Contrary to popular belief-not good first time dogs

The other day I wrote about the the breeds I would most likely suggest for first time dog guardians. I figured a nice balance to that would be breeds that are not good for first time dog owners. When I got to thinking about that, the list would have been ridiculously long. So instead, I wanted to talk about breeds that are commonly suggested for first time dog parents and why I don’t think they should be suggested.

I am compiling my list of dogs based one breeds I’ve heard suggested for first time dog parents, a few google searches, and breeds that I’ve seen end up with first time dog parents frequently. The caveat for this post is that again, I’m writing with a person in mind who is not interested in getting into a canine sport/activity, who is not looking to make the dog the center of their lives (just a part of it), and who is not going to change their life significantly to accomodate the new dog.

Just like with dogs I would suggest for new pet parents, there are characteristic of dogs that It typically would not suggest to first time average dog owners and why.

**High energy dogs–dogs who need multiple long walks and time to run every day require more of a time and physical commitment to keep them from getting into trouble.

**High drive dogs (toy, play, chase, prey, etc.)–dogs who are driven to work/play can often be overly pushy, can be a challenge when it comes to impulse control training and can get into lots of trouble if they don’t get to fulfill their drives.

**Very smart–Smart dogs (particularly if they are driven) can get into so much trouble when they outsmart their guardians. Learning to open doors, unlatch crates, open fridges, learn to bark/dig/scratch just to get attention from their handlers, learn that if they do something naughty, they get to go outside, etc. Smart dogs also need to flex that brain power with lots of training.

**Breed with documented history of health issues–not many people are willing to spend the time needed to diagnose and the type of money required to diagnose/fix/maintain a dog with dietary issues, structural issues, allergies, or health defects (*this can be mitigated to an extent by finding a breeder that does extensive health testing but it’s not a guarantee).

People often suggest puppies because they are small, are mostly “clean slates”, can grow up with the family, tend to be happy go lucky, and because they think puppies will bond with the family better.

In general, I do not think puppies are great for first time dog parents. Puppies take an incredible amount of work to raise into a well rounded and well socialized adult (it also takes some education/knowledge to know how to raise a well socialized dog and most new pet parents don’t know this). New pet parents are also often in for a complete shock when they realize how much time puppies take up–overnight potty breaks, hourly potty breaks, strict supervision unless crated, and lots of bond building. It’s also extra challenging because new dog guardians do not know what normal dog behavior really is so when puppy starts growling, barking, nipping during play they panic and think they have an aggressive puppy and when puppy starts chewing things they get frustrated not realizing that chewing is normal. Lastly, puppies require an incredible amount of training–they don’t know anything in the world and new puppy parents aren’t always prepared to do all the training. Puppies are hard, there is a reason that many people who foster dogs will not foster puppies because of the added work.

Labrador Retriever
This has got to be one of the most common suggestions I hear. People suggest them because they are the stereotypical family dog (people think of a family dog they often think of a happy yellow lab), they are typical very friendly, they are typically a good size dog (not the oversized 100lb labs but the standard 55-75lb), and they are typically very tolerant of children and other dogs.

The two biggest reasons I do not suggest labs is that they are typically very high energy and I have only ever encountered a small handful of labs (who are not in hunting homes) that get the exercise they need and that takes a pretty dedicated family. Labs are NOT couch potatoes. They are bred to run in the fields fetching birds for hours and hours–once a day walks (if that) is not nearly enough for this breed. Labs can also be quite drivey (this depends on the lineage for sure) but that can make them hard to live with because they are pushy and have poor impulse control skills (jumping, counter surfing, and being endless with play. They are a smart breed and do not have issues doing naughty things in order to get their guardians attention. Lastly, these guys can be EXTREMELY destructive if they don’t get the needed exercise, mental stimulation, and outlet for their drive to work–and by destructive I mean chewing siding off of houses, chewing off baseboards in houses, eating couches, chewing up the floor boards after chewing off the baseboards, etc.

Jack Russel Terriers
JRTs are often suggestion because of their size. They are big dogs in small packages and people, particularly apartment people, think that would be a great choice. They are also very smart and very trainable which results in them staring in TV shows, showing off cute tricks on commercials, and taking youtube by storm.

Although small, JRTs are very very high energy, have lots of prey drive, and the terrier tenacity that often makes them very pushy so they get what they want. They need plenty of exercise or they can be come destructive and mischievous–which means they jump onto your kitchen counters, easily jump over gates, get on your dining room table, and learn to open cabinet/fridge/doors. Like many terrier breeds, they can have issues with their prey drive getting a bit out of control, can grow into have aggression issues (with both humans and dogs), and can be extremely vocal. Although the size is right, the coat type is easy, and they have more umph than some other small dogs, they are not ‘easy’ dogs and can be quite difficult for new dog guardians.

Goldens–although typically a little less drivey and energetic than many labs, they are very similar in many respects. They require a lot more exercise than most people expect and while I do think they are more forgiving than labs, they are still a lot of dog for a first time dog parent.

Dachsund–size is a huge reason doxies are suggested to first time guardians. They are compact and are often suggested as good apartment dogs. Doxies, were bred to be badger hunters and that aggression and tenacity is not lost in the breed. Doxies who are not really well socialized can become extremely aggressive with no problems delivering uninhibited bites to people or other dogs. They can also be extremely vocal and have seriously expensive medical issues.

German Shepherds–I’m not really sure why these are suggested so often but I think it may have to do with our memories of Rin Tin Tin saving the world, of the noble GSD protecting his family, and their usefulness in the olden days. GSDs are high energy, can be very high drive, and very smart dogs and that makes them challenging for sure. Scarier for me though is that through unscrupulous breeding, there are some huge behavior issues going on within the breed (beyond their standard of being a bit more aloof, a bit more wary of strangers). Between the normal challenges, the abnormal dangerous behavior problems in the breed (due to poor breeding), health issues, and being a slow maturing breed with an intense second fear period, this is not the dog for the novice handler.

So, what breeds have you heard suggested to first time dog parents that you think are really bad choices for a first time dog person?

  1. Hey, Tena!

    At least around here, I see some wonky neurochemistry and behavior problems with a probable genetic base in Golden Retrievers. One I sent to Dr. Overall and she even said that Golden Retrievers are now one of the breeds she sees most often for aggression consults due to over and poor breeding. Have you seen that in your area? They’re almost as bad as the GSD here.

    • Y’know, I’m not seeing too many goldens with serious issues locally though a TOTALLY unfounded feeling I have based on what I saw about 10 years ago, I do feel like there are more goldens with issues locally but it’s still a very small population. I’m mostly seeing goldens that are just in inappropriate homes not equipped to handle their energy

  2. Beagles are very, very popular in Nova Scotia. This is partly to do with a large hunting population and partly because the more people see them, the more people think they are great. And they are! I love beagles. Unfortunately they do not make easy dogs for people who are just learning and thus often end up in shelters. On any given day there are several beagles in my local shelter, many surrendered by families who couldn’t handle their vocalizations and nose obsessions.

    • Yeah…There is A LOT to love about beagles but I think they are challenging for first time owners (even first time BEAGLE owners who have experience with other dogs). I have had tons of beagle/beagle mixes in my classes (we have tons in shelters here as well) and they almost all are a challenge for their handlers.

      I would add a Shiva to my list of not-for-first-time-guardians list… but you did a GREAT job with her!

  3. I don’t think you can categorically place Goldens on this list. I know nutty energetic Goldens but I also know a lot who are lovely, relatively easy dogs. There happens to be a Golden breeder in my area who breeds specifically for companion/therapy/service work, and her dogs are great for first timers.

    Also, you said serious health problems would rule out a breed as a good first timer breed, but your list of such good breeds included Pugs and Cavs, which (though I agree they have marvelous first-time-owner temperaments) are absolutely rife with serious health problems….

    I would add Whippets to the first-time list. Particularly the show lines are also really fast couch potatoes (the racing lines are more energetic).

    This is a very hard topic. I think there are actually few pure breeds that are well suited for first time owners and I continue to believe that the dog fancy overall would be well served by starting to focus more on breeding for health and temperament for companion dog work rather than for show or looks.

    Good stab at it. I am not sure I’m brave enough to try to make these lists at all!

    • What I’m seeing in my area are not the solid companion/therapy work style golden (though I bet those probably are pretty good for an active first time guardian, lucky for having that type of breeder locally!). I’m not seeing goldens that are SUPER over the top but they are still more dog than most first timers are able to easily handle (we see a lot of teenaged goldens going into rescue or shelters locally). But you bring up an important point… this list is not at all definitive and I don’t want people to think these breeds are NEVER for first timers–just that they aren’t the easiest.

      Right, with the cavs, pugs, i mention that they aren’t the healthiest and finding a good breeder is difficult, but I do think if you find a quality breeder that major health risks are reduced (not removed). I’d ventura that MOST breeds (show lines) have serious some type of health issue–from hip displasia, to luxating patella, to collie eye, or seizures… and that’s definitely one reason I put adult rescue dogs on the list.

      Show line whippets could definitely be a decent choice for a first timer looking for some first timers looking for a specific type of dog (not looking for an all-weather off leash hiking partner).

      Thanks for commenting and adding to the discussion!

  4. We have many young people who look for BCs in the shelter here. They have read that they are “smart” so they think that means easy training. As we know smartness does not correlate with easy! Luckily ethical breeders would rarely sell them to novices – unfortunately novice shelter staff will, with many returns resulting, especially those adopted as puppies.

    • Border collies would have ABSOLUTELY been on my list… but that was was pretty common sense for me whereas labs/goldens/etc were way more common suggestions. In the last 6 months a local shelter has adopted out 3 border collies to in experienced homes with kids–two were returned the third is struggling to hold it together. They then adopted out a BC to an 80 year old man… not surprisingly the dog was returned after just a few days… they then adopted out a 9 month old BC/husky to an 85 year old couple–that dog was returned after 2 weeks. Border collies are not good dogs for the average family… not in the least. Wish shelters would make better choices that’s for sure!

  5. Totally agree with the JRTs!! As you know, I have two fosters right now. One is super shy and not typical of a JRT. The other one is such a Jack! I have so fallen HARD for him. Super smart, fast, and a love bug, but not a newbies best choice for first breed.

    With this rescue group that I volunteer with now, I do get a say in what home they end up in. I am so glad! He really needs to go someplace where he can work.

    I am spending a few hours every night playing with, working with them both. THEN they are really super nice lap dogs. 🙂

  6. Here in Northern California, where I live, I see way too many first-time dog owners in my neighborhood who have bought pit bull puppies. They thankfully are well aware of the breed’s friendly, goofy personality. However, they go on to buy a cute pup for very little money thinking their robust little guy will be a perfect low-maintenance companion. Fast forward two years of inadequate training, no exercise, and eating the house and backyard and many of these sweeties end up overloading our shelters. I’m glad the culture in my area is more favorable than is normal toward pits, but I wish people realized members of the breed are not only physically sound, people-friendly, and “cool”, but also often drivey, high-energy dogs who have strong tendencies toward separation anxiety.

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