Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
If you are looking for your first dog, there are several things you need to consider. Are you around the house most of the time or gone all day long? Do you live in a house or an apartment? Are you willing to vacuum up hair, or do you want a dog that doesn’t shed much? Are there children in the home? Do you have cats or other pets already? Finding the best dog is only going to happen if he is able to fit into your lifestyle.
Size does not matter but a lot of other things are very important. Take the time to find the best dog now so that you are not one of those people dragging your bad choice to the animal shelter.
So what is the best dog breed for a first time dog owner?
Recommended Breeds for a First-Time Dog Owner
- Japanese Chin
- Bichon Frisé
- Lhasa Apso
- Golden Retriever
- Great Dane
4 Important Considerations for First-Time Dog Owners
If I could recommend a medium sized breed that does not shed, does not bark a lot, does not have any health problems, was good when left alone, and was easy to train, I would do so immediately. Unfortunately the perfect dog doesn’t exist. (Well, she does, actually, but she is already taken and is sitting at my feet as I type this.) All dogs are perfect if you are willing to put up with a few problems. Even if there arent many perfect dogs, there are a few characteristics that the first time dog owner needs to consider when looking at that new dog.
Consider These Differences
- Dominance: This word may no longer be in fashion among animal behaviorists, but it is important if you are looking for your first dog. Several breeds are highly territorial; some do not care about territory at all. When you consider getting your first dog, you need to remember how important this trait will be. You need a breed of dog that will not be too territorial, and thus will be easier to train and control.
- Emotional Level: If your first dog is stable and easy to predict, you are going to have an easier time taking care of him. If your dog is so excited that she bounces all over the house when you come home, then collapses in a corner and only gets up to bark at the doorbell, your life is going to be more difficult. Most working dog breeds are not going to lie around the house, no matter how much you try to exercise them, and there are only a few on this list.
- Willingness to Socialize: This is important for a first time dog owner. A dog that stalks off into a corner to be alone is not the best choice, and neither is a dog so in need of social contact that it is difficult to get away from him (a "Velcro" dog breed.)
- Energy Level: Your first dog must not be too energetic, even if you think you are going to be able to handle his requirements. A lazy dog may not be a good choice, though, so think about your lifestyle before making this choice. (This may depend on your personal activity level--if you are a runner and want to take your dog along, a Pug is not a good choice.)
There are several breeds that like to socialize, have moderate dominance, stable personalities, and good energy levels.
The Best Dog Breeds for Inexperienced Owners
Dog breeds you should consider are the Maltese, Bichon Frisé, Japanese Chin, Poodle, Beagle, Lhasa Apso, Golden Retriever and the Great Dane. These are not necessarily the best breeds in every category—many people choose different breeds for different reasons. All of these dogs do have the characteristics that are good for first timers. These dogs all look quite different, and are very different in height and weight, so you should be able to find a breed you like.
- Maltese: Tiny, gets along with cats, and usually good lap dogs that do not need much exercise; they sometimes bark too much.
- Japanese Chin: Usually not as tiny as a Maltese but small enough for an apartment, most of the dogs from this breed that I have been around are not dominant and match their energy level to that of their owners
- Bichon Frise: Small, good with kids and with even temperaments but some serious health problems.
- Beagle: These pack dogs are not usually dominant and are willing to be socialized.
- Lhasa Apso: A little larger version of the lap dog, these dogs can be good watch dogs if worked with properly.
- Golden Retriever: One of the best dog breeds for a family with kids, or cats, these dogs are very social but are intelligent enough to back off so are not overwhelming like some breeds.
- Great Dane: A giant dog but usually very calm and suited for an apartment or small house. If you do not like small dogs but still have no experience caring for dogs, this can be a good choice if you can deal with giant sized medical problems.
If you find you are attracted to a dog not on this list, and really must have him as your first dog, please read up on the dog´s qualities and make sure you are going to be able to deal with him as an adult. (You definitely need to stay away from aggressive breeds like the Presa Canaria, Cane Corso italiano, and Bull Mastiff. Stay away from shy breeds like the Sheltie and Afghan Hound. Also stay away from potentially destructive breeds like the Weimaraner ie Vizsla.) Many of the adult dogs in animal shelters are given up not because they are bad dogs--they just do not fit the lifestyle and personality of the new owners and were chosen without consideration.
Consider what you are getting into.
How to Find Your First Dog
- Go to a dog show where you can see representatives of all the dogs that will be good for your situation and see which one of the breeds among the list above strikes you as special and appropriate. (Just do not go to the show and fall in love with a totally inappropriate breed of dog just because you like his eyes! It does happen. Ask any Siberian Husky owner who lives in an apartment.)
- You can purchase from a breeder but should also try to contact a breed rescue that works in your area. You may be able to find an adult dog or even a puppy. Just type the breed you are searching for and your location into your search engine.
- Consider finding a dog at a shelter too. Some shelters have a "no first time owners" policy so if they do just turn around and walk away. If they would rather kill their dogs than find a good home, they do not need your support. If you do find a shelter, I do not recommend you find a puppy at a shelter since many of the dogs will be listed as "Lab mix" and they may not be what you need. Older dogs can make great calm pets for a new owner though and the shelters are always looking for homes for these dogs.
- DO NOT buy a puppy from a pet shop. You will be supporting a puppy mill and may end up with serious behavior problems that will turn your family off of dogs forever.
Just because a dog is from a breed that should be great for you, you should remember that each animal is an individual and there are differences. Even among a litter, where the parents are the same and there is little genetic variability, there are differences.
Discuss your needs with the breeder or shelter to make sure you are getting the right dog.
Consider a Tiny Dog for Your Canine Companion
Among the dogs that present with low dominance, stable emotions, fair socialization, and moderate energy, my favorite is the Maltese. These little animals can be a laid back slacker dog if they have to be alone all day while you work, and as long as you take care of their coat will not be too much trouble around the house. They are small and get along with other animals. If you can put up with the barking they even make a good apartment dog!
The problem with getting a tiny dog is that they are relatively fragile. If you are not used to being around dogs a larger dog is a better choice. Lhasas and Beagles are still small but not fragile.
No matter what the size and shape, take your time when choosing your first dog. He is going to be with you for many years to come, and when select a dog that fits your lifestyle you will be happy and a great owner.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: My father has a disability called Cramp Fasciculation Syndrome that has lasted for over two years. I am eleven (almost twelve in May) and am an only child. We live with a Bearded Dragon and two cats. What dog would fit our family best?
Answer: It is hard to say what kind of dog you will like but I think a small dog would be best for your family. The Maltese does not need a lot of exercise since he is so tiny and gets along with cats. (He will need some exercise though so every day after school you will need to take him for a short walk.) I am not sure how he will do with your Dragon so keep him in the cage unless you are supervising them very closely.
Question: So if I am gone from 6 in the morning and don't get back until 4 in the afternoon. I want a large sized dog that does not shed. What would be the best option?
Answer: There are some large dog breeds that do not shed, like the Giant Schnauzer and the Briard, but all of those breeds are working animals and used to being active. If you are gone all day and leave them without mental and physical stimulation you are going to have problems. If you really want a large breed dog that does not shed you will have to take your dog to day care.
If you have another choice for a first dog, please share.
Jonas on August 19, 2019:
That is not a breed I would generally recommend as first-time owner. They are prone to be stubborn, difficult to train, need excessive excercise or they turn destructive, extremely nose-driven.
They are a great breed for someone with experience and knowledge to train them from the start and dedication to what they need. Also for people with large yard where they can get rid of some of their energy...
Amina on January 03, 2018:
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 10, 2012:
Hi Rachel, welcome back! You sound like one of those who could handle one of those little Schipperkees, though. After handling that ACD (and goslings in your house!) you could probably deal with anything though, right?
Rachel Koski Nielsen from PA, now homesteading in MN on November 10, 2012:
Great hub :) (I have electricity again, by the way!) You always find the best pictures. I saw a schiperkee in a pet store not too long ago, first time I ever saw one. I don't usually go into places that sell dogs, and would never buy one when so many need to be adopted from shelters, but this interesting little dog looked like it would make a great companion for my crazy ACD cross. Maybe someday! Guess the schiper makes it onto the list of high energy dogs though, and maybe not so great for the first-time dog owner!