What Type of Dog Is Safe for Children?

The best dogs for kids have to put up with a lot -- and love it.
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When you've got kids, any puppy you adopt needs to have special qualities. Patiently tolerating kiddie shenanigans isn't enough -- the dog has to love participating in play. You have choices -- many breeds in all sizes are considered to be especially good-natured and trustworthy around children. Dogs grow much faster than children, though, so large breeds might not be an ideal choice in a household with babies or small children, and tiny breeds are too delicate to keep safe when kids horse around.

Weighing the Big Decision

Some of the biggest breeds are also among the gentlest and most patient with children but when you have very small ones, size matters. Of course you're going to tell your kids not to climb on the dog's back, but consider the horsey-ride hazard when they disobey -- the taller the dog, the farther the distance for your child to fall. St. Bernards can grow to 35 inches at the shoulder; Newfoundlands to 29 inches, and bull mastiffs to 27 inches. Other smaller but still sizable kid-friendly breeds include the Labrador and golden retrievers, Bernese mountain dog, Irish setter, Old English sheepdog and German shepherd. Greyhounds are reputedly excellent with kids but designed for speed, not roughhousing.

Choosing the Middle Way

If your child will be "master" of the dog you get, make sure there's a good fit between kid and canine energy levels. Some kid-compatible medium-size dogs, such as the Airedale terrier, Australian shepherd, standard poodle, Weimaraner and boxer, need vigorous daily exercise, while the stocky, fun-loving bull terrier is satisfied with less. Laid-back Basset hounds and bulldogs are more likely to grow up to be couch potatoes. If you expect your child to take responsibility for the dog's care, the amount of grooming required should also figure in the decision. Collies and bearded collies are both considered good with children, but maintaining their coats involves time and effort.

Small Is Beautiful Too

The tiniest dogs -- called toy or "teacup" breeds -- are too fragile for rambunctious kids, but other small breeds and children can be a match made in doggie heaven. Small dogs are also more compatible with apartment living than larger ones. One of the world's best-loved breeds, the beagle, has a lot of energy but is happy to work it off with romps on the floor. Both breeds of Welsh corgi -- Pembroke and Cardigan -- are sturdy little troopers with kid-like playfulness. Some small breeds considered good with children, including the bichon frise, miniature poodle, Lhasa apso and cavalier King Charles spaniel, need regular grooming, while others, including the Boston, cairn and rat terriers and pug, are low-maintenance.

Hypoallergenic Breeds

Some dogs shed less hair than others but for prospective owners with allergies, there's a catch: Dog dander is the allergen, not the hair. The American Kennel Club doesn't claim that any breed is entirely hypoallergenic but lists 11 "which usually produce less dander." But a 2011 study published in "The American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy" reported otherwise. After measuring levels of dander shed by regular and allegedly "hypoallergenic" dog breeds in 173 homes, it found no significant difference -- all breeds generated as much dander as all others. Epidemiologist Christine Cole Johnson, MD, senior author of the study, told the Huffington Post, "I have no idea where this whole concept came from. It's been around a long time, and maybe people associated it with shedding. I think it's just a legend."

Picking the Perfect Puppy

Because dogs are individuals, the temperament for which a breed is known is a tendency rather than a certainty. Finding out how dogs interact with people is especially important when kids are involved, but dog trainers Jack and Wendy Volhard have designed tests to assess the compatibility of puppies and prospective owners. The ideal age to perform these tests is around 49 days, they say, when the puppy's brain is fully developed. Families with very young children are better off with a more "subdued" dog, a consideration that might not apply for families with older kids. The simplest version of the Volhard puppy personality test involves three categories, each with three possible grades: How the puppy reacts to being restrained, whether he follows you when you walk away, and how readily he comes when you beckon him.