Few things say “home” as quintessentially as a sweet canine friend eagerly greeting you at the door or begging for scraps under the dinner table. But just as the look and definition of families has evolved over the years, so too have expectations of the best family dogs.
“Matching a dog to your lifestyle is important from a quality-of-life standpoint,” says Michelle Beck (DVM, CCRT, CVA) of the Omaha, Neb., Backlund Animal Clinic. “If you’re the stay-at-home type and have a dog with lots of energy or a really active mind, that dog is going to get bored and start acting out.” So you’ve come to the right place to start researching pup candidates!
Best Family Dogs That Make Great Pets
Whether you’re looking for that one dog who’s perfect with small children, a trusty companion to seniors and retirees, or an athletic outdoor buddy for hikes and camping trips, here are some of the best dog breeds for families.
The versatility of the stalwart Lab is not exactly a secret: They’ve been the most popular breed in the U.S. every year since 1991. Excellent hunting and camping companions, Labs are also marvelous family pets—thanks in no small part to their incredibly easygoing personalities. Patient with even the most rambunctious children and large enough not to be easily hurt by rough and tumble play, Labs are well-deserving of their status as one of the best dogs for families.
A perfect fit for families with more active lifestyles, the beagle is a well-mannered dog with tons of energy. These hounds are natural born hunters and in top form when they have something to do, so active play with older children is a perfect outlet! If you’re a family of hikers, campers, or hunters—or enjoy agility, flyball, or scent training competitions—this pup’s for you. Families in quieter neighborhoods or apartments should be aware of this breed’s famous vocalization, aptly called the “beagle bay,” which you won’t be able to train out of them.
There can be a bit of debate as to whether pugs are cute (we vote yes!), but there’s no argument about how well-suited they are to family life. Their compact size and steady, curious, and easygoing nature make them wonderful home companions, and they’re affable enough to make solid travel partners as well.
As one of the smaller dogs on this list, pugs may not be the perfect fit for households with toddlers, as tiny hands and rough play may scare or hurt them. But school-age children and up love their little faces and happy demeanors. Also note: As a brachycephalic (flat-faced) breed, they often have different health challenges than dogs with longer muzzles, so consult your veterinarian to develop a proper care plan.
Another high-energy dog, the stately Irish setter is a fine choice for people with active lifestyles or room in the backyard to run and play with outdoor toys. Irish setters are some of the best family dogs because they get along well with children and other canines, are super smart and easily trainable, and have enough vigor and size to tackle any adventure or activity for as long as you (or your kids) want!
More than perhaps any other dog, the Newfoundland breed standard focuses as much on personality and temperament as it does on physical traits. This means that every “true” Newf, as fans call them, is intelligent, patient, sweet-tempered, and loyal. In other words: everything that makes for one of the best dogs for families. Working dogs to their core, Newfoundlands are able to learn and follow cues quickly, make independent decisions, and have a natural instinct to watch over and nurture their people.
Trailing the Lab in popularity by a nose is the French bulldog, who’s also a particular favorite for apartment dwellers. These highly adaptable compact pups respond well to training, require very little in the way of space or exercise, and have a reputation for being affectionate, quiet companions. Also a brachycephalic pup, they do have a higher tendency to snort and snuffle, and they’re another pooch you should talk with your vet about so you can make sure all potential health issues are addressed.
Few trusty canines exemplify complete dedication to their people than that classic TV superstar, Lassie. But even if no one in your household experiences a weekly bout of falling-down-a-well-based peril, collies are one of the best dogs breeds for families thanks to their sweet dispositions and great degree of trainability. They love to learn tricks, nap with their humans, and follow everyone on adventures. They can be vocal, which is a consideration for apartment life, but these versatile pups are a solid fit for almost any lifestyle.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Always ranking high as one of the best small family dogs, the incredibly affectionate and even-tempered Cavalier King Charles is also a bright, extremely long-lived pooch who’ll remain a loyal furry friend until your toddlers graduate from high school. “For me, these are just the perfect family dogs,” Beck says. “They’re intelligent, super-sweet, and highly trainable.”
An athlete through and through, there’s no mistaking the boxer’s readiness to run, jump, and play! Tall, well-muscled, and agile, boxers are best suited to families who have the time and space to meet their exercise needs. While they’re gentle and patient enough to keep small children company, supervision is important for playtime, since the boxer is stocky enough to knock over little ones if things get too rambunctious. Older children and teens adore the boxer for their willingness to follow them on excursions, try new dog sports such as agility training, and fetch toys until the cows come home.
Yeah, you knew this cutie would be on this list! Golden retrievers have never met a stranger, and that characteristic includes all types of creatures, from humans and other dogs to cats and bunnies. Smart and affectionate, they love their people and like to feel useful, so start socializing and training them right away and they’ll always be your good dog.
If you have nap-age toddlers, a cocker spaniel might be the best snuggle buddy for them. This beloved breed is famous for its doting and calm demeanor—exactly the qualities you want in a kind-hearted lap dog. Although frequent brushing is required to keep their soft and silky locks looking pretty, this might be a good supervised activity children can participate in to learn more about dog ownership and responsibility.
A standard poodle is a wise choice for an energetic playmate for kids. Tall, elegant, and intelligent, they were bred originally as retrievers, so they’re hardy enough for outdoor activities. And your children should have no trouble teaching them not only basic cues, but also a wide variety of tricks. A poodle’s lifespan is 10–18 years, so they’re a great dog for little ones to have around for their entire childhood. Another poodle plus? Although their coat is thick and curly, they’re somewhat hypoallergenic and shed minimal fur.
Bernese Mountain Dog
On the other hand, a “Berner”, as they’re often called, is an adorable furball who’ll test the limits of any robot vacuum! While their double coat helps them withstand frigid temperatures, it also means they “blow coat” a couple of times a year, and that’s when the fur really flies. It’s all worth it, though, as these gentle giants are true charmers and eager to please. They prefer to be wherever the action is, but don’t require a lot of daily activity. Regular ambles around the yard with their favorite humans suits them fine.
West Highland White Terrier
One of the best family dogs around is a West Highland white terrier. “Westies” are sparky doggos with a busy social life. They put a capital “P” in personality and get along with children, other dogs, cats, the neighbors, and the mail delivery person, just to name a few. Fun-loving and up for any adventure, they’re tenacious rascals—after all, Westies were bred to hunt vermin, so their prey drive is pretty strong, and good leash skills are necessary for walks (otherwise they might dash off after who knows what!). But they’ll always come home in search of cuddles and companionship.