Summer’s here and kids are out of school — and their entreaties for a dog might be heating up. Is now the time to cave?
It might be, according to Brandi Hunter Munden, vice president of public relations and communications at the American Kennel Club.
“Dogs are a joy and a gift. They are a wonderful addition to any family that is looking for an active family member, a best friend, a canine companion,” she told TODAY. “They teach children about responsibility, and they add a different life and a different energy to your household."
If you’re thinking of adding a furry face to your family, be sure you’re able to commit to the needs of the breeds you’re considering, she advised.
“We tell everybody to truly take a deep dive into your lifestyle. Are you going to have enough time to give the breed that you want the mental and physical stimulation that they need in order to be happy? Dogs rely on us heavily, so you want to make sure that if you have a very active breed, you have an active lifestyle,” she said.
You’ll also want a dog that’s going to be good with all ages of children, since your kids will obviously grow and change alongside your pet. You can even tailor your choices to your kid’s personality, or consider adopting an older, less energetic dog from one of the country’s breed rescues, which are supported by the AKC Humane Fund, Munden said.
With nearly 200 breeds recognized by the AKC, she feels there’s a dog breed for everyone. When it comes to the best family dogs for kids, here are her recommendations:
1. Labrador retriever
The Labrador retriever, the most popular breed in America for 31 years, according to AKC registrations, is a great choice for active kids because they’re so versatile, according to Munden.
“They’re good with pretty much all ages of children. They love to hike, run, play and do all the things that kids like to do,” she said. “They will be pretty much your kid’s best friend. Anywhere that a kid can go, the Lab won’t be far behind. You won’t meet a better friend than a Labrador retriever.”
Because they’re smart, eager and adaptable, they’re also easy to train — a boon to busy parents, she added.
2. Golden retriever
Golden retrievers are particularly wonderful companions for children with autism or special needs because they are typically affable, intuitive and have a calming demeanor, she said. Plus, they’re not easily startled.
“They’re great for many things, but they do wonders in therapy,” she said.
Poodles spring to mind as a strong choice for family members with dog allergies, though Munden noted that it depends on the type of allergy. if someone is allergic to canine saliva, there’s not really a hypoallergenic option since all dogs salivate. However, if a child is allergic to dander from the coat, then a breed like a poodle could be a good fit.
“Don’t let the haircut fool you: they can do everything from running, swimming, jumping. All the things the Lab can do, a poodle can certainly do,” she said. “They tend to do very well with children. They love their families.”
The pumi is another fun candidate for children allergic to dog dander — particularly those in the 8- to 9-year-old range. While they love to work and will definitely need some stimulation, they’re also very “lovey-dovey” and have a great disposition, according to Munden.
Another advantage: They have a curly coat that doesn’t require a lot of grooming (unlike poodles), and max out at about 29 pounds.
“And they’re cute. I mean they’re absolutely adorable,” she added.
If you have a toddler and are looking for your first dog, look no further than the low-maintenance bulldog, Munden suggested.
Bulldogs only require brisk walks, and you need to make sure their wrinkles stay clean, but otherwise, there’s not a lot of grooming involved. They aren’t typically aggressive, so most parents won’t need to worry about the dog nipping at their little one.
“You can pretty much just let them be around the kid,” she said. “The kid’s going to nap, they’re going to nap. The kid’s up, they’re up. They’re very easy.”
6. Miniature American shepherd
The lesser-known miniature American shepherd is another great option for kids. Munden said they have excellent energy and love children. They require some grooming, so kids can bond by brushing their fur, and learn about how to care for a dog.
“They love their families — they’re very loyal,” she said.
7. French bulldog
If you have a bookworm in the family, they might find the Frenchie to be an ideal companion.
“Frenchie’s don’t require much. They’re the kind of breed that can veg out and kind of relax. They really don’t need much besides two brisk walks a day, and they’re pretty much good to go,” she said.
8. English toy spaniel
Another option for bookworms: the English toy spaniel.
“Why? Because they’re a bit more catlike,” she said. “They don’t require a ton of energy. They want their brisk walks, but they also just want to be wherever you are. They’re between 8 and 14 pounds, so if your kid just likes to have a dog sitting on their lap and relax while they read a book, that’s exactly what you’re going to get.”
For outdoorsy types, a beagle can be a terrific companion. The hunting dog is “ready to go at the drop of a hat,” Munden noted. Just make sure they learn to “come” and wear a harness that allows them to roam just enough, since their noses might lead them to track scents off the hiking trail.
10. Irish setter
Another active (and gorgeous) dog is the Irish setter.
“They like to be active. They don’t mind the hills and the valleys and all of that great stuff — they’re totally fine,” Munden said.
“Everybody loves a boxer. There’s a reason for that: those lanky legs and great energy,” she said. “Boxers have a ton of energy, so if you want to play in the yard and romp or you want to go on a hike — absolutely, a boxer.”
Plus, they have a short coat, so they’ll need a bath here and there, but there’s no long coat to maintain.
12. Pembroke Welsh corgi
Fun-loving kids might find a best friend in the Pembroke Welsh corgi.
“That’s going to be a dog that is party, party, party, happy, happy, happy,” she said. “Loves to jump, loves to run. Tail wagging, always smiling.”
Kids today probably don’t remember Lassie, the heroic book, movie and TV character beloved for being a bold, beautiful, faithful companion. But the breed’s appeal is timeless thanks to what Munden calls an “all-around excellent disposition.”
She said they’re also very trainable, good with other dogs and love to be around their families.
“You really can’t ask for better,” she shared. “It’s one of my favorite breeds.”
14. West Highland white terrier
Rounding out her best family dog suggestions for fun-loving kids: the West Highland white terrier — another breed with a good amount of energy, according to Munden.
“It’s a lot of dog in a little body, but it’s not too much dog as far as size,” she said.
15. Border collie
An only child looking for a loyal BFF could find that with the smart, energetic border collie. Though the breed is easy to train, Munden noted they are so smart that they can get into a little bit of mischief.
“So if you’ve got a little mischievous kid that wants a partner in crime, that’s definitely going to be it,” she said.
16. Brussels griffon
As a member of the toy group, the Brussels griffon is a smaller breed weighing only 8-10 pounds — which makes traveling together a breeze. They don’t require a lot of grooming and aren’t high energy, and easily establish relationships with children, according to Munden.
“And it’s not a dog that’s going to overpower a child, which is always good,” she added.
Though the basenji has a reputation as a “barkless dog,” they do emit sounds a bit reminiscent of Chewbacca from "Star Wars," Munden shared. The rare breed could be a good fit for a gamer since the “catlike” dogs don’t need a ton of attention, which is good for kids distracted by video games.
But they’ll need to take breaks to head outside for walks together, a plus for parents trying to motivate a child to get off the couch and exercise.
18. Afghan hound
A serious kid looking for a serious dog might fall in love with a glamorous, poised Afghan hound, she believes. This isn’t a dog for toddlers — the 9- to 12-year-old range is a better fit since they’ll need to commit to grooming the luxurious coat.
19. Basset hound
Serious kids also might consider the laid-back basset hound.
“It’s a very low-key dog,” Munden said. “They’re good with young children as well as teens. They’re good with other dogs. They’re affectionate with their family, but they do have a bit of stature about them.”
20. Staffordshire bull terrier
Rounding out her ideas of the best family dogs for a serious kid: the Staffordshire bull terrier, which is a breed Munden feels doesn’t get enough credit. The purebred dog is sometimes dismissed as a pit bull by detractors (an umbrella term that includes dogs who look like — or are — American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and mixes).
She said the clever dogs are tenacious and generally don’t weigh more than 40 pounds.
“They’re good with kids,” she said. “They have an affable personality. You don’t meet one that you don’t like.”
Sometimes they should be the only dog in the home, she added — noting that we should always evaluate how our dog will get along with any new pets we’re thinking of adding to the family.
Whichever breed you decide will be the best family dog for your kids, be sure to offer exercise and enrichment; supervise young children whenever they’re interacting with your dogs; and teach them to respect a dog’s boundaries to prevent accidental bites or other issues.
“Dogs don’t necessarily know their own strength, and neither do kids sometimes,” Munden said. “So you want to make sure you teach them how to deal with the dog: how to greet the dog, how to pet the dog, how to not startle the dog, how to be gentle with the dog. The more you teach your child about how to deal with the dog, the more responsible they’ll be with how to engage with the dog.”