When it comes to choosing a canine family member, it helps to understand individual breed characteristics to guide your choice. Aggression level is important for many reasons, however, determining the least aggressive breed is tough because every dog, regardless of breed, has potential to be aggressive. Some breeds tend to be more laid-back than others, making them ideal family pets.
One size definitely doesn't fit all when it comes to a dog. Dog breeds vary widely according to size, temperament and care requirements. If you live with other people or pets, or live in an apartment, you have to consider the potential aggression level of your new companion -- your new pal should be accepting of other people, dogs and cats he'll encounter in his home surroundings. As well, homeowners and rental insurance policies and residential rental agencies sometimes mandate breed restrictions. There's no way to determine a breed's aggression level because any dog can act aggressively, given the right situation.
Some breed characteristics drive behavior that may not work for your living situation. Many dog breeds have been bred for specific purposes, such as herding, guarding and retrieving, that may affect their habits in the home, even if they don't have a job to do. For example, border collies have been developed specifically to tend the flock, and when there's no flock to tend, they've been known to nip at the family cats or children in an effort to bring them in line. The dog means no harm; he's just doing his job.
The Big Dogs
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There's a reason why golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers are such popular choices for family dogs -- both are eager-to-please dogs who are able to keep up with an active family who's frequently on the go. Despite his reputation as a runner, the greyhound is actually a great choice for a home that likes a big, laid-back dog; when not required to race, this guy is more interested in lounging on the couch. The Bernese mountain dog can be a great playmate, pulling the kids in a cart. If you're athletic, or are drawn to the water, the Portuguese water dog is a pretty safe choice for a nonaggressive dog who can keep up with you.
In the Middle
If you like the look and temperament of a greyhound, but want something a bit smaller, consider the whippet. He's gentle, quiet and easy to care for, with his short coat. The bulldog stands in stark contrast when it comes to build, however this stout fellow has a loving, docile nature that doesn't quite match his gruff appearance. He's up for a bit of roughhousing with kids and adapts well to just about any living situation.
The Little Guys
Though he's a vocal dog, the beagle is also a friendly little fellow, ready to play a game of chase and entertain your children for the afternoon in the backyard. Make sure it's fenced, however, because he's apt to wander off if he gets the scent of something interesting. The pug and Cavalier King Charles spaniel are also solid choices if you're looking for a nonaggressive small dog. Their personalities are somewhat different; the pug is a frisky, playful little dog, while the spaniel is more quiet. Both are very affectionate toward their family members.
Making the Choice
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It's true some breeds have less aggressive personalities, getting on well with people and other pets. However, that doesn't give them a pass on training requirements. Even the gentlest dog will act inappropriately if he's not properly trained. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals notes that early socialization increases the chance a puppy will grow into a more relaxed, confident dog. Proper training ensures your dog understands his boundaries and responds to your direction, providing a happier living experience for the entire family.