The health benefits of owning a dog are well documented, from reducing stress, anxiety and depression and encouraging exercise and playfulness. Did you know that caring for an animal can also help kids grow up more secure and active?
If you’ve grown up around dogs, you’ll know the joy and unconditional love they can bring to a family. Some would go so far as to say that every childhood should have a dog in it. But certain breeds are better suited for families than other – especially if your child is scared of dogs.
So what is the best dog for a scared child? We’ve rounded up a list of the most family friendly dogs. Check out our list of pros and cons for each breed to find the dog most suited to your family.
Our top 10 picks of the best dog for a scared child
1. Golden Retriever
In our opinion, the golden retriever is the best dog for a scared child if you can give them the love and attention they need and deserve.
According to the American Kennel Club, the golden retriever is the third most popular dog breed in America. And it’s not hard to figure out why. The golden retriever’s patient, gentle, considerate temperament means they make great family pets. They are highly intelligent and easy to train. Their majestic looks are easily matched by their big hearts.
While loyal to their owners they are also friendly to other humans. So while you probably won’t have to worry about them attacking some random person on your daily walks, they won’t make the best guard dogs.
They’re big joyful dogs that will be a welcome addition to most families but a a scared child might take while to warm up to them. However they are considerate dogs and will likely read that a child is hesitant around them and react appropriately.
On average, golden retrievers will live up to 12 years.
Pros and cons of owning a golden retriever
|Their temperament makes them very family friendly.||They require regular grooming and their coats shed profusely twice a year.|
|They are gentle and trustworthy with kids.||They require a large amount of exercise.|
|They are easy to train as they are very eager to please their owners.||Their medium to large build makes apartment living, or living in small space, a challenge.|
|They love water and having fun.||They are too friendly to be an effective guard dog.|
|They will likely get along with other pets and humans outside the immediate family.||They are prone to certain health problems such as skin problems and heart disease.|
|If you have an active family, who love being outdoors, a golden retriever will fit right in with your way of life.||They will get depressed if left alone for too long.|
|They generally don’t bark without a good reason.||It is not uncommon to start feeling guilty every time you need to leave the house without them!z|
Bottom line: while an excellent choice for a family pet, don’t get a golden retriever if you don’t have the time or the energy to give them the love and attention they need.
Beagles are excellent with young children. In fact, they are one of the best pets for a child with anxiety.
However they have separation anxiety and get bored easily. They will get up to some serious mischief if left along for too long!
On average, a beagle will live up to 15 years.
Pros and cons of owning a beagle
|Their even temperament and gentle disposition make them very family friendly.||They need plenty of exercise and stimulation.|
|While they aren’t timid dogs, they aren’t aggressive either.||They are prone to obesity. In fact beagles will eat and eat and rely on their owners to regulate their weight.|
|They are affectionate and love their humans.||They like to bark – more so than other breeds.|
|They are small enough to not be too threatening to skittish kids.||They like to dig.|
|They make good watch dogs (although they aren’t aggressive enough to be good guard dogs).||They have a stubborn side.|
|Their small to medium breed makes then well suited to living in smaller spaces, especially if there is a dog park nearby.||They need companionship and won’t be happy being left at home alone for more than a couple of hours.|
|They have average energy levels.||They can be difficult to house train.|
Bottom line: Beagles can make great family dogs but aren’t at all suited to families that can’t give them the time and attention they crave. A beagle left alone for too long will start to get destructive and will annoy the neighbours with excessive barking.
3. Labrador retriever
Labrador retrievers make great family dogs due to their playful, rowdy disposition. At first your scared child might be frightened by all that playfulness – especially the jumping and the licking! However these dogs are also easily trainable – in fact they are trained to be assistance dogs for people with vision impairment and autism and are also widely used by police for their detection and working abilities. Time must be invested in training them well as their large size and boisterous personality will mean they will get up to some serious mischief if they haven’t been taught any better.
Labrador retrievers have boundless energy and can be pretty wild up until around the age of 3. There are many stories of Labrador puppies totally destroying the house if left to their own devices. Puppy proofing your house may even be required (you can check out our baby proofing checklist which will also be somewhat relevant to puppy proofing your house). They also like to chew on everything. Even their tails can be a destructive force that can accidentally whack anything that gets in the way.
Labrador retrievers are great for very active families but if you don’t have a lot of time in the day to walk them or play fetch, they might not be the best choice of dog. They also love human company and may try to escape the confines of the house or yard if something catches their attention.
On average, Labradors will live up to 12 years (although some live up to 19 years of age).
Pros and cons of owning a Labrador Retriever
|They are easy to train.||They generally shed twice a year although some dogs will shed a lot more. They therefore require regular grooming.|
|They are even tempered and unlikely to become aggressive.||They are not suitable as guards dogs as they are too trusting.|
|They love water and are excellent swimmers.||They have a lot of energy in their early years and like to chew on things while they are puppies.|
|They usually don’t bark very much.||They are prone to obesity if they don’t get enough exercise. They will also whine and beg for food which can get annoying at mealtimes.|
|They will likely get along with other pets (especially if trained to do so) and humans outside the immediate family.||They need a lot of mental stimulation and plenty of exercise – they should be walked twice a day.|
|They have a high emotional intelligence, making them sensitive to the needs of their humans.||They won’t be happy if left alone for long periods of time as they love human interaction.|
|They are reasonably healthy.||You’ll need a secure yard.|
Bottom line: there’s no doubt about it – Labradors are high maintenance. They need a lot of mental stimulation and plenty of exercise. They also need to be trained from an early age otherwise they will exhibit problem behaviours when they are older.
However there is good reason Labrador Retrievers are America’s favourite breed of dog. Their happy, joyful personalities will make them a welcome addition to a family that is willing to invest the time to take proper care of them. Any fear a frightened child may initially have of them (especially when a puppy), may be overcome if the dog is properly trained and disciplined.
The sociable but gentle pug will make a great addition to a family seeking a small dog. Their personality, described as “even-tempered and charming” by the American Kennel Club, coupled with their small size means they will be a good fit for a scared child.
They won’t mind being dressed up in silly clothing or being held. In fact they love being the center of attention.
On average, pugs will live for 11 years
Pros and cons of owning a Pug
|They are good with kids.||They are strong willed (although rarely aggressive)|
|They are eager to please their owners.||You will need to clean inside the creases of their face regularly to avoid irritation and infections.|
|Their small size makes them suitable for apartment living.||They won’t be happy being left alone for long periods of time.|
|They are less active than some of the other breeds on our list.||They can be difficult to house train due to their stubborn streak.|
|They have a low tendency to bark or howl.||They won’t thrive in particularly hot or cold weather and should be kept indoors.|
|They will likely get along with other pets.||They shed profusely.|
|They love human companionship and are likely to follow their human around the house.||They are highly motivated by food and will become obese if their food intake is not monitored carefully.|
|They will tolerate being dressed up.||They are prone to genetic diseases if not bred responsibly.|
|They are entertaining and love being the centre of attention.||They are prone to snoring.|
Bottom line: pugs are a great choice for families that aren’t looking for an active, outdoorsy type of dog. They can be goofy and fun but their petite size will likely make them less intimidating to a scared child.
5. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has a calm temperament. This, along with their small stature, makes them a great choice for a scared child. A scared child will likely be won over by the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s cute looks.
They are also patient and very affectionate, making them a great family dog in general. They are happy to fit in with their owner’s lifestyle – they can be active but equally content just hanging around at home.
On average, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will live up to 14 years.
Pros and cons of owning a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
|They are intelligent and eager to please their owners.||They may have serious hereditary health problems.|
|They are even tempered and unlikely to become aggressive.||They require weekly brushing. Their ears and feet especially need attention to ensure they don’t get matted and tangled.|
|They are excellent with children.||They have chasing instincts – they will run on the road and into oncoming traffic without a thought if something captures their attention. You will therefore need to walk them on a lead at all times.|
|Their size and temperament makes them suitable for small living spaces.||They are too friendly to be an effective guard dog.|
|They will likely get along with other dogs.||They are highly motivated by food and are therefore prone to obesity if not carefully monitored.|
|They need exercise but don’t have the same energy levels as some of the other dogs on our list.||They won’t be happy if left alone all day as they love human interaction.|
|They are generally easy to train and respond well to positive reinforcement.||They will bark or whine if lonely and anxious.|
Bottom line: the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel will suit a family with a more sedate lifestyle. However like all dogs, they won’t be happy if left alone for long periods of time.
6. Standard sized poodle
Poodles come in 3 sizes: Standard, Miniature, and Toy. The Standard size are the most suitable for families and children. Minatare and Toy varieties, while adorable to look at, will likely have less patience for small children’s unpredictable behaviour. They are also prone to biting if they feel threatened.
Poodles are the second most intelligent dog breed (after the Collie). Poodles won’t do well being left alone all day as they like being around people. Poodles tend to form a bond with one family member in particular and may be aloof with others.
On average, a beagle will live up to 12 years.
Pros and cons of owning a poodle
|They are highly intelligent.||They are prone to barking but can be trained not to.|
|They are good for families with allergies as they don’t shed too much.||They requires regular grooming – as often as every 3 weeks.|
|They are easy to train and love playing games.||They get bored quite easily and therefore require plenty of mental stimulation.|
|Generally healthy.||They will assert their dominance if spoilt.|
|They are a good sized dog if space in your house is an issue.||They can be neurotic if they don’t get enough attention.|
|They have moderate exercise needs. One walk a day will be enough. If their exercise needs a met, they will be happy to chill on the sofa with their humans.||They can develop compulsive behaviors such as excessive chewing or licking.|
Bottom line: Poodles are a great choice of dog for families with allergies because they don’t shed too much. Their medium size and moderate exercise needs will suit families that aren’t terribly active and don’t have a large yard.
Don’t let their massive size put you off getting a Newfoundland for your scared child. These gentle giants are affectionate, calm and loyal – just perfect for kids people who are timid around dogs. Very small children may however, be accidentally knocked over due to the dog’s large size.
Note that puppies grow rapidly in their first year (they can gain a massive 100lbs) and they need A LOT of food for that growth to occur.
On average, Newfoundlands will live 8- 10 years.
Pros and cons of owning a Newfoundland
|They have a calm and docile temperament.||They shed a lot and require regular grooming (up to 3 times a week)|
|They are amazing with kids.||Due to its large size, the Newfoundland will cause problems if it is not properly trained from an early age.|
|They will protect and assist their owners||They catch mud and other debris on their coats.|
|They have moderate energy levels (although they still require daily exercise).||They are prone to drooling / slobbering.|
|They love water.||They won’t be suitable for small spaces due to their large size.|
|They will get along with other pets.||They won’t be very happy in hot climates, due to their heavy coat.|
|They will protect and assist their owners||They have a short life span when compared to other dogs on our list|
Bottom line: Gently, loyal newfoundlands are awesome with children. They also don’t have a tonne of energy making them a great addition to a family with a more sedate lifestyle (although they do require regular exercise to keep them healthy). They are best suited to families who live in cooler areas and who can also devote the time to their grooming needs.
8. English Setter
An English Setter is a good sized dog for families who don’t want a huge dog but don’t want a small, lap dog either. Their friendly, happy disposition makes them great family dogs. While mild-mannered and sensitive, they can be strong willed and mischievous. Their exuberance, especially when they are puppies, might be too much for a scared child.
English Settlers bred for hunting require plenty of exercise (up to 2 hours per day). They love swimming so playing fetch with a stick in the water will keep them entertained for as long as their owner is willing to play. English Setters bred for the show ring are more sedate but still require a long daily walk.
On average, English setters will live 11- 12 years (although some live up to 15 years of age).
Pros and cons of owning an English Setter
|They are great with kids.||They shed and need frequent grooming.|
|They are reasonably healthy.||They can be strong willed and mischievous.|
|They will likely get along with other dogs.||They require lots of exercise so won’t suit time poor families.|
|They make good watchdogs and will bark if a stranger approaches the family home.||They crave companionship and will become destructive and start barking if left alone all day.|
|If sufficiently exercised, they will be happy curling up on the sofa at home.||They are only moderately easily to train because they get distracted when outside.|
|They are gentle and mild mannered.||They are highly motivated by food and are therefore prone to obesity if not carefully monitored.|
Bottom line: English Settler puppies might initially frighten shy children due to their exuberance and liking of jumping up on their humans. However they will eventually grow into gentle, mild mannered dogs that will fit in well with the family. They need plenty of companionship and exercise so they won’t suit a family that is away from them for long periods of time.
9. Icelandic Sheepdog
The Icelandic Sheepdog is a good choice for families seeking a small-to-medium sized dog. They are friendly, thrive on human companionship and are eager to please.
On average, Icelandic sheepdogs will live for 12-14 years
Pros and cons of owning a Icelandic Sheepdog
|They are obedient and therefore easy to train.||They shed a fair amount throughout the year and profusely during their twice yearly shedding season.|
|They will be peaceful in the house if they get enough exercise.||They love their humans and will be unhappy if left alone for long periods of time.|
|They will likely get along with other pets.||They will annoy the neighbours with their barking if they spot a bird or something else that captures their attention.|
|They are generally very healthy.||They need plenty of daily exercise – like long hikes rather than short walks.|
|They are highly intelligent.||They may chase cars or other moving objects.|
|They are affectionate and playful.||They are not suitable for apartments. A fenced yard is ideal for these dogs.|
Bottom line: The Icelandic Sheepdog is a great choice for families seeking a loyal, obedient dog that can be easily trained to get along with a scared child. They do require a fair amount of exercise though, and won’t be suitable if nobody will be home all day to keep them company.
While Collies are very playful, they are an excellent dog for a scared child because of their sensitivity and awareness of human emotions. In fact they are so sensitive that they will become depressed if spoken to harshly. They are also very fond of children and will become protective of them (think Lassie).
Like many medium sized dog breeds, they need regular exercise and stimulation and will fit in well with a family that has an active lifestyle.
There are 2 types of Collie -the rough Collie and the smooth Collie.
Note that Collie puppies have a tendency to nip at the heels (due to their herding instinct) which might initially scare a small child.
On average, Collies will live up to 15 years.
Pros and cons of owning a Collie
|They are very fond of children.||They may nip at heels due to their herding instinct.|
|They are sensitive, and aware of emotions in people.||They require plenty of regular exercise. If you are not into throwing a ball or frisbee repeatedly, the Collie is not be the right breed for you.|
|They are loyal and protective of their humans. They will love all members of the family and not bond to one particular person.||Their largish breed makes apartment living, or living in small space, a challenge.|
|They are easy to train.||They like to bark, especially if bored and left alone for too long.|
|They are highly intelligent.||They will become destructive if bored and require plenty of mental stimulation.|
|They will likely get along with other pets and humans outside the immediate family.||They require regular grooming. When they are shedding, they will need daily brushing.|
|They are great watch dogs.||They are territorial and will bark and go crazy when the doorbell rings.|
|They are a generally healthy, hardy breed.||They can become escape artists so you will need to make sure you have a secure backyard for them.|
Bottom line: While Collies are great with kids and lots of fun, they are not the right choice for time poor families or families who don’t enjoy a lot of active, outdoor activities. If they are not mentally stimulated or given enough physical activity, they will become destructive and will bark. They may initially scare small children due to their tendency to nip at the heels.
Tips for helping your child overcome their fear of dogs
- Start by showing them movies where a dog and a family share a special bond. Or look at cute dog videos on Youtube.
- Build up their exposure to dogs gradually. Start with just observing puppies at a pet store. Then introduce them to quiet, older dogs. If you don’t have friends or family with suitable dogs, hang around a dog park and observe the dogs with gentler personalities. Ask their owners if you can pat them and let your child see you do it. Don’t pressure your child to touch the dog if they are scared.
- See if you can pet sit a friend’s dog for the weekend.
- Find out why your child is scared. Quite often it is due to a past interaction with a dog that frightened them. Maybe a dog barked at them or tried to jump on them. Try and explain who they dog behaved that way – for example, the dog jumped up because he was greeting the child. If you are getting a new puppy let the child know in advance how the puppy will likely behave at first. If your child is prepared to be licked and jumped on, it will be less shocking to them when they first meet the dog.
- Get your child excited about meeting their new pet by letting the child help select dog paraphernalia such as toys and leads.
You might also like our article on one syllable boy names for dogs.