Best Dog Breeds for First Time Owners

While you can't go wrong with any dog, there are some breeds that are sure to provide a bit of a challenge to the new dog owner.

By | Posted: November 20, 2014, 2 p.m. PST

Even after reading How-To books until their eyes glaze over, first-time dog owners are bound to make mistakes. As a new dog owner myself back in 1986, I floundered with dog training and communication. Suffice it to say, my first few German Shepherd Dogs were rather embarrassed to be associated with me; they’d take the lead at puppy class and I’d stumble behind.

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"New owner common mistakes include accidentally reinforcing undesired behavior, coddling fearful behavior, and (the most common mistake) yelling,” says Lara Stonesifer, trainer and owner, Lara’s Canine Solutions, New Braunfels, Texas. "While all breeds need consistent, regular training, some breeds may recover more readily from new owner errors.”

So which breeds match up nicely with first time owners? Let’s examine the question with the following (highly sophisticated!) classification scheme:

  • Green: Odds are these breeds will match first time owners.
  • Yellow: Some may match okay with new owners, but don’t miss one training class!
  • Red: These breeds may send inexperienced owners running for the hills with exhaustion, frustration, or both.

Herding breeds:

Green: "Herding breeds such as the Australian Shepherd, the Shetland Sheepdog, and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi were bred to work with humans and take care of animals, so they tend to exhibit loyalty and concern for their owners, as well as tolerate mistakes,” Stonesifer says. "Most of these dogs respond to gentle pressure, recover rather quickly from owner miscalculations, and train relatively easily.”

Yellow: Some herding breeds such as an Australian Cattle Dog, developed for tough work, may overwhelm a first time owner. "While breeds that are highly intelligent and trainable such as the German Shepherd Dog or the Border Collie sound like a good match for new owners, the dogs’ intensity and protection or work/prey drive may be too much for an inexperienced owner to handle,” Stonesifer says. 

Red: "Although highly trainable, the Belgian Malinois is likely too reactive, protective, and intense for most new owners,” Stonesifer says. It’s no coincidence the military uses the Malinois for its roughest missions.

Sporting breeds:

Green: The popular Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever, as well as the Brittany, are good choices for new owners. "Bred to work with man and stay active, these resilient sporting breeds have a strong willingness to please,” Stonesifer says. "These breeds simply want to be part of a group.” 

Yellow: "The Irish Setter and the Vizsla are examples of sporting dogs that are sweet and loving, but sometimes harder to train than a Lab or Golden,” Stonesifer says. "They also often require extensive exercise that may overwhelm a new owner.”

Red: "Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have a strong protection drive and an independent working spirit that may challenge inexperienced owner,” Stonesifer says.

Hounds, Guardians, and Toys, oh my:

Green: Small companion breeds such as the Toy Poodle or the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel can be good choices for new owners. "Many hounds are too independent (and too inclined to leave the yard after a scent) for new owners, but some, such as the sweet Greyhound, can match nicely with a new owner,” Stonesifer says. 

Yellow: "Some of the working breeds such as the Anatolian Shepherds or Great Pyrenees are kind hearted, but -- in part because they were developed to make independent guarding choices -- they often think for themselves, which can challenge a first-time dog owner” Stonesifer says.

Red: Size doesn’t always translate to easy. Many small dogs require more training for issues such as housebreaking. "Although small, some Lhasa Apsos show a willful, independent spirit that doesn’t always match up to first time owners,” Stonesifer says. 

Caveat: If a dog is in the green category, don’t mistake that for meaning he self-trains! All dogs need training "A puppy evaluation done by an experienced breeder helps match a pup to a family,” Stonesifer says. "Within any litter (of any breed), there will be a few challenging pups, and a few ‘easier’ ones.”

Have your heart set on a specific breed who is not in the "green" zone. Contact your shelter or local breed rescue to discuss adopting an older dog. They may already have some basic training and you will be better able to gauge and learn about the dog's personality, leading you to the perfect match.  

What was your first dog? Tell us in the comments below.  

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