The 13 Best Dogs for First-Time Owners (& Which Breeds to Avoid)

As any first-time dog owner will tell you, dogs are a lot of work. Sure, some breeds are known for being more low-maintenance than others, but owning a dog isn’t a walk in the park (but do expect to go for walks in the park). If you’ve never had a dog before, you may want to consider breeds that tend to be social, adaptable and obedient. However, Courtney Briggs, the Head Trainer at Zoom Room Dog Training, warns that breed should never be the only deciding factor when getting a dog.

“It’s extremely important to look at the full picture of a dog’s history as well as the prospective new dog parent’s lifestyle circumstances,” says Briggs. Plus, choosing a pup based on appearance or trends is a disservice to both the dog and you! Just because Lady Gaga has French bulldogs doesn’t mean French bulldogs are right for you.

First-time dog parents should do lots of research before settling on a breed—including research on breeders. The American Kennel Club is a great resource for finding reputable breeders.

Breeds to avoid

Briggs, who has over 20 years of experience working with and training canines, does add that working breeds could be more challenging for first-time dog owners. Working breeds are smart, but they require a lot of attention, exercise and mental stimulation from owners.

Folks with little to no free time should avoid working breeds like German shepherds, cattle dogs, Australian shepherds, beagles, Jack Russel terriers and standard poodles. In fact, Briggs tosses most “doodles'' into this category, too, which may be surprising as Goldendoodles and Labradoodles are incredibly popular dogs these days. Again—don’t follow trends! Choose based on your lifestyle and the dog’s unique personality.

A note on rescue dogs

Many people turn to local shelters to adopt dogs in need of new homes. When adopting a rescue, history is more important than breed. Past trauma is a much better indicator of a dog’s trainability and personality than their DNA.

“Rescue dogs that are shut down and hiding at the back of their kennel or that have been flown in from overseas are most likely not going to be the ideal match for a first-time dog parent,” says Briggs. “Too much trauma in a dog’s history can end up being a major struggle for a first-time dog owner.”

The best dogs for first-time dog owners

At last, here are the breeds Briggs recommends for first-time dog owners. Remember, there are exceptions to every rule and training is different for every individual—both human and dog. Be honest about what you can offer your dog and don’t be afraid to check out training programs like those offered by Briggs and other professional trainers.

best dogs for first time owners american bulldog
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1. American Bulldog

Average Height: 14.5 inches

Average Weight: 45 pounds

Personality: Affectionate, Brave

Activity Level: Moderate

Bulldogs are loyal canines who think they’re lap dogs. At the very least, get ready for ample couch lounging and lazy afternoons with this dog. Also, get ready for slobbery kisses because they love showing affection.

best dogs for first time owners american staffordshire terrier
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2. American Staffordshire Terrier

Average Height: 18 inches

Average Weight: 55 pounds

Personality: Energetic, Outgoing, Devoted

Activity Level: High

The American Staffordshire terrier is a muscular dog who can look intimidating at first. Once you get to know them, you’ll realize how sweet and loyal they are. “Their empathy and owner focus is bar none,” says Briggs. This could be why they made our list of the best dogs for people with Autism.

best dogs for first time owners basset hound
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3. Basset Hound

Average Height: 13 inches

Average Weight: 47.5 pounds

Personality: Mellow, Charismatic

Activity Level: Low

Basset hounds may not show their affection as openly as bulldogs, but their loyalty is undying. They don’t need lots of activity and are content chilling on the sofa with you all day. This is an example of a breed known to be stubborn when it comes to training, but low maintenance in other areas, which works well for first-time owners.

best dogs for first time owners cardigan welsh corgi
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4. Cardigan Welsh Corgi

Average Height: 11.5 inches

Average Weight: 30 pounds

Personality: Adaptable, Sweet

Activity Level: High

“Fun, smart dogs that enjoy training” is how Briggs described Corgis. If that doesn’t sound like the ideal canine companion, we don’t know what does. Be sure to get outside for plenty of socializing (with other dogs and humans)!

best dogs for first time owners cavalier king charles spaniel
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5. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Average Height: 12.5 inches

Average Weight: 15.5 pounds

Personality: Adaptable, Affectionate

Activity Level: Low

Adaptable, affectionate, low-maintenance, social, soft, gentle. We could literally go on and on about the friendly Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Briggs notes they’ve got a clown-like personality to boot!

best dogs for first time owners chihuahua
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6. Chihuahua

Average Height: 6.5 inches

Average Weight: 5 pounds

Personality: Charming, Independent

Activity Level: Moderate

Briggs says Chihuahuas are “incredibly fun to train” and very smart. Sure, they may have an independent streak, but they are charming little buggers with loads of personality. (Note: Prancer the Chihuahua is an example of why it’s so important to understand a dog’s history!)

best dogs for first time owners golden retriever
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7. Golden Retriever

Average Height: 22 inches

Average Weight: 65 pounds

Personality: Obedient, Loving, Intelligent

Activity Level: High

As the third most popular dog breed in America, Golden retrievers are excellent options for first-time dog owners. Their high social drive combined with a loving personality makes them great therapy dogs, family pets and companions.

best dogs for first time owners greyhounds
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8. Greyhound

Average Height: 27.5 inches

Average Weight: 65 pounds

Personality: Independent, Sweet

Activity Level: High

Greyhounds are striking animals with soft, sweet dispositions. Yes, they love to run and need plenty of exercise, but at the end of the day they’ll snuggle like a lap dog. Greyhounds also tend to bond with one family member specifically, which also makes them great for folks who live solo.

best dogs for first time owners italian greyhound
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9. Italian Greyhound

Average Height: 14 inches

Average Weight: 10.5 pounds

Personality: Sensitive, Alert

Activity Level: Low

According to Briggs, Italian Greyhounds make excellent roommates and companions. They are playful and enjoy being close to their human family members.

best dogs for first time owners leonberger
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10. Leonberger

Average Height: 28.5 inches

Average Weight: 130 pounds

Personality: Intelligent, Goofy

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Intelligent and lazy, Leonbergers are big dogs with a personality to match. Gentle and cuddly, they do well with kids and families. Be sure you’ve got plenty of room for them to roam. If you’re a first-time owner in an apartment, it may be wise to start with a smaller breed.

best dogs for first time owners mastiff
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11. Mastiff

Average Height: 33 inches

Average Weight: 175 pounds

Personality: Patient, Protective

Activity Level: Low to moderate

Shocked to find out Mastiffs were on our list of apartment-friendly breeds? Well, it’s true. These giant pups prefer the indoors and are incredibly easy-going animals.

best dogs for first time owners papillon
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12. Papillon

Average Height: 10 inches

Average Weight: 7.5 pounds

Personality: Outgoing, Happy

Activity Level: Moderate

Briggs says the Papillon isn’t headstrong and actually enjoys training. The AKC says Papillons do well at agility training and love learning tricks. Get ready for a smiling, dedicated playmate in these tiny pups.

best dogs for first time owners pug
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13. Pug

Average Height: 11.5 inches

Average Weight: 16 pounds

Personality: Adaptable, Charming

Activity Level: Low to moderate

Pugs love people and food. If you can get on board with this, we highly recommend one of these cute pups. Be sure to monitor their food intake and exercise so they don’t develop weight-related health issues.

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...