A dedicated first-time dog owner will be happy with one of a multitude of breeds that suits her needs and activities. The ten breeds on our list require less “formal introduction time” than the average dog. Some of these breeds are large and some are small, some are highly active and some more laid-back. No matter what your lifestyle, there is a breed for you!
#1: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The affectionate Cavalier blends grace, good humor, and trainability matched by few other breeds. As a spaniel, he is quite active, but he’s small enough to fit into anyone’s life. This breed was destined from its development in the 17th century to be a companion dog, and it has amply fulfilled its promise. Cavaliers are tougher than they look, by the way!
#2: Labrador Retriever
The Labrador is a highly active dog, but he’s obedient and easy to train. The breed aims to please, and their easygoing temperament makes them a great choice for anyone. Labs are not particularly “sensitive” dogs and can forgive a multitude of rookie mistakes. Labradors crossed with Poodles (Labradoodles) or Golden Retrievers (Goldendors) make equally nice pets for the novice.
The relaxed Pug is a perfect choice for someone who needs a laid-back dog. They have a wonderful open temperament (rarer in a toy than one would think) and gets along with everyone. The Pug is a pleasure to own. If you like a little more spark in your Pug, the Puggle (Beagle−Pug cross) is a mix of cuteness, spunk, and solid good nature.
All three varieties of Poodle are excellent for the novice owner, fitting any room size or exercise regimen. Smart and well behaved (especially the Standard), the Poodle enjoys human company and is remarkably adept at adapting his lifestyle to his owner’s. Various Poodle crosses (Cockapoos, Goldendoodles, and Labradoodles) offer further refinements on your options.
This brightest and most agile of the toy breeds is a pet you can “grow” with. Certainly one can never tire of his beauty, charm, and extraordinary trainability. The Papillon gets along with the entire family, and while he needs a lot of exercise, he can amuse himself with balls and other interactive toys.
#6: Shih Tzu
The gentle Shih Tzu is a snuggler of the highest order. If you are looking for the ideal lapdog, this is the one. Not quite as trainable as the Papillon and not quite as low key as the Pug, his combination of aristocracy and cuddliness is still hard to beat. Shih Tzu also cross well with Maltese and Toy Poodles.
#7: Golden Retriever
On everyone’s list as a great all-around dog is the near-perfect Golden. Peaceful, intelligent, playful, and forgiving, this breed is bound to return your affection with a loyal fervor that will warm your heart. Goldens cross very nicely with Labrador Retrievers and Poodles.
The noble, dignified Greyhound is a low-maintenance pet that thrives on your attention but doesn’t require much grooming. While known for their speed, they are not especially active in the home and enjoy just hanging out with you. This is a no-drama dog whose main drawback is that he is dangerous with cats.
If you want a small pet but lead an active life, the happy Brittany is for you. This is the smallest of the sporting dogs, but his relentless energy is easily a match for the Labrador Retriever. He’s sensitive, sweet, and playful. Once you own a Brittany, you may never get another breed—they’re habit forming!
#10: Bichon Frise
The cheerful Bichon Frise likes games and cuddling. The breed is great with children and other pets and is quite sturdy. He seldom sheds, which makes for easy cleanup and is a blessing for allergy sufferers. The Bichon’s only fault may be some difficulty in housetraining, not uncommon in small dogs. This breed does best with plenty of human companionship.
Challenging breeds that novices should avoid: Some of the beautiful and wondrous breeds on the list below have powerful aggressive tendencies; others, like the gentle Bloodhound, revel in their complete determination to do exactly as they like no matter what you think. These are difficult dogs to train and manage: Airedale Terrier, Akita, Alaskan Malamute, American Pit Bull Terrier, Australian Cattle Dog, Bloodhound, Border Collie, Bullmastiff, Cane Corso, Chinese Shar-Pei, Chow Chow, Dalmatian, German Shepherd Dog, Rottweiler, Siberian Husky, Skye Terrier, St. Bernard, Tibetan Mastiff, Treeing Walker Coonhound, and Weimaraner.
Diane Morgan is a pet care expert in Williamsport, Maryland, who has authored numerous books on dog care and nutrition, and has also written many dog breed and horse books.