Doggone It! The Top 10 Breeds for Families

When Sharon Holden of Oakville, Ontario ,bought a Labrador retriever pup as a playmate for her daughter, she never dreamed that nine months later she’d be giving the dog away. “I don’t think anyone could have prepared me for the work when she got bigger and more forceful,” says Holden. “I had this beautiful fantasy of walking with Pauline and a dog but there’s no way…she’s just too strong.”

Labrador retrievers are not bad dogs. In fact, they’re one of the most popular family breeds. But they’re strong and require consistent training (if the dog had been a mature adult when the baby was born, the situation might have been different). Although it wasn’t the right dog for Holden at this stage in her life, it may be an ideal choice for a family with older kids.

Choosing a dog based on looks can be a big mistake. “All puppies are adorable,” says Judy Emmert, who has run puppy classes in southwestern Ontario for 11 years. “In four months they become adult dogs so it’s important you choose the adult dog you want to live with.”

Attend local dog shows, read about the different breeds, and talk to a veterinarian to understand more about the breeds you’re interested in. Terriers and miniature schnauzers make good watchdogs, but are more likely to snap at children than other breeds. For busy families with little time for walks, collies and Newfoundlands are good choices, while some of the smaller dogs require more exercise. If you don’t want the expense of regular grooming, basset hounds could be considered, provided you have the time for the daily walks they need to keep them fit!

Once you’ve decided on a breed, ask a vet for the names of a few breeders and visit a couple to compare conditions: Are the people trustworthy? Are the kennels clean? Breeders can also show you the parents of the puppy you’re interested in, which gives an indication of what the dog will be like as an adult. “Far more important than choosing the breed is seeing the parents,” explains Gary Landsberg, a Toronto veterinarian specializing in animal behaviour problems. “I’d rather get a mixed breed if I know the parents are fine genetically, than a purebred whose parents I’ve never seen.”

It does help to meet the parents—often, a tiny, adorable mixed-breed pup can grow up to be 150 pounds! Humane societies are a great resource for adult mixed-breed dogs, whose personality and size can be plainly seen.

When picking a puppy, choosing the right one from the litter is important, as each one has its own distinctive personality. “Families who choose the puppy that comes to them first end up with the most dominant one, which is not good for all families,” advises Emmert. “A good breeder will choose the right puppy for you based on long interviews with your family.”

Take  your puppy home at six to eight weeks of age. “At 12 weeks, the puppy’s socialization period is over,” explains Andrew Luescher, of the Ontario Veterinary College . “As soon as the puppy is immunized, it should attend puppy classes where it can socialize with people and other puppies. And expose it to all kinds of environmental stimuli like loud noises, stairs and car washes.”

Because each dog, like each family member, has a distinct personality, it is difficult to choose the best breeds. However, using statistical comparisons found in The Perfect Puppy—under such categories as ease of training, behaviour with kids, and exercise needed—we’ve come up with ten top choices. Keep in mind these are only suggestions; any individual dog can have problems, depending on the breeding and the lines. But choosing a good breed and providing the essential training can help make your canine friend a wonderful addition to the family.

  1. Shetland Sheepdog
  2. Standard Poodle
  3. Collie
  4. Newfoundland
  5. English Springer Spaniel
  6. Vizsla
  7. Labrador Retriever
  8. Golden Retriever
  9. Basset Hound
  10. Doberman Pinscher

(Yes, despite their reputation, a well-trained Doberman Pinscher can be the most loyal dog as well as a trustworthy companion for kids.)


The Perfect Puppy, by Benjamin Hart and Lynette Hart, W.H. Freeman, 1990.

The Sirius Puppy Training Video, produced by James and Kenneth Publishers, is used by trainers and vets alike. $44.85 (includes shipping and handling). Call (905) 659-3955.

About Shelly Sanders

Shelly (represented by Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency) is the author of THE RACHEL TRILOGY--Rachel's Secret, Rachel's Promise & Rachel's Hope (Second Story Press).Rachel's Secret received a Starred Review in Booklist and was named a Notable Read from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rachel's Hope was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for Canadian Literature in 2016. Before turning to fiction, Shelly was a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, National Post, Maclean's, and Canadian Living.
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