After much deliberation, we’ve determined the best dog breed for first-time dog owners to be the Labrador Retriever. Labs are laid-back, joyful companions, and relatively easy to train, making them an ideal breed for beginners. Rounding out the best six breeds for first-timers are Golden Retrievers, Redbone Coonhounds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Collies, and Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers.
These breeds make our list of the six best dogs for beginners based on the experiences of our team members with dogs (a happy majority at Orvis), as well as our own dog breed research. These dogs are also the best for first-time dog owners who do their research. You may not have owned a dog before, but you understand it takes an abundance of energy, time, dedication, and love to give a dog the care he deserves.
We found the most essential canine qualities for first-time dog owners are even tempers, easy trainability, eagerness to please, devotion, friendliness, and manageable energy levels—a dog breed with boundless energy is challenging when you’re learning the ropes of dog ownership. The dogs on our list have two or more of the above traits.
1. Labrador Retrievers
Among dogs, Labrador Retrievers take the trophy for the most congenial breed. Adjectives commonly associated with Labs include: cheerful, friendly, playful, sweet, and lovable. Labs are also intelligent and quick on the uptake, which makes obedience training and house training faster and easier. These qualities make Labs the most popular dog breed in the US (according to American Kennel Club registrations) and one of the best breeds for families. Owning a Lab will still require effort and consistency, but the intense training period is shorter for Labs than for many breeds. And even when your four-month-old Lab is trying your patience—as all puppies will—his winning personality more than makes up for your frustration with him.
Like all sporting breeds, Labs require an abundance of exercise to stay healthy and to prevent the onset of problem behaviors, such as chewing up pillows or nuisance barking.
One of the biggest challenges (and unpleasant surprises) for new dog owners is discovering they can’t leave their dog home alone. Though your Labrador is naturally social, he’s also self-assured and laid back. If you need to leave him home alone for six to eight hours, he’ll take it in stride as long as you shower him with attention and activity before you go and after you return.
2. Golden Retrievers
This beautiful, affable breed was the top pick for new dog owners, according to a 2013 survey of veterinarians conducted by Vetstreet. Similar in temperament to Labs, Golden Retrievers are smart, friendly, and playful. They also have a gentle and calm demeanor that places them among the most popular dog breeds overall and makes them one of the best dog breeds for families.
During training, Goldens are attentive and eager to please. You can usually tackle house training and obedience in a snap, and graduate quickly to the best aspects of owning a dog—car rides, hikes, and backyard shenanigans. The breed’s luxurious, long coat is the only snag to owning a Golden Retriever. It’s important to groom your Golden several days a week to prevent knotting and matting, and to keep shedding under control.
3. Redbone Coonhounds
These strikingly handsome, mahogany-hued dogs are friendly sorts who are eager to please their people. When well trained, Redbone Coonhounds are joyous companions and endlessly loving. Though tenacious when hunting raccoons and other woodland prey, they are soft souls at home. The pleading expression in your Red’s beautiful eyes will make you feel like the center of the universe and will melt your heart.
Reds are fast learners, which makes them easy to train—so long as you’re consistent and start when they’re pups. Once Reds learn bad habits, they’re too stubborn to unlearn them. The key to training your Redbone Coonhound is keeping training sessions fun and short. If it doesn’t feel like work, he’s more apt to pay attention and learn his lessons.
Finally, never leave your Redbone Coonhound out in the yard alone or walk him off leash. He is a powerful scent hound and will find a way to follow an enticing odor if given the opportunity.
4. Bernese Mountain Dogs
Large and lovable, Bernese Mountain Dogs bound into your life with gusto. Though a lot of dog to handle when fully grown, the breed is also eager to please, keen to learn, and a focused student. Train your Berner with a gentle touch and use plenty of positive reinforcement—he’s also a sensitive soul and doesn’t appreciate harsh reprimands. Training and socialization in puppyhood are important for all breeds, but it’s essential for large breed dogs. A Berner who hasn’t learned his manners is challenging to control because of his powerful build and high spirits.
With thorough training, however, it’s tough to find a more loyal, affable companion than the Bernese Mountain Dog. As a working dog, Berners enjoy having a job to accomplish—whether it’s pulling a cart in drafting events or collecting toys in the yard. Your Berner loves spending time with you most of all, whether you’re playing, hiking, or snuggling on the couch. Berners crave your company and attention, and too much alone time can lead to problem behaviors. Best to skip a Berner if you plan to leave your dog alone at home for most of the day. Finally, Bernese Mountain Dogs have shorter lifespans than many breeds, as is true for most large dogs. But any amount of time with a Berner is an incomparable joy.
Stalwart and attentive, Collies are highly loyal canines and fast learners. Graduation from obedience school comes quickly for your Collie when you commit to the process and follow through. (Consistency is the best approach with any breed.) Once trained, the Collie makes an excellent companion known for his deep connection to you, and a tendency to watch over—and herd—the youngest members of your family.
Collies are best suited to first-time dog owners who work from home or will have a family member with the dog most of the time. Their devotion is so deep, they aren’t thrilled to spend much time away from their people, and will develop destructive habits, such as nuisance barking and chewing, to let you know. Finally, if you think you’ll tire of vacuuming and sweeping up fur, you should take a pass on this heavy-shedding breed with a copious coat. But if you can spend time with your Collie, and make brushing his coat a part of your daily bonding routine, you’ll be rewarded with a loving and playful puffball of a best pal.
6. Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers
The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier is a happy-go-lucky fellow who’ll remind you often that getting a dog was the right choice. The welcome the breed gives his people when they return is so joyful and enthusiastic, it’s earned the name, ‘Wheaten Greetin.’ Beyond their infectious personality, Wheaties are devoted and playful companions. Somewhat more mellow than most terrier breeds, Wheaties are nevertheless feisty and strong-willed. They require consistent training and socialization to contain their overbearing traits, and to allow their friendly, carefree qualities to shine through.
Rescue Dog (The Mixed-Breed Option)
At any given time in any given shelter, there is usually a calm, low-maintenance, friendly mixed-breed dog waiting for his forever home. As a bonus, these dogs are often fully housetrained, and possibly even obedience trained. Let shelter volunteers know you’ve never owned a dog before, and tell them the most important qualities you’re looking for in a dog. They spend time with these dogs and are committed to making the best matches possible between dog and owner.
Becoming a first-time dog owner is a major life adjustment. Purebred puppy or an adult rescue dog, he’ll require daily food, care, and exercise, as well as an abundance of attention and love. Before you select a dog breed, make sure you have the time and energy dog ownership requires. Bonus points if you have the easygoing nature you’re seeking in a dog—adjusting to life with your new furry best friend is far simpler when you’re both laid back.