The 10 Best Dogs for Beginners, Vets Say
New pet parent? Vets recommend these dog breeds.
For a first-time pet owner, picking the perfect pooch can be overwhelming. If you're debating a canine companion, there are multiple factors to consider. Families need a breed that gets along well with children and has a mild temperament. Older folks should look for lower-energy pups that don't require constant walking and playtime. And you'll need to know what to budget for—doggy daycare if you go to the office, grooming, and pet food, to name a few. To make the decision easier for new pet parents, we talked to several veterinarians who shared recommendations for the best dog breeds for beginners. Read on to see if you're better suited for a happy-go-lucky Lab or a tiny Yorkie.
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There's a reason so many families choose Labrador Retrievers for their first pet and why they're often used as service dogs. "Labrador retrievers are friendly and easygoing, which makes them ideal puppers for beginners," says board-certified veterinarian Melissa M. Brock. Moreover, they're intelligent, loyal, and great with kids, according to veterinarian and behaviorist Paola Cuevas.
If you think you may add more dogs to the family down the road, a Lab is a safe bet. "They're extremely sociable and don't mind being in the company of other dogs, even if they've never met before," shares Brock.
This high-energy and active breed needs a lot of exercise, and they love the water, making them great beach dogs and easy to bathe. The only thing to consider is that you may spend a good chunk of time vacuuming. "Their thick and water-repellent coat sheds a lot!" cautions Cuevas.
When it comes to being affectionate, good with children, and good with other dogs, the American Kennel Club (AKC) gives Golden Retrievers the highest possible scores.
Much like Labs, they're a perfect choice if you have kids since they're "patient, calm, and gentle," according to Brock. They also are well suited for multi-pet households and are very easy to train.
Goldens require daily exercise—in fact, the AKC says they're great companions for "long runs and bike rides"—but they're slightly less energetic than Labs (though they are on par in the shedding department).
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Poodles come in three sizes—Standard (more than 15 inches tall at the shoulder), Miniature (15 inches or under), and Toy (no more than 10 inches), according to the AKC. That makes them adaptable to a variety of households.
"These active, graceful, and people-oriented dogs have won great popularity as home pets because they're an intelligent breed that's loyal and easy to train," promises Cuevas.
A Poodle is a good match for an active lifestyle. "Originally bred as hunting dogs, they love to retrieve and play both on land and water," Cuevas says. If you live near a beach or lake, note that Poodles are exceptional swimmers.
Their low-allergen coats don't shed much, so they're easy to groom, and they score top marks from the AKC for how affectionate and good with children they are.
Because poodles can sometimes have temperamental personalities, various breeds of "doodles," or poodle mixes, have been crossbred over the years. For a doodle that's more on the medium size and is still hypoallergenic, first-time owners may want to consider a Goldendoodle, a mix with a Golden Retriever.
According to pet behaviorist, dog trainer, and CEO and founder of PetDT Jacquelyn Kennedy, Goldendoodles "don't have the excessive prey drive of some terriers, and they don't require as much exercise as, say, a Husky." But they do love to play.
A fenced-in yard where they can freely run around for 20-30 minutes is ideal, explains Pet Finder. The adoption website also notes that "good puppy socialization is key to their development," so you may want to consider enrolling your new pup in a playgroup or hitting up the local dog park.
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"A true lap dog, Maltese can be very sociable, loving, and gentle," says Jennifer Bruns, DVM, MPVM at PetSmart Veterinary Services. "They are also known for their quick learning abilities, which can be helpful for a first-time dog owner."
However, if you spend most of the day out of the house, Maltese may not be the best breed. "With their friendly temperament, Maltese often prefer to spend most of their time with their owner," says Bruns. But if you work from home, "Maltese can provide unmatched loyalty and love," she adds.
"Shih Tzus have a reputation for being affectionate, playful, and loving," says Bruns. "Weighing in on the smaller side, typically between 10 and 16 pounds, Shih Tzus don't require quite as much outdoor exercise as some other breeds and are often happiest spending time with their pet parent indoors, making them a great option for apartment dwellers."
Courtnye Jackson, a veterinarian and founder of The Pets Digest, adds that Shih Tzus are generally calmer than other breeds of their size. "While they will bark, they don't seem to bark quite as much as their smaller counterparts."
One thing to consider with Shih Tzus is that their long hair requires daily brushing, according to the AKC. And they're a bit high-maintenance when it comes to grooming. "Remember to comb the mustache and topknot daily, and gently clean the corner of the eyes with a damp cloth. To protect the Shih Tzu's eyes from being irritated, the hair on the top of the head should be trimmed short or tied up into a topknot," explains the AKC.
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This breed is a great option for a smaller home because of its size and personality. "Yorkies are known for being affectionate and loving, but they tend to be less needy than Shih Tzus in terms of physical contact," explains Brock. They're easy to train, are hypoallergenic, and don't shed much.
A Yorkie is also a wonderful breed for people who live alone, as they're high on the AKC's watchdog meter. "Tenacious, feisty, brave, and sometimes bossy, the Yorkie exhibits all the traits of a true terrier," they say.
Their glossy hair, which can drape down to the ground, requires just as must attention as Shih Tzus. Their coats are very similar to human hair and if kept long, they should be brushed every day, says the AKC.
Another easygoing terrier is the Boston Terrier. "They are usually known for their upbeat, friendly, happy-go-lucky personalities," says Jackson. "Most Boston Terriers will do well around children and are happy living in apartments or homes."
This breed doesn't shed or drool much, and they're easy to groom and require moderate exercise. These dogs have even been nicknamed "the Amerian Gentlemen" for their "impeccable manners," according to the AKC.
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Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
According to Bruns, Cavelier King Charles Spaniels are "known for their fun-loving, gentle dispositions while also retaining the spunkiness of other sporting spaniel breeds, making them a good fit for a variety of pet parent lifestyles."
Bruns notes that since this breed is adaptable and patient, they're a good fit if you have other pets. And Travis Brorsen, a pet expert for Animal Planet, celebrity dog trainer, host of My Big Fat Pet Makeover, and judge on the Discovery Plus series The Dog Games, adds that "they are even known to be extra gentle when around babies and toddlers, so if you have a new human and are looking to get a dog, this could be the one for you."
Another positive attribute of Cavelier King Charles Spaniels is that "they love to please," says Brorsen, "which can make training easier when using positive reinforcement."
Whippets are known for their speed, earning them the nickname of "the poor man's racehorse," according to the AKC, which also notes that they are agile and athletic. But despite their sleek physiques and fast gait, this is a breed that loves nothing more than "to curl up and lay on the couch," shares Brorsen.
"First-time owners also like the medium-size frame and their yearning to be with their people," he says. However, you may need to invest some extra time (and potentially money) into training this breed.