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The Top Ten Family Dog Breeds
When choosing a dog for your family, there are more important things to consider than just looks. Ease of training, compatibility with children, dominant traits and aggressiveness should be your top priorities. I compiled this list based on the following:
– Which breeds do well left alone at home
– General intelligence
– Amount of exercise required
– Attitudes with children, strangers and other animals
– Health problems
– My personal experience
– Typical breed standards
– Results of the American Temperament Test
This breed is the classic round dog. They come from the line of Bichon Frize and Maltese but are more compatible with children. They are generally well-mannered, loyal, quiet and submissive. They are easy to train, hypoallergenic and do not shed. They can weigh between 8-13 pounds and live about 14 years. They are perfect for apartment life and are content with indoor exercise. They are not 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 are looking for an adorable, compact, ever-present puppy, the Havanese is for you.
Boston Terriers are little bundles of joy. They live to learn, love people of all ages, are effortless to train, and require little exercise. They are perfect for indoor life. They weigh from 10-20 pounds and live up to 15 years. They get along well with other pets and love to be where the action is. Their coats are shiny and short so they are very easy to care for, but they do shed. Bostons have very short muzzles, so they may breathe loudly, snore or drool. Due to birthing difficulties (often by caesarean section), I recommend finding your Boston Terrier at a local rescue rather than a breeder. There are several Bostons available for adoption at petfinder.com.
The Cockapoo is one of my favorite breeds because even though they are small, they are quite athletic. 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 characteristics lend a dignified and intelligent demeanor unlike other small breeds. Cockapoos are not nervous or capricious, but they do best when around people all day. They are attentive to their owners, very easy to train, and adore children and other pets. They are also hypoallergenic 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. The life span is about 14 years. They come in many colors and their coats can be shaggy or curly. Some breeders will acknowledge their tails, but ask yours not to – they have the cutest, feather-like tails!
Miniature Australian Shepherd
Australians are extremely intelligent and devoted to their owners. They do best with a medium to large yard and an active family. Since they are herding dogs, they need a lot of exercise or else they become bored, hyperactive 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 can sometimes have light blue eyes. Their coats are thick and they shed year-round, so daily brushing is recommended. Their coats are insulators, so they don’t need to be shaved – although you can give them a short “puppy cut” during warmer months. They are usually a quiet breed but can bark at strangers. Unless properly socialized as puppies, most Australians are wary of strangers and visitors.
Keeshonden are energetic and lively dogs that are devoted family companions. Although not as intelligent 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 kids. 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 enough 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 dispersers and do best in cooler climates. If in a hot climate, they can get a ‘puppy cut’ during hot months. Daily brushing is ideal. They are excellent watchdogs so they tend to bark often, which could disturb nearby 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 appear 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, funny, intelligent and faithful to the end. As puppies, they can be aggressive towards other dogs or small animals, but this can be easily and quickly trained out of them. Pit Bulls are so well behaved 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 little clumsy indoors, but regular exercise (about an hour a day) and proper weight can reduce this. Pit Bulls tend to be overweight, so don’t overeat. They can vary between 30 and 60 pounds and live about 12 years. It is important to train a Pit Bull to walk correctly 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, chase and protect, they are loyal and dignified pets. They weigh 50 to 75 pounds and live about 15 years. They make excellent watchdogs and are natural “babysitters” for the children in the family. Rough Coated Collies do not need haircuts – they do well in warm months as their coat acts as 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 to explore the world.
Happy, funny and loyal, Goldens are one of the most popular breeds in the United States. They love people, so while they may bark when a stranger approaches your home, they would rather invite a thief in than scare him away. They weigh 50 to 80 pounds and live about 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, or running alongside you while you jog. Some do not do well left alone and become destructive. Although they are very intelligent, they are 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 – pretty much anything you love, they will 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 can become destructive. Without proper exercise, Labs can become overweight, which can lead to joint problems. Due to over-breeding, American Labs are typically hyperactive and rarely submissive. These Labs will be turbulent and difficult to train for the first four to five years. Because Labs are the most popular breed, they are also one of the most popular breeds found in shelters – so check with your local rescue before visiting a breeder.
Please understand that although I include Golden Retrievers and Labradors in this list, I tend to discourage families from purchasing them because they are over bred due to high demand and popularity. This overbreeding creates unhealthy and extremely hyper dogs, which then result in either: 1) euthanasia due to expensive vet bills, and 2) abandoned dogs at shelters due to hyper (and destructive) activity. There is no question that both breeds can be great 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 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 stop overbreeding.
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 due to their inactivity, they can 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 noisy and clumsy as they grow quickly during the first year, but they mature quickly. And although they are one of the gentlest breeds, their size can be intimidating – so always keep your Mastiff out in public.
Remember, there can be exceptions with every 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 the characteristics thoroughly before bringing a dog home. Even mixed breeds can be properly researched – just check the characteristics of each breed in their family tree. For example, if you are looking at a Labrador/Mastiff mix, a good rule of thumb is to combine the characteristics of both breeds so you know what to expect.
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