The Perfect Match: Choosing a Good Family Dog

Pet care & safety
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If you have a child, chances are you either have a dog or at some point you will be asked to get one. Caring for a dog can be beneficial to a child; enhancing self-esteem, instilling a sense of responsibility and teaching empathy towards another creature. Choosing the right dog for your family is an important decision.

What breed is best for my family?

There is no single breed that is best suited for the job of “family dog”. First and foremost, parents must consider the temperament and personality of the individual dog. A family dog loves people, especially children. When all else fails, if you can’t agree on an individual dog go with the recommendation of Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Colleen Pelar.

Colleen states that a family dog must:

  • Be social and outgoing

  • Have moderate energy levels that meld with the family

  • Enjoy people, especially children

  • Not exhibit aggressive behavior around food, toys or other valued possessions

Some breeds, such as Border Collies or Australian Shepherds, have very high energy and can be great in a home willing to provide agility training or specific canine jobs. However, if your dog will be home a lot during the day, this breed may be too much for your lifestyle. Great Danes and other large breeds tend to be more mellow – but some do not know their own size. Little children under the age of 8 can be knocked down by an excited dog. Keep these breed factors in mind when choosing a dog for your family.

Check out Embrace’s Dog Breed Library for more info on individual breeds.

Who will care for the dog?

It’s unrealistic to expect a child, regardless of age, to have sole responsibility of caring for a dog. Not only do dogs need the basic necessities like food, water and shelter, they also need to be played with, exercised and trained on a consistent basis. Teaching a dog the rules of the house and helping him become a good companion is too overwhelming for a young child. While responsible teenagers may be up to the task, they may not be willing to spend an adequate amount of time with the dog, as their desire to be with their friends usually takes over at this age. If you’re adopting a dog with the expectation it will be the children’s responsibility to care for, please reconsider.

If you are preparing to care for your new dog, expect the following responsibilities:

  1. House-trainingcrate-training

  2. Basic obedience

  3. Diet, exercise, and enrichment

  4. Yearly, or surprise, vet visits

  5. Dedicating enough time to your new companion


While your kids may not be the sole provider for your new dog, it is important that you all bond. Children can bond with their new friend by taking them for walks, teaching them tricks, and keeping them on their feeding schedule. It is an opportune time for little ones to learn responsibility and the dog to learn it’s role in the family. Just remember, some dogs take more time to adjust and connect with the family more than others – give them time.

Should we get a puppy or adult dog?

Parents often have an idealistic view of what raising kids and dogs should be like. We want our children to grow up with a dog, sharing a similar relationship to Timmy and Lassie. June made raising kids and dogs look so easy, but the truth is raising kids and dogs is a lot of work. Raising a puppy with young children can be double trouble.

If you are going to get a puppy be prepared for house training, socialization, puppy-proofing the house, destructive chewing, nipping and rough play. If your children are young (under five) ask yourself if you have the additional time to add puppy-raising to your list of responsibilities. Puppies, even confident ones, can become frightened, or even injured, by a well-meaning, curious child who wants to constantly pick him up, hug him or explore his body by pulling on his tail or ears. A child’s normal behavior of running and screaming will entice the puppy to do the same, leading to potential scrapes from sharp puppy teeth, falls and scuffles. Puppies also tend to jump up on small children and knock them down. All interactions between your child and puppy will need to be closely supervised in order to minimize the chances of either being injured.

A family seeking a new dog for their home should not rule out adolescent or adult dogs. These dogs typically require less time and attention once they’ve adjusted to your family routine. An adult dog’s personality is less likely to change compared to a puppy who is still being molded by life experiences. Many are already house trained and past the destructive chewing and mouthing phases of development.

Large vs. Small Dogs

For many families there is a big attraction to small breed dogs. Small breed dogs require less food, less space, are easier to transport, shed less (in some cases) and require less exercise – all big draws for busy families.

Many small breeds are confident, outgoing and social, necessities for life as a family dog, but special consideration needs to be made before acquiring a small breed dog for your family. These dogs are more likely to be injured if they are dropped or stepped on by kids playing. They are more likely to be frightened by the sounds of boys playing cops and robbers and may be physically sensitive to being toted around by a little girl playing house.

Medium to large breed dogs may be better equipped to tolerate the activity, noise and rough play which are an inevitable part of living with children. Many were bred to work with humans, running through brush, jumping in icy water and standing alongside while a hunter shot game. These jobs have prepared them to mentally and physically handle life with children.

Whether you choose a small breed like the Yorkshire Terrier or large breed such as the Labrador Retriever, parents must consider what role the dog will play within the family. Will he be the boys’ outdoor playmate – expected to hike, jog, run and romp with the kids? If yes, a Labrador may be a wise choice. If your dog will be the plus one at your daughter’s next tea party, sitting alongside Ken and Barbie, a Yorkie may be just what you’re looking for.