Young girl with Labrador

The Best Dogs For Kids -
Breeds Common To Australia

Do you want your kids to have a best friend? Are your little ones just begging for a new puppy? If you think a new dog is in your future, it’s time to pick the right breed!

No worries, there’s no need to interview all your friends to know which dog to choose.

We’ve gathered the best dogs for kids in Australia, so you have in-depth knowledge of your options. Ready to bring the newest family member home?


Should You Get Your Kids A Dog?

Most children would love to have a puppy, and they will generally beg their parents relentlessly. However, adopting a dog for your kids is a big responsibility, and the entire household has to be on the same page about what it takes.

There are many benefits to adopting a puppy when children are young. For one, children who grow up with dogs tend to be statistically more responsible, caring and mindful of other’s needs [1]. Plus, taking care of their own dog will teach your kid compassion, consistency and help them establish a routine of their own. And having a happy dog running around the house will improve everyone’s mood.

However, owning a dog needs to be carefully supervised by a parent. Young kids will need reminding of what needs to be done, and children of all ages need to be held accountable. Plus, an adult will have to teach kids how to take care of their new puppy and lend a hand if they ask for help.

Deciding to get your kids a dog is a big thing, and it isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. Here are a few things you need to consider:

  • Your kid’s age. Young kids can love on dogs and play with them, but they won’t be able to take on their training or handling. Plus, the younger the kid the more there needs to be supervision when they interact with the puppy. This means that you as their guardian will be in charge of the bulk of training, playing and grooming. On the flip side, older children or teens might be better equipped to take on a heavier load when it comes to caring for their dog.
  • Your current lifestyle. Different households have different schedules, so choose a dog that will have similar needs to what your current lifestyle looks like. So, for example, if you have young kids that don’t sleep through the night and don’t have time to go on daily hour-long walks, an active breed is not for you. If on the flip side, you’re active people that go on camping trips every week, a larger, energetic pup could fit well.
  • Everyone’s expectations. Talk with everyone in the household and see what they expect from the new dog. Maybe you want a pup to go on runs with, or your partner wants a couch potato to Netflix and chill. Or maybe your kid wants to train the new dog on agility courses, or would just like a pup to go to the park and chill with friends. Or your kid is too young and a larger dog around them would make you uncomfortable. Whatever that is, discuss it. Then, make a list and sleep on it. Revisit the list constantly to see what’s ‘essential’ and what isn’t that necessary.

What Traits Make Dogs Good For Kids?

Hopefully by now you understand that the best dog for children is the one that fits into your needs and expectations as a household. This means there is no one-size-fits-all child friendly dog breed or a specific character trait that guarantees a dog will be the right choice for every kid.

There are, however, a few basic traits that most guardians look for when picking their kid’s first dog:

  • Patience. Kids, especially younger ones, can be oblivious to their own strength and movements. Children with dogs tend to grab them too forcefully, accidentally hit them or step on them, and just be too rough with them. Child-friendly dog breeds are better than others at tolerating these behaviors, while certain dogs will gently nip grabby hands to redirect them. If you’d rather avoid nipping, choose a patient breed.
  • Playfulness. Most kids will want to play with their furry companion, but some dogs just don’t love that. Certain breeds don’t have the energy to do it! Some dogs, like the Pekingese for example, will rather stay on the couch and supervise everything from above.
  • Gentleness. A large dog can knock down a small child by accident. This is in fact more common than you’d think, and chances increase the larger the dog. So Great Danes, for example, can easily tumble a toddler just with their wagging tail! If you have young kids, maybe go for medium-sized dogs that are more mindful of their own bodies.

Kid Friendly Dogs: What You Need To Know Before Adopting A Dog For Your Child

Before going to a breeder and getting a puppy, it’s important to consider a few basics to check your expectations.

No dog breed comes with a no-bite guarantee

Dogs use their teeth to communicate with their surroundings, and all dog breeds have the potential to bite. If you don’t take the time to properly care, socialise and train your dog, you won’t be able to control whether or not your child gets bitten.

On the other hand, happy, well-adjusted dogs usually won’t bite regardless of their breed, even if teased. So, while some breeds are generally more patient than others, tending to your dog’s needs and ensuring all interactions with kids are positive will greatly lower your chances of accidents happening.

Remember, if your dog and your child have a negative interaction, it’s ultimately your responsibility as their guardian. You need to oversee their relationship at all times, especially if your child and/or dog are young and still learning the ropes.

Even the best dog breeds for children need adult training

Whenever you are getting a new puppy or adopting a shelter dog, you need to do your homework. Before committing to dog adoption, you should ask yourself how much time you can dedicate to training, walking the dog and spending time with them. These tasks need to be carried out by an adult, or a responsible older teen.

On the other hand, there are some costs that you, as the parent, will have to cover even if the main handler is a teen. Vaccinations, desexing, and pet insurance are all regular expenses that you need to consider before adopting a puppy. Don’t pick a dog because they are cute! Remember that a dog is a decade-long commitment at the very least, and be prepared to financially provide for them.

PRO TIP: If you’ve never owned a dog but want to get one for your kids, consider fostering first. Fostering rescue puppies gives you the chance to see how would life be like with a dog, without taking a 10-year responsibility towards a living being. Fostering puppies will show you and the rest of the household what it takes to train and care for a dog, and you’ll see if the kids will help with the workload.

Do your research on dog behaviour

This is especially useful if you’ve never had a dog before, or if you’re nervous about possible nipping or biting with your kids.

First of all, not all teeth-showing is considered aggressive. Learn how to interpret a dog’s physical cues to detect when they are stressed, defensive or scared. This will give you the tools needed to deal with these emotions when they appear on your own dog.

PRO TIP: There are breed differences when it comes to aggressiveness. In this study, researchers found there are 3 dog aggression types: towards other dogs, towards strangers, and towards household members. Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers showed the most serious aggression in all categories.

On the other hand, Australian Cattle Dogs showed it toward strangers, while American Cocker Spaniels and Beagles were statistically more aggressive toward owners. Finally, the study found that Golden/Labradors Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Brittany Spaniels, Greyhounds and Whippets were the friendliest toward both humans and dogs.

A dog’s age and sex can affect their behaviour

It’s common knowledge among dog behaviouralists that hormones can really change a dog’s personality. This is especially noticeable among young male dogs, that have way more energy and aggressive tendencies before being desexed.

This means that, on top of choosing child friendly dog breeds, you need to take care and desex your pup to lower any chances of aggression. In general, the younger the dog the higher the chances of them showing negative behaviours toward kids. This is caused by pent-up energy when you aren’t providing enough physical and mental stimulation. If you cannot provide ample exercise time for your dog to burn enough energy, consider getting an older dog or middle-aged adult that will be happier with a less active lifestyle.

Provide enough exercise

This ties in with the last point. A bored dog will have higher chances of getting aggressive, just because they have pent-up energy they aren’t burning. In fact, an Australian study about distress and feed-related aggression in dogs showed that dogs that consistently engaged in game-playing with their owners had a lower probability of aggressiveness.

If your dog is getting restless or destructive at home, don’t wait for it to become an aggression problem. Up their outdoor time, engage in mind games and provide challenging training to keep them busy and tired.

Choose soft-mouth dogs

Some breeds have been selected to have a ‘soft mouth’ or bite inhibition. This means they were selected generation after generation to be dogs that have a hard time biting down on stuff.

 Retriever dogs, like golden, Labradors and spaniels, were bred to have a soft mouth to retrieve animals during a chase. This doesn’t mean they’ll never bite a human, but it does make it less likely and, in the event, they do, they have significantly less jaw strength than mastiff-type dogs like bull terriers.


The Best Dogs For Kids

Now that you know what you need to consider before getting a dog for your little ones, it’s time for the fun part! Here are our top recommendations with the best dogs for toddlers and kids of all ages.

Labrador Retriever

Young girl training a Labrador puppy

The breed is friendly, patient, and trainable. Labs have lots of energy so are great for older toddlers. However, they are also happy to sit quietly and relax and will be more of a couch potato the older they get. The breed is extremely intelligent and versatile, and their training is relatively easy even if you and your kids are first-time dog owners.

Plus, if you love the outdoors, Labrador retrievers and goldens are great since they thoroughly enjoy spending time in nature and in the water. The average life expectancy of these gentle giants is between 10 and 12 years

Australian Shepherd (Aussies)

Little boy giving an Australian Shepherd a treat.

This breed is loyal, intelligent and boisterous. Despite its name, this popular breed originated in the United States. Aussies love home life, but their energetic nature can be too much for young children under 5. They are not very tolerant of smaller pets, because they have a strong prey drive, herding instinct and love to chase.

On the flip side, they love other dogs and are the happiest in a multi-dog household. Aussies need tons of activity to stay happy, as well as consistent mental stimulation in the form of challenging training and games.

This is a good breed for active people that have the time to properly socialize and train their new pup.

Miniature Fox Terrier (Mini Foxie)

Miniature Fox Terrier

In Australia, this breed was developing as a mouser. As a result, this dog is small but agile, fast, and fun-spirited. It closely resembles the American toy fox terrier, the Jack Russell, or rat terrier, but this breed is not recognised by any kennel clubs.

They are very healthy and can live up to 18 years. Because of their terrier side, they have great personalities and do well with both children and older adults.

Pug

Young girl about to be licked by a pug dog.

This breed is originally from China, where they developed their flat noses. Bred to be a lap dog, pugs are even-tempered, charming, mischievous and loving. Keep in mind they might develop health issues due to poor breathing, and they cannot engage in heavy exercise because they risk overheating easily.

Considering their minimal exercise needs and cuddly nature, this sweet pup is great for small kids and will be part of the home for around 14 years.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Staffies)

Young boy and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier hugging.

Staffies have a reputation as sweet-natured, people-oriented pets, being a patient nanny dog for kids. In fact, because of their stocky build and friendly demeanour, this is one of the best dog breeds for young children. They are very patient with grabby hands, and rarely bite even when handled poorly. Staffies know how to recognise children and have the patience of a monk when it comes to their antics.

Related: Complete Staffy Breed Profile.

However, to make sure they get along with other dogs and pets, socialisation is key. Staffies can become very protective, meaning thorough exposure to different people, pets and environments since early puppyhood is a must. They also need daily structured playtime to burn off energy, as well as consistent training to ensure a good recall.

German Shepherd

little girl hugging a German Shepherd puppy.

German Shepherds are large working dogs originally developed for herding sheep. Nowadays, this breed is a favourite for households looking for a guard dog that love and protect their pack. These pups are extremely loyal and easy to train, but do get bored easily and can make up their own ‘jobs’ to pass the time. Because of it, consistent outdoor exercise in all weather is a must to keep them happy.

Keep in mind German Shepherd puppies are renowned for their savage teething, where they chew up furniture, shoes and destroy everything around them. Get ready and buy plenty of chewable toys to redirect that behaviour through positive reinforcement.

Australian Cattle Dog

Australian Cattle Dog

Bit controversial right? Hear me out.

Like Aussies, this athletic breed isn't for new owners or those with a sedentary lifestyle. Due to their amazing intelligence, loyalty, and eagerness to please, they are highly trainable.  However, this breed has very high exercise needs and get bored easily. They require constant attention and a consistent exercise schedule to stay happy.

Related: Most Loyal Dog Breeds Australia.

Keep in mind they love being outside and will thrive with outdoor activities such as frisbee, agility and flyball. If you have young children, an adult will have to be the main handler and your Cattle Dog will need to have a place to get away from the kid noises. Their herding nature might make it more difficult to live with running, screaming kids, but with proper, patient socialisation and enough exercise, it can be done.

Mixed-Breed Dogs

Three mix breed dogs

Of course, we couldn’t end this roundup of great dogs for kids without mentioning the mixed breed pups. These are the ones that are most frequently found in pounds and rescues, waiting for their forever home.

Generally speaking, mixed-breed dogs tend to be physically healthier than pure-breed ones, and are very loving. Plus, adopting a rescue dog can be a highly fulfilling experience for your children, since they’ll understand the importance of lending a hand, giving second chances and sharing life with one of the most loyal pups you’ll find.


Final Thoughts

Adopting a dog, even if it’s for your children, is a very big commitment. It’s important to remember that you are as responsible for your child’s safety not your dog, so keeping them both healthy and happy it’s your job.

Pets, like kids, need a ton of love, time and attention, and everyone in the household needs to be ready to fulfil those needs. But if you’ve carefully considered your options, are ready to provide enough training and outdoor activity, you’ll have a lot of fun with your kids and your new pup.

As always, we recommend adopting instead of buying from a breeder. For one, adoption prevents feeding into the dangerous puppy mill cycle where many dogs are bred irresponsibly every year. And on the other hand, rescuing a dog from a life in the pound or even death row can be a valuable lesson for kids. Check out these rescues to see if there are any adoptable pups ready for a meet and greet:

References
  1. Crowell-Davis S. L. (2008). Aggressive dogs: assessment and treatment considerations. Compendium (Yardley, PA), 30(5), 274–280. Available here.
  2. Wallis, L. J., Szabó, D., & Kubinyi, E. (2020). Cross-Sectional Age Differences in Canine Personality Traits; Influence of Breed, Sex, Previous Trauma, and Dog Obedience Tasks. Frontiers in veterinary science, 6, 493. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2019.00493
  3. Duffy, D. L., Hsu, Y., & Serpell, J. A. (2008). Breed differences in canine aggression. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 114(3-4), 441-460. https://www.csus.edu/indiv/m/merlinos/pdf/2008breeddifferences.pdf
  4. McGreevy, P. D., & Masters, A. M. (2008). Risk factors for separation-related distress and feed-related aggression in dogs: additional findings from a survey of Australian dog owners. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 109(2-4), 320-328. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0168159107001049
  5. Michigan state university. The benefits of a family pet. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_benefits_of_a_family_pet
Eloisa Thomas

Eloisa Thomas is a dog lover & anthropologist. She enjoys writing content that will actually help people understand their dogs better. Eloisa is able to use her expertise to write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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