15 Best Dogs for First-Time Owners

Updated: May 06, 2024

Are you a newbie to pup parenthood? These easy-going breeds are the best dogs for first-time owners.

Becoming a first-time dog parent is a truly rewarding experience. You’re gaining a new loyal dog as a best friend and have a wonderful adventure ahead of you. That said, we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that learning the ropes of pup parenthood can come with some curveballs. From basic obedience training early on and puppy-proofing your home to patiently tackling the delights of potty training, there is a lot to consider with dog ownership. Fortunately, certain dog breeds can make it easier on you. The best dogs for first-time owners tend to be lower-maintenance, easier to train and mesh well with families.

“When you are thinking about getting a dog for the first time, the first thing to ask yourself is what you envision your life with a dog looking like,” says Marissa Sunny, a canine behavior specialist at Pasadena Humane. “If you want a dog to get you out of the house and go running with, then a high-energy working breed may be for you! If you are looking for a Netflix buddy, then an adult or senior dog may be for you.”

Whether you’re considering the most popular dog breeds or lesser-known pups available for adoption, there’s a lot to mull over as a first-time dog owner. To help you determine the best first dog for you, we spoke to two canine behavior specialists and a longtime veterinarian. Ahead, you’ll find the best dogs for first-time owners, according to the dog experts themselves.

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About the experts

  • Marissa Sunny, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is a canine behavior specialist. After working with Best Friends Animal Society for four years, she now works with Pasadena Humane, where she serves as the Animal Resource Center manager.
  • Caroline Coile, PhD, is an award-winning journalist specializing in canine breeds, health and science. She’s the author of 34 books, including Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds.
  • Bradley Phifer, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KSA, is the executive director of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. A dog trainer and behavior consultant with nearly 20 years of experience, he has successfully trained dogs of all breed types and temperaments. He’s also the founder of Bradley Phifer Dog Training in Indianapolis.
  • Nicole Savageau, DVM, is a veterinarian with The Vets, a national mobile pet care service. With nearly 15 years of experience, she’s also worked with the Preston Animal Hospital in Morrisville, North Carolina, as well as the North Austin Animal Hospital in Texas, where she served in both medical and surgical capacities.

1. Bichon frise

Smiling bichon frise dog near a lake熊文/Getty Images

Known for its loving and playful personality, the bichon frise is an intelligent and charming lapdog who befriends just about everyone they meet. They are one of the best dogs for first-time parents because they’re typically easier to train and are great with kids.

Another perk, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), is that their fluffy white coat is considered hypoallergenic and they don’t shed much. They do need to be bathed about once a month and benefit from daily combing. A visit to the groomer every four to six weeks can also help keep them looking great. One caveat: The bichon is notorious for being hard to house break, according to Caroline Coile, PhD, an award-winning journalist specializing in canine breeds. “If you have priceless oriental rugs, this may not be the breed for you!” she says.

Breed overview
Height: 9.5 to 11.5 inches
Weight: 12 to 18 pounds
Life expectancy: 14 to 15 years
Ease of care:
4/5

2. Golden retriever

two golden retrievers standing together outside© copyright 2011 Sharleen Chao/Getty Images

Arguably one of the best dogs for first-time owners, the golden retriever is one of America’s most beloved canines for good reason. According to Nicole Savageau, DVM, veterinarian with The Vets, a national mobile pet care service, this lovable pup is exceptionally friendly, gentle in nature and devoted to its owners. As a bonus, goldens are also known for being obedient and easy to train, so teaching them to fetch, sit and stay is likely to be a breeze—this is one of the reasons many service dogs are golden retrievers. Perhaps most important though is their gregarious and outgoing personalities, which make them fantastic as first-time family dogs.

“This breed is intelligent, friendly, loyal and good with families,” Dr. Savageau says. “Plus, they have a moderate energy level and are relatively easy to train.” Do note that this breed benefits from a good brushing once a week—and perhaps more during their twice-annual shedding spree.

Breed overview
Height: 24 inches
Weight: 55 to 75 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 12 years
Ease of care:
5/5

3. Papillon

Papillon Gettyimages 164642730 SseditCAPTURELIGHT/GETTY IMAGES

The papillon, which means butterfly in French, is a wee-sized pup weighing up to 10 pounds. They are an affectionate dog breed, says Dr. Savageau, and they also get along well with children. Although very small, this toy breed is surprisingly athletic and spritely and benefits greatly from playtime. This is the most successful toy breed in the sports of obedience and agility, as they are active and biddable.

“I would describe this breed as intelligent, friendly and active,” Dr. Savageau says. “They have a high energy level and require mental stimulation. However, training can be a bit challenging due to their independent nature.” This just means you’ll need to be more proactive and remain consistent in your training. Bringing in some outside help via a dog trainer can also be advantageous.

Another potential drawback for this breed is that they’re not too keen on hanging out with other animals. However, they are surprisingly easy to groom thanks to their lack of an undercoat. A good bath every month and a weekly grooming session are all they need.

Breed overview
Height: 8 to 11 inches
Weight: 5 to 10 pounds
Life expectancy: 14 to 16 years
Ease of care:
4/5

4. Labrador retriever

Side View Of Yellow Labrador Retriever On FieldTara Gregg/Getty Images

The Labrador retriever is another one of America’s most popular dog breeds. They are most noted for their outgoing personality and friendly demeanor, and they are also one of the best-behaved dog breeds. “Known for their affectionate nature and ease of training, labs are ideal for active families seeking a hearty and loving companion,” Phifer says.

These playful, easy-going pups—which come in chocolate, black and yellow—are very sociable. This allows not only for easy bonding with the entire family but with other animals too. Because they love to make their owners happy, labs are also easily trainable, making them one of the best dogs for first-time owners. They are very strong and strong-willed, which can make them hard to control as youngsters; once grown though, they are incredible companions. Plus, occasional baths and brushing are all this dog needs to keep it looking its best.

Breed overview
Height: 24 inches
Weight: 55 to 80 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 12 years
Ease of care:
5/5

4. Cavalier King Charles spaniel

Two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dogs outdoors in natureBigandt_Photography/Getty Images

A sweet combination of a small toy breed and spaniel, the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is a gentle, graceful, athletic and high-spirited pup. They make our list of the best first dogs for new owners because of their adaptability and smarts, which make them both easy to get along with and train.

“With their friendly disposition and adaptability, Cavaliers are excellent companions for various households, especially those with children,” Phifer says. These unfailingly sweet pups are also keen on pleasing their humans, making them excellent for a range of owners, including couples, families, seniors and individuals.

A bonus is that this breed is known for being effective therapy dogs. According to the AKC, they do require a little more grooming than other pups on our list and need daily brushing, weekly ear checks and monthly nail trims. They can have some hereditary health problems that may cut their lifespan short, says Coile, so be sure to work with a breeder who health tests their dogs.

Breed overview
Height: 12 to 13 inches
Weight: 13 to 18 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years
Ease of care:
4/5

6. German shepherd dog

german shepherd dog sitting in grass and holding a tennis ball in mouthStefan Cioata/Getty Images

The noble German shepherd is an excellent dog for first-time owners for many reasons. For starters, they are exceptionally smart pups that are easy to train, which is one reason why they are utilized in K-9 units.

Dr. Savageau says they are gentle with their owners and unfailingly loyal—and to that end, they serve as great guard dogs. “They are protective, loyal and can be intimidating. Their intelligence and trainability make them suitable for guard and protection work,” she says. A big bonus is that German shepherds are easy to groom. The AKC says they benefit from brushing a few times a week to remove loose hairs and that they only need occasional baths.

Breed overview
Height: 22 to 26 inches
Weight: 50 to 90 pounds
Life expectancy: 7 to 10 years
Ease of care:
5/5

7. Poodle

standard Poodle laying in grassTopDigiPro/Getty Images

Recognized for their fluffy, pillow-like hypoallergenic coats, the poodle is a notably smart and athletic family companion, says Dr. Savageau. Because of these positive qualities, poodles have been bred with many other breeds to get designer breeds, including the labradoodle, golden doodle and cockapoo. “Intelligent, trainable and hypoallergenic, poodles have a moderate energy level and are often good with families,” Dr. Savageau says.

Do note that as puppies, poodles can be high-energy, so they’ll need to be able to run off that steam. They also may require more persistent training (possibly with the help of professional dog trainers), and they do require daily brushing. Dr. Savageau says it’s also very important to have them professionally groomed about once every month or two to combat matting and keep their coats lustrous.

Breed overview
Height: 18 to 24 inches
Weight: 45 to 70 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years
Ease of care:
4/5

8. Pembroke Welsh corgi

Happy and active purebred Welsh Corgi dog outdoors in the park on a sunny summer day.Ирина Мещерякова/Getty Images

The Pembroke Welsh corgi is a friendly homebody and an incredibly calm dog breed that is happiest around its people, making it one of the best dogs for first-time owners. With its short and stumpy legs, fluffy behind and incredible sense of companionship, the corgi has been the go-to dog of the English royals. In fact, Queen Elizabeth raised more than 30!

According to the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club of America, these are sensitive and intelligent dogs that are highly skilled at tracking and—even with their short legs—surprisingly athletic. Bonus for new pup parents: They are known for being highly obedient.

Breed overview
Height: 10 to 12 inches
Weight: Up to 30 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 13 years
Ease of care:
4/5

9. Yorkshire terrier

yorkshire terrier sitting on grass outsideanouchka/Getty Images

A truly petite-sized pup, the adorable Yorkie is a tiny terrier that weighs about 7 to 8 pounds. Although tiny, they do have major personalities! This breed has a reputation for being brave, tenacious and sprightly. They are also exceptionally friendly.

“Alert and trainable, Yorkies serve as effective alarm systems and are low-shedding but require regular grooming to maintain their coat,” says Phifer. In fact, the breed’s long, low-allergen coat mimics human hair more than dog fur, making them one of the more popular dogs for those who deal with pet allergies. The trade-off is that their long hair does require daily brushing, weekly bathing and regular professional grooming.

Breed overview
Height: 7 to 8 inches
Weight: 8 pounds
Life expectancy: 11 to 15 years
Ease of care:
3/5

10. Pugs

close up portrait of a pug dog© Jackie Bale/Getty Images

Survey any pug owner and they’ll likely be quick to tell you that this breed is one of the best family companions out there. The adaptable pug gets along with basically everyone, including kids, seniors and other animals, and thrives in both the city and country. Pugs also enjoy making their owners happy, which helps make training them a breeze. Another bonus: Their coat is considered low maintenance and only needs weekly brushing to control light shedding. Keep in mind that if you like a hot-weather dog or a jogging companion, the pug isn’t a good choice as they overheat easily.

Breed overview
Height: 10 to 13 inches
Weight: 14 to 18 pounds
Life expectancy: 13 to 15 years
Ease of care:
5/5

11. Whippet

whippet dog standing outside in fieldBiancaGrueneberg/Getty Images

Don’t confuse the whippet for a greyhound! Although they do look similar, the whippet is its own breed (and actually quite a bit smaller). This lean and elegant pup is a lightning-quick runner that enjoys having a good chase in the backyard every once in a while.

“Despite their speed, whippets have moderate exercise needs and are affectionate couch potatoes, making them suitable for relaxed households,” Phifer says. That said, as long as it’s getting plenty of exercise, this breed can fare well in an apartment or a house with a yard. Another perk is that these pups barely bark.

Their short coat is very easy to care for and only requires weekly brushing and occasional baths. While smart, the whippet has a bit of a mischievous personality that can be a little tricky to reign in when training.

Breed overview
Height: 19 to 21 inches
Weight: 25 to 40 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years
Ease of care:
4/5

12. Great Dane

Great Dane Gettyimages 179050736 SseditRALFWEIGEL/GETTY IMAGES

Don’t be intimidated by the Great Dane’s mighty stature; this pup is a true gentle giant. This sweet-natured, patient, ultra-friendly dog bonds with its family quickly and remains loyal through and through—they’re even great with children. However gentle, the Great Dane also makes for a courageous and vigilant watchdog as well. Regarding training, this breed does benefit from professional obedience training in order to harness its full potential. They also should be brushed weekly, bathed occasionally and have their nails trimmed monthly.

Breed overview
Height: 28 to 30 inches
Weight: 110 to 175 pounds
Life expectancy: 7 to 10 years
Ease of care:
3/5

13. Irish setter

Irish Setter Gettyimages 1393679082 SseditEDGAR G.BIEHLE/GETTY IMAGES

If you’re in the market for a lovable, friendly pup that’s perhaps not quite as well-known as other breeds, the Irish setter might be your match. These sweet dogs get along and bond quickly with everyone they meet, including kids, adults, seniors and other animals. They do tend to be a bit on the rambunctious side, so a playful and active setting is ideal. They are also eager to please and respond well to patient training, notes the AKC. Moderate grooming is required, including twice-weekly brushing, monthly nail trims and occasional baths.

Breed overview
Height: 25 to 27 inches
Weight: 60 to 70 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 15 years
Ease of care:
4/5

14. Bernese mountain dog

happy Bernese Mountain DogJill Lehmann Photography/Getty Images

The powerful and sweet-natured Bernese mountain dog is a family companion that will bring joy to any home. They’re on our list of the best dogs for beginners because they are easy to train, exceptionally patient with everyone (including kiddos) and get along easily with many personalities and even other animals. Their big size can be intimidating, but they’re softies who love to stick close to their humans. In fact, they can be a little shy! Frequent shedding is an issue with this breed, and they require a good brushing two to three times a week.

Breed overview
Height: 23 to 27.5 inches
Weight: 70 to 115 pounds
Life expectancy: 7 to 10 years
Ease of care:
4/5

15. Schipperke

Schipperke looks back.volofin/Getty Images
.

Also called schips, this dog is absolutely lovey-dovey when it comes to showing affection for its family, says the AKC. Schipperkes, named the little captain of Belgium after becoming popular on barges, are small dogs built for hard work. They are independent and do have an instinctive nature to explore, so they should to be trained to come when called as early as possible. But with appropriate training, this fox-like watchdog is eager to please and can learn almost anything, making it one of best dogs for first-time owners.

Breed Overview
Height: 10 to 12 inches
Weight: 10 to 16 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 16 years
Ease of care:
4/5

FAQs

What should you consider before becoming a first-time dog owner?

Before getting a dog for the first time, Dr. Savageau says to ask yourself why you want a pet in the first place and whether you’re prepared for a potentially 10-plus year commitment that comes with monthly expenses. “Consider your motivations and whether you are ready for the responsibilities of pet ownership,” she says. “Also, assess your lifestyle, living situation and preferences to choose a compatible pet. Finally, consider how a pet fits into your long-term plans and any potential changes in your life.”

What dog breeds should first-time owners avoid?

Ultimately, Phifer says that the best fit for a first-time dog owner will depend on individual preferences, lifestyle and circumstances. However, some breeds are known for being difficult to train, including chow chows, beagles, huskies, basset hounds, dachsunds, Chihuahuas and bulldogs.

“You must remember that individual temperament and training can vary within the breed, so prospective owners should still research and meet individual dogs before deciding,” Phifer says. “Additionally, seeking guidance from reputable breeders, rescue organizations or a certified professional dog trainer can help ensure a successful match between owner and dog.”

Why trust us

At Reader’s Digest, we’re committed to producing high-quality content by writers with expertise and experience in their field in consultation with relevant, qualified experts. For this piece, Wendy Rose Gould tapped her experience as a writer covering pets, and then Caroline Coile, PhD, an award-winning journalist specializing in canine breeds, health and science, gave it a rigorous review to ensure that all information is accurate and offers the best possible advice to readers. We verify all facts and data, back them with credible sourcing and revisit them over time to ensure they remain accurate and up to date. Read more about our team, our contributors and our editorial policies.

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