Skip to main content

Gentle giants: 6 big dog breeds that make great family pets

Family dogs: Large dog breeds perfect for families with children

A Bernese Mountain Dog offers their paw during a training session
Melounix / Shutterstock

Large dogs can be intimidating to some, but the truth is that many of them are as sweet as can be — especially with children! Although it may sound surprising, we’ve all heard the term “gentle giant” used to describe large dog breeds like Great Danes and Saint Bernards. It should come as no surprise that they can be great with kids with a reputation like that, but they’re not the only family dogs out there!

These five big dog breeds make wonderful pets for anyone with kids. They have a history of being patient and gentle with children, and they all respond well to positive reinforcement training. With the right amount of attention and love, any of these dogs can be your child’s best friend.

Tall black and white Great Dane staring at camera.
earlwilkerson / Adobe Stock

Great Danes are famous for their “gentle giant” nature

Great Dane dogs are known for being the largest dog breed in existence — but they’re also one of the sweetest. Though they’ll happily watch over their homes, Hill’s Pet notes that Danes are “moderately playful” and “affectionate.” Their energy level is somewhat limited, so they will be happy with a backyard and about 30 minutes of daily exercise. The only downside is that this breed only lives for about 6 to 8 years, on average. Losing a family pet can be difficult for a young child, and for their parents, too.

A Staffordshire bull terrier lies on a pile of leaves, smiling
nicolecedik / Adobe Stock

Staffordshire bull terriers have a history of caring for children

Despite the negative stereotypes pit bull breeds have faced, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier has a long history as a loving family pet. In fact, these dogs were known as “nanny dogs” in England because of their playful, protective nature toward children. Plus, there’s no doubt that Staffies love to play. They were even built to be sturdy playmates — just look at those stocky bodies! Hill’s Pet explains that turning training into play (using positive reinforcement with rewards) is the best way to practice obedience with this breed. Here’s a hint: Positive reinforcement training is best for just about any dog.

A Bernese mountain dog stands in the middle of a wooded trail
André Dehne / Unsplash

Bernese mountain dogs are just as sweet as they are beautiful

This gorgeous breed is known for its elegant look and distinctive fur coloring, but don’t let that massive size fool you. Bernese mountain dogs are some of the most sensitive pups you can find. They’re extremely affectionate, notes Purina, and they’ll usually choose a good cuddle over a walk around the block. Still, these dogs do have moderate exercise needs. Playtime can help with that!

Berners don’t love to be alone and can be aloof with strangers, so you’ll have a loyal family dog if you choose this breed. Their gentle, patient natures will mesh well with young kids’ playful personalities, too.

A German shepherd dog lies on the ground with their tongue out happily
Hyper_Joker / Shutterstock

German shepherds can keep children occupied, safe, and happy

Even though German shepherds are known for their tough-looking exterior, they can be just as gentle and affectionate as any other breed; especially with the right training. Their higher energy level can make them great companions for older children or budding athletes, and they can be wonderful guardians for kids who aren’t in the eyesight of their parents. This breed shows loyalty to a T.

Newfoundland dog lying down
Angel Luciano / Unsplash

Newfoundlands’ most valued trait is their gentle disposition

Even though these dogs come with a lot of fur to maintain, they also come with a lot of love to give. If anything, your Newfie’s regular grooming can be a way to teach a child about responsibility. Whether they’re around adults, children, or other dogs, Newfoundlands are affectionate and difficult to anger. That’s why they’ve earned the title of “nanny dog,” too! According to the American Kennel Club, the Newfoundland breed standard values their sweet temperament over any other characteristic — even looks.

A Leonberger dog stands outside and looks behind him.
Sesheta / Pixabay

Leonbergers just might be the largest companion dogs on earth!

Leonbergers are massive dogs — weighing up to 170 pounds — but couldn’t be more eager to spend time with their family. They are true love bugs! These sensitive dogs are known for their gentle demeanor and neverending loyalty, though their impressive physical stature sure doesn’t hurt. In fact, their size made them a popular choice among European royalty, though now these dogs are better known for being therapy animals or search-and-rescue dogs.

Their driven nature makes them easy to train and incredibly loyal. With this dog breed around, there will be no doubt that your child will have a big, friendly buddy by their side at all times.

If any of these big dog breeds caught your eye, don’t hesitate to learn more about them. They just might be the best fit for your family. Even if your ideal dog breed isn’t on this list, don’t feel discouraged. There are dogs for everyone out there. Good luck!

Editors' Recommendations

Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
These are the longest-living dog breeds
These pups stick around longer than any others
Purebred Chihuahua puppy and a Great Dane sniffing each other

Everything would be better if dogs lived longer. We want our pets to stay with us forever, but sadly, these guys only stick around for a decade or two, at the most. Still, longevity in all pets depends heavily on a few factors, including breed, size, genetics, and, of course, how well you take care of her.

Knowing in advance which pups live the longest can help you choose the right one for your family and manage your specific animal's health conditions. We'll cover the longest-living dog breeds and how to best keep your dog happy and healthy for as long as possible.
How long do dogs live?

Read more
5 reasons you really need to get a dog car seat
Safety first: Why you'll want to invest in a dog car seat (or similar product)
A French bulldog in front of car

The image of a dog with their head out the window — tongue out and ears blowing in the breeze — is classic. Whether they're getting an unpleasant surprise (a vet appointment) or joining their pet parent on a visit to the park or cross-country road trip, the dog is happy in the moment. Is the precious cargo safe, though?

Not to scare or shame you, but no. The best way to keep your beloved pet safe is in a dog car seat or similar product. The idea may seem like helicopter pet parenting. However, for several reasons, you'll want to strongly consider a dog car seat or another product that keeps the dog safe and secure en route to a destination.
Why you'll want to invest in a dog car seat

Read more
How many dog breeds are there, really?
Knowing about your dog's breed can help in their care
A woman outside sits with a pack of dogs

It frequently amazes humans how much our dogs seem to understand and respond to us. Some part of this likely lies in the distant past when dogs chose us to be their companions. But a lot of it stems from selective breeding that has taken place over thousands of years.

More recently, our pets fall so neatly into different breeds because we chose specific characteristics that exist across a specific type of dog. For example, you'll recognize the coat and stature of a German shepherd from 100 feet away and likely instantly identify the yap of a Chihuahua without even seeing them. The question is then, how many dog breeds are there? We'll take you through the details.
What is a purebred dog?

Read more