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The Seven Worst Dog Breeds for Families

Last Thanksgiving, we had a big family feast at our house, which meant more little kids afoot than my dog is used to. Luckily, he’s the best-behaved dog I’ve ever seen when it comes to children’s antics, adopting a Gandhi-esque stance of nonviolent resistance. In other words, he lies there and takes their poking and prodding, usually pretending to nap.
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I’m grateful that my dog is so trustworthy around kids of all ages, because there are many dogs that have the opposite reaction to them. That’s important to keep in mind when shopping for your family’s new pet, especially because it’s easy to get drawn in by cuteness and the lack of effort to do research beyond that. A dog’s socialization history is more telling than anything, but there are some breeds that might not be the best match for families with young kids. 


1. Dalmatians
This dog breed was extremely popular a few years ago during the 101 Dalmatians craze, but what the movie failed to demonstrate—which resulted in many dalmatians’ being taken to pounds—is that they can be high-strung and nervous around children. 


“They’re also more prone to deafness,” says John Vinton, a San Francisco Bay Area–based dog trainer I spoke to about dog choices for families. The fact that they might not hear people approaching, especially kids who tend to give little to no warning, could make them reactionary. 


2. Chihuahuas
They’re so small that people think of them as harmless, but chihuahuas are highly possessive and can get jealous when other people, such as new babies, enter their territory. They get bark-happy and will even snap at others if they feel provoked. “They’re much more nervous dogs, and that’s why they’re not great around kids,” Vinton says. If a chihuahua’s been around kids his or her whole life, this is less of an issue. But they are pickier than most breeds about their human preferences; sometimes they don’t even like all the members of their household. 


3. Akitas
These dogs “tend to be a little more aloof and don’t bond as much with their owners,” Vinton says. “They were bred as guard dogs, and so they don’t bond as strongly, in my opinion.” That aloofness makes it hard to anticipate their moods or next moves. Proper training from the start is essential with Akitas, as they’re naturally stubborn and will turn aggressive if facing unfamiliar situations and people—or if they’re annoyed at kids pulling their ears. 


4. Chow Chows
Like Akitas, chow chows can seem unfriendly or distant if they weren’t socialized around other dogs or children from the start. They like their alone time and will assume a leader-of-the-pack mentality if a trainer doesn’t step in and quell its domineering tendencies. “You want to make it clear that you are my dog; I am not your owner,” Vinton says. 


5. Yorkshire Terriers
Yorkies, and terriers in general, are possessive and also have issues with authority, at least in the beginning. According to the Web site Dog Guide, terriers tolerate kids as long as they don’t feel infringed upon too much, so having them around the very young is probably a bad idea. One of my close family members had a silky terrier when I was growing up, and while she was very loving, she would nip at people if she got too excited. This behavior might frighten little kids who aren’t used to it. Vinton also says that they can feel threatened if people come at them too quickly. 


6. Shar-Peis
This dog breed makes the list for the same reason Akitas do—they’re standoffish and independent and can be suspicious of new people. Shar-peis are bred to be guard dogs, which is why they don’t warm to people as quickly as other breeds do. Unless trained otherwise, they can get willful and aggressive. But when they’re socialized properly as puppies, they grow up playful and loyal to their families. 


7. Llasa Apsos
Llasa apsos are very smart and won’t tolerate much poking or nose grabbing from kids. They’re friendly and affectionate to family members, but they get stubborn without effective discipline. These dogs can also get grumpy if messed with when they’re not in the mood, which is why they might not be the best choice for children. Kids, especially young ones, don’t always recognize pets’ boundaries. 


The Past Is More Important Than the Breed
Ultimately, a great deal of research, planning, and careful consideration should go into any pet purchase, but even more so when it comes to dogs because they vary so much by breed. Vinton suggests starting with this question: do you want a puppy or an older dog? Puppies take more time and attention, but they can be trained right from the start. Older dogs are calmer and often already housebroken, but their socialization history—or lack thereof—should make or break your decision. If you go the puppy route and choose from a litter, Vinton recommends avoiding the very shy or the highly pushy ones, as they may have anxiety or dominance problems down the line. 


Vinton also stresses the importance of visiting the dog two or three times to truly experience his or her temperament. He likens it to buying a used car; the dog may have had previous owners and could come with issues that aren’t obvious in the first meeting. In fact, history is the most important thing to consider when pet shopping. The breeds I listed are more prone to unfavorable behavior than others when it comes to kids, but with the right training, they can be terrific family dogs. Their potential behavior is just something for you to be aware of when trying to find the perfect pet for you and your loved ones.

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