When picking out a dog for your family, there are more important things to consider than just looks. Ease of training, compatibility with children, dominance traits, and aggression should be your top priorities. I’ve compiled this list based on the following:
– Which breeds do well left alone at home
– Overall intelligence
– Amount of exercise needed
– Attitudes with children, strangers, and other animals
– Health problems
– My personal experience
– Typical breed standards
– The American Temperament Test results
This breed is the classic lap-dog. They come from the line of Bichon Frise and Maltese but are more compatible with children. They are generally well behaved, loyal, quiet, and submissive. They’re easy to train, hypo-allergenic, and do not shed. They can weigh between 8-13 pounds and live about 14 years. They’re perfect for apartment life and are content with indoor exercise. They aren’t very athletic, so they need an easy-going family. They are a long-haired breed, so a ‘puppy cut’ is easiest to maintain (as seen in the photo). If you’re looking for an adorable, compact, perpetual puppy, the Havanese is for you.
Boston Terriers are small bundles of joy. They live to learn, love people of all ages, are effortless to groom, and require little exercise. They are perfect for indoor life. They weigh from 10-20 pounds and live up to 15 years. They do well with other pets and love to be where the action is. Their coats are glossy and short so they are very easy to groom, but they do shed. Bostons have very short muzzles so they may breath loudly, snore, or drool. Because of birthing difficulties (often by caesarean), I recommend finding your Boston Terrier at a local rescue rather than a breeder. There are several Bostons available for adoption on petfinder.com.
The Cockapoo is one of my favorite breeds because even though they’re small, they’re quite athletic. The Cocker Spaniel traits give a robust and hardy quality and a love of sports – frisbee, fetch, swimming, and hunting (to name a few). The Poodle traits lend a dignified and intelligent demeanor unlike other small breeds. Cockapoos are not nervous or skittish, but they do best when around people all day. They’re attentive to their masters, very easy to train, and adore children and other pets. They are also hypo-allergenic and do not shed. They can weigh between 6 to 25 pounds, depending on whether or not the poodle parent was a toy or miniature. Life expectancy is about 14 years. They come in many colors and their coats can be shaggy or curly. Some breeders will dock their tails but ask yours not to – they have the most lovely, plume-like tails!
Miniature Australian Shepherd
Aussies are extremely intelligent and devoted to their masters. They do best with a medium to large yard and an active family. Because they are herding dogs, they need plenty of exercise or else they become bored, hyper-active, and destructive. About two hours of rigorous exercise a day is ideal. They can weigh from 20 to 40 pounds and live about 13 years. They are a beautiful breed, coming in a variety of colors, and at times may have bright blue eyes. Their coats are thick and they shed year-round, so daily brushing is recommended. Their coats are insulators so they do not need to be shaved – although you may give them a short ‘puppy cut’ during hot months. They are usually a quiet breed but may bark at strangers. Unless properly socialized as puppies, most Aussies are wary of strangers and visitors.
Keeshonden are energetic and lively dogs who are devoted family companions. Though not as smart as other breeds, they can be well-trained with consistent, firm discipline, and plenty of positive reinforcement. If you like the looks of Huskies and Akitas, the Keeshond is a better choice for children. They weigh 30 to 60 pounds and live about 13 years. They do well indoors but need about an hour of exercise a day. A small yard is sufficient with this breed. They love to ‘smile’ at people and when excited, they spin in comical circles. Because of their thick coat, they are average shedders and do best in cooler climates. If in a warm climate, they can be given a ‘puppy cut’ during hot months. Daily brushing is ideal. They are great watchdogs so they tend to bark often, which might upset close neighbors.
American Pit Bull Terrier
The Pit Bull is the most controversial breed of our day and you may be wondering why this breed would show up on my list. But in the hands of a responsible owner, I believe they can be one of the best family breeds available. They are loving, amusing, intelligent, and faithful to the end. As pups, they can be aggressive toward other dogs or small animals, but this can be easily and quickly trained out of them. Pit Bulls are so well-mannered that they are often chosen to be service, rescue, or police dogs. Although their short coat is easy to maintain, they do shed. They can be a bit clumsy indoors, but regular exercise (about an hour a day) and a proper weight can reduce this. Pit Bulls are prone to be overweight, so do not over feed. They can range between 30 and 60 pounds and live about 12 years. It’s important to train a Pit Bull to walk properly on a leash at a young age or they may become too difficult to walk when older and stronger.
Collie (Rough or Smooth Coat)
The Collie is another fabulous family companion. Like the Australian Shepherd above, they are a herding breed, so they are exceptionally intelligent. Eager to please, snuggle, and protect, they are loyal and dignified pets. They weigh 50 to 75 pounds and live about 15 years. They make great watchdogs and are natural ‘babysitters’ for the children in the family. Rough Coated Collies do not need haircuts – they do fine in warm months, as their coat acts like an insulator from the heat. Although they can overheat if exercised too much during hot months. The Smooth Coated Collies have a shorter coat, so they do well in any climate. Both are average shedders. Collies need about two hours of exercise a day and a large yard. Country life is best for this breed, as they love exploring the world.
Happy, fun-loving, and loyal, Goldens are one of the most popular breeds in the United States. They love people, so although they may bark when a stranger approaches your home, they would sooner invite a thief in rather than scare him off. They weigh 50 to 80 pounds and live approximately 11 years. They are average shedders and benefit from daily brushing. Because they are retrievers, they need at least two hours of rigorous exercise a day, either swimming, playing fetch, or running beside you as you jog. Some do not do well left alone and become destructive. Although they are vastly intelligent, they are being bred to have more dominant traits which can make training difficult. With firm and consistent discipline, Goldens can be refined pets, but inconsistent training will lead to an out-of-control dog that will take about 4 to 5 years to settle down.
The Labrador is the most popular breed in the United States. Their friendly, energetic, and loyal dispositions make them excellent family pets. They are wonderful with children and enjoy the water, hunting, fetch, Frisbee – just about anything you love, they’ll love! Although their coat is short, they are average shedders. They can weigh 50 to 100 pounds and live about 11 years. Like Goldens, they do well indoors but need two hours of exercise a day or they may become destructive. Without proper exercise, Labs can become overweight, which can lead to joint problems. Because of over-breeding, American Labs are typically hyper-active and rarely submissive. These Labs will be rambunctious and difficult to train for the first four to five years. Since Labs are the most popular breed, they are also one of the most popular breeds found in shelters – so check your local rescue before visiting a breeder.
Please understand that even though I am including Golden Retrievers and Labradors on this list, I tend to discourage families from purchasing them because they are being over-bred due to high demand and popularity. This over-breeding creates unhealthy and extremely hyper dogs, which then results in either: 1) euthanasia due to expensive vet bills, and 2) abandoned dogs at shelters because of hyper (and destructive) activity. There is no question that both breeds can be excellent family companions, but I encourage every family to consider other, equally wonderful breeds before Goldens and Labs. If you must have one, check your local shelter, rescue, or petfinder.com. Please be aware that even the sheltered or rescued Goldens and Labs will most likely be over-bred, so training and tolerance is a must. Together, we can decrease the popularity of this breed and put an end to over-breeding.
For those partial to giant breeds, I recommend an American Mastiff. Calm, dignified, and gentle, these dogs are patient and loving with children. They can weigh 140 to 200 pounds and live up to 12 years. As with most giant breeds, Mastiffs do not need a lot of exercise and do well indoors or with a small yard. But because of their inactivity, they may become overweight. Mastiffs get along well with other dogs but should be supervised around other types of animals. They can be very protective but rarely aggressive unless threatened. As puppies they can be rambunctious and clumsy because they grow rapidly during the first year, but they mature quickly. And even though they are one of the gentlest breeds, their size can be intimidating – so always keep your Mastiff leashed in public.
Remember, there can be exceptions with each litter so make sure you research breeders and always insist on meeting the parents to determine the general temperament of the litter. With adoption, research breed characteristics thoroughly before bringing a dog home. Even mixed breeds can be properly researched – just check out the traits of each breed in their bloodline. For instance, if you’re looking at a Labrador/Mastiff mix, a good rule of thumb is to combine the traits from both breeds, so you know what to expect.