Six dog breeds suited to first-time dog owners

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Thinking of getting your first dog? Use our guide to the dog breeds suited to new owners to help you choose the perfect companion.

All dogs have unique characteristics and personalities, but different breeds have distinct traits, training considerations and grooming needs. Some breeds require more effort and experience, while other breeds are particularly well suited to first-time owners.

Finding the right dog for your family is crucial to establish a successful and lasting relationship, and we aim to offer guidance to assist you in making this important and exciting decision!

Small breeds

Certain small breeds are particularly suited to first-time dog owners.

1. Papillon

Papillons are a loyal, affectionate breed that adapts easily to the lives of their owners. At under 5 kg and less than 30 cm high, they’re small enough to live in an apartment. You don’t need a garden either, as their exercise needs at just 20-30 minutes per day are modest.

Though they have long, silky hair, Papillons require little grooming because they don’t have an undercoat. Between grooming appointments, most Papillons will need a once-weekly brushing.

Papillons are great for first-time owners because they’re extremely intelligent and, therefore, relatively easy to train. However, training must begin early. Take a gentle yet firm approach. These dogs are also prone to yapping, which must be addressed through training from an early age.

2. Bichon frise

These petite dogs weigh under 5 kg, have wonderfully playful, confident dispositions and always want to take centre stage. Unlike many small dogs, they can get along well with kids, which makes them an excellent first-time dog for families. Bichons are also highly intelligent, which makes training a relatively easy proposition, and they are easy-going enough to adapt to life in a big house in the country or a small city apartment. 

They are moderately active so it is best for them to get at least 20-30 minutes of exercise a day.

Like many dog breeds, bichons find being alone stressful and they may suffer badly from separation anxiety, meaning they are best suited to households where more often than not, one family member is at home.

Due to their thick, curly coats, Bichon's require frequent grooming. While it’s true that they look incredibly cute, they will need to visit a groomer at least every couple of months, which can add significantly to the cost of keeping them.

Medium and large breeds

Larger dogs can also be great for first-time owners. It is worthwhile remembering that they typically require more food and exercise than smaller breeds. Their higher exercise requirements make them well-suited to homes with active lifestyles and they will eagerly accompany you on long walks, hikes, or runs. Here are some of the best medium-to-large breeds for first-time owners.

3. Golden retriever

Golden retrievers are hugely popular with first-time owners, and it’s easy to see why. They have gentle, playful natures and a natural sense of loyalty that makes them reliable and trustworthy. Add to this an intelligence and willingness to please that makes them responsive to training, and you’ve got yourself a terrific new companion. They’re also good around children and make great family pets.

Golden retrievers need a lot of exercise, often up to two hours a day. This active lifestyle means they spend a significant amount of time running around outside. As a result, their long coats require a lot of brushing and grooming to stay in tip-top condition.

While golden retrievers retain their playfulness well into adulthood, they can be prone to suffering from health problems as they age, including vision and joint issues, which can be costly and impact on their lifestyle in their senior years.

4. Labrador

Along with the golden retriever, the Lab is considered a classic first-time dog, particularly for families. Their gentle yet fun-loving personalities make them perfect playmates for children – and for adults, too. They are highly intelligent and eager to please, which makes training easy, even for inexperienced owners.

Labradors are high-energy dogs and need a lot of exercise (expect to dedicate at least 1 hour a day to exercising them) and mental stimulation. They also have a high food drive, and because of this, obesity is a common problem, particularly later in life. To help keep them in healthy condition, Labradors are best suited to homes with gardens and to households where they will get a long walk every day.

Labradors generally only require a moderate amount of grooming, brushing them once a week is enough.  

5. Standard poodle

Poodles are highly intelligent dogs and adept at learning new tricks and commands. They are also playful, loyal and loving, all of which makes them a great choice for first-time owners.

Poodles are also a high-energy breed, which means they get bored without a lot of stimulation and exercise. Most poodles need at least two walks a day. If they don’t get a lot of stimulation and playtime, poodles can become agitated and unhappy, so they are best suited to households where they will receive the time and attention they naturally crave.

Poodles' coats require a lot of care to prevent matting and to keep them comfortable. They may require daily brushing on top of regular trips to professional groomers, usually three to four times a year.

6. Greyhound

Greyhounds are gentle and loving dogs, and while they do have some specific needs, they make great first-time pets for owners.

Most striking about the greyhound is their sleek, athletic physique. Not surprisingly, these dogs are built to run and require a couple of walks a day: a short one in the morning and a longer one in the afternoon or evening. Despite their athleticism, greyhounds fit well into a family lifestyle, and they get as much enjoyment from relaxing at home as they do getting out and being active.

Care is needed when walking greyhounds as they are bred to have a strong prey drive. If they get distracted and take off in pursuit, they risk getting lost or injured. This is why it is so important to begin recall training early with Greyhounds. They should be kept on a leash on walks unless they are trained to return to you even in highly distracting environments.

In New Zealand, many greyhounds that have raced (chasing lures) are made available for rehoming in their retirement through reputable adoption organisations such as Greyhounds As Pets and have become highly sought after as ideal pets. A muzzle is an essential tool that every greyhound owner should have in their kit to ensure safety, especially when their prey drive is triggered. Whether you're attending greyhound meet-ups, introducing them to new animals, or navigating stressful situations, a muzzle can be a crucial tool to have on hand. While they may not be the most aesthetically pleasing accessory, they significantly reduce the risk of accidents. Although the majority of greyhounds are known for their laid-back nature, adapting to our lifestyles after years of breeding for racing can pose challenges for them. It's important to note that, despite this advice, there is no legal requirement for greyhounds to be muzzled in public in New Zealand.

Luckily, greyhounds are intelligent dogs and learn quickly when trained with patience and kindness. Greyhounds are sensitive creatures and they can become spooked when they feel threatened or are out of their comfort zones. Time invested in training your greyhound will definitely pay off at the end of the day, as they love to snuggle after a run.

While training your greyhound might take a bit more time, you’ll gain it back on the grooming front. With their short, tight coats, Greyhounds need only be brushed once a week to look their best.

Mixed-breed dogs

Of course, many other breeds can make great first-time dogs – as can mixed-breeds. Often, mixed breed dogs will benefit from being less susceptible to genetic illnesses or conformational issues than purebred dogs. Local shelters and rescue centres are where you may find the perfect temperament mixed breeds to be a wonderful first-time dog for you.

The advantage of going to a rescue centre is that the staff will have a good idea of which dogs will suit first-time owners and which might benefit from a more experienced hand. Most centres will assess the dogs in experienced short-stay intermediate homes, around children and other pets, before assigning the dog a suitable “forever home”. Rescue organisations are highly motivated to ensure that both you and your new dog are a good fit to ensure a successful adoption process. While there may be some of the above breeds available for rehoming or adoption, there will also be a lot of mixed-breed dogs available, any one of which could have the right personality for you.