Best family dogs: Which breeds are the best?

Are bulldogs, beagles, golden retrievers, Labs or some other breed the best dogs? What is the best dog breed for a family?
By Kelli Harmon

What are the best family dogs? How can you find your own version of the perfect dog? Dozens of websites have quizzes or top 10 lists of the best breeds for families (or for protection, or for people who live in an apartment, and so on). But those lists of breeds miss the mark. Why? Because they answer the wrong question. There is no perfect breed — for anyone. But there is a perfect dog out there for everyone. You just have to know what to look for.

Golden retrievers and every other breed are like snowflakes

Little dog and big dog, Angel and Piccola, sleeping on a dog bed togetherWhen people seek out these lists, what are they really looking for? A dog who won’t bite anyone, or will be easy for a middle schooler to walk on a leash, or a breed that doesn’t bark a lot, or is active or not very active? These things are important considerations. But looking for any of these qualities in one breed over another sets up the expectation that if you get a (insert the name of the “best” breed here), he will absolutely have (or won’t have) what matters to you. That’s where the quizzes and lists fall short.

Kristi Littrell, adoption manager at Best Friends, has successfully matched up thousands of dogs with families in her 15-plus years at Best Friends. She’s met hundreds of purebreds — a veritable dog show parade of breeds — over the years. Kristi says, “It’s wrong to think that every single poodle bites and every golden retriever is extra nice.” She says that anyone looking for the best dog for their family and lifestyle should base the choice on “the individual animal, and not on age, breed or mix of breeds.”

Is a puppy or adult dog the best?

People often hope that getting a puppy is a kind of safeguard, and that a dog is less likely to bite a child if the two are raised together. That can be true, but not always, and only if they’re raised together in a certain way. Kristi says, “It depends on the family and their experience with dogs. You’re starting fresh with a puppy, but you’re also the one who’s going to work with the puppy on mouthing and training — and that takes a lot of time.” The choice is to put in the weeks to help a new pup become a great, safe family member (and get help from a trainer when needed) or go out and meet full-grown dogs and pick out one that someone else has put all that time into.

The fact is both puppies and full-grown dogs can take time to acclimate to the household. Kristi says, “I always caution people that all dogs require some work. And it’s not just one-sided; it is a relationship. You have to work with the animal just as much as he or she has to work with you.”

Training both the dog and the kids: A recipe for success

Angel is a great family dogIt’s imperative to look at both ends of the leash when looking for the best family dog. Kristi says, “It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the dog; it has to do with teaching the children.” Teaching kids that the dog sometimes needs time on his own (like when he’s eating) and how to tell when he might be done playing with them are basic things that are so much more important than the dog’s breed. Kristi adds, “You could have the most perfect family dog, but if you have children that are out of control, who aren’t taught to be kind to animals, they can ruin any dog.” And on the flip side, having a dog is a great way for kids to learn about responsibility and empathy. And breed certainly doesn’t matter for that.

The best way to find the right dog for you is to go out and meet them. Kristi recommends that people with kids head to the shelter, which is full of diamonds in the rough, and often just plain diamonds. “Talk to the shelter staff if you can,” Kristi says. “They might know of a great dog that’s been overlooked as ‘just another black dog’ but (who) may be fantastic with kids and a great match.” If there are several potential new dogs, Kristi says, “Let the children help choose. A lot of the time the relationship works out well.” She adds that the adults may choose one dog based on color, age or breed, but if the most important thing is how well the dog likes kids, then the other factors should matter very little — if at all.

No dog is perfect. But if you teach kindness to the kids, ask the right questions about dogs you are considering for your family, and are prepared to help a new dog or pup learn how to thrive in your home, you’ll have a dog that’s pretty darn close.

Browse dogs and other animals available for adoption from Best Friends.

Also, check out the resource How to choose a dog.”

Photos by Kelli Harmon

Caring for Pets