The Best Small Breed Dog for Children

By Rebecca Bragg

Think on the larger side of small when choosing the best kid-compatible dog breeds, advises Gina DiNardo, assistant vice president of the American Kennel Club. The ages of your children, their activity levels and the extent to which they're willing or able to assume responsibility for the care of a new four-legged family member should all factor into your decision. Since no puppy is born knowing how to fit into a human family, patient, consistent and often time-consuming training also comes with the territory. Adopt only from reputable breeders, DiNardo emphasizes.

Matchmaking Dogs and Kids

A child cuddles a bulldog puppy.

Jojoph/iStock/Getty Images

Where kids are involved, finding the perfect small dog can be a big decision. Dog trainer Cesar Millan's rule of thumb is to steer clear of "anything you could pick up with one hand," because toy and miniature breeds are too delicate to be safe around rambunctious children. "In general, if you’re not afraid of injuring it by stepping on it, then it’s probably durable enough," Millan says. When researching breeds, temperament is a vital consideration but bear in mind that dogs, like people, are all individuals, so temperament characteristics are tendencies, not certainties. The American Kennel Club's website is an excellent place to start your research because all AKC "get to know" breed pages contain links to national breed clubs, recommended breeders and breed rescue organizations.

The Ever-Bouncy Beagle

Two children play with a beagle.

monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

The fun-loving, mischievous beagle, deemed "a wonderful family pet" by the AKC, figures near the top of most lists of the best small dogs for small people. As a playmate, this sturdy little hound, one of the most popular breeds in the United States, is tireless -- even kids are apt to run out of steam before Snoopy does. Though the short-coated, low-maintenance beagle loves cuddling, he also loves following his nose wherever compelling scents might lead him, so a securely fenced yard is a must. According to the National Beagle Club of America, a beagle puppy might not be the ideal choice in a home with very young children but a young adult dog, who won't require as much work to train, could be a perfect fit. Don't forget that beagles need vigorous daily exercise.

Three Kid-Crazy Terriers

A kerry blue terrier.

CaptureLight/iStock/Getty Images

Kids and some small terrier breeds go together like peanut butter and jam. Consider the cute cairn terrier named Toto, Dorothy's famously faithful canine sidekick in the movie "The Wizard of Oz." These energetic dogs, known for their intelligence, adore kids, but without firm, consistent leadership from their human families, may start competing for a perceived vacancy as head of the household. Boston terriers, bred to be people-pleasing companions rather than working dogs, are playful but when carried away by the exuberance of the moment, can sometimes get a bit nippy, so this breed might not be the best choice around very young children. The striking Kerry blue terrier, larger than the Boston and cairn terriers, combines playfulness with patience. Though his wavy coat needs a lot of maintenance to look its best, the upside is that it doesn't shed, making the Kerry blue an appealing option for kids with allergies.

The Short, Sweet but Hefty Bulldog

An adult bulldogs runs in the grass with two puppies.

tkatsai/iStock/Getty Images

Measured by height, beagles and bulldogs see eye-to-eye but by weight, the jowly, muscular breed that tops Cesar Millan's list of kid-friendly family pets packs on a lot more poundage. Stoic as well as sturdy, the sweet-tempered, affectionate bulldog can withstand more roughhousing than dogs with daintier builds. Moreover, laid-back bulldogs don't require nearly the amount of exercise that beagles and most terriers need to burn off excess energy. "A brief walk and a nap on the sofa is just this dog breed's speed," says the online magazine DogTime. A downside: Bulldogs are susceptible to more health problems than most breeds, many related to the shape of their heads, which can mean hefty bills from the vet. Bulldogs make excellent apartment dogs, Millan says.