Great family dogs are of two types: the playful and the tolerant. Active children do best with sturdy, imperturbable, energetic breeds, and the best family dogs are highly trainable and friendly to all, including other pets. It goes without saying that no dog, however tolerant, should be subjected to a child’s mistreatment—intended or not—and that even the most playful dog needs “downtime” when he can rest in peace. Training is also critical for the family dog. Basic commends such as come, drop it, and stay should be second nature.
#1: Golden Retriever
This breed perfectly combines playfulness and tolerance, making him a breed equally suitable for toddlers and active older children. His patience, trainability, and friendliness should put him at the top of any list.
#2: Labrador Retriever
This highly energetic family dog is wonderful with older children which whom he can roughhouse. He loves games of every sort but has a special fondness for water.
There is really nothing like a Beagle. His charm, infinite cuteness, and supreme friendliness make him a welcome companion for your kids and all their friends. If you don’t mind a little noise (much of it children’s laughter), the steadfast Beagle is unmatched for family fun. He’s also small enough to be safe around toddlers—and quick enough to get away from them.
Who can forget Lassie? The Collie has a well-deserved reputation of being smart, playful, and gentle. If the heavy coat worries you, consider the smooth Collie, which has an identical temperament but much less hair. Collies love kids and enjoy keeping them in line by “herding” them, which even small children seem to find hysterical. This is the only herding dog on this list; the others are just a little too firm about keeping kids in line. Collies are more tolerant.
The giant Newfie is what people used to call an “honest dog.” Totally devoted to children, they are natural lifesavers and are large enough to withstand toddlers banging into them. Newfoundlands are also perfect water dogs. The breed’s only real drawback is that it doesn’t live long enough. They also shed and drool massive amounts.
#6: Irish Setter
The Irish Setter combines complete, reliable gentleness with lots of energy in a way that no other dog can. This breed is reliable even with babies and is as friendly as the Beagle—and perhaps even more outgoing. Despite rumors to the contrary, this is also a very smart and totally empathetic breed. As for beauty, they have few peers.
If we had to name the most playful dog, the Boxer might well top the list. Kid-loving and energetic, this enthusiastic tough guy makes a great companion. Some Boxers may be too powerful and headstrong for small children, but they are all highly trainable.
The gentle, composed Bulldog really is a dog, although he often pretends to be part of the decor. A true conversation piece and kind companion, the unflappable Bulldog is sweet to children, although he is not above drooling on them. This is a not a particularly playful breed, but they make up for it in the quiet force of their personality. They’re not easily trained, but they are so well behaved by nature that excessive training isn’t necessary.
The loyal Vizsla is gentle and quiet, but when the time comes to play, the breed is matchless. Lively and full of affection, this is a breed that will totally love your kids and you too. Vizslas seem to be unaware that they are not lapdogs and will try to secure the position until playtime, at which point they switch to dynamic mode and play tirelessly. Like Irish Setters, they are impossible to tire out.
#10: Standard Poodle
The Standard Poodle may seem haughty and above it all, but it’s a clever act. Calm and dignified around adults, the brilliant Poodle becomes a team player with children, willing to participate and excel in any game.
In the running: Basset Hound, Bernese Mountain Dog, Boston Terrier, Bull Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dachshund, Dalmatian, French Bulldog, Papillon, and Pug. And don’t forget shelter dogs and mixes!
Diane Morgan is a pet care expert in Williamsport, Maryland, who has authored numerous books on dog care and nutrition, and has also written many dog breed and horse books.