So you've finally succumbed to the constant pleas of "Mummy, can we have a dog?" Or you've decided that a family pet would be ideal to teach your children responsibility and compassion. But if you're thinking about adding a canine member to your family, which breed should you choose?
There is No Perfectly Safe Breed of Dog
Beware of relying too much on breed stereotypes. While there are general breed characteristics, it is all down to the individual dog and any breed of dog can be dangerous. A survey of dog bites in Britain showed that Golden Retrievers were actually the most common attackers, despite the media hype about "dangerous dog breeds". Thus, there are docile Rottweilers and aggressive Labradors; meanwhile toy breeds (eg. the Chihuahua) - often selected for children because of their small size - can be nervous and snappy whilst many of the giant breeds can be surprisingly gentle despite their huge size.
The golden rule when dealing with children and animals of any kind. Even the most placid and tolerant dog can become agitated by teasing or rough handling, whilst many puppies can be very clumsy and boisterous, unintentionally hurting a young child.
Know Your Children
Do you have quiet, gentle children or noisy, boisterous kids? Are they naughty toddlers or moody teenagers? Keeping in mind your children's daily routines will help you select a suitable canine playmate. An athletic sporting breed such as the German Short-Haired Pointer might be the ideal companion for an active teenager whilst a more placid breed, such as the Bassett Hound, might be more suitable for a shy bookworm.
Look for a Good Breeder
A breeder who tests for hereditary problems, only breeds from dogs with good temperaments and rears their puppies in a "home environment" where they are well-socialised, is worth their weight in gold and will save you a lot of trouble and heartache.
Choose the Right Puppy
Regardless of breed, there will be a range of personalities in each litter. For the average household, it is best to go with the "middle puppy" - ie. not the one who charges forward first to greet you (this will be the confident, dominant puppy who may be too much for a busy family with children to handle) nor the one hanging back or cowering in the corner (this puppy is too shy or nervous and again, might not deal well with a busy household). Pick the puppy that approaches you but does not climb too much all over you or try to mouth your hands and clothes too aggressively. It should not panic if there is an unexpected loud noise (eg. clapped hands) nor struggle too much if it is held and restrained.
Having said all that, there are certain breeds with child-friendly reputations, so here are a few firm family favourites:
Shih-Tzu - full of infectious, extrovert enthusiasm, these intelligent little dogs are fun companions although they can be independent and wilful too!
Pug - friendly, affectionate character which may suffer in humidity and heat, due to their short faces. Despite their small size, they are not snappy or nervous like many toy breeds and are low maintenance (minimal grooming and exercise)
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel - energetic playmate with loving nature who will adapt to any lifestyle but needs regular exercise and grooming of its long, silky coat. Heart disease is a problem in this breed.
Border Terrier - a compact, robust, short-coated dog that's great for families with active children. Good watchdogs although terrier-characteristics have to be kept in check, such as digging!
Beagle - happy, sociable, ideal family dogs although not the easiest to train as, being a scent hound, they become obsessed once they pick up a scent trail and will ignore all commands.
Staffordshire Bull Terrier - a powerful, muscular dog which is nevertheless tolerant and affectionate with children and devoted to its family. Highly intelligent and fearless, it can be slightly combative with other dogs if not well-socialised from young.
Cocker Spaniel - sensitive, affectionate and intelligent little dog which requires some grooming and a fair amount of exercise. They have keen hunting instincts and can be strong-willed.
Labrador/Golden Retriever - good-natured and eager to please, the Lab's love of water can be a nuisance as it will find any puddle available; they both also enjoy retrieving and carrying things around. Labs are energetic and require a lot of exercise but also adore food. The Golden has a longer coat which needs more grooming.
* NOTE: Many of the giant breeds, such as the Newfoundland, St Bernard and Great Dane are renowned for their placid natures and gentle tolerance of children - however, they have a lengthy period as huge, clumsy, boisterous puppies and as such, are generally unsuitable for households with young children.
@kate - I am glad you have rescued a Staffie, and you're right, they really are lovely dogs with such gentle natures. It's the owners that unfortunately will train them to fight and subsequently give them the reputations they really don't deserve.
Sal - 10-Jul-15 @ 12:07 PM
I have a rescue - he is a blue Irish Staffie - he has the most beautiful character,funny,intelligent, affectionate and very handsome! He loves the local pub licks everyone to death! It is very sad ignorant attitudes and idiots whom I meet whom automatically thing that a powerful dog is aggressive (its the owners handling always).Humans have demonstrated the worst characteristics - murder,torture, pedophilia,satanic rituals, thieves prejudice,ageists,deceit and liars etc - The staffie is love to me,all people and mine has inspired other people to rescue other staffies from Battersea!
Love Kate x
kate - 8-Jul-15 @ 10:00 AM
@why - you are absolutely right that Staffie's are lovely dogs, it is the owners that in general give them a bad name!
Gemma - 24-Mar-15 @ 12:39 PM
Staffordshire Bull Terriers are wonderful pets. They have an affectionate personality's and humorous characteristics , my dad has owned them for over 25 years and they haven't put a foot out of line. We've had them since we were young and they haven't shown any malice to anyone or any think they are marvellous companion's and great family member's. It's not the DOG , its the owner, people have no respect and treat them like a piece off dirt. We also own a pug and his integrated into the family absolutely fine , the staffs adore playing with him and love cuddling together at night!
I highly recommend a staff as they are a pleasure to be with for the rest off your life.
why - 21-Mar-15 @ 8:42 AM
@dcb89 - it is difficult to say, as you don't say whether you want a quiet dog, because you have a busy household, or one that may needa lot of walking. There is a list of family favourites in the article, but it also doesn't have to be a pedigree dog. Some of the most loving and loyal dogs are those of the Heinz 57 variety that have a mix of personalities and a good all-round nature. There is always the option to go to an RSPCA dog pound and get advice from the wardens who know the dogs well and see if there is one that takes your fancy.
SaferPets - 26-Feb-15 @ 10:58 AM
Me and boyfriend have been looking into getting a puppy. We have 2 young children aged 2 & 4 who get very hyper and loud sometimes.
We have dogs within the family, like my mother in laws dog and my friend also has a dog. My children know how to be gentle with animals.
Which breed do people think will be best for our busy household?
dcb89 - 24-Feb-15 @ 10:31 AM
@Kate - you may find something in this document on this RSPCA report on Improving Dog Ownership regarding dog bites in the UK. Link here. I hope this helps.
SaferPets - 9-Feb-15 @ 11:24 AM
Hi, Does anyone know where I can find the survey on dog bites? I am doing a dissertation on children and dog safety and it would be really useful to see the survey.
kate - 8-Feb-15 @ 4:49 PM
I have 3 children aged 16, 9 and 7 and there all desperate for a dog. Previously we have had a Maltese terrier that was extremely vicious and had to give him to the Maltese rehoming charity as I was too cautious send him to another family . We would ideally like a small dog that is low malting that would fit in to our family. The kids want to be able to give the dog fuss but no more then any young child would. Which breed would suit us the best?
ijohnsonx - 6-Apr-14 @ 10:07 PM
I have a staffy that is great with my brothers. I personally do not like small dogs as family pets as the majority are quite delicate and it say my baby brother grabbed a small dog like a papillon it would probably hurt the dog so in fear would attack my baby brother. That's why I prefer staffies, perfect temperament but nice and sturdy to be able to handle small (slightly insane) children.
Maya - 22-Mar-14 @ 12:28 AM
I have a 5 year old son, and I am going to see a 9 week is staff x gsd,would love your opinion as to whether it would possibly have a good temperament around kids. I know all dogs are only as good as their owners but I have not actually come across one if these mixes myself.
GB - 8-Dec-13 @ 6:05 PM
CMCIf your jack Russell kept biting your children definitely DO NOT get a staffie !!YOU control your dog with rules,boundaries and limitations!If your jack Russell kept biting your kids its only because of YOUR lack of training and control.So any dog you owned would have behaved in a similar way as you allowed it to happen in your pack.when you then get a staffie the same behaviours will surface only now there are larger forces involved so where at the jack Russell gave a little nip the staffie is now causing alot more damage!!I have 5 staffies and they are in my opinion the best breed in the world however they have to be led as a pack, they can be very stubborn and if you let them lead the pack for one minute chaos will follow. LOLSo I suggest you either re-evaluate your position as pack leader and get yourself some training.once you know which dog matches your energy levels and you know how to be pack leader 100% consistently then it doesn't matter what breed you buy as they will be your dream dogRemember its deed not breedI hope this is helpful and I just want to give you the hard truth so then hopefully we wont have any more dogs getting offloaded to other people A dog really is for life!Thanks
Ceasar - 26-Nov-12 @ 7:52 PM
Staffordshire bull terriers have always been at the top for family dogs there one of the most popular dog breeds hence why they get a bad rep as there over bred nowdays, unfortunately this dog will do anything for its owner and when you get a not so nice owner unfortunately the dog has no hope, it is also unfortunate that this dog is bought to look good with the chavs of today but when they realise there not as hard as they look there dumped, that's why kennels have mainly staffies to rehome. The government could never get rid of this breed Ricky as too many good staffie owners would fight them all the way.
Sezza - 9-Oct-12 @ 10:24 PM
Im looking for a dog to join our family I have 3 children 9,6 and 2 I have been reading alot about different breeds of dogs and staffs keep coming up as being the best family dogs?? I know alot of friends with staffs and they are very loving!! we had a jack russell but had to sell her as she kept biting my son would a staff be best ???
cmc - 20-Aug-12 @ 9:33 PM
I would LOOOOOOVE the Shih Tzu! The Havanese used to be my favorite, but it has seperation anxiety, so... :(
Ememisthebest - 6-Aug-12 @ 6:19 PM
I will aggree with u. I think the Papillon dog is a very good breed for children.
ken - 21-Jun-12 @ 6:43 AM
Will somebody please tell the damned government to read the list of safe pets for children, especially the paragraph about the Staffies. Then perhaps they can use some informed intelligence when making decisions on whether they should simply be culled!!
Ricky B - 6-Jun-12 @ 9:28 AM
I think the cocker spaniel is the best because my friend has one and he is really friendly and the like to nibble you but it doesnt hurt they are also very playful too!
Madzda - 4-Jun-12 @ 6:32 PM
We have the chance of a Jack Russell/Daschund puppy. We have been told the dog we are looking at is quite docile and loving. Our 4yr old daughter is very nervous of any animal inc dogs but seems keen to go for it as is our 8yr old son. What do you think? I have heard good and bad. Excercise is not a problem as we will treat walks as family outing etcs. Thanks!
Mama - 22-Aug-11 @ 4:02 PM
I have a question, what are Chihuahuas like for a family home? I have 2 young children and I love chihuahuas and always wanted one but since having my children I havn't been sure what the breed would be like. would they be safe around my kids?
Tez - 29-Mar-11 @ 6:34 PM
I think the Papillon dog is a very good breed for children, and I know because my parents breed them.