Getting a dog is one of the most rewarding experiences you and your family can enjoy.
Not only will your new-found Fido offer endless amounts of affection and love, but you’ll also find yourself with a whole new companion you can’t live without.
But this transition, however exciting, can be a challenge for busy families with kids. Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of the best small dogs for families with children.
These tiny breeds are perfect for family settings and are sure to be a wonderful addition to your home. While each individual dog is different, there are a variety of traits to look for when making your choice.
This will help you and your family make an informed decision when it comes time to pick out the perfect pup.
The 9 Best Small Dogs for Families with Kids
Based on the criteria above, we’ve compiled a list of nine of the best smaller breeds for families with kids. It’s important to take individual lifestyle factors into account, but in general, these are some great breeds to start with (if you want a full list of dogs big and small, make sure to check out our full guide to all of the best dog breeds for kids).
1. English Bulldog
These friendly fellows (who are technically just called “bulldogs” now), are the perfect small dog for many families.
These dogs tend to weigh more than smaller breeds (usually up to 50 pounds), but they have very low-energy levels and love being petted by all members of the family.
English bulldogs don’t require a whole lot of exercise, so they are pretty easy to keep happy.
Nevertheless, it’s important to keep their short snouts in mind during the hot summer months, as they’re prone to overheating. Another downside is that they tend to have numerous health issues, especially as they age, so consider if you’re up for those struggles later in life.
However, you’ll want to make sure your kids are ready for a good amount of cleaning — bulldogs drool and shed a lot by nature, but their affectionate, easy-going personalities help make up for it.
2. Shih Tzu
Shih Tzus are spunky, happy little creatures who love to cuddle up at the end of the day. These pint-sized dogs weigh around 9 to 16 pounds making them the perfect size for families in need of a tiny four-footer.
Shih Tzus enjoy playing, but they do not require a hefty amount of exercise. Plus, their short coats mean they require relatively little maintenance.
However, this breed is notorious for presenting housebreaking difficulties, so make sure you invest in their training. Overall, this breed is a perfect companion for many families with kids.
3. Bichon Frise
The ultimate social butterflies of the canine world, these adorable pups love to meet anything and anyone.
Bichon Frise dogs are known for their happy-go-lucky personalities and the great companionship they provide. The breed weighs in at about 7 to 12 pounds and requires about half an hour of exercise daily.
Bichon Frise pups love attention, so they may be best suited for larger families who aren’t away from home constantly.
While these dogs do not drool as much as other breeds, their unique, “hypoallergenic” coat does require special care to keep it in tip-top shape.
The iconic pug is known for being one of the cutest lap dogs around.
These funny dogs love attention and will often follow their humans from room to room.
They do not require a lot of daily exercise, which is nice, because special attention must be paid to their short-snouts that make it difficult for them to breathe, particularly in warmer climates.
Pugs are a part of the toy group and only weigh about 14 to 18 pounds. These laid-back dogs are super friendly, so they probably won’t make the best watchdogs.
Overall, these little furballs make great companions for adults and kids alike.
5. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
These sweet pups are sure to follow you around the house, and they love lots of affection.
The combination of their small size (they weigh about 10 to 18 pounds) and gentle nature makes them perfect family dogs for many. They are often playful but don’t require a lot of extra exercise.
If you get a King Charles Spaniel, you’ll want to make sure you have someone around for most of the day. These pups love being around their humans, and they don’t like being left alone. This often makes them a good choice for larger families.
Their coats require frequent and regular brushing, so make sure you’re adequately prepared (note that coat brushing is a great task many kids can handle).
Havanese pups are great small dogs for families with older kids.
These dogs love to learn tricks and are known for their sweet, playful nature.
While these dogs do require a bit more exercise than other toy breeds, they are still just as compact weighing in at 8 to 13 pounds.
These active dogs love spending time with humans and other pets when properly socialized. Their long coat requires regular brushing to maintain in top-notch shape, but their affectionate, spunky personalities are certainly worth the upkeep.
7. Toy Poodle
Poodles come in all shapes and sizes with toy versions usually weighing under 10 pounds. These dogs are known for their intelligence and devotion to family, making them great for households with kids.
These dogs love to explore and romp around, so they’ll definitely require some more time outside than other toy breeds.
Their curious and loyal nature makes them great watchdogs — poodles are sure to alert you of the dangerous squirrel lurking in the front yard.
Overall, these playful pups are great for active families looking for a dog eager to learn and explore the world around them.
8. Chinese Crested
These odd-looking but elegant pups are extremely loving, making them great for families.
However, their small, fragile size should be taken into account, especially for families with younger kids. They can become injured easily by rough play, so be sure to discuss proper canine interaction with your kids before adding a crested to the family.
Contrary to popular belief, these dogs still require regular grooming. They usually range anywhere from 5 to 12 pounds and are the perfect lapdog.
They have a low tendency to bark and drool, so you’ll love making these peaceful pups a part of your family.
Beagles are a bit larger than some of the other dogs discussed above, ranging in at 18 to 30 pounds. But their playful, cheerful nature makes them a great pick for an active household with kids.
This breed loves to run around outside and is very friendly, though they are likely to bark at strangers (and generally cause a lot of noise — this is a very vocal breed).
These dogs love affection and have enough curious energy to keep your kids entertained. However fun, these pups may be challenging for families with younger kids since they demand a heavy amount of attention.
While it’s difficult for us to generalize the characteristics of mutts, mixed breeds can often be a great addition to families with kids.
Mutts generally have a great mix of characteristics based on their unique identity, which often mellows out any extreme personality traits their ancestors exhibit.
However, every dog is different and should be treated on an individual basis. Whenever you go to adopt any dog, including mutts, make sure you have a prepared list of adoption questions to ask regarding the individual dog’s temperament.
You can use some of the factors we described above to help craft your questions (we also have a fantastic dog adoption scorecard you can use to help evaluate your most important canine traits). For example, a good question to ask would be:
- What’s the dog’s energy level like?
- What’s he like around small children? Other pets? Babies?
- Why was this dog surrendered to the shelter?
At the end of the day, mutts are a mixed bag, and you’ll have to accept a bit of uncertainty when adding them to your family. However, great temperaments are not guaranteed with purebreds, either.
Nevertheless, mutts often make great companions for many families.
Considering Adoption? Try an Older Dog
Adopting an adult dog to bring into the family fold is a wonderful choice with numerous benefits, but there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
- Adult dogs (usually) need less training. Adopting an adult dog often means you won’t need to worry about housebreaking and the multitude of training challenges that occur with a puppy. This is great for busy families!
- Ask about the dog’s history with kids. Many shelter dogs have previous experience with kiddos, and shelter workers will be able to point you in the direction of the best child-loving canines.
- Consider a dog that’s five years or older. Five tends to be the magic year when dogs chill out a bit and have firmly established their personality. If an adult 5-year-old dog loves kids, that’s not something that’s likely change, so they’re a safe bet!
Selecting a Small Dog for Your Kids: Important Considerations
So what makes a small dog well-suited for family life? We’re glad you asked!
Here are a couple of important factors to take into account when picking out the perfect pooch for your home.
Pick a Pooch with a Friendly Personality
You’re going to want to look for breeds with a relaxed, friendly personality.
While some people love sassy, independent breeds, agreeable dogs are much more likely to get along with kids (especially if they accidentally pull your pup’s tail every one in-a-while).
However, picking a more agreeable breed type is not enough on its own. Make sure you dedicate an adequate amount of time to socialize your dog properly and introduce him to children of a variety of different ages.
Look for a Breed with a Low Energy Level
If you have kids, your life is bound to be busy.
Hence, it is often a good idea to look for a lower-energy breed since your attention is likely divided.
High-energy dogs can become depressed and destructive if not cared for properly and provided with sufficient stimulation, so it’s important that you only get a high-octane hound if you’re sure you can give him the care he needs.
Should you have older kids who would be more inclined to take on the responsibility of a dog, have a sit-down conversation about daily routines with and without a dog.
If your kids are willing to contribute to the care of their new furry friend, then you may have more leeway in this category.
Use Care If Your Family Has Allergies
Having allergies and loving dogs can be a difficult balance. Life isn’t very fun without a good dog, but neither are watering eyes and running noses.
Unfortunately, no dog is fully dander-free, but you can seek out dog breeds that are preferred for owners with allergies. These are dogs that produce relatively little allergy-inflaming dander and require less coat maintenance to limit your exposure to allergens.
Luckily, by virtue of their diminutive dimensions, smaller dogs produce less dander than larger breeds anyway, so you’re already heading a step in the right direction.
Don’t Pick a Super Shedder
Shedding level is another factor that plays into allergies, but also home maintenance. So, unless you enjoy running a lint roller over all of your furniture and carpets, pick a smaller breed that sheds relatively little to keep your home as clean as possible.
This will also prevent you from having to color-coordinate your clothing with your dog’s coat.
Pick a Pooch with Patience
A patient pup is especially important for families with younger kids who may be more prone to accidentally crossing your dog’s boundaries.
Accordingly, you’ll want to look for a dog with a gentle, forgiving temperament, who’s willing to endure the indignities your children may inflict.
Avoid Breeds with Serious Health Concerns
Some breeds can be more prone to certain health issues or concerns than others, resulting in a short life span. On the other hand, some breeds tend to live without suffering from many of these tragic (and expensive) health problems.
So, make sure you research your breed appropriately so that you and your family can be prepared down the road.
You don’t want to bring home a pup for the fam, only to end up dealing with heartbreaking (or bank-account-busting) health problems.
Before You Bring Home Your Dog: Preparing Your Kids
Bringing a dog into your home is not just an adjustment for Fido himself — your kids must also be adequately prepared to keep themselves and your pup safe while playing at home.
Here are a couple of steps to ensure mutual safety for your fur babies and kids.
1. Learning The Proper Way To Pet Their New Pet
Regardless of a dog’s size, it’s essential that you teach your kids how to safely interact with a dog.
If your child doesn’t know already, make sure they are asking permission every time they want to pet an unfamiliar dog or a new dog in the home. Let them know that they should never approach a dog by immediately trying to pat him on the head.
Instead, teach your child to:
- Reach out a cupped palm a few inches away from her body and let the dog come to her
- Pat gently and avoid sensitive areas like the eyes or snout
- Not pet dogs while enjoying a treat or meal
Just as young kids are still learning on how to read human social cues from their peers, they’re also not likely to be very familiar with dog body language either.
Dogs have many subtle calming signals they’ll display when uncomfortable, but us humans need to learn how to read those cues!
For any family bringing a new dog into the home, I’d recommend getting the “Dog Smart Card Game” from Good Dog in a Box. This game is designed to teach kids how to recognize canine warning signals in order to prevent bites – a valuable tool for any family!
2. Explain Dog-Related Responsibilities
If your kids are old enough to carry out chores, try to explain all the responsibilities that come with a dog as thoroughly as possible.
Kids should understand that dogs are living, breathing things that require lots of love and care like any other family member.
If possible, borrow a friend’s dog (or foster a local shelter dog) and show your kids what comes with walking a dog, grooming properly, and picking up poo.
If your kids can’t help care for a week-long canine visitor, you may want to reconsider introducing a full-time furry family member.
Any kid begging for a puppy should be prepared for the care that comes with adopting a new family member.
3. Learn Basic Leash Safety
If your kid is old enough to take your new pooch out on walks, make sure they know the proper way to hold a leash and conduct a walk to stay safe.
Regardless of your child’s leash handling skills, you’ll want to supervise the first few walks your little one leads, just to ensure she can do so safely.
4. Teaching Your Pup Tricks
Teaching your dog tricks can be a great way for your kids to bond with their new dog. Make sure your kids know how to use positive reinforcement to train your new pooch and take care not to get frustrated in front of your dog.
Teach your dog the basic skills he’ll need (sitting, laying down, etc.), but also be sure to let your kids teach your new pooch some fun and silly tricks, like learning to say “I love you!”
Bringing a pup into your home is a life-changing experience your family is bound to cherish forever. Small dogs can pack plenty of personality while still remaining excellent companions for adults and kids alike.
Do you have any of these small breeds? Which small dog makes your family bigger and better? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!
September 9, 2021
Please DON’T get a bulldog for young families.Even though they’re sweet and gentle with kids,they are expensive and difficult to care.First one is lifespan,even though they are medium sized dogs,they live like a giant breed.They mature slowly(2-3years).And their adult life is very short and thier age quickly(maybe 6-7 years) and thier suffer from lots of heath issues and have short lifespan(thier lifespan is 8-10years);this can be difficult to grow up with small chidren together..Even though they are not active,they need to be wipes some folds and tear stains and they also drools and farts that is digusting for kids.Bulldogs short snout can be difficult to breath which causes massive of vet bills.They need to keep cool in summer and keep the warm in winter(they need to wear sweaters and coats).This can be challeging for busy familes with young children.:-‘(.
Consider Staffordise Bull Terrier(Staffy) instead;they are fierce-looking but gentle and patient with youngesters and have fewer heatlh issues and longer lifespan(12-14years.).
September 9, 2021
Bulldogs can have some health problems, Reiko, so that is one thing for potential owners to consider.
June 15, 2020
Rescues are fantastic dogs. My family had labs that we got as puppies when I was growing up, and while I loved those dogs as a child, my two Chihuahua mixes (I never thought I’d have a small dog…), are the loves of my life in a way my childhood labs never were. Our first, Roxanne, was considered a “throw away” dog by the family that had her. She was 2 when we got her, she’d never stepped foot outside the yard she shared with 2 large male dogs–no one was fixed (which traumatized her toward the natural way dogs socialize…). She was scared of everyone and everything, and took her small kibble one piece at a time from her bowl and hid it in her bed. It broke my heart. She never barked, and she thought water was the devil himself. A year later, she was a different dog. She was confident, extremely loving, well traveled, and even would venture into water on her own. She is still (5 years later), very aware of her actions and she tries hard not to offend, she was potty trained in 2 weeks. Our other rescue, Junebug, was found abandoned at the river, badly emaciated (she could hardly be petted because she was just skin and bones) and nearly starved to death. She was 8 and never house trained, missing teeth and an eye. It took a year for her to settle in, get fully house trained, and to stop looking for her old family, and look us in the eye and wag her tail. It’s now 2 years later, and she is a fantastic dog, doing great, with a unique personality, and she now also wants to please, and not offend. I love these dogs to death, and they have taught me so much about play, love, healing from trauma, and pure intentions. I cannot recommend rescue dogs enough. They know hard times, and if you give them patience (and lots of positive reinforcement), encouragement, and seek to understand where (or why) they are coming from, they will reward you with devotion, love, and excellent behavior. They can be hard work, but remember, it’s not their fault they have been abused and traumatized, and all dogs innately want to please their human, they just have to be shown how to please in a way they understand. I will never get another puppy, and foresee many more rescues in the rest of my years on this planet.
February 11, 2020
Our family rescued a fun loving chihuahua mixed puppy 2 weeks ago. He is only 3 1/2 months old but is learning commands quickly and responds to my husband and 13 year old son well also, though they are unable to work with him as much as I am. He has a lot of energy and likes to use his mouth to play. This is what we are working on now since I do not want him thinking it is ok to use his little teeth when playing with human hands. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
February 11, 2020
He sounds like a cutie, Theresa!
Check out this article on mouthing affection — it may help.
Best of luck!