Thinking of getting your first dog? Use our guide to the best dog breeds for first-time owners to help you choose the perfect companion.
All dogs have unique characteristics and personalities, but different breeds have distinct traits, training considerations and grooming needs. Some breeds require more effort and experience, while other breeds are particularly well suited to first-time owners.
Best Small Breeds for First-time Owners
Certain small breeds are particularly suited to first-time dog owners.
Papillons are a loyal, affectionate breed that adapts easily to the lives of their owners. Generally weighing less than 10 pounds and standing shorter than 11 inches, they’re small enough to live in an apartment. You don’t need a yard either, as their exercise needs are modest at just 20–30 minutes per day.
Though they have long, silky hair, papillons require little grooming because they don’t have an undercoat. Between grooming appointments, most papillons will need a weekly brushing.
Papillons are great for first-time owners because they’re extremely intelligent and, therefore, relatively easy to train. However, training must begin early. Take a gentle yet firm approach. Papillons need to know their place in the “pack” hierarchy or they may try to assume the role of top dog. These dogs are also prone to yapping, which must be addressed through training from an early age.
2. Miniature dachshund
What miniature dachshunds lack in height — most are under 6 inches tall — they make up for in personality. They are intelligent, fun-loving and feisty dogs that are confident around people and love to be involved with everything that’s going on. Typically, they are bundles of energy, which means they need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day.
Given a positive outlet for their energy, they make cheerful, loving companions. However, miniature dachshunds hate to be alone or bored. This can lead to destructive behaviors such as chewing shoes or furniture — a sign of stress. So if you have a lot of time and space in your life, then the miniature dachshund could be the ideal first-time dog for you. It is recommended for miniature dachshunds to get around 20–30 minutes of exercise a day.
3. Bichon frise
These petite dogs weigh under 18 pounds, have wonderfully playful, confident dispositions and always want to take center stage. Unlike many small dogs, they get along well with kids, which makes them an excellent first-time dog for families. Bichons are also highly intelligent, which makes training a relatively easy proposition, and they are easygoing enough to adapt to life in a big house in the country or a small city apartment.
They are moderately active, so it is best for them to get at least 20–30 minutes of exercise a day.
Like many dog breeds, bichons find being alone stressful and they suffer badly from separation anxiety, meaning they are best suited to households where one person is always at home. Bichons are also quite high maintenance when it comes to grooming. While it’s true that they look incredibly cute and don’t shed, they will need to visit a groomer at least every couple of months, which can add significantly to the cost of keeping them.
Medium and Large Dog Breeds for First-time Owners
Larger dogs can also be great for first-time owners. While they typically require more food, they also need more exercise, which is great if you’re looking for an excuse to go on long walks. Here are some of the best medium-to-large breeds for first-time owners.
4. Golden retriever
Golden retrievers are extremely popular with first-time owners, and it’s easy to see why. They have gentle, playful natures and an uncomplicated, natural sense of loyalty that makes them reliable and trustworthy. Add to this an intelligence and willingness to please that makes them amenable to training, and you’ve got yourself a terrific new companion. They’re also good around children and make great family pets.
Golden retrievers need a lot of exercise — up to two hours a day — and all that time running around outside means their long coats also require a lot of brushing and grooming to stay in tip-top condition.
While golden retrievers retain their playfulness well into adulthood, they tend to suffer from health problems as they age, including vision, joint and dental issues, which can be costly.
Along with the golden retriever, the Lab is considered a classic first-time dog, particularly for families. Their gentle yet fun-loving personalities make them perfect playmates for children — and for adults, too. They are highly intelligent and eager to please, which makes training easy, even for inexperienced owners.
Labradors are high-energy dogs and need a lot of exercise (at least one hour a day) and mental stimulation. They also have a high food drive, and obesity is a common problem, particularly later in life. Because of this, Labradors are best suited to homes with yards and to households where they will get a long walk every day.
Labradors require a moderate amount of grooming; brushing them once a week is enough.
6. Standard Poodle
Poodles are highly intelligent dogs and adept at learning new tricks and commands. They are also playful, loyal and loving, all of which makes them a great choice for first-time owners.
Poodles are also a high-energy breed and most need at least two walks a day. If they don’t get a lot of stimulation and playtime, poodles can become bored and unhappy, so they are best suited to households where they will receive the time and attention they naturally crave.
Greyhounds are gentle and loving dogs, and while they do have some specific needs, they make great first-time pets.
Most striking about the greyhound is their sleek, athletic physique. Not surprisingly, these dogs are built to run and require a couple of walks a day: a short one in the morning and a longer one in the afternoon or evening.
Stay alert when walking a greyhound — this breed has a strong prey drive, which can cause them to get lost while in pursuit or even get injured if they run too fast on uneven ground. Train greyhounds early and well, particularly focusing on coming back when called. Luckily, greyhounds are intelligent dogs and learn quickly when trained with patience and kindness. Note that they are sensitive and easily scared. Time invested in training your greyhound will definitely pay off at the end of the day, as they love to snuggle after a run.
While training your greyhound might take a bit more time, you’ll gain it back on the grooming front. With their short, tight coats, greyhounds only need to be brushed once a week to look their best.
Many dog breeds can be a great fit for first-time owners — as long as their new best friend knows how to care for them. Learn more about specific breed characteristics and needs from resources such as the American Kennel Club.
Mixed-breed Dogs Make Great First-time Pets
Of course, many other breeds can make great first-time dogs — as can mixed breeds. Often, these dogs are free of the genetic frailties of purebreds. In fact, your perfect match might just be a rescue dog.
The advantage of going to a local shelter or rescue center is that the staff will have a good idea of which dogs will suit first-time owners and which might benefit from a more experienced hand. Most rescues assess their adoptable dogs in experienced short-stay foster homes, around children and other pets, before assigning the dog a suitable “forever home.” And while there will undoubtedly be some of the above breeds available for adoption, there will be a lot of mixed-breed dogs, too — any one of which could have the right personality for you.