Requesting recommendation of large breed family dog
September 5, 2006 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend a large breed dog that is good with small children and protective of family. Great Dane? Wolf Hound? Other?

Also, any links to sites or books/DVD's on basic dog training. Thank you.
posted by rockhopper to Pets & Animals (39 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might start by going through this list.
posted by blind.wombat at 10:11 AM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

A large-breed dog that's good with small children is a dog that's trained exceptionally well by owners willing to put the time and effort into doing so.

I don't mean that snarkily, or to imply that you necessarily won't, but I grew up with lovely wonderful large-breed dogs my entire childhood and the common trait they all shared was being formally trained, EARLY, by my mother and caring experienced dog trainers, as well as a commitment by my entire family to keep the dog in line and to learn how to communicate effectively with animals. (I still find I have a higher ability to get dogs to do what I want them to without complaint than most people I know, and I learned that young.)

Someone asking for large dog recommendations and training DVDs in the same (virtual) breath is a little worrisome, really. Go to dog shows, talk to breeders, get a good feel for what you're getting into. This will be an ongoing family project, not a one-time thing.
posted by occhiblu at 10:13 AM on September 5, 2006 [3 favorites]

My sister loves her Great Dane, but she regrets getting Mira because of my niece and nephew.

Mira (the Great Dane) is very, very protective of her family, to the point that my sister locks the dog up *any* time the kids have friends over. Mira is a sweet dog, and has been well trained, but my sister has said more than once that if she had realized what was meant by protective of family in this sense, she'd never have got a Great Dane.
posted by ugf at 10:13 AM on September 5, 2006

I know a couple people who have had Rhodesian Ridgebacks and they loved them. In their cases, they were good with kids and also very good watchdogs. Very intelligent (and therefore, obedience is highly recommended), but loyal and good companion dogs. Rhodesian Ridgeback Club website has some information, but it's ugly. I'm sure there's better sites out there.
posted by almostcool at 10:14 AM on September 5, 2006

posted by penchant at 10:14 AM on September 5, 2006

Great Pyrenees
posted by zia at 10:18 AM on September 5, 2006

Our neighbor has a really sweet female English Mastiff that she reports was the runt of the litter, weighing in around 150 pounds. Full size Mastiffs are enourmous.
posted by prostyle at 10:21 AM on September 5, 2006


"Are Borzoi good with children? When raised with children, most Borzoi are good companions, but they are not a breed that will tolerate the rough treatment that a young child can sometimes inflict. Children should be taught how to properly behave with and handle a Borzoi. Remember the size of the Borzoi. A very small child could be easily injured if accidentally knocked down by a Borzoi. If a child plays roughly with a young dog, the dog sometimes will respond by playing rough with the child. For these reasons, small children should always be supervised when around a Borzoi."
posted by mattbucher at 10:23 AM on September 5, 2006

Mutts may be the most suitable. There's no real need to spend hundreds of dollars on a brand-name animal when a reputable and good shelter or rescue group can inform you in great detail about a dog they have. It might have come from a home with children and thus be a known quantity, whereas a puppy of a given breed that has a certain reputation still is an unknown quantity.
posted by scratch at 10:28 AM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

We had Danes when I was small and they were all wonderful with kids and the entire family. We lived waaaay out in the country at that point though, and when we moved into the suburbs our current Great Dane didn't adjust well. They are also prone to heartbreaking health problems (hip dysplasia, etc) and that plus the short lifespan of large dogs can be traumatizing for kids.

When my kids were young we had a Shepherd mix who was absolutely fantastic with everyone and especially children; he would happily lie there and let babies crawl all over him and he watched the kids like a hawk at the park or playground - I'm sure if they had ever been in danger he would have done some Lassie thing. At least I hope so - he was also the dog who slept through a burglary.

That said though, you must realize that guard dogs and family companions have different jobs and different roles, and if I had small children I would definitely, definitely err on the side of niceness and skip the guard dog stuff. Look at it this way - bad guys won't know if your dog is friendly or not and just hearing or seeing a dog is often enough to deter a burglar, but your neighbors and your children's friends and other dogs out walking will know the difference, and you will not make many friends with an unpredictable or an aggressive dog.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:28 AM on September 5, 2006

Oh, and I would definitely, definitely start with a puppy. Dogs who have been raised with small children are much, much, much better with them than dogs who have not. Seriously.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:29 AM on September 5, 2006

I recommend a mixed breed dog, they are not as high strung as some pure breds. Specifically a Husky/Lab like our dog Franklin. He's a hundred lbs and a total cupcake and great with kids. Puppy kindergarten is mandatory as are follow up obedience classes. Happy Trails and always pick up after your dog in public places, it makes for good diplomacy.
posted by sgobbare at 10:31 AM on September 5, 2006

Just about any large dog will do what you really want: be a deterrent.

Many dogs of all sizes will bark and posture and otherwise give threat-displays to strangers who are acting funny. But you should not expect any dog that hasn't received truly massive amounts of training to actually be protective, and protection dogs also require highly trained professional full-time handlers.

You do not want a dog that's actually protective, that's actually prone to bite people it perceives as threats. This is a liability nightmare, and you, your kids, or their friends are far more likely to end up bitten than any actual evil-doer.

At the same time, any burglar, rapist, murderer, serial-killer or other miscreant who enters a house with a barking dog can be expected to be ready to deal with (kill) the dog. The barking alone will deter casual criminals, which is all you need to worry about unless you're in witness-protection, are a drug dealer or mafiosi, or something like that.

One way to handle some of this is to train your dog to bark on command, but use a nonstandard command. Frex, train that dog to bark and posture and growl on the command "EASY" or "SETTLE DOWN" or "QUIET".

There's a very quick, easy answer to what kind of dog does well with small children: a supervised dog. Don't leave small kids alone with dogs for any extended period, as they're prone to doing things that would provoke any sane, reasonable dog into biting.

The practical upshot:

Go to shows, meet breeds and breeders, and see what you like. Get a breed that has characteristics that you like, whatever those boil down to --- that is, get a dog that will be a good companion to you. Don't worry about protection. Just about any dog will do what you want.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:36 AM on September 5, 2006

Well, there are a couple of things I need to say first:

1) "good with small children" - it is NEVER, under any circumstances, safe to leave ANY dog alone with small children, even for a minute. Despite what Lassie and anecdotes will tell you, until children are old enough to understand the correct way to treat animals (and do so reliably), it is never safe to leave them alone with a dog of any size, or any breed. You do not ever want to place the dog in a position where it must defend itself against children tormenting it, especially when the children are too young to understand the dog telling them to leave it alone - this is how children get seriously bitten (even a small bite can be disfiguring or worse to a child), and how dogs end up being put to sleep. It's unfair to both parties. Just please don't do it.

2) "protective of family" - the VAST majority of dogs will not actually do any real "protecting" if they are in physical danger themselves. Regardless of what people like to think in their romanticized ideas about dogs, if a dog is being hurt, it will try to get away in the majority of cases, and it won't care WHAT is happening to you - some dogs will do what dog people call a "bite'n'run", but this is not truly defensive/protective behaviour. Properly-selected, properly-trained and properly-maintained personal protection dogs are carefully selected (less than 5% of even the traditionally protective breeds are suited to protection work), extensively trained, and not suitable for the average pet owner. Get a better alarm system or move somewhere safer if you really feel you are so unsafe that you need a dog to protect you. A dog's value in terms of protection is as an alarm system and deterrent, and pretty well any breed is suitable for this - a person who will break into a house with a barking dog is prepared to deal with that dog, no matter WHAT size or breed it is.

That said, if you want a large dog, a Wolfhound is a good choice - they have minimal health issues and minimal temperament issues (which is not true of Newfies or Danes), but as with all giant breeds, they are short-lived. Irish Setters are also a good choice, they are lovely-tempered dogs in general and most adore children, they are also generally very healthy (eye disorders and epilepsy are a concern). Be sure that you research the breed carefully (google for the breed's national breed club and read everything you can - breed clubs are usually called "The Irish Wolfhound Club of America" or something like that) and research potential breeders even MORE carefully (I've posted here about choosing dog breeders before, but at least attend some dog shows in your area, meet some breeds, talk to some breeders - if the breeder doesn't want to talk to you about what you WON'T like about their breed, find another).

Training is not optional, but I actually don't think a novice owner with a large breed is necessarily a worry as long as you find a training class (not a book/DVD, a class with an actual, no-shit, good dog trainer who will teach YOU how to train your dog - the kennel club in your country (AKC, CKC, UK) will have lists of accredited dog obedience clubs, and they will be cheaper and better than just about any other), and keep up with the training (most dogs should ideally remain in classes for three-four years, it's not enough to do one class). It's also not a worry as long as you manage the dog fairly and reasonably and follow the "never leave kids and dogs alone" rule - experienced, knowledgeable dog owners always follow this rule, you should too.

Good books are: Jean Donaldson's "The Culture Clash", anything by Patricia McConnell (especially "The Other End of the Leash", "How to be the Leader of the Pack") and for general puppy raising Ian Dunbar's "Before & After Getting Your Puppy".
posted by biscotti at 10:37 AM on September 5, 2006 [2 favorites]

I recommend a mixed breed dog, they are not as high strung as some pure breds.

Some will be more, some will be less. Mutts are fine and dandy dogs, but having a mutt is not insurance against it being high-strung or having health problems or anything of the sort. About the only thing you can say is that the standard deviation of problems and characteristics will be wider than it would for a purebred.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:40 AM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

I think shepherd mixes and lab-ish dogs are probably the best nanny dogs, followed by higher-maintenance-coat dogs like the Great Pyrenees, Newfoundlands, OE Sheepdogs and other flock guardians.

I love large dogs, but keep in mind that most of them don't really know that they're bigger than the end of their own noses. When I lived among mastiffs, I pretty much always had deep bruises or broken bones in my feet because they want to stand right up as close to you as possible - and I've got US Women's 10W monster feet. And they are prone to flopping onto you and/or kicking you in the head/chest when they're feeling snuggly.

I hate seeing large dogs surrendered or put down for the crime of being both large and dogs, so you need to think real hard about whether you want to go this route. You cannot train a dog out of being a dog; any animal will lash out when hurt, will regard children as really dumb funny-shaped puppies, and will knock you or whoever out of the way to get the bunny when its prey drive is engaged. No amount of training will guarantee any person's safety with any dog, but the smaller the dog the less damage they automatically do.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:48 AM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

training from puppyhood is the main thing ... labrador retrievers are excellent with children and german shephards are good ... (they get a bad rap from people because of their use in police and guard duty, but they have to be trained to act that way)

the best deterrent dog is a small poodle or terrier, but they're not very good with kids ... what they do well is yap their fool heads off, which will scare many people away

i'm not sure that you want them to be trained as bodyguards as that results in a certain degree of aggressiveness that doesn't work with kids ... so, you shouldn't think of a dog as protection

that being said, labs and german shephards have good dispositions and most people who aren't used to dogs will find them fairly imposing
posted by pyramid termite at 10:52 AM on September 5, 2006

Good advice above, just wanted to add that we have 2 Lab mixes that are very good arond children and were free. My wife and my sister and her husband also have purebred Labs that are very good around children, but were obviously more expensive.
posted by TedW at 10:54 AM on September 5, 2006

We grew up with a Standard Poodle that was beautiful, smart, fun, and sweet tempered with family and friends - but extremely protective with strangers, a protective guardian for us kids. And once we came home to find a broken window and blood in the house - she had apparently chased a would-be-burglar out. My Dad had trained her well. She was a gorgeous big, brown dog, we didn't keep her all frou-frou-ey, just let her shag. It may not be a breed you would automatically think of, so I toss it in for consideration.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:57 AM on September 5, 2006

We had Bouviers des Flandres and they seem a good match for what you are interested in: my cousins climbed all over them with no repurcussions, they were protective but not nuts (ie, if we seemed okay with a stranger, they were okay; if we weren't, they weren't). They're smart and trainable and great dogs. But you do have to train them.
posted by dame at 11:02 AM on September 5, 2006

I would agree that what you want is simple deterrence, which any dog over forty should provide. A dog that actually is protective is a pain-in-the-ass and a constant worry; he'll be more likely to "protect" you from the mailman or the neighbour's kids and dogs than from actual threats.

Do you want a puppy or a grown dog? If you want a puppy, the nice thing about purebreds is that it's easier to get to know the dam (and possibly sire too). A calm, friendly bitch is more likely to to produce calm friendly puppies.
posted by timeistight at 11:03 AM on September 5, 2006

The variation between a good example of the breed and a bad one is much greater than the difference between breeds. There is a very common misconception that if you get a breed that is considered good with kids, that you won't have to train them, or that if you get a breed that is bad with kids, then there is nothing that you can do to change it because they are just "like that". No matter what breed of dog you get, bend over backwards to make sure that you get a well socialized dog that has experience being around children with their yelling and screaming and running and poking and prodding. To many dogs children are not little humans but a completely different animal, so even a tolerant, friendly dog can react inappropriately or play too roughly unless it gets plenty of exposure to children.

If you decide to buy a puppy, make sure that you get one from a qualified breeder and not a puppy from a backyard breeder or a pet store. Backyard breeders and pet stores are virtually a guaranteed source of heartache and misery. If you get an adult dog, it's a good idea to get one from an animal rescue where the dogs are housed in foster homes. They will know a lot more about the temperment of the animal and be able to give you more information about whether the dog is suitable for your household.
posted by hindmost at 11:10 AM on September 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to add that I agree about getting a puppy - we have a mutt that we got at the pound when she was five. She is the sweetest most adorable dog on the planet. But, when my nieces and nephews (little kids, under the age of 5) are around, she gets annoyed and nervous. Part of this is the fault of the parents - when the dog is hiding under the table it is not okay for the kids to crawl under there and pull her tail - but that wouldn't change the fact that if she growled or bit... well, it wouldn't be good. I am convinced this is a function of her having grown up only around adults, and living a very quiet existence with me and my husband (sometimes *I* want to growl at these kids).

Other family members have cokapoos, shepherds, labs, and collies, all of whom were raised around kids. The shepherd and collies will let the kids jump on them - practically ride them - without trouble, and who g. I am convinced this is product of the raising, not breeding.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:11 AM on September 5, 2006

I'll reiterate the puppy advice - raise your dogs with little kids around. They never know what to think of little squealing jokers if they haven't been raised around them.

Second, if you're going to have your kids' friends over, make sure you have a secure area to put the dogs. We had a big pen in the back yard.

Third, I'll suggest a breed - rottweilers. Sure they've got a bad rap from all the poorly trained dogs wannabe gangstas drag around, but properly trained, it's hard to beat a Rottie for personal protection and family love.

I was raised with "cow dogs" and rottweilers. Contrary to biscotti's statement above, I've had dogs go to the mat for me before, including one rottweiler that threw himself between a 12 yr old me and a very irate momma cow, earning several broken ribs, but never giving up the fight until I was safe. I've also seen my toddler brother chew on our Doberman's ear without the dog doing anything but whine.

That said, not every dog will be that way. Have someone who knows dogs pick the best puppy from the litter for you and watch him/her as it grows up to ensure the dog has the right temperment. That plus good training will add a valuable member to your family.
posted by CRS at 11:48 AM on September 5, 2006

I grew up with boxers and they are very protective of the family and great with children.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 1:56 PM on September 5, 2006

Looking for the same thing once we are in a house with a big enough yard to be fair, we are thinking of a Bernese Mountain Dog, which would seem to fit your requirements.
posted by gregchttm at 2:04 PM on September 5, 2006

Contrary to biscotti's statement above, I've had dogs go to the mat for me before

It's a big world and all kinds of improbable things happen every day. But that doesn't mean you should bet that way, or plan for them to happen.

I've also seen my toddler brother chew on our Doberman's ear without the dog doing anything but whine.

That's exactly the sort of thing you should prevent kids from doing by supervising them. No dog should have to put up with that, and many sane, reasonable dogs in fact won't put up with that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:26 PM on September 5, 2006

i've got to mention the Akita. they are extremely loyal, protective and loving.
posted by gnutron at 2:26 PM on September 5, 2006

I second biscotti's suggestion on the Irish Wolfhound, I lived with one owned by my roommate for a few years. They are called gently giants for good reason and are loyal towards the entire household. He would always choose a spot to nap that was directly on the path between the front door and everyone in the house. For instance, if one person was upstairs and one was downstairs, the dog would sleep by the front door to keep us both covered. If both of us were upstairs, the dog would sleep at the top of the stairs. We assumed this behavior was intended to guard us from intruders.

One time friends with infants (twins) came over for dinner. The babies were carried inside, still in their car seats, and placed on the floor. The Wolfhound sniffed them both, turned around, and flopped down at their feet; he seemed to be saying, "I'll keep an eye on these guys while you have dinner." It was unbelievably precious.

They don't bark, but will occasionally let out a Wookie howl. They aren't aggressive, but you do have to keep an eye on them taking off after neighborhood cats. Their size does have drawbacks; they eat a lot, then poop a lot, and have shorter lives.

Also look into Bouviers, Newfoundlands, Standard Poodles, or any lovable mutt. I'm not so crazy about the Old English Sheepdog. They are pretty clumsy, stepping on feet and things like that. They also have a pretty strong herding instinct that can come out when kids run around and play.
posted by peeedro at 3:15 PM on September 5, 2006

I second what gregchttm about the Bernese Mountain Dog. We have friends who were adopted by a stray adult Bernese seven or eight years ago, and my two boys (who were deathly afraid of dogs at the time) learned to love dogs because of that beast.

As far as we know Lucky never had to deal with truly small children (my youngest son was the youngest among the four kids in the two families, about five or six at the time), but he's a wonderful animal to everyone he knows and an intimidating presence to strangers. The Bernese are a fairly short-lived breed and subject to various ailments (Lucky is starting to show some signs of arthritis).
posted by lhauser at 4:57 PM on September 5, 2006

If you are willing to wait a while and pay a mint, I hear Hovawarts are great dogs. Other than that, I would recommend a Canaan dog.
posted by jxpx777 at 7:13 PM on September 5, 2006

posted by chrissyboy at 7:22 PM on September 5, 2006

Second on the Bouvier breed, we have a six year old male who we had a year before our son was born. He's 95 pounds and sweet as can be- unless you try to mess with us . . .
posted by jeremias at 7:33 PM on September 5, 2006

I have a Berner. My Berlioz is a loving dog who really wants to be a lap dog. If you sit on the floor, he's there to put his head in your lap. He's more than happy to be your personal pillow no matter your age or size.

People are very intimidated by his size and his bark. He and our boxer mix are hopefully good reasons for random people to not enter our home without permission.

Just one big ol caveat on dogs like Berners, Newfies, and St. Bernards: Hair. They are hair farms and you seriously need to factor that in if you are considering such a breed. Do you have any clue just how much hair one long-haired dog weighing in at 145 lbs produces in a week? The recommendation for a daily brush is no joke. They produce bags of hair. Then twice a year you get the coat blowing out for the new summer or winter coat. You will need to love your vacuum. You will need to love the dog.

Breeds like my Berner are a lot of work. Do not get one if you're not prepared for dirt, leaves, twigs, and hair tumbleweeds to appear on your floors 10 minutes after you clean them.
posted by onhazier at 7:38 PM on September 5, 2006

Let me second the above comment on considering the hair issue. I have a jet black german shepard - he's about 90 lbs and sheds like crazy year round. I own a Dyson Animal vacuum (the garish purple one), and it was worth every dollar of its $450 price tag.

To truly keep up with the shedding means vacuuming about every other day, and raking him out as much as possible. When I get behind on it, hairballs collect on the 3rd day and by four or five days my wife is making serious threats to take him or me to the humane society. Be prepared for having hair on all your furniture, on your clothes, and sometimes in your food. I'm sure its only more fun with a 150 lb long-hair dog like a St Bernard.

Just something to be seriously prepared for before you make the commitment...
posted by rsanheim at 7:51 PM on September 5, 2006

Boxer. The end.
posted by Crotalus at 8:10 PM on September 5, 2006

I agree with Crotalus and Taken Outtacontext: Boxers. We have a brindle male and his bark from the house is enough to scare anyone out of the yard. He's great with my 6-yr-old daughter. Boxers are a nice medium-sized dog.

Remember, though, that medium and large-sized dogs eat A LOT.
posted by cass at 7:04 AM on September 6, 2006

Regardless of the breed you choose, please keep in mind that there are two things about any dog that you cannot ever change: their exercise needs, and what they were bred to do. You need to pay attention to these two factors, and what they mean in terms of management, before you decide on a breed. The vast majority of dog behaviour problems can be chalked up to insufficient exercise, incorrect/insufficient training and unreasonable expectations (in addition to problems caused by inadequate socialization as puppies) - you have control over ALL these things, please do not take home a dog without learning what it will need to be happy, and planning out how you will meet those needs.

A Boxer needs a lot of exercise, on average, to be happy, they are also a working dog which needs a lot of training and work to be happy (yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but in general). I love Boxers, they are wonderful, affectionate and intelligent, but they are not the sort of calm, mellow dog that, say, a (correctly-bred) Wolfhound is in general, and they are not generally well-suited to someone who doesn't want to do a lot of training and exercising a dog.

Contrary to biscotti's statement above, I've had dogs go to the mat for me before

There are always exceptions, but I assure you I did not pull this statement (or any of my statements) out of thin air. I suggest you contact any knowledgeable dog trainer, especially one who routinely deals with the traditionally protective working breeds - invariably, the most knowledgeable and experienced trainers I have ever been in contact with state time and again that people vastly overestimate and/or misconstrue dogs' protective instincts. Talk to any reputable personal protection dog trainer (I don't mean some idiot who trains "guard dogs", and I don't necessarily mean someone who trains for Schutzhund-type competitions, I mean someone who trains proper protection dogs), they will tell you that dogs who actually have correct protective instincts AND the guts to back them up AND a stable temperament (a requirement for any of this sort of training) are a tiny minority (most say around 4%). This is not my opinion, this is the opinion of people who have years of experience with exactly this sort of thing. But you certainly don't have to take my word for it.

People attribute aggression, fear and resource guarding to "protection" all the time, people also attribute all kinds of behaviours to protection when someone more experienced and familiar with dog behaviour would attribute it to something else. We'd prefer to think that the reason our dog growls at anyone who comes near our kid is because the dog is "protecting" the kid, rather than the more likely case, which is that the dog sees the kid as his property, and is resource-guarding it, which is a potentially extremely dangerous situation, and one which reflects completely inappropriate dog management. Do dogs protect people? Sure they do. But they don't do it anywhere near as often as people like to think, they rarely do it when actual physical harm is happening to them, and not every behaviour that we'd like to call "protection" is truly protective behaviour.

I've also seen my toddler brother chew on our Doberman's ear without the dog doing anything but whine.

This is horrifyingly irresponsible dog AND child management. And this is precisely the sort of situation in which a dog and child should never be placed, it's the kind of situation where even the best-tempered dog might eventually be unable to withstand the abuse, snap at the child (who is ignoring the dog's best efforts to make the child stop, AS ARE THE ADULTS), and end up euthanized. Poor dog, poor kid.
posted by biscotti at 8:54 AM on September 6, 2006 [2 favorites]

Another vote for Boxers. We have a full Boxer male and a half Boxer female (other half English Shepard). Both are excellent with our 2 year old boy. Very tolerant. They are dogs that need their exercise, but once they get a couple years on them, they are fairly chill for the most part.

We've noticed a definite increase in protectiveness since our little boy was born. Once while camping, our girl dog got her feathers all in a ruffle when the park ranger (in full uniform with hat and all) came up to our campsite and walked near our boy. She stood between the ranger and our kid and made it abundantly clear that the ranger had come close enough.
posted by MrToad at 10:31 AM on September 6, 2006

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