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Dog Breeds for First-Time Owners

6 min read

By Alannah Koene

  • A combination of genetics, training, and other factors affect a dog’s behavior and personality, but breeds help to predict common characteristics.
  • Dog breeds such as Shih Tzus and golden retrievers make great companions for first-time pet owners, but breeds such as border collies or Rottweilers may be too challenging.
  • Consider breed characteristics such as energy levels, intelligence, grooming needs, and sociability when choosing the right breed for your lifestyle.

Adopting your first dog is exciting, but deciding which breed best suits your family, lifestyle and experience can be difficult and requires a lot of careful consideration. The breed doesn’t determine everything but it can help you anticipate certain behaviors or traits. Some breeds make better companions for first-time pet owners, while others may be too challenging without enough experience.

Keep reading to learn what to consider in choosing a breed and which breeds are great for first-time owners.

How to Choose Your First Dog Breed

A combination of factors affects a dog’s personality and behavior, including its breed. Although any dog can make a good companion, certain breeds have higher tendencies toward specific behaviors. When you’re adopting a dog for the first time, consider your lifestyle needs and what kind of dog personality would best match you. Also consider adopting from a reputable rescue or your local shelter, as approximately 3.1 million dogs enter shelters in the U.S. every year, all of which need good, loving homes.

Despite their price tag, purebreds aren’t necessarily superior to mixed breeds. Although their behavioral traits may be more consistent than mixed breeds, many purebreds are at higher risk for hereditary health problems due to poor breeding practices. However, if you do decide you want a purebred, don’t disregard adoption! There are many breed-specific rescues around the country and you may just be surprised how many purebreds end up in shelters.

Mixed breed dogs may have slightly less predictable behavior but are often less expensive to adopt. Genetic diversity also means they may have fewer health issues and more balanced characteristics.

Factors to Consider

When selecting the right breed for your lifestyle, you have many personal factors to weigh. Consider breed characteristics such as:

  • Energy level
  • Intelligence
  • Height and weight
  • Coat type
  • Life expectancy
  • Sociability
  • Health issues
  • Temperament

For example, border collies tend to be highly athletic and intelligent but are too high maintenance for first-time owners as they require more mental and physical stimulation than most breeds. Other breeds, such as Great Pyrenees and cane corsos, are intelligent and affectionate but may be difficult to manage with strangers as they were bred to protect.

Shih Tzu

With their friendly and affectionate natures, Shih Tzus are an easy choice for first-time dog owners. Their coats come in a variety of colors, such as brindle, gold, and mixed, although their naturally long fur requires regular professional grooming.

Shih Tzus have easygoing and charming personalities and are great companions for children and seniors. Some Shih Tzus compete in shows or agility contests, but most are happiest cuddling in your lap after a light walk outdoors.

Like any purebred, Shih Tzus can be prone to health issues and may require high-quality food to keep their stomachs happy. Despite their generally agreeable nature, Shih Tzus can be stubborn and need early and consistent obedience training.


Pugs are a popular choice for both seasoned and first-time dog owners. They’re friendly, loyal, affectionate, and cute in a comical way. As a relatively non-athletic breed, pugs are content with low to moderate exercise and spending the remainder of their time sleeping in your lap.

With their small size, minimal destructive habits, and low-maintenance coats, pugs are easy to keep in an apartment. They pick up easily on simple commands, making potty- and obedience-training straightforward.

Keep in mind that pugs may suffer from respiratory and weight problems. They also struggle to regulate body heat and tend to not tolerate extreme temperatures well.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

With a love of human companionship and small stature, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the quintessential lap dog. These dogs tend to be clingy, but their sweet expressions and gentle temperaments make them a perfect shadow.

Despite their dainty proportions, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels tend to be athletic and sporty with medium energy, meaning they’re equally happy to join you on a hike or curl up on the couch.

This breed is sometimes prone to health conditions, most notably heart disease and syringomyelia. They also require regular brushing and ear cleaning due to their long, floppy ears.


Goofy and loveable, boxers are a great addition to an active home. Weighing between 55 and 70-pounds, these short-haired dogs have a variety of coats, including fawn, brindle, and white-marked.

These friendly dogs will endear themselves to you and most other people they come in contact with, but they require careful training and plenty of exercise to keep them well-behaved. Without regular attention, boxers can become mischievous and destructive. As such, boxers are best suited to first-time owners who enjoy lots of time outside with their companion.

Great Dane

Standing at up to about 34-inches tall and weighing up to 200-pounds, many people expect Great Danes to have matching intimidating personalities. In reality, they are loveable and gentle giants with goofy personalities. These couch potatoes enjoy long walks but don’t need excessive mental or physical stimulation to maintain good behavior. It’s also easy to train and maintain Danes, and they are suited to both large homes and moderately sized apartments.

Their impressive size comes with a few drawbacks. They are more prone to bone and joint problems, and typically have shorter lifespans of only 8- to 10-years (if they’re well-bred).

English Springer Spaniel

The English Springer Spaniel is an excitable and upbeat breed. These dogs are gentle, friendly, and well-suited to households with children. They tend to attach strongly to their families, meaning they may suffer from separation anxiety if not trained properly.

As a sporting dog often taken along for hunting, English Springer Spaniels have plenty of energy and require at least one intense outing per day. They’ll happily play in mud and water, making them great hiking companions.

Their long coats and fun-seeking behaviors mean they need extra grooming to keep their fur silky and healthy. Expect lots of shedding if you opt for this breed.


Whippets are members of the sighthound family and look like a small greyhound. Bred to hunt small prey, these friendly dogs are impressively fast and can reach speeds up to 35-miles per hour. With all that energy and a tendency to strongly attach to their owners, whippets need a fair amount of attention and exercise. Luckily, they tend to enjoy short bursts of intense exercise rather than needing long periods of activity.

Even so, whippets make great exercise partners and have few health problems. They are relatively low-maintenance dogs that enjoy relaxing indoors, have minimal grooming needs, and are accepting of strangers.

Labrador Retriever

One of the most common dogs you’ll see at your local dog park is the Labrador retriever. These medium-to-large dogs adapt well to most environments. Labs are the quintessential family dog and form close bonds and loyalties to their families, and are generally gentle and playful with kids.

Labs are usually intelligent and highly food-motivated and, as such, are easy to train. They love to learn and are best suited to families who can take them on long walks, play fetch with them, and provide plenty of affection. Overall, labs have few health problems and are more likely to run up vet bills by getting into the garbage or toxic foods.

Golden Retriever

Intelligent, goofy, and adorable, golden retrievers are one of the most popular dogs in North America. Their long coats vary in color from creamy whites to dark gold or mahogany, and you’ll find their hair everywhere, from your furniture to your food.

Goldens love people and dogs equally and are usually gentle with other animals. Their sweet dispositions and social nature also make them great emotional companions, and they’re often used as therapy dogs. Since they love treats and people, goldens are easy to train.

Bernese Mountain Dog

Weighing up to 115-pounds, Bernese Mountain Dogs are another gentle giant full of love for their families. They are playful and easygoing dogs and often function as large, gentle teddy bears for children.

Bernese Mountain Dogs are bred as working dogs, and they enjoy jobs such as herding, hauling items, and guarding livestock or their family. They’re also as intelligent as they are strong and enjoy playful and mischievous games with their humans but can become destructive if they don’t get enough physical or mental stimulation.

This breed’s major downsides are its large space requirements, shorter average lifespan, and abundant shedding.

Alannah Koene


Alannah Koene is a content writer based in Victoria, British Columbia. Although she writes for a range of topics, her professional writing often focuses on business, health, and lifestyle. Spending much of her time exploring the outdoors through sport, Alannah aims to share her perspectives through writing and content. She’s happiest reading a book in her hammock with her dog napping nearby.

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