Dogs for First Time Owners: 12 Great Choices for Novice Doggy Parents

Dogs for First Time Owners by Janice Jones   |Last Updated 09-27-2023

You’ve come to the decision to get your first dog but with nearly 400 purebred dog breeds worldwide, where do you start?  That number does not include all the very popular hybrids or the mixes that are very adoptable in your home town.

You may have had dogs as a child, but that's not quite the same as becoming a doggie mom or dad for the first time.

Header image of a Bichon Frise laying on the grass.Best Dogs for First Time Owners

How do You go About Making a Choice for Your First Dog?

There’s a lot of decisions to make before you run down to your local shelter, contact a rescue or search out breeders.  Puppies require work including socialization, training, vet visits and grooming. 

Adult dogs are a bit easier especially if you are adopting from a rescue who has taken the time to train and socialize the dogs before they place them in homes.  

Whether you choose a puppy, an adult, or a senior, they’ll need your love and encouragement. There are numerous ways to express your love for your pet. Importantly, consider your time and energy level. Some breeds are very active, while others prefer a sedentary lifestyle.

If you have an active lifestyle, then a breed with lower maintenance might be the ideal choice for you.  

Best Dogs for First Time Owners

There is likely not one perfect dog out there, but when you choose a purebred dog, you can reduce some of the guess work about what to expect. 

Each breed has its own characteristics but you must also remember that within breeds, there is variation and each dog has his or her very own personality, so don't rely on breed alone.  Even two identical puppies born in the same litter will be different.

What makes a dog a good candidate for first time parents?

Temperament characteristics such as trainability, eager to please and bond, affectionate with the owner, and outgoing friendliness are some of the traits that makes some dogs easier to own than others.

Smaller dogs are easier to manage because they weigh less and you can pick them up.  Most people can control even the strongest of small dogs and most of dogs on this list are considered very adaptable, meaning they can live in any situation and conform to their owner’s lifestyle.

I did not take into consideration health concerns when choosing these dogs for first time owners because all dogs are prone to certain issues. Still it's not a bad idea to research which health concerns are common in the breed you are considering.

Often the health of the dog does not have anything to do with breed specific genetics, but rather lifestyle choices and the type of care he/she receives.

Beyond those traits, our list of dogs for first time owners differs on energy level, grooming needs and the likelihood that they will get along with other dogs and children.

Ease of training, affection, and loyalty also play a big part of all of those chosen to be on our dogs for first time owners list.

Alternately, why are some breeds more challenging for new owners?

What Makes Some Breeds Harder to Own?

If you are just entering the wonderful world of dog ownership, you want to dive in head first knowing your new dog or puppy is going to bond and love you from day one. 

You want a puppy that will respond to your requests such as come, sit and stay.  You want a dog that will become your new best friend from day one onward. That puppy or dog may also feel more like your baby.

The breeds I’ve listed below fulfill all of these characteristics:

  • Friendly
  • Affectionate
  • Get along well with other dogs /children
  • Easily trainable
  • Not too hyper, not to laid back

Some breeds, however are more challenging for first time dog owners. Here are a few breed characteristics that make some dogs harder to train.

Traits That Make Dogs Harder to Own

  • Independent nature (Difficult to Train)
  • Behaviors specific to the breed such as digging, chasing, high energy (More challenging to overcome)
  • Giant breeds that are difficult to control (Not for the weak)
  • Strong Prey drive (Difficult to chase down and catch)
  • High Energy Breeds that require more exercise than you can provide otherwise they become destructive (Time consuming)
  • Smart or Highly intelligent breeds that will outsmart you (You must always be on your toes)
  • Dogs that prefer to be the leader of the pack (Challenge to stay on top)

Always look at the reason these breeds were developed in the first place.  Where they used as war dogs?  Guard dogs?  Working dogs for guarding or herding livestock?  Each breed profile on Small Dog Place has a section about the history of the breed.  Here's where you will find those facts.

Was their ability to hunt the primary reason they were developed or was their job to rescue of primary interest to early breeders. These types of breeds are best left for seasoned owners.

Those dogs that have been companions for most of their existence make the best choices for first time owners, but not all of the dogs on this list fall into that category.

I don’t want to imply that these characteristics are bad in any way, just a bit more challenging for new owners.  As you evolve and learn training techniques that work, and become more comfortable with dogs, then these breeds might be the perfect dog for you.

My List of Difficult Dog Breeds (Subjective)

These breeds make great choices for more seasoned dog owners but may not be the best dogs for first time owners. These are all medium, large and giant breeds of dogs.  Size does not always tell the full story, though.

They do, however, all possess at least one if not more of the traits mentioned above that make dogs harder to own.

  1. German Shepherds
  2. Rottweiler
  3. Doberman Pinscher
  4. Bull Mastiff
  5. Australian Cattle Dog
  6. Chinese Shar-Pei
  7. Chow Chow
  8. Siberian Husky
  9. Belgian Malinois
  10. Cane Corso
  11. Tibetan Mastiff
  12. Fila Brasileiro

While inexperienced potential dog owners will find these breeds challenging, each breed does have great qualities that appeal to many people. 

For example, Siberian Huskies, who are bred by reputable breeders are very healthy dogs living to be 12 to 14 years old.  

12 Best Dogs for First Time Owners

Here are 12 of the best dogs for first time owners, not necessarily in any order of importance.

  1. Papillon
  2. Shih Tzu
  3. Italian Greyhound
  4. Bichon Frisé
  5. Maltese
  6. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  7. Pomeranian
  8. Pug
  9. Yorkshire Terrier
  10. Boston Terrier
  11. Poodle
  12. French Bulldog


Smart, Easy to Train, Playful

Energy Level:  Moderate to Active

Grooming: Moderate

Good with Kids: Yes

Good with Other Dogs: Yes

Hypoallergenic: No

Size: 3-9 pounds

The Papillon, the butterfly dog, has been bred for centuries to be excellent companion dogs and they are true to their purpose. 

They love people and prefer to be close to their special people throughout the day and night.  While some separation is expected and necessary, the Papillon would choose to be by your side 24/7.

This, along with the Pap's dainty appearance, diminutive size, and great train-ability, probably accounts for their reputation as an ideal city dog.  But they do equally well in any type of setting. These are dogs for firs time owners because they are smart and easy to train.

Visit the Papillon Dog Breed Profile

Shih Tzu

Playful, Adaptable, Lovable, Loyal

Energy: Low to Moderate

Grooming:  Extensive

Good with Kids:  Yes, older respectful children

Good with Other Dogs:  Yes

Hypoallergenic:  Yes, somewhat

Size: 9-16 size varies

If split personality could describe a small dog breed it would be this breed—laid back, couch potato, perfectly content to nap on your lap all day OR, speed demon, happy to run at top speeds around your home or yard. 

As fearless watchdog, this breed tends to bark loudly when someone comes to the door, but then greet the visitor enthusiastic with kisses and affection.

He is sociable but not as outgoing as some breeds.  He needs people so he is not likely to be happy alone for extended periods of the day.  

This little dog is rarely aggressive and gets along with children and other pets.  Some have a jealous streak if they live in a household with multiple pets. Most have a stubborn streak at times with that, “what’s in if for me?” attitude.

Visit the Shih Tzu Dog Breed Profile

Also, check out the Imperial Shih Tzu, the tiny teacup version that isn't really a separate breed.

Italian Greyhound

Gentle, Calm, Affectionate

Energy Level:  Moderate

Grooming: Easy

Good with Kids:  Older Respectful Children

Good with Other Dogs:  Yes, Other small pets:  They have a prey drive which makes them a risk 

Hypoallergenic: No, but shedding is minimal

Size: 6-10 pounds, some are a little larger

The Italian Greyhound is a very intelligent, sweet, loving and loyal breed of dog. Since they were bred for companionship, they make amazing lap dogs and will stick by your side as much as they can.

They were very selectively bred down Greyhounds, and are a result of selective breeding. This means that they share some characteristics with the Greyhound, such as their speed and passion to run.

Minimal grooming makes this an ideal choice for those active families who prefer games and training activities to grooming.  I chose this breed for our list of dogs for first time owners because of their calm temperament, size, and ease of grooming.

Read about the Italian Greyhound

Bichon Frisé

Gentle, Happy, Playful, Friendly

Energy level: Moderate

Grooming: Extensive

Good with Kids:  Yes

Good with Other Dogs: Yes

Hypoallergenic: Yes

Size: 10-16 pounds

Gentle, affectionate, playful, cheerful, intelligent, bold, lively, and clownish are words that describe the Bichon Frisé and make them a great choice for first time owners. 

They are great with families, children, and other animals.  They make great apartment dogs due to their small size and low exercise requirements. 

Bichons are considered to be a very intelligent breed, but may not always be cooperative with house training.

All about the Bichon Frisé Dog Breed Profile


Gentle, Playful, Lapdog, Fearless

Energy Level:  Moderate with bursts of energy 

Grooming:  Moderate to Extensive

Good with Kids:  Older respectful kids

Good with Other Dogs: Yes

Hypoallergenic:  Yes, somewhat

Size: 4-7 pounds, some are larger

Don’t be fooled by that gentle, sweet look, these dogs and will let you know it with their bark of defiance.  Although the Maltese has been bred for years to be a companion dog, he is very capable of catching rats like a terrier might, and they retain that alert, lively, intelligent personality trait.

The Maltese, or “Ye Ancient Dogge of Malta” hints of their ancient origins and were often referred to as  “Roman Ladies Dog,” because they were present during the Roman Empire.

Even though they might be capable of ratting, most owners don’t think of their sweet, refined dog as such.  The Maltese is equally happy remaining by your side or enjoying a brisk walk. They are an active breed but do not require much in the way of exercise. 

Most of their needs can be met as they follow you from room to room in the home.  They do enjoy a romp in the yard, but most prefer to explore than run around.   

The Maltese Dog

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Affectionate, Low Energy, Friendly, Sweet

Energy: Low to Moderate

Grooming: Moderate

Good with Kids: Yes, older respectful kids

Good with Other Dogs: Yes

Hypoallergenic: No

Size: 13-18 pounds

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Fanciers use words such lovable, sweet, gentle, playful, devoted to owner, lap warmers and bed companions to describe this little cutie who has grown in popularity over the last couple of decades. 

The Cavalier is one of the most popular breeds in the UK and gaining in popularity in the US. They are also popular among seniors as their demands are low and love high.  While they have a playful nature and a curious temperament, they excel as lap dogs making them good candidates for therapy work and elderly owners.

Don’t expect them to be a good guard dog, because they are likely to love each and every one that comes through your door.  Even though they may be one of the smallest spaniels, they are still true to this group of dogs. 

As such, they may chase anything that runs in their path, including cars, so leash training is a must. This breed should top the list of dogs for first time owners. I did say I didn't take health into consideration, but the breed does have some major health problems that should be investigated.

Learn about the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel


Friendly, Playful, Easily Trained

Energy Level: Moderate to Active

Grooming: Moderate

Good with Kids: Older respectful children

Good with Other Dogs: Dogs and Other pets are fine as long as you socialize and supervise early on.

Hypoallergenic: No

Size: 4-6 pounds, some are larger

Poms very energetic, lively, bouncy dogs that can tend to have a large voice to them. They are extremely happy-go-lucky dogs that crave human companionship. They are great lap dogs and live to please. Focusing their energy is a huge component of owning a Pom. Even though it looks like grooming these dogs would be a time-consuming job, it is not nearly as hard as it looks.  

Socialization at an early age will go along way towards making them a perfect, loving companion.  Their barking tendencies can be trained out if started early and consistency is always advised when doing any training program.

Pomeranian Dog Breed Profile

13 Amazing Pom Facts You Might Not Know


Stable, Charming, Comical, Friendly

Energy:  Moderate

Grooming:  Easy

Good with Kids: Yes

Good with Other Dogs: Yes

Hypoallergenic: No

Size: 13-20 pounds

This little bundle of joy has such a comical look to it, almost cartoonish, and a personality to match. Happy-go-lucky and is very loving, they are loyal, and affectionate with their whole family.

These dogs are the near perfect family dog. They can adapt to most location and situation and get along with all ages, especially kids that can give them extra nonstop attention.

Since the pug is so energetic and happy all the time, they tend to overwork themselves to keep their owners happy. This one would be an excellent choice for families who want a great dog but hate grooming.

These dogs have a tendency to be very sensitive to the tone of people’s voices, so harsh punishment is unnecessary and ill advised.

Check out the Pug, Complete Dog Breed Profile

Yorkshire Terrier

Affectionate, lovable, lapdog candidate, and curious

Energy: Moderate

Grooming: Moderate

Good with Kids:  Older Kids

Good with other Dogs: Yes

Hypoallergenic: Yes, somewhat

Size: 4-7 pounds, some are larger

They are alert, trainable, curious, and lovable.  They may be the quintessential purse dog, but what they lack in size they make up for in personality.

There is no other dog breed out there who shouts BIG ATTITUDE like the Yorkie as they are fondly called.  With their silky straight coat, tiny size, bright personality, and desire to be a close companion, these dogs make great pets for a wide range of people from singles, families with older children and seniors.

They are equally happy lying on your lap as taking a long walk and will make an excellent watchdog because they never miss a beat.

Once used to hunt vermin and go to ground, the Yorkie is a companion dog these days and quite a bit smaller than his ancient cousins.

The Yorkshire Terrier, Complete Dog Breed Terrier

Puppy Proofing for a Yorkie Puppy

10 Fun Facts about Yorkshire Terriers

Boston Terrier

Adaptable, eager to please, quiet

Energy level: Moderate

Grooming:  Easy

Good with Kids: Yes

Good with other Dogs

Hypoallergenic: No, moderate shedders

Size: 6-25 pounds

if you’re looking for a lively, energetic and highly entertaining bundle of energy, then this may be perfect small dog breed for you. The Boston Terrier, or American Gentlemen as you might hear them called are sturdy little dogs that do well in a variety of settings and warm the hears of singles, couples, and families.

They are highly intelligent and love to learn therefor training is easy breezy. They also do not require any special exercise, only excessive love.

Bostons can entertain anyone for hours on end because of his or her sweet-nature, clown-like personality.

Learn about the Boston Terrier


Highly intelligent, easy to train, Active and Playful

Energy: Active

Grooming: Extensive

Good with Kids: Yes

Good with Other Dogs: Yes

Hypoallergenic:  Yes

Size:  6 – 9 pounds, some larger

Toy Poodles make the perfect pet for anyone who is dedicated to them and can give them the proper care they deserve. Perky, sweet, and lively, this dog loves to be around people and is quite sociable.

However, do not let their kindness and playfulness trick you, because they definitely need a pack leader. Without a confirmed leader in charge, your Poodle could snap, and that is not what anyone wants.

Without proper training, your pup could be high-strung and timid. With training being such an ease that should never be a problem, as long as you’re willing to commit to your Poodle, as you would do with any breed of dog.

I have included them on this list of dogs for first-time owners due to their small size, ability to be trained, and their devotion to their favorite person.  They are one of the most hypoallergenic dog breeds making them perfect for allergy sufferers.

Everything You Need to Know About the Toy Poodle

French Bull Dog

Playful Adaptable, lovable

Energy: Low

Grooming: Easy

Good with Kids: Yes

Good with other Dogs: Yes

Hypoallergenic: No

Size: Less than 28 pounds

Last, but by no means least, the French Bulldog is climbing the ranks in popularity world-wide and for good reason. A French Bulldog is both an adorable fur ball and an amazing companion. 

If cuteness and best friend are on your "must have" list," then you can get the best of both worlds with the Frenchie. This breed is really good at sitting around and being cute.

With their pushed in face, adorable snorting, and their bubbly personality, they are irresistible. It is not a surprise that these adorable companions are in the top three most popular dogs in New York City.

Frenchies will definitely let you know when the mailman is approaching, but they are pretty calm and sedate most of the time, as long as they do not feel like they are in danger.

Like many toy breeds, the French bulldog is very playful, curious, and overall just a hilarious dog.

Like other brachycephalic breeds (Pugs, Shih Tzu, Boston Terriers) they do have a few health issues, but grooming is easy and their need to please make training activities easier than many breeds.

The French Bulldog Complete Dog Profile

For more information about breeds, check out the American Kennel Club Website.

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Is Your Breed Not On this List of Best Dogs For First Time Owners?

If you are a first-time dog owner and your breed is not on the list, we’d love to hear from you. 

Let us know why you think your breed should be here and tell us a bit about your experience as a first-time dog owner. 

Remember to include photos of your dog, your dog’s breed and all the endearing characteristics you’d like other reader to know about.

Dogs for First Time Owners:  Your Stories

About Janice (author and voice behind this site)

Having lived with dogs and cats most of her life, Janice served as a veterinary technician for ten years in Maryland and twelve years as a Shih Tzu dog breeder in Ohio.

Her education includes undergraduate degrees in Psychology with a minor in biology, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing, and a master's in Mental Health Counseling.

She is a lifelong learner, a dog lover, and passionate about the welfare of animals. Her favorite breed for over 50 years has been the Shih Tzu, but she has also lived with Poodles, Maltese, Yorkshire Terriers, Beagles, English Bulldogs, Carin Terriers, and a Cocker Spaniel.

When not writing, reading, and researching dog-related topics, she likes to spend time with her eight Shih Tzu dogs, husband, and family, as well as knitting and crocheting. She is also the voice behind Miracle Shih Tzu and Smart-Knit-Crocheting

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