Best Dogs for a First Time Dog Owner

Best Dogs for a First Time Dog Owner

There is no one size fits all dog but there are certainly some breeds that are typically more user friendly than other breeds. Of course, there will always be exceptions to the rules but there are definitely breeds/types that I suggest to new dog guardians.  For example, I met the most low-key border collie that I have ever seen the other day but just because a low-key border collie exists, doesn’t mean I’d ever suggest them as a good breed for first time dog owners because the likelihood of getting a BC like him would be like winning the Powerball and Mega Millions jackpot in the same week. I am NOT saying that first time dog owners are not able to raise other breeds/types of dogs successfully.  I am suggesting that for many first time dog guardians, those breeds/types take a lot more work/effort/training/education to be successful and it often results in a dog being dumped in a shelter or rehomed unless the owner steps up to the plate.

For the purposes of this post, my imaginary first time dog guardians are not getting the dog for a specific purpose like canine sports or another job/activity. They may be young and single, they may be a young family, they may be middle aged and newly divorced, or they may be in their retirement years enjoying their new found free time. These are typically people who are interested in bringing a dog into their lives but not making their lives about the dog. They may or may not have done research prior to bringing a dog into their home and may or may not have lived with dogs as a kid. They want a dog who can go anywhere and do anything, that are friendly and accepting of most people, who don’t require a lot of exercise and who are low maintenance.

In thinking about this, I wanted to come up with a list of characteristics of dogs that would be friendly for new dog guardians. So I came up with a list of features that are first time ‘friendly’.

**Lower to moderate energy level
**Low to medium level of drive (play/prey/chase/etc)
**A breed/type that is not crippled with health issues
**Generally conciliatory–not overly pushy or independent
**Generally biddable or easily trained
**Typically friendly or tolerant of people/animals
**Typically not overly vocal

There are other characteristics to take into consideration but these were the main features that I kept in my mind while thinking about picking a great dog for a first timer. There are many other breeds/types out there that can make excellent first time dogs but these are some of my go-to suggestions (which vary based on the specific family’s needs/wants).

Adult Dog from a responsible rescue (preferably one in a foster home)
Okay, so this isn’t a breed but it’s often a really good option for first time dog guardians. I put more value in dogs who have been in foster homes for a while because it gives the rescue/foster family time to really get to know the dog and can provide valuable information to potential homes. This helps the first time dog guardian know what they are getting themselves into (*assuming the rescue is responsible and is honest about the dog). They can learn if the dog is house trained, what type of energy level the dog has, if the dog is easily trained, if the dog seeks out the guardians or if he’s more independent, if the dog settles easily in the home, if the dog is vocal, or if the dog has any behavior challenges. It is certainly not fool proof but getting an adult pre-owned dog can be a great addition for a new dog guardian.

Retired Greyhound
They are the fastest couch potatoes on the face of the planet! They are big, so that can be a draw back but they are typically very low key dogs. If you get a retired racer, they often come with pretty good leash skills, are outside the puppy chewing stage and after a stay in a foster home, they are generally exposed to new things like grass, stairs, doorbells, etc. They are low maintenance in terms of grooming, their exercise needs are surprisingly low, and while they can benefit from training classes, most are great pets without. They are typically very friendly, seek out relationships with people, and are mostly good with other dogs (size of other dog can play a role). Greyhounds have a lot of upside but they are not perfect. Only some are “cat safe” and able to live with kitties safely (or small dog safe), they often have dental issues, some can have gut issues, and they are not good “off leash” dogs.

Greyhounds, particularly retired racers, are dogs I frequently suggest to new dog guardians.

Pugs are small and compact dogs. They are full of character but are typically not overly pushy or obnoxious. They are definitely into their people and while not typically obedience champs, they are pretty trainable. Although they make some funny sounds, they are not typically barky unlike many the other small dogs. Pugs are, by no means, exercise freaks and are easily satisfied with a moderate walk (or two) and some play time (young pugs are a bit higher energy but they tend to level off quickly). There are a lot of things to love about pugs but there are some drawbacks–they are not a terribly healthy breed, they can be heavy shedders, they can be a little bit independent, some can be a little too pushy, and finding a RESPONSIBLE breeder can be challenging (though there are plenty of pugs in shelter/rescue).

If people are looking for a small dog that is not overly fluffy, pugs are great options for many first time dog guardians.

Shih Tzu
Shih Tzus are small dogs that are typically lower energy. Shih Tzus tend not to be as barky as other toy dogs and are often pretty laid back (*there may be some regional difference for this based on some conversations with people who both agree and disagree with them on my list). They have moments of zoomie energy but it is typically short lived. It may be a ‘regional’ thing but I have seen far fewer shih tzus with aggression problems than some of their other toy breed counterparts (Lhasas, Bichons, Chihuahuas). They can be quite trainable but they seem to pick up on routines nicely that they often do well even without major manners training. Like all dogs, there are some definite downsides to shih tzus–they are not the healthiest breed, they do require regular professional grooming (or a guardian learn how to do it), and finding a responsible breeder can be challenging.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel–These are great small dogs who tend to be very friendly, outgoing, and social. Their main drawbacks are the health of the breed and finding a responsible breeder.

Basset Hounds–Bassets are fantastic dogs! They are not as hard to train as some people make them out to be (they are VERY food motivated typically) but it takes patience! These guys need a little more exercise, more attention to their diet, and the breed isn’t the healthiest but they are great options for novice handlers.

Standard Poodle–For active families looking for an active companion, poodles can be a great choice. Grooming needs, finding a quality breeder, and that they do require more exercise/work are a few drawbacks for first time dog guardians.

Other breeds can certainly be great first time dogs but these are some of my go-to dogs. Typically, I don’t suggest breeds from the terrier group, many dogs from the herding group, most of the working group, and I actually stray from common breeds like labs, goldens, and German shepherd (mostly because these dogs tend to be higher energy than most novice dog owners realize, are too smart for their own good, and are often very drivey).

One of the common themes you’ll see is “finding a responsible breeder.”  This makes all the difference in the world if you are opting for a purebred dog.  An AKC Cavalier who comes from a Pet Store (puppy mill) is much more likely to have serious behavior and medical problems than a Cavalier who came from a responsible breeder.  For more on responsible breeders check out this old post. For more on selecting the right breed for your family check out this old post.

So, what did I miss?

**Added to the list from the comments**

Collie–  Generally speaking, collies are great options for families who don’t mind larger dogs with lots of fur (if you get a rough variety).  They are active but not overly energetic and have relatively sound temperaments typically.  It can, however, be a challenge finding a quality breeder that is focusing on the health and temperament of the breed.

Havanese–  These dogs are small dogs that have a moderate amount of energy.  They are generally happy-go-lucky in personality and are often quite spirited.  They do require a lot of grooming which is a downside and finding a quality breeder can be a challenge, but they are good choices for first timers.

  1. Another good first timer breed…collies. They are not very active, tend to like other animals, do well with most kids, very sociable. They also enjoy training & just hanging out. The downside is they like to bark and grooming on the rough collie.

  2. I find Border Terriers aren’t very ‘terrier-y’ and pretty easy going.

    I have a poodle and wouldn’t recommend a poodle unless the family were committed to some sort of dog sport or activity … they need a lot of mental work and tend to be on the needy side.

    Bichon? Whippet? Schnauzer, maybe? I know some charming and patient Schnauzers.

    • I’ve seen too many Bichons and Schnauzers (Miniature to be specific) who have aggression (human and dog) issues to want to suggest them as first time breeds–I think part of this has to do with irresponsible breeding but still a concern.

      Poodles are definitely more work than some other first time dogs, but I do think with active families they can be really good fits–they fit many of the other criteria. That’s been my experience at least–I know quite a few poodles who do great in active homes even if they are not enrolled in sports/activities. They are, with out a doubt, more work but with their other features (not overly independent, quite trainable, not typically prone to aggression issues, etc) they can be a good choice for active families.

      Whippets could be a good choice for active families as well–good call!

  3. My Great Pyr mix is pretty low-key and just wants to be in the same room where she can watch over us. Pyrs can be pretty independent thinkers – as they are bred to be – but if you get one that’s food motivated (ahem) they’ll be very biddable.

    • I think mixed breeds in general can be great options. A full great-pyr, I generally wouldn’t suggest because of their guardian roots they can be challenging to train and if not socialized well can have some serious behavior problems (and with their size/power those behavior problems become quite dangerous). PLUS most people don’t have the environment where a pyr can thrive…though I do know a woman who loved the breed and bought a goat farm for her dogs 🙂

  4. I had a retired Greyhound when I was younger. She was my family’s first dog. 🙂 I should’ve known then that I’d be a dog person because… she totally bored me out of my mind. I wanted a dog that was more playful and fun than she was. But, I’m totally obsessed with sighthounds because of her. I just like the more drivey ones. 🙂

    Good list!

  5. I’ve recommended both pugs and shih tzus before. They are both pretty easy going dogs that are usually great with children, at least from what I have seen. Though I do know someone with a very high drive pug, proving that every dog is an individual regardless of breed.

    Sometimes I wish I’d thought of a greyhound instead of my crazy dog when I was looking to adopt. She was so not the right choice for a first time dog owner! Oh well… 😛

    • But what I love about you Kristine is that unlike so many people, you have put int a lot of effort to alter your lifestyle to better suit the Shivster. But a greyhound would have been CERTAINLY easier! But, you probably wouldn’t have your blog, wouldn’t have gotten into training, and wouldn’t have such adoring fans 🙂

  6. Every time a young family comes into the shelter looking for a young Golden or Lab I tell them to spend some time with my young performance Golden. The kids are usually clinging to their mom before they are able to experience his exuberance up close. And he’s not even mouthy.

    I think mixes (from a shelter, not a BYB!) can tend to be better for newbies as their breed traits can tend to be dampened.

    Other breeds I would list: Newfies, Toy Spaniel and Japanese Chin


    • Yeah, people think Labs and Goldens are great first time dogs and they just really aren’t. They are typically high energy, they are smart, they are often pretty drivey, and they are not forgiving when it comes to guardians not giving the dog what he/she needs. They are notorious for being destructive, are smart enough to outsmart novice guardians, and are not the couch potatoes people expect.

      I actually thought about all three of those breeds as well for my list but the health of all three made me hesitate (though pugs and shih tzus aren’t the healthiest either). Great suggestions!

  7. I have a few neighbours with retired greyhounds – they are such sweet dogs, and so laid back! Definitely important to note the possible issues with smaller dogs, though – while some of the dogs can have a great time at the dog park under any situation, others in my neighbourhood can’t go to the dog park, because they treat the little guys a bit too much like prey. If you’re looking for a relatively low-energy dog you don’t expect to have off-leash in unfenced areas, all the beagles I’ve met seem to fit with the idea of first time pet owner – not great for training, but not overly clingy or in need of exercise, either. they’re all quite happy with on-leash walks anywhere they can go to sniff things.

  8. At least around here, the Shih Tzus I’ve seen tend towards spookiness and excessive vocalization. I see a lot of Havanese in first time pet homes that do much better than the ‘Tzus in first time pet homes. Maybe a regional thing, but if a dog-owning virgin came to me and asked, “Shih Tzu or Havanese?” I’d recommend the Havanese every time.

    • The more responses I read, the more I think there are HUGE regional differences. Most Shih Tzus in my area tend to be really down to earth very chill dogs. I’ve had a bunch in my classes and they are, across the board really chill. Most of the “either, or” questions i get with shih tzus are “should I either get a shih tzu or a lhasa” and I hands down suggest the shih tzu 🙂

  9. I would personally choose a beagle over a basset. They have fewer health issues (generally speaking- no folds to collect yeast, no propensity to back issues, no major history of eye issues, less prone to ear issues, etc) but they are very, very sturdy and hardy and a small size. When someone says they want a small dog that is good with kids, beagles are my go-to! Additionally, they have a really bomb-proof temperament for the most part; they are so mild-mannered that they are the dog of choice for animal testing, including vivisection (which is horrible but I use it as an example because to me, it shows a dog that really is just a gentle, trusting, nonaggressive pup.

    For the record, I love bassets and have lived with both breeds, but I would choose a beagle over a basset for first time dog owners nine times out of ten. 🙂

    • The biggest reason I did not suggest beagle is that nearly every single either first time dog or first time beagle student I’ve ever had has REALLY struggled with their dog. The vocalizations, the nose that doesn’t stop, the independent (“you’re supposed to follow me to the critter”) attitude… they’ve had to do a lot of work to get the dog who was polite and able to walk on leash. I do think TEMPERAMENT wise, they are just amazing–super friendly, typically super dog friendly, very tolerant and gentle.

      The bassets I’ve gotten to know have all been a bit easier on their handlers than the beagles because they have tended to be just a little bit less dog so to speak 🙂

  10. Great post and a discussion more folks could use.
    A couple of comments as both (1) a long-time dog sports participant [flyball, obed/rally, agility, tracking and now field/hunt] and (2) former dog club agility instructor and current manners class instructor [past 4 years] (3) previous 10+ years as rescue co-ordinator both fostering & placing dogs:
    = I have seen several Standard Poodles with significant behavior issues including intolerance of other dogs so I have been reluctant to recommend them despite non-shedding coats & sturdiness.
    = I have met lots of cheerful Pugs & Shitzus as well as many cheerful Havanese — virtually every one I have met. I would add Havanese to your list of happy small dogs that need grooming. Also I would remind folks to pay special attention to teeth care for small dogs [under 20 pounds], particularily dogs with pushed-in faces [and jaws].
    Enjoy your posts.

    • Thanks Lynnda for the comment, I think you are a first time commenter!

      I have met tons of poodles and haven’t had the issues with intolerance of dogs that was anything beyond a dog who didn’t want to PLAY–they were content to hang out with canine pals and be together but didn’t appreciate rough play. I’m starting to think there are some regional differences within breeds and what we are seeing in the breeds… I’m super glad I posted these last two blogs because there has been such awesome discussion!!

      Havanese was almost on my list actually, I didn’t want to load up with small dogs so I left it out but agree that it’s another great dog for first time dog people!

  11. Thanks for including adult rescue dogs! I feel like they are always overlooked but can be the perfect choice (no puppy chewing phase, lower energy requirements, have sometimes had some prior training…) Both my dogs (as you know, Tena) were adult rescues, and I’m so happy with them. I can’t imagine having to deal with a puppy!

    • I think a lot of people overlook adult dogs from a responsible rescue. Foster parents get to see the dog in the real world and have a pretty good idea of the dog’s personality, their exercise needs, any behavior concerns, any likes/dislikes, and known behaviors (house trained, crate trained, basic manners, etc). I think rescues need to adhere to a MINIMUM foster period of 2 or 3 weeks so there is time for the foster family to get to know the dog so it can be placed in the best possible matched home–could things pop up after they leave foster, yes, but I think it helps potential homes to have a pretty good idea about the dog they are adopting 🙂

  12. Shihtzus are the most common dog in the Vancouver area. The demographic here loves them. Unfortunately virtually all come from unethical breeders so I have virtually never met one without behaviour problems. Shihtzus that land the shelters here aren’t even always adoptable.

    It’s so important to highlight that breed traits are really only reliably applied to those bred to the standard, especially when it comes to temperament. I get quite upset when people tell me that Goldens are aggressive because they have met many that were.

    • New blog post tomorrow is totally going to be about regional difference in breeds because I’ve had SUCH an awesome time hearing from all of you guys with what certain breeds are like in your area! Shih tzus aren’t overly common here (though they are popular but it’s not like every dog on the street is a shih tzu) and they are typically pretty fantastic… I’ve seen one or two that are reactive (and my mom has one who is mildly reactive–but he LOVES other dogs so much he hates not being able to see them all) but most are just fantastic little troopers…. good with kids, people, dogs, etc.

      I think bad breeding (and who has what type of breeders locally it seems) has a lot to do with what people see (puppy mills and back yard breeders) because they are breeding for money not for having a good dog.

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