10 best dog breeds for first-time owners

May 3, 2024 - 8 min read
drawing of a dog in a stroller

Choosing your first dog is thrilling, but it demands a lot of foresight and soul-searching. 

It's easy to make some general statements about which dog breeds are best for first-time dog owners. A calm temperament is often easier for novice owners to manage. Minimal hereditary health risks, simple grooming needs, trainability, and a manageable size also come into play. On the other hand, exercise junkies and outdoorsy types might actually prefer a more energetic pup! 

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide which dogs are best for first-time owners. But here are some breeds to help kickstart your search.

Golden retriever

Golden retriever sitting

The sunny sidekick

Why they’re great for first-time owners: Golden retrievers are patient, even-tempered, and forgiving, with an unusually high tolerance for inexperienced handlers who are still learning the ropes. Their eagerness to please makes training more straightforward and rewarding.

Ideal owner: The ideal first-time owner for a golden is someone looking for a loyal and active pet who enjoys regular walks and enriching playtime. Goldens are perfect for families, as their gentle disposition makes them great with children and other pets. 

Things to consider: While golden retrievers are adaptable and easygoing, they do require regular exercise to manage their energy levels and prevent obesity. Their thick coats need frequent regular grooming to avoid matting and manage shedding. And they’re prone to potential health issues like hip dysplasia and heart conditions, which can require substantial care and expense.

Labrador retriever

Boxer lying down

The eager ally

Why they’re great for first-time owners: Labrador retrievers are friendly and eager to please, which makes them exceptionally trainable. Their patience, good temperament, and strong response to positive reinforcement techniques are all ideal for new pet parents. They’re also world-class sweethearts who fit beautifully into families.  

Ideal owner: The ideal first-time owner for a Labrador retriever is someone who can provide them with regular physical activity and mental stimulation. They thrive in active households where they can be part of daily activities, like running, hiking, or playing fetch. 

Things to consider: Labs need ample exercise and mental engagement to stay healthy and happy; otherwise they can become bored and destructive. They’re also prone to obesity if their diet isn't properly managed. Labs are also prone to certain health issues, like hip and elbow dysplasia. Prospective owners should be prepared for regular exercise, mindful feeding practices, and diligent routine healthcare



The joyful protector

Why they’re great for first-time owners: Boxers boast boundless energy and profound loyalty, combined with a protective nature that doesn’t overshadow their friendliness. This makes them excellent for first-time owners looking for a dog who’s both a companion and a protector. (They're arguably the best guard dog for a first time owner.) They’re also playful, patient, and highly trainable. 

Ideal owner: The ideal first-time owner for a boxer is someone who enjoys an active lifestyle and can provide plenty of exercise and engagement. Boxers are well-suited to families with older children who can match their high energy and playfulness, or individuals who can spend significant time training and socializing them.

Things to consider: While boxers are adaptable and joyful, they require consistent exercise, training, and socialization to manage their exuberance and prevent them from becoming destructive or overprotective. They’re prone to some health issues, such as heart conditions and hip dysplasia, and their short noses make them sensitive to extreme heat or cold.

Cavalier King Charles spaniel

Cavalier king charles spaniel

The royal lapdog

Why they’re great for first-time owners:Cavalier King Charles spaniels are prized for their gentleness, adaptability, and affectionate temperament. Their friendly nature also makes them easy to socialize, and they’re generally well-behaved around children and other pets. Cavaliers thrive in both smaller and larger homes; they're one of the best dog breeds for apartments and first-time owners.

Ideal owner: Cavaliers are perfect for first-time owners looking for a loyal and affectionate pet who enjoys a relaxed lifestyle. Owners will be called upon for gentle daily walks and plenty of cuddle time, but no hikes through the Adirondacks. 

Things to consider: While cavaliers are easygoing, they do require regular grooming to maintain their silky coats and prevent matting. They’re also one of the more illness-prone breeds, at high risk for conditions like heart disease and syringomyelia. And they don't do well when left alone for long periods, so they're best for households where someone is frequently home.

Bichon frisé

Bichon frisé sitting

The cheerful charmer

Why they’re great for first-time owners: Bichon frisés are friendly, joyful, and well-suited to a variety of living situations. They’re small and easy to handle, and do perfectly well in apartments or other homes without large outdoor spaces. They’re also intelligent and eager to please, which makes them easy to train

Ideal owner: The ideal owner for a bichon is someone who enjoys the companionship of a lively, affectionate dog who doesn't require extensive outdoor exercise–but does need regular interaction and mental stimulation. They’re perfect for individuals or families who are often home, and who can provide the social interaction and grooming that bichons thrive on.

Things to consider: Bichons require regular grooming to maintain their fluffy, hypoallergenic coat, which can be a commitment of both time and expense. They’re generally healthy, but like many small breeds, they can be susceptible to dental issues and allergies. They’re also prone to separation anxiety, so they're best suited to homes where they can receive plenty of attention.



The clever canine

Why they’re great for first-time owners: Poodles, whether standard or miniature, are exceptionally brainy and easy to train. This makes them a wonderful choice for first-time dog owners who want their new dog to pick up tricks (and rules) quickly. They’re also generally healthy, and their low-shedding coat is an added benefit for individuals worried about allergies. 

Ideal owner: Poodles fit well with individuals or families who enjoy interactive play and training sessions. Poodles thrive on attention and excel in a variety of activities, from obedience to agility.They’re suitable for owners looking for a versatile and engaging pet.

Things to consider: While poodles are highly adaptable and trainable, their intelligence means they require constant mental stimulation to prevent boredom, which can lead to destructive behavior. Their coat, although nearly hypoallergenic, requires regular professional grooming to keep it in good condition and free of mats.

Shih tzu

Shih tzu standing

The silky snuggler

Why they’re great for first-time owners: Shih tzus are  friendly (and cuddly!) by nature.  They do well in apartments and smaller living spaces, since they require less room and exercise than larger breeds. Shih tzus are also known for their calm demeanor and adaptability, making them easy companions for those new to dog care.

Ideal owner: The ideal owner for a Shih tzu is someone who enjoys a more laid-back lifestyle but still wants a companion to cuddle and play with. They’re perfect for owners who can provide regular grooming and enjoy the close companionship that this breed offers. 

Things to consider: While Shih tzus are low-energy and relatively easy to care for, they do require regular grooming to maintain their long, luxurious coat. They’re also prone to certain health issues, such as eye conditions and breathing problems stemming from their short snout. Socially, Shih Tzus are very dependent on their owners and may develop separation anxiety, so they're best for homes where someone is often present.


Black pug sitting

The plump playmate

Why they’re great for first-time owners: Pugs are even-tempered and sociable, small enough to handle easily, and do well in apartments. They’re also known for their strong desire to please their owners and their ability to adapt to various lifestyles, whether it’s a quiet household or one with constant activity.

Ideal owner: The ideal pug parent wants a loving and loyal pet that enjoys family life but doesn’t require extensive physical activity. It also helps if you’re looking for a dog who has a playful personality and a fabulous sense of humor. 

Things to consider: While pugs are generally easygoing, low-energy dogs, they do face some specific health challenges, such as breathing difficulties due to their brachycephalic(flat-faced) structure. They also tend to be prone to obesity without proper diet and exercise. And they require regular cleaning and grooming due to their wrinkles, which make them prone to skin infections.

Boston terrier

Boston terrier lying down

The American gentleman

Why they’re great for first-time owners: Boston terriers are well-suited for first-time dog owners due to their manageable size and generally well-mannered disposition. They’re friendly, affectionate, and do well in smaller living spaces. Boston terriers are also relatively easy to train thanks to their intelligence and eagerness to please.

Ideal owner: The ideal first-time owner for a Boston terrier is someone looking for a loyal and lively pal who doesn’t require a large amount of outdoor exercise, but does enjoy interactive play and walks. They’re perfect for city dwellers or those in smaller living spaces who want a companionable, low-maintenance canine. 

Things to consider: Boston terriers have some hereditary health concerns, including respiratory issues, due to their short snouts and sensitivity to extreme temperatures. They’re also prone to eye issues due to their prominent peepers. And while their energy levels aren’t as high as those of larger breeds, they do require regular, moderate exercise to keep them healthy and happy.

Border collie

Border collie lying down

The agile thinker

Why they’re great for first-time owners: Border collies certainly aren't one of the best low-maintenance dogs for first-time owners–but not all first-time owners are looking for low-maintenance. Border collies are an excellent match for first-time owners who are eager to engage in energetic training, frequent mental stimulation, and vigorous daily exercise. These dogs are also highly intelligent and capable of learning quickly, which can be a rewarding experience for new owners dedicated to consistent training. 

Ideal owner: The ideal first-time owner for a border collie is someone who leads an active lifestyle and is interested in more than just casual walks. These dogs thrive with owners who can provide them with plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation, such as agility courses, advanced obedience training, or regular interactive play sessions. 

Things to consider: Adult border collies often require two or more hours of exercise per day – and not the mild kind. Their high energy levels and need for mental stimulation mean they’re not suitable for every home. Without sufficient activity, they can become bored and may develop unwanted behaviors such as excessive barking or digging. Prospective owners should be ready to commit significant time each day to exercise and mental engagement..

Next steps: bringing your new friend home

As you prepare for this exciting new chapter, there are a few final steps to take. First, create a welcoming environment at home with all the essentials, like a bed, food and water bowls, and somesafe toys. Make sure to do some general puppy-proofing. And plan a visit to the veterinarian within the first few days of bringing your pet home. 

Finally, consider investing in dog insurance. Veterinary care can get surprisingly expensive, but pet insurance can help you make sure your dog gets the care they need, no matter how much it costs.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.