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9 of the Best Dog Breeds for First-Time Owners

By Stacy Painter
published: July 21, 2021 • 4 min. read
shih tzu dog on street

Without prior experience as the primary caretaker of a dog, there are many aspects of dog care that a first-timer might easily overlook. While it may seem as easy as providing food, water, a couple toys and regular potty breaks, tending to a dog’s specific needs involves catering to his age, personality and especially breed. For this reason, it’s important to research dog breeds and choose one that will fit best with your lifestyle and experience level.

golden retriever dog on chair
Golden retriever photo by David Moynihan on Unsplash

A dog’s unique traits

There are many individual characteristics that influence a dog’s personality and behaviors. For example, not all dogs can be trained the same way, and a dog training method that works well for one dog may not work for another, resulting in a frustrated pet parent and a poorly behaved dog. Here are the important traits to be aware of.

two pug dogs playing outside
Pugs photo by Istiphoto98 on Unsplash

Intelligence and learning style: Some dogs are intelligent and eager to please, making them easy to train. Others are intelligent but stubborn and will take up training on their terms. These dogs do best with an experienced trainer and strong leadership. Intelligence levels vary among dog breeds, and there are also breeds that are eager to please but need a lot more practice to solidify a new trick. 

Energy level: A dog’s energy level ranges anywhere from low energy and lazy to high energy and active. Some dogs get short bursts of energy but can be quickly tired out, whereas others need a long walk or jog every day. Highly intelligent dogs often need both mental stimulation and physical exercise. These dog breeds fare best with experienced pet parents who can meet their needs, otherwise the dog will become frustrated and invent his own entertainment, such as de-stuffing the throw pillows, or worse.

Socialization: While some dog breeds naturally get along with everyone, others only bond with their immediate family. There are dog breeds that naturally love other dogs (and even cats!), while others require lots of early socialization to get along with them. Even with proper socialization, some dogs still just don’t like strangers or strange dogs and can become skittish or aggressive around them.

Dogs bred for a job: Certain dog breeds have been bred to perform jobs. For example, shepherds were bred to herd, pointers and hounds were bred to assist hunters, and some terriers were bred to hunt rats and vermin. These dogs take their jobs so seriously that a terrier will be inclined to chase the neighbor’s cat, and a shepherd may try to herd the kids and nip at their heels. These breeds are better suited to those who are experienced with dogs and can harness the dog’s natural tendencies or help redirect them to an appropriate outlet.

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Dog breeds for first-timers

The following dog breeds are great for those looking to get their first dog because they are generally pretty easy-going with regard to each of the traits mentioned above.

shih tzu dog on street
Shih Tzu photo by Nikolay Tchaouchev on Unsplash
  1. Bichon Frise
    This joyful and affectionate breed gets along with other dogs and children. They have a moderate energy level and would enjoy a daily walk to be content. Bichon Frise dogs don’t shed, but they do need occasional grooming.
  2. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
    Born to be a companion, this affectionate cuddler is an excellent lap dog. They much prefer the company of their people to being alone. Retaining some spaniel traits, Cavaliers enjoy hiking and chasing birds, but a moderate daily walk will satisfy their exercise needs. Regular brushing is required to maintain this breed’s coat.
  3. Golden Retriever
    Golden retrievers are loyal, patient, and affectionate: the ideal companion dog. They are intelligent and trainable but need plenty of regular exercise. A golden would be happiest in a home with a yard or with a pet parent that has an active lifestyle.
  4. Greyhound
    This gentle and loving breed is low-maintenance when it comes to grooming. Though they are great sprinters, they can be satisfied with a daily walk. Greyhounds are friendly with other dogs and strangers and make great cuddle buddies on a lazy day.
  5. Labrador Retriever
    The playful Labrador retriever is friendly and tends to love everyone. They are eager to please, making them easily trainable, but they need regular exercise to match their high energy. A long walk, game of fetch, or swim at the lake would make them happy.

    cavalier king charles spaniel dog
    Cavalier King Charles spaniel photo by Kyle Bushnell on Unsplash
  6. Papillon
    Though most toy breeds tend to be stubborn, the Papillon is the “hidden gem” that is affectionate and eager to please. This active breed enjoys your company and relies on you to keep him occupied. Though they are intelligent and trainable, Papillons need consistent training to bring out their best.
  7. Poodle
    This low-shedding breed is loyal and intelligent. They are friendly and companionate dogs that enjoy time spent with their family members. The smaller varieties make great lap dogs, but standard poodles have higher energy and need plenty of regular exercise.
  8. Pug
    This playful, comical breed is small and compact but full of personality. They don’t require much exercise, but their diet needs to be closely watched because too many treats can quickly lead to weight gain. Pugs are shedders, but regular brushing helps remove excess fur.
  9. Shih Tzu
    This small breed was bred to be a lap warmer. They are lovable and kid-friendly but can be stubborn at times. Shih Tzus are affectionate and loyal and don’t require much exercise. They don’t shed but do need regular grooming and haircuts.
Stacy Painter profile
By Stacy Painter

Stacy has always been an animal lover and has worked in the pet industry and pet insurance specifically for over a decade. As a writer since early childhood, content writing for Healthy Paws pet insurance was a natural career path to combine her two passions. She currently lives in Florida with her boyfriend and Taiwanese rescue dog, Kaya.

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