Ask Dr. Wan: "What breed of dog should we get?"

Dr. Wan answers a question about choosing an appropriate family dog.

Q:  We are thinking about getting a dog.  What is a good breed for a family with young children? 


A:  Individual dogs of the same breed can have very different activity levels and temperaments, so rather than focusing on a particular breed, I recommend that prospective dog owners look for a fit between an individual dog and the family’s lifestyle.  The dog’s behavior and personality should concur with the types of activities that the family enjoys.  Are you looking for a couch potato who is content to lie around watching TV with you, or are you looking for an active dog who enjoys hours of play and long hikes?  Seriously consider the amount of time and energy you have for a new, active dog.  While children may promise to help take care of the dog, parents often end up doing most of the care and training. 

If you already have a particular breed in mind, research the history of the breed, and think about whether the behavior that the dog is bred for will fit into your lifestyle.  Herding dogs, such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, were bred to work for hours on end.  Without proper attention, exercise, mental stimulation, and training, they will find a job of their own to do in your house, like herding your children.  Labrador Retrievers are rightfully so a popular family dog here in Fairfield County and across the country, but remember that this breed also has a working history and can be quite rambunctious without adequate exercise.  Another consideration, related to breed, is size.  A large-breed dog may be more likely to knock your children over  when excited, so putting in the time to train a large dog will be extra important. 

One benefit of adopting an adult dog, whether purebred or mixed-breed, is that reputable shelters and rescue groups conduct thorough behavioral evaluations and assess the fit between adopters and adoptees.  You can easily do a search for dogs available through local organizations using petfinder.com.  Adoption counselors from these organizations can interview your family and point out the dogs in their care who are the best fit for your lifestyle.  If you are adopting or purchasing a puppy, be aware that full behavioral evaluations often are not conducted on puppies, as puppy behavior is not always predictive of later adult behavior. In lieu of a full evaluation, simply observing the puppy’s activity level may be informative. Reputable breeders will also thoroughly interview you in order to evaluate whether your family is a good fit for their puppies.

Regardless of the breed you select, supervision of all interactions between your dog and children under the age of 10, including your own children, is critical to help maintain a healthy dog-child relationship.  I recommend reading Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind, by Colleen Pelar, a wonderful resource for parents on bite prevention and safe dog-child interactions. 

Do you have a dog training or behavior question?  Post your questions to me below, or e-mail them to AskDrWan@westportdogs.com. Every month, I will select one reader question to answer. 


Dr. Wan provides dog behavior and training consultations to Fairfield County dog owners.  She earned her doctorate and researched dog-human communication at Columbia University.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Christine E. July 16, 2012 at 07:28 PM
Kevin, there is a really good site bringfido.com. I used them a few weeks ago en route to my cousins house.
Jon July 18, 2012 at 11:02 PM
The best "breed" to get is NO breed - get a MUTT! Mixed breed dogs are just as capable of love and faithfulness and cuteness and intelligence as purebred dogs. Plus, they cost a lot less to obtain and to keep. They are healthier, they tend to live longer (for a given size/weight), and tend not to have the various psychological and social and health issues that can plague purebreds. Also, they generally don't come out of puppy mills and pet stores. (Please research about puppy mills before getting a dog!) There are thousands of beautiful mixed breed dogs all over this country that are awaiting adoption who will otherwise get destroyed because thoughtless (or ignorant) people keep going to pet stores to buy factory bred dogs. This needs to stop, but it won't stop as long as the customers keep showing up. The doc makes a good point - you can't predict adult temperment based on puppy temperment. So if you are concerned about getting a dog with a good temperment, get one that's at least 6-9 months old, or even a little older. You can easily find one for nominal cost at a local shelter.
Michael Cragin August 14, 2012 at 03:44 PM
i have always had BULLDOGS....and still do.....all the others act to much like a.......dog....I prefer the obvious humanity in bulldogs
Janina Laurin August 17, 2012 at 01:40 PM
A tremendous resource for researching the right breed for you is the American Kennel Club. Visit their website at www.akc.org. Most breeds have national clubs with breeder referrals and those clubs are members of the American Kennel Club...visit a dog show, agility trial or obedience trial to see many different kinds of dogs in presentation and performance. Responsible committed breeders would be happy to talk with you.
Darla DeNiro September 18, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Hi. I have 2 dogs - a poodle mix and a Pharaoh Hound. My question is "How do I get the Pharaoh Hound to quit barking at EVERYTHING?" I've tried squirting her with water (she moves a lot faster than my arm moves, however), yelling at her, and telling her Bad Dog." She barks at people, dogs, noises, etc. I did buy a "bark collar" for her, but it makes me feel too bad to use it. I love her, but she's so aggravating with this behavior. I thought about putting coins in a jar and shaking them at her, but I know that would terrorize the other dog who is not such a barker. Please help me, my neighbors, family, etc. and give me some advice. Thanks.
Lloyd Progroup September 20, 2012 at 09:30 PM
GREAT suggestions on finding a dog breed that matches your lifestyle. Another thing to think about is how the BREED of dog you choose COULD raise your home insurance premiums... or even cause them to CANCEL you. It makes sense to find out what these dangerous breeds are BEFORE choosing a pet. Here is a list for your reference. I hope you find it helpful. http://www.lloydprogroup.com/blog/home-insurance-and-dangerous-dogs/
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB September 21, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Thanks for pointing out the home insurance issue. Entire breeds should not be labeled as dangerous, but unfortunately, this is what many insurance companies do. There is a great article about insurance and breed here: http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_6/features/Pet-Insurance-Company-Breed-Discrimination_20282-1.html (You need a subscription to Whole Dog Journal to view the article, but it is a great publication and worth the price, in my opinion.)
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB September 21, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Hi, Darla. I will try to answer your question in a future post. If you need immediate assistance, you can find a trainer in your area through http://www.apdt.com/petowners/ts/
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB October 01, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Hi, Darla. I've addressed your question in my latest blog post: http://westport.patch.com/blog_posts/ask-dr-wan-how-to-stop-your-dogs-excessive-barking
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Glenn December 07, 2012 at 01:28 PM
I have a 9 year old female Jack Russell Terrier. She is a great loving and friendly dog most of the time. One problem. She hates her walking harness. She does not mind putting it on and is always excited about going for a walk. But when I attempt to remove the harness, she becomes very aggressive and actually attacks it. What is going on here?
Rich Morey December 24, 2012 at 09:20 PM
My wife and I have a 6 year old Beagle mix that we rescued when he was about 9 months old. He and I lived in East Hampton for about two years before my then girlfriend (now wife) and I moved in together in Brooklyn. After a little over a year of living in Brooklyn our dog started to chase his tail when things scared him or when we had guests - even people he had met before.Once he catches he tails he holds on to it for dear life and has, at times, bitten so long that is bleeds. With all the chasing / biting his tail is always red and raw looking We have had him on different anxiety meds which didn't help. He is now on a medication typically used for seizures in dogs but the vet had heard of it being used successfully for anxiety in dogs as well. He is not chasing his tail as much as he used too but he still does. Any ideas on ways to remedy the situation?
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB December 26, 2012 at 04:26 PM
I would recommend seeing a veterinary behaviorist (http://www.dacvb.org/resources/find/) or having your regular vet collaborate with one to come up with a detailed treatment plan. There may be medical issues at play here. You will probably also need to identify all of the triggers in the environment that appear to set off the behavior and figure out how to reduce or eliminate those triggers (e.g. put dog in another room with a yummy chew if stressed by guests).
Yufeng LI January 06, 2013 at 08:05 PM
We have a dog named Piaro. We found him on the street, and he likes to run away and walk randomly on the street whenever he gets a chance. Today he ran away again when we let him to pee and play in the backyard. We forgot to close the backyard door tight. We can't find him now and can only wait some kind-hearted guy notice him and call us by the phone number printed on his collar. This situation happens time to time. What can we do to prevent it?
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB January 07, 2013 at 02:23 PM
Thanks for your question. Loose dogs can get themselves (and their owners) into trouble. Avoid leaving your dog unattended in the backyard, especially if the door is not closed securely. Stay engaged with your dog when he is in the yard. Play fetch or other games with him. Also, take your dog for leashed walks, so he gets a chance to explore the neighborhood.
pam ghaster January 08, 2013 at 04:38 PM
Thanks for your story. I have 3 dogs. 1 Yorkie, 1 slikey and 1 -13 year old Lab. And they all play in the sandbox great. Here is the problem once one barks they all start. I can live with that but here is my question: the lab has big fatty tumors I am now having to help him up. How do I know when it is time. He eats like a horse and bathroom functions are fine. One of the tumors has taken over his leg and he walks lopsided. What do you think. I love the guy. pam Ghaster
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB January 09, 2013 at 01:28 PM
Hi, Pam. This is such a personal decision that I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. Perhaps your vet would be a good person to discuss this with, since s/he would be familiar with your pet and any quality-of-life concerns.
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB January 10, 2013 at 04:43 PM
Hi, Glenn. I've addressed your question in my latest blog post: http://westport.patch.com/blog_posts/ask-dr-wan-help-for-harness-hating-dogs
Cathy February 22, 2013 at 01:28 AM
Hi Dr Wan I have two English bulldogs my girl is 4 years old and my boy is 1. When they are both inside its crazy play rolling, biting, and chasing. How can I get them both to calm down a little in the house? Also jumping on the couches needs to stop. HELP. Cathy
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB February 22, 2013 at 01:54 PM
Hi, Cathy. Thanks for your questions. I will try to answer at least one of them in a future post. If you need immediate assistance, you can find a trainer in your area through http://www.apdt.com/petowners/ts/
Glen K Dunbar February 22, 2013 at 02:52 PM
Cathy: they do have dog training services. BUT, most do now do the work for you as THEY SHOULD> They basicly charge you to tell you to do it yourself and what to do which to me is NO help at all. Grown ups...go figure. We havea mini aussie and a morkie. Wish I could get some REAL help w/them I am dirt poor and my Mom money is all gone...so any charity would be of help. Also need to get my wife a job...if that is not asking too much. ummmm Geesh
The Lodge at BridgeMill February 25, 2013 at 05:00 PM
What would be the best breed for seniors - for companionship?
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB February 26, 2013 at 03:22 PM
Thanks for your question. Seniors who are looking for a companion dog will want to seek out a dog whose personality and activity level fit their own. There is variation both between and within breeds. Try visiting a shelter where the dogs' personalities/behavior have been evaluated by the staff. They can recommend particular dogs who are a good fit for a person's lifestyle.
Voltaire March 12, 2013 at 06:06 PM
Great blog Dr. Wan, thank you! I feel compelled to mention the greatest kid friendly dog I ever owned was a Newfoundland. As our kids got older we added a lab to the mix but those Newfies are VERY long suffering dogs with small children. You just need to adapt to the size and the drool. Just my .02
Michele Wan, PhD, CAAB March 12, 2013 at 07:14 PM
I know what you mean. People can be reluctant to open their homes to large-breed dogs, but they can be such wonderful companions.
Glen K Dunbar March 12, 2013 at 07:53 PM
Thanks for the great advice Grandma. We have a Morkie and a Mini Aussie
Ade March 12, 2013 at 08:18 PM
Glen - Unless you are addressing your own grandmother, I would suggest you stop insulting women on this site with the moniker. Dr. Wan is probably half your age.
CB March 12, 2013 at 08:19 PM
Another inappropriate comment......... Why?
CB March 12, 2013 at 08:20 PM
I mean, Glen's, of course, not Ade's. Ade is 100% correct!
Joey Joe March 21, 2013 at 12:01 PM
My Wife I live in a "55 and over community" and we were looking for a to adopt. New to the area we didn't know where all the shelters were, so we investigated and visited 3 of them over and over. We had a couple of things on our "wish list" those being - 1) very good with small kids - we have a 3 year old Grandson that visits often. 2) house broken - everything in our home is new. 3) friendly and one that loves attention. 4) in need of a good loving home. We were like kids again...we couldn't wait to get a dog because we firmly believe that a home is not a home without a pet. SOOOOOO, we went to the shelters over and over and over and over again -- and we just never found anything but what appeared to be aggressive larger dogs, pit bulls (got NOTHING against Pits but adopting one that is not a puppy scared us because we had no way of knowing what he/she had been thru and what they had been trained to do). To make a long story short we just couldn't find an adoptable dog which really made me mad because we've always been successful in the past getting a pooch that was a great addition to our family. We ended up (just for ha ha's) stopping into a pet store and found a Golden Retriever puppy. WE DIDN'T WANT A PUPPY, and stuck to that for at least a whole 26 hours, we couldn't get the little guy out of our heads, he became the main topic of our conversations.. SO we said...lets wait another 24 and then check out the shelters one more time. Guess what, our puppy is GREAT!


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