What is the best small dog for your family? That depends. Every breed has some unique characteristics and challenges.
There are a lot of things to consider, like:
- Will this dog play nice with my children?
- Will this dog be a nightmare to train?
- Will this dog bark non-stop and annoy the entire neighborhood?
- And on and on it goes…
As you can see, adopting a puppy isn’t something to be taken lightly, but that’s where we’ll provide a little extra guidance.
We’ve selected 20 small breeds that are best suited for family life. As well as highlighting each of their challenges.
Making The Right Decision
The #1 golden rule when adopting a new dog: Don’t adopt based on cuteness alone – that’s where big mistakes happen.
Also take into consideration their energy level, trainability, level of maintenance, and patience for your young ones.
Carefully look at your own lifestyle, and compare it with the each these traits to help determine if a certain breed is the right fit. Don’t worry though, below is our breed guide to point you in the right direction.
Training Is Required
While these small dog breeds are well suited for most families, they don’t come pretrained.
You’ll need to spend the time and effort to get your dogs (and children) to a comfortable level of training and respect for each other.
But once you and your dog have a good routine of exercise, learning, playtime, and bonding – rest assured they’ll fit right into your family life.
Dogs and Children
The Best Small Dogs for Children
1. Bedlington Terrier
Fun and entertaining, yet loyal and loving, Bedlington Terriers are known to be great family dogs and good around children.
Although they wear lamb’s clothing, these dogs are confident and make great watchdogs. They’ll stand up for themselves, and their owners.
Being part of the Terrier family also means they have a very high prey drive. Any bird or rodent that crosses their path will cause a scene, and will usually result in barking and pulling on a leash.
These dogs are intelligent and like to please their owners, however they can be stubborn with training. Also, they also have bags of energy, and some daily exercise goes a long way.
2. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are beyond affectionate and friendly, with a loving attitude that’s immediately contagious. They have moderate energy levels, and love to play and receive all your attention.
But keep in mind these dogs are gentle souls, and frighten easily. Scolding, yelling, or negativity will cause the Cavalier to run and hide. Children will need to be calm, and respect the gentle nature of this canine.
Their intelligence and eagerness to impress their owners makes them very trainable. But being very attached to their owners tends to create severe separation anxiety.
An amazing little companion, the Chihuahua loves all the attention and cuddles. However, due to their small size (and sometimes irritability) they’re better suited to older children rather than boisterous toddlers.
Chihuahuas will choose their owners and stick to them for life. They’re content to be at your side at all times, and thankfully they’re portable enough to do just that.
As you might expect with a Velcro dog, they do not like being left alone. Spend too much time away and they may resort to barking and chewing your belongings. It’s recommended you have someone keep this dog company at nearly all times.
They have lots of energy and are extremely playful. As long as you use positive reinforcement, you should have no problem training these dogs, as they are quite responsive and eager to please.
Dachshunds are lovable little lap dogs that always enjoy a good nap. However, they may not be the ideal choice for those with energetic younger kids, as this breed can be possessive and even aggressive if they perceive a threat.
These dogs tend to be great around older children who know how to handle them.
Doxies are incredibly intelligent, but can also be incredibly stubborn. It won’t take long before they think they are in charge of the house. Thankfully, they respond well to positive and assertive leadership.
Potty training is a very big challenge with Dachshunds. And as many owners will tell you, Dachshunds will continuously test the rules even years after training.
The Havanese only has one thing on it’s mind, and that’s you. These dogs are love stricken with their owner from the day they meet them. However, it’s difficult to be apart from the ones you love, and the Havanese will usually resort to barking and annoying the neighbours.
Early socialization to children and other dogs is important. It will help build confidence and curb bad behaviors. And while training these dogs may be a slow process, you’ll eventually be rewarded with a perfect family canine.
Although the Havanese are non shedding, frequent brushing and grooming are required to keep your pup free from painful mats.
6. Italian Greyhound
You may recognize the name Greyhound and assume this breed is a little too hyper for your home. What you may not expect is Greyhound breeds to be very calm and gentle.
While they love a good run, they especially love nap time and warming up with their owners.
They can be shy and timid, so you’ll need to work with them to build confidence. They are good and tolerant with children but are better suited to slightly older children who are not likely to be rough with the pet.
Training can sometimes be a challenge – especially with potty training. However, greyhounds are incredibly sensitive to scolding, so only positive training will move you forward.
7. Lhasa Apso
The Lhasa Apso is a proud and fiercely loyal breed, that takes protective duty very seriously
If they are exposed to children from an early age, these dogs are a great addition to the family. It is best to supervise them in the early stages with kids, as it is important for them to be properly socialized both with kids and other pets.
Because of their watchdog instincts, they may be unkind to strangers or outsiders.
The Lhasa Apso is an active breed but does not require a huge amount of exercise. The breed can be obstinate, and this can make general training and housebreaking quite difficult.
Gentle yet brave, the Maltese are energetic, playful and sweet with a very gentle nature. But it’s important to socialize them to kids while they’re still pups, as an older dog may feel the need to “protect” their owner.
Maltese may act like a princess, but they truly love running and playing. They are highly trainable and excel at learning new tricks.
Their beautiful coat requires a lot of upkeep, so expect to brush them daily and make frequent visits to your groomer.
9. Miniature Schnauzer
These are small dogs with big personalities. Intelligent and eager to please, they are very trainable dogs. Schnauzers are lively and energetic, with a ecstatic outlook on life and a very sweet demeanor.
But sometimes their energetic attitude gets them in trouble, so daily exercise will keep them tired and out of bad behavior.
These dogs tend to get along well with other pets and are fantastic around children. Their sweet personality and trainability makes them a good all-round family dog.
Intelligent, friendly, fearless, and affectionate, these dogs get on well children, other pets, and just about everyone they meet. However, they are best suited to older children who do not engage in rough play and know how to handle the dog.
The Papillon curiosity and excitement knows no bounds, and they’re always happy to meet new people. While they’re lively and energetic, they are also obedient. They thrive when given attention and new challenges, which makes training an absolute joy.
Fun-loving and energetic, these small but sturdy dogs are little comedians and are great for families with children.
They’re certainly not the most energetic dog on this list, but they do enjoy a short walk and some playtime. However, they can also be challenging to train because of their stubborn attitude. They tend to get bored, or sometimes jealous, and will look for mischievous ways to pass the time.
Also, their unique face structure may lead to health problems later on, along with a lot of loud snoring and wheezing.
12. Shih Tzu
These docile and cute dogs are great with other household pets and ideal for families with kids. Affectionate and charming, they are distinctive little dogs that are very friendly and loyal. The Shih Tzu loves to learn, and this means that they are highly trainable and eager to please.
Shih Tzu’s can be quite energetic. Therefore, some playtime, training, walks, and new challenges are all great ways to let off excess energy.
These dogs excel in pairs. They learn, play, and grow together, and they’ll even keep each other occupied. It sounds strange, but two Shih Tzu’s are easier to own to than just one.
13. Toy Poodle
The toy poodle is a breed that is very intelligent, excellent at learning and has plenty of energy. Their ability to learn and eager to please make’s the poodle an absolute joy to train.
Friendly and outgoing, they make ideal family pets and are great around children and other household pets.
However, these are very intelligent dogs, they can easily become bored, which leads to bad behavior (such as barking, digging, or running in the house). They need daily physical and mental stimulation.
Some Poodles will test the boundaries of the house rules, especially as an adolescent. You’ll need to be an assertive leader, otherwise they may attempt to take the roll themselves.
Poodle hair is prone to matting, and requires a visit to the groomer every so often. You can learn to groom from home, but you’ll need the right pair of clippers to get the job done.
Polite and affectionate, these dogs are well suited to families with kids, although they are sensitive to being handled roughly so older kids are probably best. While the Whippet is bred as an athletic dog, they quite enjoy a day of napping and cuddles.
Whippets are emotionally sensitive, so it is important to treat them with respect and positive reinforcement when training.
Watch out for squirrels, rabbits, or other small creatures. Whippets have a high prey drive, and they’ll want to chase anything that catches their interest. And they can run very fast.
Slightly Larger Breeds
We’ve covered all the most suitable small breeds for children, but we want to go a slight step further. You may want to consider selecting one of these medium sized breeds simply due to their compatibility with so many families.
Here’s a few breeds that are slightly larger in scale, but have enormous hearts.
15. American Eskimo
Happy, intelligent, and active, these dogs tend to be amazing with kids, making them an excellent choice as a family pet.
They are a high energy breed that require regular walks and mental stimulation. But their intelligence (mixed with their undying love for their owners) makes them easy to train.
Eskies become very attached to their owners. They’ll follow you around like a curious shadow. Leaving them alone for any period of time will result in barking, howling, and digging.
16. Basset Hound
The Basset Hound is a hilarious breed known for its comedic nature and affectionate personality. They are mellow dogs that get along well with other pets as well as with children, so they are ideal family dogs.
However, you may find training a struggle, as these dogs can be quite stubborn. Often times they won’t listen unless you have something really good trade in return (like a tasty treat).
In terms of energy, they can be very lazy but still love a few daily play sessions or short walks.
The entire neighborhood will know you adopted a Basset Hound, as they love to announce their presence through howling and barking.
18. Cocker spaniel
Lovable, entertaining, and considered one of the most loyal dog breeds – the Cocker Spaniel is a popular choice among families with children.
The Cocker Spaniel is known for their calm demeanor, but also for being a sensitive soul. They are especially reactive to scolding or a negative environment, so they need gentle and positive leadership.
When left alone they are known to bark excessively. Growing up they may be very timid and shy around new people. Both of these issues can be curbed with early training and socialization.
This is a breed that is energetic, alert, and affectionate. The Keeshond wants nothing more than to spend their entire day with the family. In fact, they are a highly social (and sometimes anxious) dog, so they cannot be left alone for long periods of time.
The Keeshond is considered a “Velcro” dog, they’ll follow you around the house like a curious shadow. And while they are eager to please, they can often be stubborn with training, and tend to bark a lot.
Also, we should mention this dog is a very heavy shedder, and you’ll be brushing them out daily to gain some sort of fur control.
20. Shetland Sheepdog
This is a popular family dog with lots of energy. They are gentle and sweet as well as affectionate and playful.
Shelties are a working breed, and have a long history of herding and working with farmers. They still have some of those working traits embedded deep in their DNA, so they have a deep urge to have a job.
Mix that with their amazing intelligence, and you have a dog that is begging for new challenges and experiences. It’s no wonder that Sheltie’s are so prevalent in obedience and rally competitions.
This can make them amazing companions, or difficult to handle, depending on how much time you can commit to their needs.