Best Big Dogs for Families

If your heart is large enough to adopt a big dog they can make a wonderful addition to your family.

The large breed dogs as a whole are loyal, friendly, and affectionate. Many are among the easier breeds to train.

Most large breed dogs make good family dogs but there are a few that are exceptional. These are the ones we’ll focus on in this article.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is an outstanding resource for all things related to dogs. In its section on “Best Family Dogs”, it lists a staggering 47 breeds!

They use three rating criteria for the best family dogs:

  • Affectionate With Family
  • Good With Young Children
  • Good With Other Dogs

Each breed is given a rating of one to five for each of these three criteria, with five being the highest rating.

Since here at Large Breed Dog World we’re focused on large dogs, we narrowed down the AKC list based on (1) large dogs only, and (2) that had the highest rating (five) in each category.

The Top Family Dogs

There were only six breeds that met these stringent criteria:

  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Newfoundland
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Irish Setter
  • Golden Retriever
  • Siberian Husky

While all of the large dogs on the AKC list are potentially good family dogs, these six are the best of the best.

Honorable Mention Top Family Dogs

There were two more large breeds on the AKC list that had the highest rating in two of the three categories and we include these as honorable mentions. Not quite perfect scores, but still outstanding selections. These four breeds are:

  • Bearded Collie
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback

Below is detailed information on all eight of these top family dog breeds to help you decide which might be a good match for your family.

THE 6 BEST-OF-THE-BEST FAMILY DOGS

Bernese Mountain Dog

Height: 23–27 inches

Weight: 75-115 pounds

Life Expectancy: 7-10 years

Two giant breed dogs made our best of the best list and the Bernese Mountain Dog is one of them.

You may have seen the television commercial about a dog visiting sick children in the hospital to cheer them up. That was a Bernese Mountain Dog. Like almost all the giant breed dogs, Berners (as they are known) are calm, sweet-natured, and affectionate.

They are especially gentle with kids, which explains their starring role in that television commercial!

Berners are big, powerful, and can easily top 100 pounds or more. They were bred to be hard workers in the pastures and farms of Switzerland and can comfortably thrive in cold weather due to their thick, tri-colored coats. This also means that regular grooming is required to maintain that beautiful coat.

This hardy dog loves to cuddle and is intelligent and playful. Their gentleness with children, good nature, and ability to get along with all other dogs makes them an ideal family pet.

Berners are affectionate towards everyone but will frequently become particularly attached to one person. If you’re that lucky person, you’ll know what canine friendship really means.

Training Requirements

As with all of the large breeds, early training and socialization are important for Berners. While they are completely non-aggressive, their sheer size alone can be a problem without proper training. You don’t want your 115-pound Berner showing their affection by jumping up on you!

Fortunately, Berners are easy to train, when training is done properly. Since they are so big-hearted and affectionate, you can easily hurt their feelings. This means they don’t react well to harsh training methods and commands.

Easy does it when training your Berner!

Exercise Requirements

Berners don’t require massive amounts of exercise every day. A half-hour or so of moderate activity is enough to keep them healthy.

That said, they do enjoy outside activities and make excellent companions while camping, hiking, or just on long walks. They also enjoy canine sports such as obedience, tracking, and herding. And, contrary to what you might think due to their size, they excel at agility.

Health

Overall, Berners are healthy dogs. Like all large breeds, they can be susceptible to bloat, which is a life-threatening and sudden stomach condition. This is something you need to know the signs of and what to do if they occur.

Newfoundland

Height: 26-28 inches

Weight: 100 – 160 pounds

Life Expectancy: 9-10 years

Newfies, as they are known, are the second of the two giant breeds on our list of best big dogs for families.

You might remember the dog named Nana from the Disney cartoon movie Peter Pan. Nana was a Newfoundland and had that part because of this breed’s reputation as an ideal nanny dog for children.

And beyond that, Newfies are patient, affectionate and make the ideal family companion. In fact, the United States “Breed Standard” states that “a sweet temperament is the hallmark of the Newfoundland and is the single most important characteristic of the breed.”

If we had to choose one breed as the best family dog, it would be the Newfoundland. They are perfect with children and love playing with them, but are careful to be gentle. In the dog world, Newfies are referred to as The Gentle Giant.

Newfies can reach 160 pounds or more. However, despite their massive size, Newfies are gentle and super friendly.

They are strongly devoted to their family and thus are vigilant watchdogs. They have a deep bark and few intruders are likely to challenge them.

They also make great working dogs and are known as excellent swimmers. With large bones and muscles, they have the power needed to take on strong tides and rough ocean waves. Plus, they have webbed feet!

Training Requirements

Newfoundlands are eager to please, which means they are easy to train. As with any large dog, early socialization and training classes are necessary for a well-adjusted and good-mannered companion.

Since Newfies are so trusting and affectionate, they respond best to gentle training methods. Harsh commands and corrections will not yield good results.

Exercise Requirements

Newfoundlands are equally at home on land and in the water, so either will do for exercise.

They should have a least a half-hour of moderate exercise daily to be happy and healthy.

While Newfies enjoy living and being with their families indoors, they also enjoy outdoor activities. They particularly enjoy swimming but are also excellent companions on hikes or long walks. They also excel at tracking, obedience, dock jumping, and agility. These are truly multipurpose dogs!

Health

As is true for most large and giant breeds, Newfies can be prone to joint issues. With their drop ears, they should also be checked regularly for any signs of infection.

Labrador Retriever

Height: 21-24.5 inches

Weight: 55-90 pounds

Life Expectancy: 10-12 years

The Labrador claims the title of “Most Popular Breed in the United States”, a title they have held for 29 years in a row! If a giant breed such as the Newfoundland isn’t for you, then a Lab would be our choice for the best family dog overall.

It’s no surprise that Labs are America’s favorite dogs. They are intelligent, easy to train, great with children, athletic, and get along with other dogs and virtually all people.

Since they are so good with people, especially children, Labs are frequently used as therapy dogs and hospital ambassadors.

Although they were originally bred as hunting dogs, particularly ducks, Labs are gentle, good-natured, and friendly. We’ve never met a mean Labrador – and neither will you!

Training Requirements

Given the Lab’s size, strength, and high energy, early training and socialization are a must. Beginning this training early, between 2 and 4 months, will help your Lab grow into a well-mannered and well-adjusted adult.

Fortunately, the Lab’s intelligence and temperament make them easy to train.

It’s important to also include your Lab in family activities, to support the fact that they are intelligent, enthusiastic, and devoted companions.

Exercise Requirements

Labs are extremely high energy and need plenty of daily exercise. Otherwise, they may channel that pent-up energy into destructive behavior.

Their favorite activities are swimming and retrieving. If you’re looking for a dog to play fetch with, a Lab is a perfect choice. Agility, tracking, and dock diving are canine sports at which Labs excel and these are also excellent ways to burn off their excess energy.

Labs are also hard workers in roles such as drug and bomb detection, search-and-rescue, and service dogs.

Health

Overall, Labradors are healthy dogs, though there are a few conditions to watch out for.

One of them is a condition known as Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC), which young adult Labs can experience. This is an inherited neuromuscular disorder.

Also, deep-chested dogs such as Labs can develop bloat, which is a life-threatening stomach condition. It’s important for Lab owners to recognize the symptoms of bloat and how to react if it occurs.

Irish Setter

Height: 25-27 inches

Weight: 60-75 pounds

Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

As a member of the sporting breeds, the Irish Setter is an excellent athlete and known for its swiftness and grace.

With their flashy red coats, Irish Setters are eager to please and easy to train. They are sweet-tempered dogs that make excellent companions, as well as playmates for the children. Consequently, they are famous for being good family dogs.

Irish Setters are very extroverted and enjoy meeting people, other dogs, and making new friends. They also make rugged partners for hiking, hunting, or just walking. Their long and powerful rear legs make them among the fastest of all sporting dog breeds.

Irish Setters are among the oldest of the purebreds, having been around for over 200 years.

Training Requirements

While Irish Setters are eager to please, affectionate, and happy, they are also full of energy and like having a job to do.

As a result, training sessions should be consistent but also interesting and fun to ensure they do not become bored. As with most breeds, they respond best to reward-based, positive training, rather than harsh and heavy-handed corrections.

Exercise Requirements

Since they are a sporting breed, Irish Setters need lots of daily exercise. They love to be with people, so daily play sessions and walks work particularly well

Irish Setters also enjoy and do well in canine sports such as agility, tracking, rally, and obedience. These can be as fun for you as they are for your dog.

Health

Irish Setters are healthy dogs overall. Like all large breeds, joint problems can occur, as well as certain eye conditions.

Since Irish Setters are a large-chested breed, they can experience bloat and owners should learn the symptoms and what to do if they occur.

Golden Retriever

Height: 21-24 inches

Weight: 55-75 pounds

Life Expectancy: 10-12 years

Golden Retrievers, or “Goldens” as they are often called, are of Scottish ancestry and are known for their gentleness and their great beauty.

They are also one of the most popular breeds in the United States. Their dense, golden coat is what gives them their name.

Goldens rank high on the intelligence scale and almost all owners describe them as loyal, sweet, and kind. They seem to intuitively know to be careful and gentle with both children and the elderly. This makes them excellent family dogs for multigenerational families.

The sweet temperament and trainability of Goldens also make them ideal therapy and service dogs.

Goldens are also very active and are good companions for high-energy children. And their trusting nature is such that they are unlikely to snap if a child accidentally bumps into them or pulls their tail. They will happily run with the kids all day long, keeping an eye on them as they do so.

Being one of the most lovable breeds, Goldens are ideal family dogs, although that lovable nature also means there are not particularly good as watchdogs. After all, they love everybody!

That said, their intelligence enables them to sense when someone means harm and they will protect their family members.

Training Requirements

Goldens are anxious to please, making them easy and enjoyable to train. As with all breeds, early training and socialization are recommended to help your Golden turn into a well-mannered and well-adjusted adult.

Exercise Requirements

As a sporting breed, Goldens require a lot of daily exercise. They make excellent companions on walks, bike rides, and hikes.

Goldens are also excellent at canine sports such as obedience, tracking, dock diving, and agility.

Health

Overall, Goldens are healthy dogs. Like the other large breeds, joint problems can be long-term problems.

And, as with all dogs, you should check your Golden’s ears weekly for signs of infection, and brush its teeth regularly.

Siberian Husky

Height: 20-24 inches

Weight: 40-60 pounds

Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

Siberian Huskies are one of the smaller of what we consider large breeds (breeds weighing more than 50 pounds). This is considerably smaller than their cousin, the Alaskan Malamute.

The Siberian’s eyes are one of its most noticeable features. They can be brown, or blue, or one of each! They have a thick coat, which is in line with their background as sled dogs.

Siberians are powerful and blessed with extreme levels of endurance. This is why they are great sled dogs, able to pull loads over vast frozen landscapes at a lively speed. They are among the hardiest breeds.

Siberians were bred as pack dogs and as such get along well with other dogs. They are also very social and enjoy family life and the company of their family people or other dogs. They do not do well being left alone for long periods.

The friendliness of Siberians, one of the things that make them great family dogs, also means that they are not particularly good watchdogs. They are much more likely to lick than bite a stranger!

One of the Siberian’s more attractive features is that they are naturally clean, with very little “doggy” order. They stand out from most large breeds in this regard.

Training Requirements

Like other breeds, your Siberian will benefit from early obedience training and socialization. While Siberians are intelligent and understand training easily, they have a streak of independence, which means you’ll need to establish yourself as a strong leader when training.

Socialization training is particularly important for Siberians, given their natural social nature and need for both dog and people contact.

Exercise Requirements

Siberians need regular exercise and lots of it, as they are athletic and active dogs. As a working breed, they are most happy when they have a job to perform.

As sled dogs, Siberians were born to run and will take every opportunity to do so. This makes it critical that they are on a leash, harness, or in a fenced yard at all times. If allowed to run free, you may never see them again.

As you might suspect, the Siberian’s natural athleticism allows them to excel in most of the canine sporting events.

Health

Siberians are a fairly healthy breed. One area to watch for is juvenile cataracts. You should consider having your Siberian examined by a canine ophthalmologist at about 12 months of age just to be sure.

More information can be found on the website for the Siberian Husky Club of America, Inc.

HONORABLE MENTION FOR BEST FAMILY DOGS

Bearded Collie

Height: 20-22 inches

Weight: 45-55 pounds

Life Expectancy: 12-14 years

Originating in Scotland, and known as the “Beardie”, the name comes from the beard formed by the hair hanging down from their chin.

Somewhat resembling an Old English Sheepdog, Beardies are covered in a shaggy double coat. They are a bit leaner and more angular than Sheepdogs.

Beardies are extremely intelligent, active, resourceful, and inquisitive, which means they can be a bit of a handful to keep up with. But they are also excellent with children and will happily spend hours playing and running with them.

When well socialized, Beardies get along well with dogs, as well as other animals, in addition to their family members.

Although they are very friendly, their herding background makes them alert and thus good watchdogs. They will always bark to let you know someone has arrived (or is attempting to break in!).

While their energy and intelligence mean they aren’t the dog for everyone, this well-loved breed is a terrific family dog and makes a wonderful addition to any household.

Training Requirements

Beardies are a herding breed and were originally bred to work on their own out in the field, without direction from humans. Their streak of independence can sometimes come across as being stubborn, making training a bit of a challenge.

However, patience and positive reinforcement will win over your Beardie and turn them into well-behaved members of your family.

Exercise Requirements

As we’ve explained, Beardies are highly energetic and boisterous and need a good amount of outdoor exercise. Fortunately, they are happy to play and run outside regardless of the weather.

Your Beardie needs activity daily, which can include running, long hikes or walks, or playing in fenced-in areas. They are happy to play with people or dogs and love to participate in dog sports such as agility, herding, and obedience. The busier they are, the happier they are.

Health

Bearded Collies are a hardy breed with few health issues. If you purchase yours from a breeder, you should make sure they screen for the typical large breed health issues, such as hip dysplasia, autoimmune diseases, allergies, and eye problems.

As with all dogs, your Beardies’ ears should be checked regularly and their teeth brushed frequently.

Rhodesian Ridgeback

Height: 24-27 inches

Weight: 70-85 pounds

Life Expectancy: 10-12 years

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are easily recognizable by the strip of backward-growing hair (also known as a ‘ridge’, thus the name) on their back. They come in one color – brown – although this can range from light beige to an almost reddish brown.

This is a lot of dog! They were originally bred to pursue lions in the savannah, although interestingly just to track and hold at bay – never to kill. They are powerful and fast dogs that can weigh up to 85 pounds or even more.

A great choice for either a big or small family, the Rhodesian Ridgeback is well known for being loyal, kind-hearted and protective over their family members, both adults, and children. They are people dogs who get incredibly attached to their families and love them with unconditional loyalty and dedication.

The reason they are an honorable mention and not a top pick is that they only score three out of five stars for their ability to get along with other dogs. They usually require time and trust before they will fully accept another dog.

Rhodesian Ridgebacks are intelligent and can be independent and strong-willed, so it’s important to give them proper training from early puppyhood. Although they are faithful and loving family dogs, their sometimes domineering nature means they may not be the best choice for novice dog owners.

Training Requirements

Given the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s strong will and independent nature, training with a gentle but firm hand is a must. Harsh training should never be used, as these are pretty sensitive dogs, despite their imposing strength and speed.

As long as the training comes from someone they know and trust, and is justified and fair, the Rhodesian Ridgeback will respond positively.

Exercise Requirements

A moderate amount of daily exercise will meet the requirements of the Rhodesian Ridgeback. They are athletic and powerful dogs but can adapt to many different living situations so long as they receive daily play and exercise with their family. They particularly enjoy running.

They also enjoy and excel at canine sports such as agility and tracking, which allow for both owner and dog to enjoy themselves together.

Health

We rate Rhodesian Ridgebacks as moderately healthy dogs overall. Like all large breeds, they can be prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, thyroid problems, and eye issues. They also have a slightly higher rate of cancer.

Scroll to Top