Selecting a Breed

How to Select the Right Breed for Your Family

As a parent, you want your child to be safe around your dog. You want to know which breeds are good with children and which aren't. The truth is, all dogs have the potential to bite, and a dog's breed is only one of many factors that affect temperament and behavior. The best dogs for kids are those who receive proper socialization, human training, exercise, and attention; who are given adequate food, water, shelter, and veterinary care; who are sterilized and who are safely confined.

That said, many breeds do maintain characteristics that make them better at being a safe, kid-friendly family dog. And of course, there are breeds that tend not to be as wise a choice for certain households, particularly those with small children. Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you select a breed for your family:

  • Hunting breeds like to chase. It can be harder to teach them not to chase the children.
  • Terriers are often high strung. They run around and chase because that's what they are genetically programmed to do. Again, it can be hard to teach them not to chase small children.
  • Herding breeds are inclined to “herd” children, chasing and nipping at their heels.
  • Many of the working breeds can, by nature, be aggressive protection dogs. A Rottweiler or an Akita, for example, might love your child. But if a child's friend hits your child, these dogs could attack him.
  • In general, breeds that have been selected for protective behavior, such as Rottweilers, may not be good for families with children. It can be difficult for this type of dog to comfortably tolerate the constant coming and going of children and their friends, who may be perceived as intruders.
  • The small and toy breeds of dogs, like toy or miniature poodles, Chihuahuas or cocker spaniels, may not be good choices for families with young children. Small breeds are more easily injured than larger dogs and may be more easily frightened by a lot of activity, loud noises, and by being picked up frequently. Frightened dogs tend to snap or bite in order to protect themselves. Larger dogs may be better able to tolerate the activity, noise, and rough play that comes with living with children.
  • The larger sporting breeds, such as labs and retrievers, make good pets for families with children. However, when adopted as puppies, they can be as exhausting as adding another child to the household. Labs are boisterous, active dogs that retain puppy characteristics for two years or more.


There are many great books that can help you pick the right breed for your family and lifestyle. Here are a few of the most popular titles:

  • The Right Dog for You
    Written by Daniel F. Tortora
  • Paws to Consider: Choosing the Right Dog for You and Your Family
    Written by Brian Kilcommons
  • The Perfect Match: A Dog Buyer's Guide
    Written by Chris Walkowicz


Sporting breeds

The sporting breeds' - personalities range from mild to hard-headed to tough, but all are suitable family dogs for an active household or patient owners. Sporting dogs were bred to hunt and most will take advantage of every opportunity to follow their noses - sometimes right out of an improperly secured fenced yard.

Sporting breeds include:
Others, all bred to hunt game birds

Some of the sporting breeds are well-suited to becoming part of a family with children. However, you might want to keep in mind:

  • Cocker spaniels are not good around boisterous children because they do not tolerate rough handling or teasing.
  • Golden and Labrador retrievers enjoy the attention of well-behaved children and will usually put up with some bratty behavior. They are relatively easy to train, easy to care for, and often seem to be perpetually young.
  • The Brittany and English Springer spaniel are smaller and far less popular, but have the same great personality traits and sparkling manner.
  • The setters are very high energy dogs that are fine for active families.
  • The pointers are working dogs that tolerate children but are not particularly easy to train as house pets.


If you don't want to train a sporting breed, do not get a Weimaraner or Chesapeake Bay retriever. These breeds can be domineering if not taught their place.


Hounds come in two basic types—scent hounds, who follow their noses anywhere, and sight hounds, whose gaze lingers on the horizon in the search for game.

Scent hounds include:

Black and Tan Coonhound
American and English Foxhounds
Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen

Norwegian Elkhound
Some of the scent hounds are lethargic, others are frenzied to find and follow a trail. Most are difficult to obedience train because their noses are always responding to the pungent odors beyond human detection. However, scent hounds are almost always friendly dogs, accustomed to working with their handlers in the field. The Elkhound was bred to hunt moose in snow-covered mountains and has a thick undercoat that sheds profusely. This should be taken into consideration in households with children who have allergies or respiratory issues.

Sight hounds include:
Afghan Hound
Borzoi (Russian wolfhound)
Ibizan Hound
Irish Wolfhound
Pharaoh Hound
Rhodesian Ridgeback
Scottish Deerhound
Sight hounds tend to be independent and aloof toward strangers. Sight hounds are generally obedient pets, but do not tend to enjoy obedience training. Many sight hounds are extremely intelligent and can become bored with the repetition involved with obedience training. The Pharaoh Hound craves human attention and is especially good with children. The Basenji is a playful and obedient companion with the unique habit of cleaning itself like a cat.

Working breeds

Working breeds are often independent, aloof with strangers, and difficult to manage. Working dogs should be accustomed to children at an early age because a child's staring, quick and unpredictable movements, and high-pitched voice can trigger a prey drive in poorly socialized adults of these breeds. A working breed that is not socialized as a puppy and young adult can easily become a domineering pet prone to jumping on people and furniture, growling at children and unconfident adults, and refusing to come when called or lie down on command. With a few exceptions, working breeds are not suitable for first time dog owners without a commitment to formal obedience training and a willingness to establish and maintain control from the moment the puppy walks in the door.

Working breeds include:
Saint Bernard
Portugese Water dog
Siberian Husky
Alaskan Malamute
Bernese Mountain dog
Standard and Giant Schnauzer
Great Dane
Great Pyrenees

Of the working breeds, the Samoyed, Saint Bernard, Portuguese Water dog, Newfoundland, and Siberian Husky have the mildest temperaments, while the Akita, Doberman, Boxer, Komodor and Rottweiler are the most domineering. People who like the look of the Rottweiler but do not want the responsibility of owning a guardian breed should consider the Greater Swiss Mountain dog, which has a milder attitude. Many working dogs are susceptible to degenerative joint disease, particularly hip dysplasia, and should only be purchased from breeders who clear their breeding stock of this genetic abnormality.


The terrier temperament is a fiery one. The smallest terriers are scrappy, ready to take on even giant-sized adversaries. This attitude gives them an earnest and often boisterous attitude toward life as a pet. However, they can be quite independent and difficult to train for the weak of will.

Terrier breeds include:


Miniature Schnauzer

West Highland White
Wirehaired Fox
Generally, terriers are not good around rowdy children because they give back as much or more than is dished out. Some terriers are yappy and can be nippy with overactive children. The Border, Irish and soft-coated Wheaten terriers are considered to be generally good with children. The others are recommended for families with older, well-behaved children.

Most terriers are tough to train since they have their own idea of how the world works, and that idea frequently differs from owners. Few will back down from a confrontation with another dog.

Toy breeds

Toy breeds, as a rule, do not like small children and their movements can be too quick for elderly family members.

Toy breeds include:

Brussels Griffon
English Toy Spaniel
Italian Greyhound
Japanese Chin
Toy Manchester Terrier
Miniature Pinscher
Toy Poodle
Shih Tzu
Silky Terrier
Yorkshire Terrier
Toy dogs are generally easy-care pets. However, some need even more exercise than larger breeds. Pekingese and Chihuahuas almost always prefer adults and most are very intolerant of children, especially toddlers. Toy Poodles and other toy breeds can be so tiny they may be injured by children or resort to biting out of self defense.

Non-sporting breeds

This is a diverse group of dogs ranging in size from the smallest Bichon Frise to the most massive Dalmatian. There's no unifying trait or characteristic to bind these breeds together. In reality, several of these breeds could easily fit another group.

The non-sporting breeds have become popular as companion animals, even though they started out with a variety of jobs in their native lands. For example, the English Bulldog was designed to grab a bull by the snout and hang on for dear life until the animal could be killed. The Dalmatian was a Gypsy camp dog in Europe, and then a coach dog in England. The Standard Poodle was a German hunting dog. The Shiba hunted small game in Japan. And the Finnish Spitz hunted large game birds.

Non-sporting breeds include:

Boston Terrier
English Bulldog
French Bulldog
Lhasa Apso
Tibetan Spaniel
Tibetan Terrier
Bichon Frise
Finnish Spitz
Standard Poodle
Chow Chow
Many of the non-sporting breeds make great family pets. The Schipperke, in particular, is playful with children and eager to protect his family. Of the non-sporting breeds, the Dalmatian and Chow are the most misunderstood. Dalmatians are active, independent, athletic dogs that need a firm hand. While Dalmatians are generally good with older children, they may be too boisterous for small children. Early socialization and consistent obedience training are recommended for the Dalmatian in order to channel its high energy and prevent destructiveness caused by boredom. The warm and fuzzy appearance of Chows can be deceiving. They are fierce fighters when provoked and are primarily recommended for households with older, mature children.

Herding breeds

Most herding dogs are active, intelligent, courageous and determined. They are extremely focused dogs who must be kept very busy. Many of them, the Border Collie in particular, don't just need exercise, they need meaningful exercise. A walk won't do unless they get to fetch something, herd something, or climb over, under, around and through something.

Herding breeds include:

Australian Cattle dog
Australian Shepherd
Bearded Collie
Belgian Malinois
Belgian Sheepdog
Belgian Tervuren
Bouvier des Flandres
German Shepherd
Old English Sheepdog
Shetland Sheepdog
Cardigan Welsh Corgi
Pembroke Welsh Corgi
The Collie is the true family companion of the herding breeds. The three Belgian breeds make good family pets as well and are relatively easy to train. The Australian Cattle dog, the Briard, the Old English Sheepdog, and the Australian Shepherd can be hard-headed.

The German Shepherd is prone to temperament problems because of overbreeding. German Shepherds from European working lines tend to have higher drives than the U.S. dogs. They must also have work to do, or they can become destructive.

Herding dogs are subject to hip dysplasia and should be purchased only from breeders who x-ray their stock.

Selecting a breeder

Thoroughly research, interview and question any breeder that you are considering making a purchase from. And keep these basic guidelines in mind:

  • Avoid big breeders who produce many litters a year (puppy mill).
  • Avoid individuals who own both parents (backyard puppy mill).
  • Avoid pet stores.
  • Select a small, home-based breeder who only has 1–2 litters a year, who is active in conformation as well as obedience or hunting/field trialing/herding/tracking/etc. Do not hesitate to ask for references.
  • Dogs should be guaranteed against major health defects. The breeder should question you regarding your suitability to own one of their puppies and should tell you the pros and cons of this breed.
  • The breeder should provide a written contract and give you 24–48 hours to have the dog checked by your veterinarian. The dog may be returned for any reason within this time period and your money refunded.
  • Understand what “faults” are. They may preclude a championship at a dog show, but they do not impact a dog's ability to be a wonderful pet. Faults typically include minor defects in structure (tailset, earset, shoulder layback) or looks (coat texture, color, pigmentation). Have the breeder relate each puppy's faults as they relate to the breed standard. And remember, there is no such thing as a perfect dog.


The American Kennel Club is the best, most trusted source of information regarding what to look for in specific breeds. However, the AKC is more picky about perfection because they cater to show dogs. While you are deciding on a breed, visit their website for detailed information about each breed and for a list of registered breeders in your area.

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