If you love small dogs and have kids, finding the right breed can be a tricky balance. Many smaller dogs are not recommended for families with young children because they are fragile or nervous around boisterous little ones. However, some little dogs are known to get along great with kids of all ages.
Even with breeds that are ideal for families with children, many pet experts recommend waiting until your youngest child is five years old before bringing home a dog. By five, most children have decent impulse control and are better able to understand and follow the rules regarding the dog. For safety’s sake, an adult should always supervise all interactions between kids and dogs of any breed.
To ensure a lifetime of happiness and love, take your time to choose the right dog, teach kids how to gently and respectfully interact with them, and invest the time to properly socialize your new puppy using positive reinforcement methods. This will model good pet ownership for your children and set your puppy up for success long term. In truth, without socialization, even the most "kid friendly" breed can become shy and nervous around children.
Below, we’ve rounded up the best small dogs for kids so you can find your family’s next perfect pet.
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Part of the American Kennel Club Hound Group, the Beagle was developed to hunt rabbits in packs. Beagles happily worked alongside large groups of dogs, horses and people. A properly socialized and trained Beagle is exceedingly friendly and handles the loud noise and chaos of family life in stride. Although small, the Beagle is sturdy and athletic, and loves playing with kids of all ages. Beagles are known to bark and howl, and some may become destructive or attempt to escape if left alone too much and not given enough exercise and mental stimulation. When out and about, always keep Beagles on a leash so they don’t follow their keen nose into trouble.
GROUP: Hound Group
HEIGHT: 15 inches tall or less at the shoulder, with two height varieties for dogs under 13 inches and those 13 to 15 inches
WEIGHT: 20 to 25 pounds
COAT AND COLOR: Compact and solidly built; the short coat comes in all hound colors, including but not limited to tri-color (tan, black, and white), red and white, and lemon and white
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 15 years
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The playful and fun loving Bichon Frise hails from France where the little dogs originally lived a life of luxury as pampered pets to nobility. After the French Revolution, Bichons fell into the hands of commoners, morphing into street dogs. Thanks to their intelligence, liveliness, and charm, the fluffy white dogs later became popular circus dogs, delighting crowds with impressive tricks.
To this day, Bichons Frises love to play and want nothing more than to be with their beloved family. They are gentle and affectionate with people of all ages.
Although small, Bichons are not dainty or fragile. Keep in mind that the fluffy hypoallergenic coat requires professional grooming. As long as kids are taught to handle them gently and respectfully, they can be wonderful friends.
Because of their coloring, coat, and small frame, Bichons' subtle signs of anxiety may be missed by small children. Being all white prevents obvious demarcation of subtle changes around their eyes and their fluffy coat can prevent noticing subtle changes in tail height or movement that may indicate that the pet is becoming nervous. Make sure you and your children are aware of the more subtle signs of fear and anxiety in all dogs to prevent cornering a small dog and making them super nervous.
HEIGHT: 9 to 12 inches tall at the shoulder
WEIGHT: 7 to 12 pounds
COAT AND COLOR: Curly coat in white (may have traces of apricot, buff, or cream)
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 14 to 15 years
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Friendly and animated, the Boston Terriers love all people, including kids. Created in Boston in the late 1800s, the breed had one purpose: to be a devoted companion. For this reason, Boston Terriers are wonderful family dogs that demand to be with their humans most of the time.
The breed’s compact size means the Boston can live in an apartment happily, and it’s easy to provide enough exercise with daily walks.
Lively, affectionate and always ready to play, the Boston Terrier is a fun companion for children. Bring your Boston along wherever you go, whether to the kids’ baseball games or for a stroll around the park.
Because Boston Terriers are so energetic it is critically important to teach them proper manners. They may be small but they can jump well, and they are super quick, so you will never want to start a game of chase with them! Teaching solid commands with positive reinforcement will mentally stimulate your Boston and provide a solid expectation for all family members about what is appropriate dog behavior.
HEIGHT: 15 to 17 inches tall at the shoulder
WEIGHT: 15 to 25 pounds
COAT AND COLOR: Smooth, short coat. All Boston Terriers have a white muzzle and chest. The rest of their body will be either black, seal or brindle.
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 12 to 14 years
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Part of the AKC Terrier Group, the Cairn Terrier is perhaps best known for portraying Dorothy’s little dog Toto in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The breed was born in the Scottish Highlands more than 200 years ago, where they hunted foxes, rats, and other vermin in the piles of rocks called cairns.
Not all terriers are good with kids, but the Cairn Terrier loves children and will even seek them out specifically. Despite their small size, Cairns are sturdy and tough and always up for fun and games.
As with all dogs, kids should be taught to be gentle with Cairns, but this breed will typically forgive accidental bumps from children. Cairns have a high prey drive (the instinct to chase and hunt furry and feathery creatures or running children), so they might not be able to be trusted with the family cat and should be monitored around children that are excited, loud or running a lot. As with most terriers, some Cairns can get scrappy with other dogs.
HEIGHT: 9 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder
WEIGHT: 12 to 15 pounds
COAT AND COLOR: Double coated with a wiry outer. They come in a wide variety of colors (no white markings though). The most common shades are black, cream and grey, often with a brindle mix.
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 12 to 15 yearsContinue to 5 of 10 below.
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The happy, even-tempered Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a friend to all, including children—especially those who are part of the family. Sweet and affectionate, this breed enjoys cuddles and gentle play. These diminutive dogs are not fond of roughhousing, so show the kids how to interact appropriately.
One of the largest members of the AKC Toy Group, along with the Pug, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is still small enough to happily live in small spaces and is easy to travel with.
Although spirited and active, it’s simple enough to provide a Cavalier with adequate exercise with daily walks around the park or neighborhood. The easy-care coat does not require any major trimming. However, brushing and regular grooming will prevent tangles and matting of fur that can be painful and lead to skin infections.
BREED: Toy Group
HEIGHT: 12 to 13 inches tall at the shoulder
WEIGHT: About 13 to 18 pounds
COAT AND COLOR: Long, sleek and silky coat with feathering around ears, feet, chest, and tail. There are four color varieties; Tricolor, Blenheim, Ruby, and Black and Tan.
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 12 to 14 years
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The Cocker Spaniel is a happy little dog that loves being with its favorite people. Like many other breeds in the AKC Sporting Group, they were bred to be peaceful with people, other dogs, and even other pets like cats.
Well-socialized Cocker Spaniels are great companions for kids, provided the children are gentle and respectful. Cockers love to play and will retrieve as many balls as the kids can throw, as well as join in on almost any game or adventure.
Cockers are energetic but need only moderate amounts of exercise in the form of daily walks and off-leash running in the backyard. Their coat, however, needs regular professional grooming.
HEIGHT: 14 to 15 inches tall at the shoulder
WEIGHT: 20 to 30 pounds
COAT AND COLOR: Silky and flat or slightly wavy. Short and fine on the head, medium length on the body, and well-feathered on the ears, chest, belly, and legs; Black, ASCOB (any solid color other than black) or parti-color (black and white, brown and white, red and white, and tri-color)
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 14 years
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The French Bulldog, or Frenchie to his friends, is an adaptable and playful breed that loves to do whatever you’re doing.
In looks, the French Bulldogs is essentially a smaller version of the also kid-friendly Bulldog, sometimes called the English Bulldog. The one big difference is that the Frenchie has distinctive, large “bat” ears, which stand up. When you combine their unique appearance with their curious and affectionate nature, everything about the Frenchie just draws people in—adults and kids alike.
Compact but heavily built, Frenchies can be great companions for kids provided they are taught to play nice and interact with the dog respectfully. The breed requires moderate daily exercise and the smooth coat requires little upkeep. Simply brush once a week to remove loose hair.
Be aware that brachycephalic breeds like Frenchies can be prone to respiratory issues and are more prone to overheating.
HEIGHT: 11 to 13 inches tall at the shoulder
WEIGHT: 19 to 28 pounds
COAT AND COLOR: Short, smooth coat in brindle, fawn, white, or combination of brindle and white or fawn and white
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 12 years
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As the name suggests, this breed was developed in Havana more than 300 years ago. The only breed native to Cuba, Havanese were the treasured lapdogs of the wealthy plantation owners, largely unknown outside the island until the mid-1900s.
Havanese are charming and social, making friends wherever they go. Although many toy breeds are not recommended for kids, this dog is small but sturdy and known for being exceptionally good with respectful children.
The Havanese is also lively and whip-smart—the kids will love teaching them endless fun tricks. The silky hypoallergenic coat needs daily brushing, and you can enlist the kids to help out, or it can be clipped short for easier maintenance.
BREED: Toy Group
HEIGHT: 8.5 to 11.5 inches tall at the shoulder
WEIGHT: 7 to 13 pounds
COAT AND COLORS: The breed may have one or two colors including, but not limited to, black, silver, white, cream, tan, fawn, gold, sable, and red. Its coat can vary drastically from silky straight to very wavy with ringlets.
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 14 to 16 yearsContinue to 9 of 10 below.
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Another member of the AKC Toy Group known for its affinity with children, the Pug is friendly, outgoing, silly, and just plain fun. In the Pug’s breed standard, the written description of the ideal example of the breed, the dog is described as multum in parvo, a Latin phrase that means “a lot in a little.” These dogs are small but cobby and solidly built, and they soak up lots of loving from gentle children.
Pugs need only daily walks for exercise, but caution must be used on warm days as the Pug’s pushed-in muzzle means they cannot tolerate hot temperatures. The short coat is easy to care for, but these dogs do shed a fair amount, so brush daily to cut down on hair in the house.
BREED: Toy Group
HEIGHT: 10 to 13 inches
WEIGHT: 14 to 18 pounds
COAT AND COLOR: Smooth, short double coat in fawn or black
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 13 to 15 years
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Charming, outgoing and irresistibly cute, the Shih Tzu loves people of all ages, including well-mannered kids. Because Shih Tzu puppies are very small, some breeders may be hesitant to place Shih Tzu puppies into families with children younger than 5 years old. However, full-grown Shih Tzu are sturdy for their size. So, as long as extra care is taken to supervise puppy-kid interactions diligently, the Shih Tzu can be a wonderful playmate for gentle kids.
The breed hails from China where for centuries it was a prized and pampered lapdog of Chinese royalty. The luxurious long coat requires daily brushing when left long, although some Shih Tzu owners keep their dogs in a shorter pet clip for convenience.
BREED: Toy Group
HEIGHT: 8 to 11 inches tall at the shoulder
WEIGHT: 9 to 16 pounds
COAT AND COLOR: Long double coat in nearly any color, most commonly in black, white, blue, gold, liver, or combinations
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 16 years
All of these breeds can be great with children. However, it is imperative that the family understand and respect the dog's cues when they start to get nervous or fearful. Sometimes the cues in small dogs are easy to miss because they are, well, smaller. Crowding any nervous dog can lead to injury for the humans and break the human animal bond we are trying so hard to establish when puppies are young.
Always research the breed standard prior to purchasing any dog. Seek out a reputable breeder and make sure you have a good relationship with a veterinarian near you that can help guide medical and behavioral care when needed. Plan ahead and educate your children to ensure a successful integration of one of these great pups into your family.