If you are planning on getting a dog and already have a family, it is very important to start out with a breed of dog that is family friendly. This typically means that the dog is great with kids, is not aggressive, and is relatively easy to train and work with. Of course, children of different ages will also have a big impact on how important the various characteristics are. In addition, you may wish to consider if getting a full grown dog from a rescue or shelter may be a better option than dealing with a puppy, especially if this is the first dog that you have owned. Dogs from shelters or rescues are already neutered or spayed, as well as fully vet checked - and often have been tested with kids and other pets in foster home settings.
Small Versus Large Breeds
There are several different breeds of both small and large breeds that make ideal family dogs. Often, the age of the children will make a considerable difference in the size and type of dog you may wish to select from. Overall, and as a very broad generalization, the smaller the dog the less suitable they are for small children. This is because smaller dogs tend to be more protective, less tolerant of teasing, and also more aggressive or timid, both which may become more pronounced around small children. Children usually want to pick up and cuddle small dogs, often without considering how this may frighten or agitate the dog. Small dogs are also more prone to injuries resulting from rough play and often children don't understand these considerations. Of course, any dog can be successfully raised around children that are well supervised and considerate of the dog's temperament and needs. Small breeds of dogs such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Bichon Frise, Papillons, Corgis and Toy Poodles can do very well with children of any age.
Larger breeds are either very child friendly, or rather aloof with kids. Many of the hunting dog breeds such as the Retrievers and Labradors are natural with kids, as are medium sized Spaniels. There are also larger breeds such as the Akita, Bloodhounds, Collies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, German Shepherds, Boxers and American Bulldogs - all medium to large sized dogs that are great with children, as well as being very protective and excellent watchdogs.
Giant sized dogs such as Great Danes, Newfoundlands and Irish Wolfhounds are very good with children of all ages, but may be intimidating to young kids without experience with these large animals.
In addition to just getting along with children, it is important to consider how the breed will interact with other pets that are in the house. There is really no distinction between the various sizes of dogs with regards to this characteristic. There are some breeds that simply have a high "prey instinct", which means they will chase and hunt much more readily than other breeds. Dogs that are used for hunting, such as many of the terrier breeds often have a very high prey instinct, but can be socialized with other animals from puppies and learn to get along well together.
Socialization is also important in getting along with other people that come to the home. If your children have lots of kids coming over, or if you enjoy having friends to the house, you should consider a breed that is perhaps a good watchdog but not a guard dog. Many of the hunting breeds are very social dogs, as are some of the largest or giant breeds. Smaller breeds can also be very social dogs, especially when worked with as puppies.
Even though each dog will have his or her own unique personality, there are some breed specific traits that will be similar between all dogs within a breed. Some dogs can tolerate being left alone for shorter or longer periods of time, but most breeds tend to want to be with people more than they are away from people. Good family breeds of dogs want to be with people more than they wish to be alone. This means that they can adjust to being left alone for routine periods of time, but will do best with more contact with their owners rather than less.
As a very general statement, larger breeds of dogs can tolerate more time alone than smaller breeds, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Families often have very flexible schedules that allow someone to be home fairly regularly throughout the day, and this can work very well for the dog. In addition, keep in mind that some dogs love to travel and be active with the family, and this can be a great way for the whole family - pets and all - to keep busy over the weekends and holidays.
Common Family Breeds
It really is rather difficult to present a list of all the family breeds of dogs, as there are simply so many dogs that are wonderful companions and pets for families. The following are popular or common breeds of dogs that are considered family dogs categorized by size:
Small breeds - Cairn Terriers, Border Terriers, Boston Terriers, Bichon Frise, Pugs, Toy Poodles, Japanese Chin, Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Cardigan Corgi, Shih Tzu (older kids), West Highland Terrier
Medium sized breeds - Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, Keeshond, Labrador Retriever, Border Collie, Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel, Bulldog, Boxer, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bassett Hound, Beagle, Whippet, English Spaniel, Schnauzer (Miniature or Standard)
Large sized breeds - Akita, Weimaraner, Golden Retriever, Bearded Collie, Siberian Husky, Standard Poodle, Pointer, Irish Setter, Red and White Setter, Great Pyrenees, German Shepherd, Bernese Mountain Dog, Anatolian Shepherd, Airedale
Most of the giant breeds are excellent with kids of all ages. These include the Mastiff breeds, Great Danes, Wolf Hounds
Breeds that are not as well suited to children are the miniature and toy breeds, as well as some of the very aggressive and energetic breeds. It is important to consider that kids raised with dogs, and dogs raised with kids will all make better companions, and will quickly learn to interact with each other with proper socialization and training. Not only do the dogs learn to be good around kids, but the children learn to be more social too!