety of different situations, your dog will learn to be comfortable in all types of environments. If you decide to get a puppy,  take them to the vet for regular exams, enjoy a visit to the dog park, and be around people; anything to get them out and used to the world.

In addition, it’s important to educate your children on dog behavior, how to approach dogs in a calm manner, and how to avoid a dog bite. It’s recommended that your children avoid tug-of-war play, or wrestling with the dog, as it can lead to over excitement and accidental nipping/biting.

When you’re looking for a dog and researching breeds, you may run across some statistics on breeds which are most likely to bite. According to a study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, the circumstances surrounding dog bites are variable, and depend on breed personality, as well as the behavior of the people involved.  

Teasing was found to be the number one cause of dog bites, with studies revealed that in most cases, the person provoked the dog. In addition, the Ohio State study also found that behaviors most likely to cause a bite were tail grabbing, paw pulling, or hair pulling. With these statistics in mind, it’s important to teach young children to be gentle with dogs, and not to pull or hurt them.

Lastly, a 2006 ASPCA study found that 70% of all dog bites came from intact male dogs. According to United States dog bite statistics, an unneutered male dog is 2.6 times more likely to bite than a neutered one. Of course breed, heredity, personality and sex must also be considered whether the dog will be aggressive or not.


There are many things to consider when bringing a new dog into your family. That’s why it’s important to do plenty of research, and if you have additional questions, consult your local veterinarian. Professionals are always happy to help answer any questions you may have about bringing a new dog into your life.


Carol Young has been a Registered Veterinary Technician for the past 14 years. She currently lives in New Mexico with three horses, three dogs, and three cats, and is passionate about helping educate pet owners on a variety of topics. Carol also holds an MA and PhD in Anthropology.