14 Best Dogs for First-Time Owners

Choose the right dog for your lifestyle

Red haired golden retriever laying on gray couch

The Spruce / Missy Schrott

Whether it's going to be your sole companion, a playmate for your kids, or a "fur baby" for you and your partner. bringing home your first dog is both exciting and a little bit scary. There's a lot to learn in terms of housebreaking, setting up feeding routines, grooming, and general canine healthcare. Most of all, there's inevitably a get-to-know-you period where you and your new four-legged friend learn each other's personalities and behaviors. You don't want to come out of that period feeling that you've made the wrong choice of dog. Fortunately, certain breeds tend to be the best dogs for first-time owners, as they are more easy-going, lower maintenance, or less intimidating than some other breeds.

While every dog is of course unique, generally, dogs in each breed have relatively predictable energy levels, sizes, looks, and grooming needs, which can help in determining the best dog for your lifestyle. Poodles, Labrador retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Yorkshire terriers are just a few of the breeds that are well-suited to be first-time pets.

Here are the best dog breeds for first-time dog owners.


Distinct breed traits—ease of training, aggression toward strangers, and prey drive—may be rooted in a dog’s genes, but each dog is different despite this hardwiring. Nurturing and behavioral training can, in some cases, supersede doggy DNA. It is essential to remember that a dog's breed will not perfectly predict how a particular dog will act.


The Best Beginner Dogs for Families

Breed Characteristics

The best breed for a first-time dog owner is the dog that matches your energy and attention level. If you want a dog that can go running with you, choose an athletic dog with endurance, such as the Labrador retriever. If you prefer a calm lap dog—the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is one such breed—then it's best to avoid high-energy dog breeds. You may lean toward a lower-maintenance dog breed, like the papillon, as your first one, especially if you do not have time for lots of grooming. 

Remember that all dogs, no matter the breed, will require good care, training, and veterinary care. Adult foster dogs from a rescue are often already house-trained and well-socialized; these can be excellent dogs for beginners since puppies are a lot of work, requiring socialization, training, and a lot of attention.

  • 01 of 14

    Bernese Mountain Dog

    Bernese Mountain Dog
    Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

    The Bernese Mountain Dog might be big, but these dogs are easy-going, eager to please, affectionate, and intelligent. They love a good romp with the kids, but are also happy to spend the evening relaxing at home. They adapt well to just about any living situation, and while not aggressive, they are fairly good watchdogs and are very devoted to their humans. Be aware, however, that Berners shed quite a bit and do require regular brushing to remove loose hair.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Working (AKC)

    Height: 23 to 27.5 inches

    Weight: 70 to 115 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium length double coat in black, tan, and white

    Life Expectancy: 7 to 10 years

  • 02 of 14

    Bichon Frise

    A Bichon Frise

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    The bichon frise is a happy-go-lucky little dog, great for families with children or apartment living. It looks a bit like a bouncy cotton ball. This breed is a great all-around companion. Bichons are relatively easy to train, adapt well to any lifestyle, and only need moderate daily exercise to be happy and healthy. You will need to dedicate the time and money to regular visits to the groomer. This breed's curly coat needs to be trimmed regularly and brushed carefully. For a lower-maintenance coat, keep your bichon's hair cut short.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Non-Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 9 to 12 inches

    Weight: 7 to 12 pounds

    Coat and Color: Curly white coat; may have traces of apricot, buff, or cream

    Life Expectancy: 14 to 15 years

  • 03 of 14


    Boxer looking up at camera
    Cyrielle Beaubois / Getty Images

    If you are looking for a medium-large high-energy dog, look no further than the playful boxer. This loyal dog forms a close bond with family. If you lead a reasonably active lifestyle, a boxer could be right for you. This breed needs plenty of exercise and a strong foundation of training. Though young boxers can be a little hyperactive, they are trainable and enjoy attention during training. Once trained and socialized, boxers can thrive in active households and often get along well with kids. Guardians by nature, boxers are naturally protective of their families, especially children. The boxer's grooming needs are basic.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Working (AKC)

    Height: 1 foot, 9 inches to 2 feet, 1 inch at the shoulder

    Weight: 55 to 70 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short coat; fawn and brindle are the standard colors

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

  • 04 of 14

    Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

    Close-up of cavalier King Charles spaniel
    Martin Rogers / Getty Images

    The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is a sweet, affectionate dog with a puppy-like appearance. Cavaliers can thrive in all kinds of households and tend to get along well with children of all ages. This breed is small but not tiny and has a gentle demeanor. This dog is elegant, attentive, and generally quiet. The Cavalier's moderate energy level means basic daily exercise is typically enough to maintain health. It needs basic training and responds to it well. Despite a medium-length coat, this dog's grooming needs are basic. Regular brushing is essential to avoid tangles in the hair.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Toy (AKC)

    Height: 12 to 13 inches (to the withers)

    Weight: 13 to 18 pounds

    Coat and Color: Long, sleek and silky coat with feathering around ears, feet, chest, and tail in four color varieties, tricolor, blenheim, ruby, and black and tan

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

    Continue to 5 of 14 below.
  • 05 of 14

    Golden Retriever

    Golden retriever on sofa

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris 

    The golden retriever is the quintessential family dog; they are eager to please. Goldens are excellent with children of all ages. This medium-large dog is happy, loyal, affectionate, and active. The breed is intelligent and adaptable to thrive in most households. They also need a fair amount of exercise to keep them in good physical condition and prevent boredom. Training is essential but not difficult. They love to learn and can be trained to do many things. The breed needs regular brushing to keep its coat free of tangles and mats. 

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 21.5 to 24 inches

    Weight: 55 to 75 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium-length double coat; light to dark gold

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

  • 06 of 14

    Great Dane

    A great dane sits on a couch
    On average, Great Danes stand around 28-30 inches tall. Elsa Hoffmann/Shutterstock

    Don't let the Great Dane's great size intimidate you. These oversize pooches are gentle giants, although they can be fierce watchdogs if they feel their family is endangered. As a general rule, however, Great Danes are easy-going dogs that enjoy playing, are highly intelligent, and are very affectionate with their favorite humans. A dog this large needs careful attention to obedience training, however, and while only moderate shedders, Great Danes tend to be droolers.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Working (AKC)

    Height: 28 to 32 inches

    Weight: 110 to 175 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short, smooth coat in almost any color or combination of colors

    Life Expectancy: 7 to 10 years

  • 07 of 14

    Labrador Retriever

    A chocolate Labrador retriever

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    The Labrador retriever is one of the most popular and recognizable medium-large dog breeds. Labs adapt well to most environments and are excellent with kids. They are intensely loyal and affectionate dogs that form close bonds with their families. This breed is active, playful, and intelligent. They thrive in active households that can provide plenty of exercise and training. Labs love to learn and can be trained to do almost anything, enjoying fetching, running, and snuggling. Fortunately, they only have minor grooming needs, like regular brushing to minimize shedding.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 21.5 to 24.5 inches

    Weight: 55 to 80 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short, dense double coat in black, chocolate, or yellow

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

  • 08 of 14


    Maltese dog with red collar standing in the grass.

    Sebastian Condrea / Getty Images

    It's hard to resist the adorable face and friendly nature of the Maltese. These dogs have beautiful silky coats that drape to the floor if left untrimmed, but regular haircuts can keep their coat short and manageable. Despite all that fur, they don't shed much, but should be brushed daily. The Maltese is a very affectionate, happy breed that doesn't require excessive exercise and is content to spend time relaxing on your lap.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Toy (AKC)

    Height: 7 to 9 inches

    Weight: Less than 7 pounds

    Coat and Color: Long silky white coat

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

    Continue to 9 of 14 below.
  • 09 of 14

    Mixed Breed Dogs

    A mixed breed dog

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    When considering the right breed for you, it's important to keep mixed-breed dogs in the picture. These one-of-a-kind dogs can make excellent companions. If you are not sure which breed is right for you, visit your local shelter or rescue group to meet some adorable mutts. Rescue workers can match you with a dog that has the traits you desire. Training, exercise, and grooming are necessary for all dogs, but a mixed-breed dog's needs will depend on its unique makeup.

  • 10 of 14


    Papillon dog lying in grass

    RichLegg / Getty Images

    Don't let this dog's diminutive frame fool you. This happy, friendly, and adaptable dog breed can do well in a variety of households. The papillon gets along with children, but they must be gentle. The papillon is a hardy little dog that enjoys a somewhat active lifestyle. This versatile cutie can function as a lap dog and exercise partner. The papillon does not need a lot of exercise but wants a chance to play and run around. The breed is easy to train and requires only moderate grooming.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Toy (AKC)

    Height: 8 to 11 inches 

    Weight: 6 to 10 pounds

    Coat and Color: Straight, long, single-layer coat with frills; white with markings and a mask of color, usually red, sable, black, or lemon

    Life Expectancy: 14 to 16 years

  • 11 of 14


    Close-up of pomeranian dog

    Lucinda Haza / Getty Images

    The Pomeranian is a dainty and sweet little lap dog. The Pom often bonds closest to a single owner but can still do well in families. This breed is better with gentle older kids but can adapt to many situations. Daily basic exercise is generally enough to keep your Pom happy. They need basic training to provide structure and boundaries. Without training, the breed's feisty and stubborn side may come out. Fortunately, they respond well to consistent, positive training and will thrive because of it. This dog is bright and moderately active with a big fluffy coat. Fortunately, its coat is not as high-maintenance as it looks. Regular brushing is generally all you need to keep your Pom looking good.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Toy (AKC)

    Height: 6 to 7 inches

    Weight: 3 to 7 pounds

    Coat and Color: Long, double coat that comes in many colors, though the most common are red, orange, cream, sable, black, brown, and blue

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 16 years

  • 12 of 14


    Close-up of toy Poodle
    Irina Marwan / Getty Images

    The poodle is a popular, versatile dog breed that makes a wonderful companion. The poodle is adaptable to its environment and can do very well in various households, including those with children. This breed comes in three sizes: toy, miniature, or standard. All are intelligent and respond well to training. Poodles are energetic dogs that need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. They need grooming regularly to maintain their curly, continually growing coat.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Non-Sporting (AKC)

    Height: Over 15 inches (standard); 10 to 15 inches (miniature); 10 inches and under (toy)

    Weight: 45 to 70 pounds (standard); 15 to 18 pounds (miniature); 5 to 9 pounds (toy)

    Coat and Color: One of many solid colors, including but not limited to white, black, gray, brown, apricot, and particolored

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 18 years

    Continue to 13 of 14 below.
  • 13 of 14

    Shih Tzu

    Shih Tzu standing indoors in profile

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    The Shih Tzu is a small dog that's big on affection. This ancient Chinese breed is happiest when spending time with the family, whether that's flopped on the couch next to you watching TV or playing with the kids. This isn't a breed with a high need for exercise, nor is it prone to excessive barking, but you will need to brush that beautiful silky coat at least several times each week to prevent tangles. Surprisingly, however, the Shih Tzu sheds very little.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Toy (AKC)

    Height: 9 to 10.5 inches

    Weight: 9 to 16 pounds

    Coat and Color: Long silky double coat in almost any solid color or color plus white

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 18 years

  • 14 of 14

    Yorkshire Terrier

    Yorkshire Terrier standing on bed of grass
    Natasha Japp Photography / Getty Images

    The Yorkshire terrier is a great starter dog for those who want a little lap dog. This breed is affectionate towards its owner and may even act protective around strangers. The Yorkie has a moderate energy level and only needs basic exercise. Daily walks are great for this breed. It also needs a solid foundation of training. Without structure, these little dogs can be stubborn and vocal. Train your Yorkie as you would a big dog, and it will help strengthen the bond between you and lay down boundaries. This dog has grooming needs that require attentiveness. Yorkies have continually growing hair that must be brushed and trimmed regularly. If you have the time and budget for regular groomer visits, it will be fairly simple to keep your Yorkie in good condition.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Toy (AKC)

    Height: 8 to 9 inches

    Weight: 5 to 7 pounds

    Coat and Color: Long, straight, and silky coat; color combinations are black and gold, black and tan, blue and gold, and blue and tan

    Life Expectancy: 13 to 16 years

Illustration of dog breeds for first time owners

 The Spruce / Jiaqi Zhou 

Breeds to Avoid

You might want to pass on highly independent, stubborn breeds or dogs with an unpredictable disposition if you are a first-time owner. These breeds can require intensive behavioral and socialization training and close supervision around strangers. Breeds to consider skipping include herding dogs, some terriers (the most active ones), dogs bred for defense or protection, and generally high-maintenance breeds.