Dogs can teach kids responsibility, compassion, and cooperation — all while being the best playmates anyone could ask for. Before you adopt any pup, however, it’s always a good idea to research the best kind of dog breed for your children and lifestyle. Some dogs do better as playmates for rambunctious older kids, while others have gentle, patient souls more suited for little ones. If you have young children at home, consider adopting an older dog as well. Temperaments can vary based on the individual animal, but these 20 family-friendly breeds are a great place to start your pet adoption search, according to the American Kennel Club.
How you choose can depend on your living arrangements, schedule, activity levels, and budget. When you welcome a new pet into the family, expect to provide your pup with consistent, loving training as well. Your child will also benefit from learning how to interact safely and respectfully with animals. Don’t forget to create a family schedule for walking, playing, feeding, and grooming! With sweet, loving dog breeds like these, your crew won’t be able to imagine life without their canine pal.
1# Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Combine the portable size of a toy breed with the verve of a sporting one and you get these adorable and lively companions. Cavaliers get along with just about everybody they come across, including kids and other dogs. (The silky-soft fur and heart-melting expression is just a bonus.)
2# Alaskan Malamute
Alaskan Malamutes live for their pack, either human or canine. That trait comes in handy as a bred sled dog. Built to work, these powerful dogs need a leader to set a consistent training and exercise regimen. (Now’s your chance to pick up skijoring.) You’ll be rewarded with a loyal, friendly face and wagging plumed tail.
3# Bernese Mountain Dog
For families that like to think big, consider a gentle giant like the Bernese Mountain Dog. They can top 100 pounds, but underneath all that fluff is a sweet, warmhearted pet known for its gentle nature with children.
4# Labrador Retriever
They’ve remained the most popular dog breed for decades for a reason. Labs love kids, adults, other pets, and just everyone in general. Their sweet demeanor makes them instant BFFs with whomever they meet, but don’t underestimate their high energy levels. This exuberant breed needs serious exercise every day, and they can grow up to 80 pounds.
5# Boston Terrier
Clocking in under 25 pounds, these people-oriented pups wear low-maintenance “tuxedo” coats. Just like the name suggests, Boston Terriers adapt to apartment living quite handily — although they’ll appreciate walks around the block and games with the kids.
For those who enjoy more of a laidback lifestyle, a loyal bulldog might prove a better fit. Besides regular walks, these dignified pups love a good snooze. While their wrinkled mugs might win you over, take care if you live in a warm climate: The short snouts make them prone to overheating.
7# Golden Retriever
Another all-American favorite, Golden Retrievers live up to their status as a great family dog. They’re quick learners that require lots of physical activity: running, swimming, fetching, and plenty of playing. In return, they’ll give you joyful companionship with plenty of silliness thrown in for good measure.
8# Irish Setter
Just imagine walking one of these beauties around the neighborhood. Irish Setters are total showstoppers, but as a member of the sporting group, gifted athletes in their own right. An active lifestyle (and an endless supply of tennis balls) is a must. This is a work-out partner that’ll motivate everyone in the family to get moving.
Just like humans, pugs love eating and sleeping. You have to watch their diets (no table scraps allowed!) and activity levels, but look no further if you want a couch companion to snuggle up and watch movies with. At just 15 pounds or so, this is a breed that doesn’t need a huge backyard, but appreciates a play session with the kiddos.
Cute? Check. Friendly? Check? Totally lovable? Check and check. Beagles absolutely thrive on companionship; long days alone won’t work for these pack animals. Those pleading expressions can hide another potential challenge: The hounds can become daring escape artists if they come across a captivating scent.
11# OUR PICK: A Mutt
Yes, mutts aren’t an official breed per se — but that doesn’t make them any less loving or adorable! Talk to your local animal rescue for help finding a mixed-breed dog that would fit with your family and lifestyle. Adopting not only gives one pup a forever home, but also frees up a spot in a shelter for another one in need.
12# Cocker Spaniel
The smallest member of the sporting group, the Cocker Spaniel has probably the softest ears and sweetest expression around. Compact but active, Cockers do just fine with regular walks and playtimes, whether they’re romping with the kids or another dog.
If you love a sporting dog but want something a little different than the standard Lab or Golden Retriever, consider the Vizla. It’s a born-and-bred pointer that thrives on thorough exercise but displays a sensitive, affectionate nature when not it’s not “working.” This is a dog that will form a close-knit bond; “alone time” is not a Vizla’s vocabulary.
14# Bichon Frise
Before you lump them in with other small white dog breeds, know that Bichons “operate under the assumption that there are no strangers, just friends they haven’t met yet,” according to the AKC. Their amiable attitude comes with another bonus: a low-shedding coat that makes this playful fluffball all the more perfect for a fun-loving household.
Poodles are the ultimate custom dog. They come in three sizes (standard, miniature, and toy) and three colors (black, white, and apricot). While some wrongly think they’re uppity pooches, underneath that fluffy hypoallergenic coat is a bonafide brainiac bred for activity. The flamboyant show hairdo (derived from their original purpose as hunting dogs) isn’t a necessity either. Most owners opt for the simple “sporting clip.”
16# Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
If shedding’s really a concern, try one of these cute pups. While no dog generates zero allergens, these silky-haired terriers grow what’s referred to as a hypoallergenic coat. More importantly, Wheatens are exuberant and devoted pets that love an active playtime — especially chasing anything that moves.
Collies rank among the smartest dog breeds, and if you ever watched Lassie, then you know why. A collie’s loyalty is unparalleled and they simply adore children. Worried about all of that fur? Collies come in both “rough” and “smooth” varieties for the more grooming-adverse.
On the other end of the size spectrum, the Newfoundland can tip the scales at a jaw-dropping 100 to 150 pounds. These gentle giants excel at swimming, but they’ve also earned quite a rep as “nanny dogs” thanks to their patient and watchful nature. According to the breed standard, a sweet temperament is the most important trait, so if you have the space, this fluffy creature could win you over.
19# Brussels Griffon
One of the smallest dog breeds in the AKC, the Brussels Griffon can’t handle roughhousing. But if your kids are up for gentle play, they’ll be rewarded with a loyal, intelligent pet that packs more personality than its size suggests.
20# French Bulldog
No backyard, no problem — city dwellers adore these quiet and low-maintenance pups. Their trademark “bat ears” and smaller stature physically distinguish them from their larger bulldog cousins. The prototypical Frenchie exhibits an alert, playful attitude married with easy-going adaptability.