Photo by Zach Lucero

Dog and owner (Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash)

You’ve always wanted a dog and now your dream’s finally attainable: Your landlord allows pets, you can afford vet bills, and your schedule is flexible enough for dog walks. However, dog ownership comes with many responsibilities, including consistent training. And since training doesn’t always come naturally to first-time dog owners, not all types of dogs are suitable for “beginners.” Some breeds can become aggressive if not properly trained, or will complicate your life in other ways. To be on the safe side, choose a dog that is more forgiving of training mistakes and unlikely to become a liability — an “entry-level” dog. But how do you know which dogs are beginner-friendly? We asked the experts and researched the best dog breeds for first-time owners.

While some breeds are more responsive than others, since their domestication thousands of years ago the connection between humans and dogs has become so strong that even stray dogs understand — and respond to — human gestures. An Indian study suggests that dogs are born with an innate connection to humans that goes beyond stringent puppy training programs or learned commands. During the study, 80 percent of stray dogs followed gestures pointing them to a certain location, despite never having received any formal training. According to the research team, these results make it clear that dogs are capable of understanding complex human gestures and movements simply through observation.

Dogs truly love humans. They can’t help it — it’s in their DNA. A study by animal scientists at Oregon State University provides new evidence to “suggest that dogs […] have a genetic condition that can lead to an exaggerated motivation to seek social contact [with humans,] compared to wolves,” as the study’s lead author Monique Udell says. The researchers used genetic and behavioral data to try and understand how domestication has affected the animals’ genetics and shaped dogs’ behavior on a molecular level.

But while all dogs love us, not all are equally eager to please. Some may only “work” for food, others are just generally stubborn and hard to train. For your first dog, you’re better off with a cooperative pup. To give you an idea of what to look for during your visit to a rescue or shelter, StudyFinds compared the opinions of dog experts across ten websites to create a list of the top five best breeds for first-time dog owners. Of course, mutts with a similar disposition as the dogs on our list are great as well! Do you have any feedback to our list you’d like to share? Please let us know in the comments!

Woman kissing her dog
Woman kissing her dog (Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash)


The List: Best Dog Breeds for First-Time Owners, Per Canine Experts

1. Papillon/Papillon-mix

Nine out of ten experts mentioned the papillon (mixes count, too!) when listing the best breeds for first-time dog owners. “Papillons are generally healthy, intelligent, and easy to train, which makes them a good choice for first-time dog owners who may not have experience with dog training,” states Lemonade.

Papillon (Photo by River Fx on Unsplash)
Papillon (Photo by River Fx on Unsplash)

In addition, because of their size, these dogs are hardly at risk of becoming a liability in the hands of inexperienced owners (they still require basic training, though). “The papillon — which means butterfly in French — is a[…] wee-sized pup weighing in at only 10 pounds tops. They are an affectionate dog breed and they also get along well with children,” writes Reader’s Digest. However, to underestimate them would be a mistake: “Though very small, this toy breed is surprisingly athletic and spritely and benefits greatly from playtime.”

As a dog with a sweet and cooperative disposition, a papillon-type dog will make a great first dog, PureWow agrees: “The Papillon isn’t headstrong and actually enjoys training. The [American Kennel Club] AKC says Papillons do well at agility training and love learning tricks. Get ready for a smiling, dedicated playmate in these tiny pups.”

2. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (and their relatives)

Spaniels are generally friendly, affectionate dogs and the Cavalier is no exception. This breed would have tied with the papillon as the most recommended breed for first-time dog owners, but there’s a drawback: Unfortunately, while they have a wonderful temperament, cavaliers are infamous for their health issues, including breathing problems: “They have a slightly longer noses than pugs, but still may suffer from similar health concerns,” cautions K9 of Mine concerning these otherwise “cheerful little dogs.” Something to keep in mind when considering this breed!

brown and white long haired small dog on white textile
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (Photo by Tracy Anderson on Unsplash)

Unlike the Papillon, the Cavalier is not much of an athlete, knows iHeartDogs. “Cavaliers are adorable little couch potatoes that enjoy curling up and relaxing with you at any time of the day. They’re great for a first time owner because they’re relatively lazy dogs, although they do require regular grooming for their long coats. Cavaliers are extremely sweet and love being with their people wherever they go.”

The “Cav,” as they call it, is at the top of the American Kennel Club‘s recommended breeds for first time owners, as this dog “is known for being adaptable and good with all sorts of people — from young children to the elderly. The Cav is very trainable and open with strangers. While they do need regular grooming and an average amount of exercise, they are overall a low-maintenance breed.”

3. Tie: Labrador Retriever AND Golden Retriever (and their mixes)

This hardly comes as a surprise: Labs and goldens are (equally) great options for first-time dog owners who want a larger pup. Eight out of ten experts recommend either breed due to their friendliness. “This intensely loyal and affectionate breed is great with kids, is extremely trainable, and is friendly with strangers,” states the American Kennel Club about the Labrador.

adult yellow Labrador retriever
Labrador retriever (Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz on Unsplash)

“Labrador Retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds, and it’s so easy to see why. Labradors are normally adaptable, friendly, loyal and affectionate,” writes Purina. “They adore their family and love to please and learn, meaning they’re often easy to train too. As with Golden Retrievers, Labradors are more suited to active homes, as they require lots of exercise to avoid them falling into destructive habits due to boredom. But with their outgoing and friendly personalities, you’ll love to take them out and about on any adventure you can.”

a dog sitting in the grass with its tongue out
Golden retriever (Photo by Shayna Douglas on Unsplash)

And the golden retriever? “Arguably one of the easiest dog breeds for first-time owners, the golden retriever is one of America’s most beloved canines for good reason. This lovable pup is exceptionally friendly and devoted to its owners. They are also known for being obedient and easy to train, so teaching them to fetch, sit, and stay is likely to be a breeze, which is one of the reasons many service dogs are golden retrievers. Perhaps most important, though, is their gregarious and outgoing personalities, which make them fantastic as first-time family dogs, as well,” writes Reader’s Digest.

4.  Poodle (and Doodles and Poos)

Poodles come in three sizes: large, medium, and small. Or rather: standard, miniature, and toy. But “no matter the size, Poodles are great dogs for beginners,” according to iHeartDogs. “They have incredible temperaments and are probably one of the easiest dog breeds to train. They love being with their people and make excellent exercise partners, as well as snuggle buddies.”

black poodle on green grass during daytime
Standard poodle (Photo by Hans Ole Benonisen via Unsplash)

“There’s a reason these dogs are so ubiquitous. They’re pretty dang great,” states AZ Animals with equal enthusiasm. “Poodles are smart and easy to train, affectionate, and playful. And they come with a bonus you may not be aware of: their fur is quite hypoallergenic, a boon to allergic dog lovers everywhere.” (Good to know: poodle-mixes and hybrids like the Maltipoo or goldendoodle may also be low-allergen or even hypoallergenic.)

“The poodle is adaptable to its environment and can do very well in various households, including those with children,” writes The Spruce. “Poodles are energetic dogs that need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. They need grooming regularly to maintain their curly, continually growing coat.”

5. Tie: Shih Tzu AND Whippet-Type Dogs

Six out of ten experts mention the Shih Tzu and/or the Whippet as a great dog for “beginners.” One is small and furry, the other taller with short hair. Both are happy in an apartment. “The Shih Tzu is a small dog that’s big on affection. This ancient Chinese breed is happiest when spending time with the family, whether that’s flopped on the couch next to you watching TV or playing with the kids. This isn’t a breed with a high need for exercise, nor is it prone to excessive barking, but you will need to brush that beautiful silky coat at least several times each week to prevent tangles. Surprisingly, however, the Shih Tzu sheds very little,” says The Spruce.

adult white and black Shih Tzu
Shih Tzu (Photo by Nikolay Tchaouchev on Unsplash)


If you want a dog that requires less grooming than the shih tzu (but, in return, more exercise), the whippet may be an option for you. Reader’s Digest writes that “this lean and elegant pup” has a “short coat [that] is very easy to care for and only requires weekly brushing and occasional baths.”

Whippet (Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash)

And as for exercise requirements? “Although Whippets like to run, most of the time they make excellent house dogs. They are quiet while hanging out in the living room at home, often spending most of the day sleeping. Their natural attachment to people makes them happiest when kept as house pets. The breed is friendly to visitors and good with well-trained children,” mentions American Kennel Club.

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

About Clio Rourke

I'm a freelance writer with experience in advertising and public relations.

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  1. Laura says:

    Poodles are not great first time dogs, they are working dogs and can be energetic and need a job. Doodles are even worse, they are not hypoallergenic and they are often high energy and difficult to train. You can’t tell what a doodle will be like as they are not a breed, they are a mutt.

    1. Lisa says:

      I’m guessing you had a poodle that didn’t like you….

    2. Joan says:

      Really ? Over my life time I have had 3 poodle mixes and they were lovely family dogs Maybe you had some bad luck. I wouldn’t have know they were working dogs …… definitely not hard workers lol.