5 Best and Worst Dog Breeds For Families

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There are no completely good or bad dog breeds. Every purebred dog alive today is the latest in a long line designed to be good at something, while other traits have often been neglected. And a dog’s behavior is shaped primarily, of course, by its environment and individual personality. But the fact remains some dog breeds are great for families while others are clearly not. If you’re thinking about adding a new dog to your family, here are some breeds you may want to consider, or avoid, depending upon your situation.

Worst Dog Breeds For Families


5. Siberian Husky

Siberian Huskies were originally bred as sled dogs.

Photo credit: Paul Moody

The 16th most popular breed in the U.S. as of 2011, and gaining in popularity for the past several years, the Siberian Husky is a beautiful animal. Its endurance is second to none. But it was bred by the Chukchi Indians of Asia as a sled dog, and in front of a sled is where it most excels. As a house pet, the husky requires daily exercise, and can become easily bored without it. Designed to run, it doesn’t always do well off a leash. Not only does it resemble the wolf more than just about any other dog breed, it also exhibits some of the wolf’s personality traits more than other breeds. The husky has a strong predatory drive, and could mistake small children running around for prey. A strong owner can convince the husky that it is not the leader of the pack in the home, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks the breed as a high risk when it comes to biting.


4. Chow Chow

Chow Chows can be very aloof.

Photo credit: Selbe Be

Among the oldest of dog breeds, the Chow Chow proved useful to the ancient Chinese primarily as a working dog, although its heavy fur was also taken for coats. Many Chinese also considered the dog to be a delicacy. Today, the Chow Chow makes a good dog for people who like cats, as it tends to display many feline personality traits, most notably aloofness. Far from demonstrative, and prone to laziness when not given enough exercise, the Chow Chow is a reserved dog, particularly with strangers, and sometimes even its owner. But it can also be highly dominant, and may walk all over an unassertive master. It ranks as one of the least intelligent dog breeds in the Stanley Coren book, The Intelligence of Dogs. Although not nearly as dangerous as some other breeds, most Chow Chows are not terribly interested in being man’s best friend.


3. Doberman Pinscher

Doberman Pinschers can be overprotective around children.

Photo credit: Chess

The Doberman will go to great lengths to protect your children. The problem is it could go too far in protecting them from other children. Kids have a tendency to move quickly and unexpectedly, and Dobermans are far more sensitive than other breeds to anything they might interpret as out of the ordinary, and will react defensively. A big dog with a threatening appearance and reputation, the breed has been known to unnerve neighbors with children. If a Doberman is properly socialized as a puppy, exposed to other people and pets on a regular basis, and given frequent opportunities for both physical and mental exercise, it can make for a loving companion. But the dog is still best suited for guarding property and keeping people away. Also, be aware that the Doberman has a short lifespan, typically living less than 10 years.


2. Chihuahua

Chihuahuas are cute, but not the best family dog.

Photo credit: David Shankbone

It’s the ultimate toy dog, but the Chihuahua is not a toy. Perhaps understandably, small children sometimes treat these dogs like they are, and will often come to regret it. The Chihuahua is among the most nervous of dog breeds, is highly possessive and can also be suspicious of strangers, perhaps because of its tiny size. This will sometimes cause it to snap at people. The greatest danger isn’t to people, however, but to the Chihuahua itself — the dog can be easily stepped on or sat on. Its short-hair coat causes it to chill easily, which in turn makes it one of the hardest breeds to housebreak. The Chihuahua loves to be around other Chihuahuas, but often feels threatened by larger dogs. Breeders have been careless over the years, and several lines have resulted in dogs that are yappy and mean, when the Chihuahua’s natural disposition is to be playful and fun.


1. American Pit Bull Terrier

Pit Bulls have a reputation as dangerous.

Photo credit: Chess

Maligned more than any other breed today, the pit bull was originally developed as a cross between various terriers, usually the Staffordshire, and the bulldog. A properly bred pit bull without a sketchy history can make a wonderful pet, but far too many pits in the U.S. come from lines developed for their fighting prowess. Study after study has identified the pit bull as responsible for nearly half of all dog bites in America, and the breed is particularly notorious for unprovoked attacks. Numerous localities have passed legislation outlawing ownership of pit bulls, and people who do have one are often required to retain liability insurance. Pit bull owners can be fiercely proud of their dogs, and may have a point when they complain that the negative perception attached to the breed is unfair, but the statistics associating these dogs with violence speak for themselves.


Best Dog Breeds For Families


5. Bulldog

Bulldogs have a fearsome appearance, but they are quite lovable.

Photo credit: Aimee Quiggle

One of the sweetest of dog breeds was not always so. Originally designed for bull-baiting in England, the Bulldog still appears fearsome, but a long and determined effort by breeders to transform it into a docile companion has worked wonders. The dog may still look like a bruiser, but while it has the capacity to be highly protective of its family, particularly children, the breed is no longer prone to test its strength. The Bulldog isn’t the most active of dogs, and often seems content to lie around, carefully observing the habits of its master. Its extreme appearance and build are indicative of a propensity for a variety of health problems, and it’s true that the bulldog is among the most flatulent of dog breeds. Known for retaining its playful puppy qualities well into its second year, the Bulldog is a born entertainer, and well-suited for a household that will appreciate that.


4. Collie

Collies gained popularity in America after the TV show Lassie in the 1950s.

Photo credit: William McNeill

If you’re looking for a dog that’s good with children, you can’t do much better than the Collie. Among the friendliest and most gentle of breeds, the Collie is protective of its family, like most dogs, but not excessively so. It will bark at strangers, but generally leave it at that. Some canine scholars trace the origins of the Collie back to Roman troops who ventured into what is now northern England and Scotland. Britain’s Queen Victoria popularized the breed in the 1860s, but in the United States the Collie was an afterthought until the canine movie star Lassie made it a household name in the 1950s. Unfortunately, unscrupulous breeders soon followed, and there are some lines in which the Collie’s herding instinct is too strong. With a little careful shopping around, however, it’s not hard to find a Collie that, in addition to being a beautiful, intelligent dog, will make a fine companion as well.


3. Newfoundland

Newfoundlands are a very friendly breed.

Photo credit: © Les Palenik/Dreamstime.com

Named for the province in the Canadian maritimes, the Newfoundland’s origins are a bit murky. What’s known is that it started out as a working dog, hauling things like wood and fishnets. It’s certainly large enough for such heavy labor, but despite its size — well over 100 pounds — the Newfie is a pussycat, and ideally suited for families with kids. The breed is not without a few negatives. Its heavy coat, which helps it withstand Canadian winters, is a liability in hot weather. The hair also captures all manner of dirt and grime; regular brushing and grooming are a must. The Newfie slobbers to an alarming degree. And its size eliminates any possibility of its ever being a lap dog; it’s also not good for apartment dwellers. But the breed is as lovable as any you’ll find, and remarkably docile given its strength and power. The Newfoundland is a friend for life.


2. Labrador/Golden Retrievers

Golden and Labrador Retrievers are loving dogs.

Photo credit: Clayton

The Labrador ranked as the most popular dog breed in America once again in 2011, a spot it has held for 20 straight years, according to the American Kennel Club. The Golden Retriever came in at No. 5. Although very similar in temperament and appearance, the breeds’ origins are varied. The Lab began as a working dog in Newfoundland, morphing into a hunting companion after being crossed with various setters and spaniels. The Golden Retriever came out of the Scottish highlands in the late 1800s. It tends to be more active than the Lab, and should have slightly longer hair, always the same beautiful hue. The Lab comes in three colors — black, chocolate and yellow. And that’s where the differences should end. Both retrievers are loyal and affectionate toward their family members, and gentle toward other people and animals. They’re quintessential dogs.


1. Beagle

Beagles are a great family pet.

Photo credit: Eloise Mason

Manufacturers of underground, electric fences usually claim their barriers will work with almost every dog breed — except Beagles. Once on a scent, this little pack hunter can display a mind of its own. But otherwise, it is exceptionally obedient. One of our oldest breeds, dating back to the 1400s in England, the Beagle bays more than it barks, and it can be very vocal. But families that don’t mind a dog that’s very engaged in its environment should be very happy with a Beagle. It’s an indoor dog, not recommended to be kept outdoors. The breed is particularly good for a household with small children, as it has greater patience than most other dogs. The Beagle is generally also fine with other canines, although it’s prudent to have it carefully socialized around cats and other small, furry creatures when young. America’s fourth-most popular dog breed in 2011, the Beagle is a great family dog.

Todd Hill is a longtime dog lover who notes that his dog, a standard schnauzer, is not on either list.

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Todd Hill has been a working journalist since 1987, with a focus on meteorology, climate studies and the Hollywood and independent film industries. After 20 years in the media maelstrom of New York City, Todd is now based on a farm in the rural highlands of central Ohio.