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Dog Breeds for Kids: What to Look For When Choosing a Dog – Dog Channel

By Lynn Hayner | Posted: September 12, 2014, 6 a.m. PST

There are many dog breeds typically good with children.

Best 20 Dog Breeds for Kids>>

But until now I’ve never answered the question (in print at least) that my grown daughter and her husband asked me: Which one breed would you pick for a growing family?  

Dog Breeds 

First, I’ll offer the following disclaimers:

  • Good breeding counts; Although there are plenty of excellent mutts and rescue dogs that make excellent family companions
  • All dogs are individuals; generalities are only that
  • Socialization and training matter
  • Children need to learn manners with dogs
  • Dogs and children should be supervised. 

Let’s start by discussing the reality of supervised. When I talk to breeders, I ask how the breed interacts with children. Many sources (quite rightfully) talk about the need for socialization and constant supervision. But then I repose the question:  Stuff happens. No parent supervises every second unless they exclude the dog from daily life. Small children make mistakes. So what then is this breed’s likely reaction?

Breed lovers then get down to the nitty gritty. Some dog breeds startle easily. Some retaliate. Others hold a grudge. Quite a few snap. Does this mean the dog is a bad breed? No, it likely was bred for a quick reaction, or for hunting, speed, single-mindedness, or scrappiness. Even dogs bred for companionship may lack the hardiness (physically and emotionally) for children. Many good-natured sporting and working breeds may be tolerant, but lack the ideal body awareness or body build for care around small children. For example, the ever-popular and tolerant Labrador Retriever knocks down many a toddler with his tail!

Dogs bred for protection, such as my breed of choice the German Shepherd, are usually great with their own children, but often overly-vigilant. That’s code for don’t let people pretend to rough house with your children.

So now for my answer.

I told my daughter and son-in-law if I had to choose one breed, I would choose an Australian Shepherd. They heeded my advice, found a great breeder, and brought Cooper (now 2-years-old) into their family. These days, when I care for my 7-month-old granddaughter, I witness Cooper’s tolerance and gentleness first-hand.

Cooper and baby 

Cooper and his baby

Was the Aussie bred intentionally to be good with small children? Not really. He was bred in the United States as an all-around ranch dog. But some of the traits developed make him a natural around children:

  • Bred to work with man all day, doing a variety of things. An Aussie focuses on the family rather than intensely on prey or one single job.
  • Developed to work in a rough environment. He’s not overly sensitive to mistakes such as being stepped on, having his hair pulled, etc. 
  • A herding mentality allows the Aussie to keep track of the kids but he usually won’t over-focus on herding (especially if trained early to curtail herding).  •Affectionate and generally lacking the need for personal space (Sure I’ll sit on your lap; want to sit on mine?). 
  • Quick and agile. Aussies can and do usually avoid stepping on a child, even if in mid-stride. They were bred for care around animals, and they pay attention to their footing. (Hence their agility prowess!) 
  • Protective yet not overly vigilant. They’re willing to sound the alarm, but generally not suspicious of newcomers once owners give the okay. 
  • Smart and easy to train. Few parents of young children have time for some of the slower-to-learn breeds. Aussies need training, but they learn quickly.
  • Keen on fun, which contributed to the strong work drive. After all, many dogs bred for work seem to believe their jobs are exciting. Cooper thinks every game invented by my granddaughter is delightful, including the "pat the dog over and over” game. 
  • Active but not hyperactive, assuming he’s exercised. An Aussie can keep up with the kids all day. Far from wimpy, he’ll run back for more when squirted with a hose or a soccer ball bounces off his nose.
  • Thrives on inclusion. Aussies rarely stand aloof. Their strong drive for inclusion allows them to happily put up with even the less-than-perfect interaction. When I babysit my granddaughter, Cooper always chooses the space right by us, even if that means enduring random baby bumps. 

Kids and Aussie 

Hunter and his child, Kamryn Wagner

But keep in mind, not all families would suit the (ever active) Aussie! Whether you’re looking for a big or small breed, a companion or working breed, look for some of the above traits in the dogs you’re considering. {And don’t email me when your Aussie eats up the toys when you forget to exercise him; they’re a good breed, but far from perfect!}

More Dogs and Kids 

  • Teaching Dogs and Kids to Get Along 
  • Resources for New Parents with Dogs
  • Making Room for Dog and Baby (or Six)
  • Pit Bulls and Children


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