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New best friends – the best dog breeds for first-time owners

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Thinking of getting your first ever dog? Use our guide to the best dog breeds for first-time owners to help you choose the perfect companion

There’s no denying it; dogs have the potential to enhance our lives in ways that we can’t even imagine until we experience owning one for ourselves. But they’re also a big responsibility, and as well as reciprocating the love, loyalty and companionship we receive from them, we must also provide them with food, shelter, exercise, healthcare, training and grooming. And that’s just the beginning!

As everyone who’s spent time with dogs will tell you, all dogs have their own unique characters. But different breeds also have different traits, with some requiring much more effort and experience, particularly when it comes to training or grooming. Here we profile some of the breeds that are particularly well suited to first-time owners.

Small breeds
Small dogs aren’t necessarily easier than larger ones, so don’t assume that just because a dog can fit under your arm that it will be make a better ‘starter’ dog than a bigger breed. But there are certain small breeds that are particularly suited to first timers.

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

They’re great for first-time owners because they’re extremely intelligent, and therefore relatively easy to train. But be warned – training must begin early and be gentle, yet firm. Papillons need to know their place in the ‘pack’ hierarchy, or they may try to assume the role of top dog themselves! They are also prone to yapping, which must also be trained out of them from an early age.

Miniature Dachshund
What Miniature Dachshunds lack in height they make up for in personality. They are intelligent, fun-loving and feisty little dogs who are confident around people and keen to be involved with everything that’s going on. They have bundles of energy, which means that they need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day. Provided they have a positive outlet for all their energy, they are perfect little companions but be warned: they hate to be alone and/or bored, which can lead to destructive behaviours such as chewing shoes or furniture – a sign of stress. So if you have a lot of time and space in your life, then the miniature dachshund could be the perfect first-time dog for you.

Bichon Frise
These tiny little dogs, which weigh under 5kgs, have wonderfully playful, confident characters and always want to take centre stage. Unlike many small dogs, they get on well with kids, which makes them an excellent first-time dog for families. Bichons are also very intelligent dogs, 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. 
Like many dog breeds, Bichons find being alone very stressful, and suffer badly from separation anxiety, meaning they are best suited to households where one person is always at home. Bichons are also quite high maintenance when it comes to grooming and while it’s true that they look incredibly cute, they will need to visit a groomer every couple of months at least, which can add significantly to the cost of keeping them.

Medium and large breeds
Larger dogs can also be great for first-time owners, and while they’ll typically require more food, they also tend to need more exercise, which is great if you’re looking for an excuse to go on long walks. Here we discuss some of the best medium to large breeds for first-time owners.

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

Golden Retrievers need an awful lot of exercise – up to two hours a day – so do bear this in mind. And all that time running around outside means their long coats also require a lot of brushing and grooming to stay in tip-top condition. Finally, while Golden Retrievers retain their playfulness well into adulthood, they do tend to suffer from health problems as they get older, including vision, joint and dental issues, which can be costly.

Along with the Golden Retriever, the Labrador is generally thought of as a classic first-time dog, particularly for families. Their gentle yet fun-loving characters make them perfect playmates for children – and for adults too. They are highly intelligent and eager to please, which means that training is easy even for inexperienced owners.
Labradors are very high-energy dogs, and need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. They also have a high food drive, and obesity is a common problem particularly later in life. Because of this, Labradors need a lot of exercise and are best suited to homes with gardens, and to households where they will get a good long walk every day.

Poodles are highly intelligent dogs, and very 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. They are also high energy, which means they get bored without a lot of stimulation and exercise – at least two walks a day! – making them perfect for owners in search of a walking buddy. If they don’t get a lot of stimulation and playtime, poodles can become bored and unhappy, something they might take out on your shoes or furniture! So they are best suited to households where they will receive the time and attention they naturally crave. Poodle’s coats also need a lot of care to prevent matting, and daily brushing is a must, along with a trip to a professional groomer 3-4 times a year.

Greyhounds are very loyal, gentle and loving dogs, and while they do have some specific needs, they make great first-time pets for owners prepared to put a little bit extra effort in.

Most striking about the Greyhound is its 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. Care is needed when walking Greyhounds because of their strong ‘prey’ drive, which can see them hurtling off into the distance in pursuit of a rabbit or squirrel. This can cause them to get lost, or even to hurt themselves if they run too fast on uneven ground, meaning that it’s important to train Greyhounds early and well – particularly to come back when called. Luckily, Greyhounds are intelligent dogs and learn quickly, but they’re also very sensitive and easily scared, so patience and kindness are the order of the day. Time invested in training your Greyhound will definitely pay off at the end of the day, as they love to snuggle up after a good 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 at their best.

Mixed breed Dogs
Of course, many other breeds can make great first-time dogs – as can mixed-breeds. It’s definitely worth making a trip to your local dog rescue centre to visit their ‘clients’ – you may well find yourself falling in love at first sight! The advantage of going to a rescue centre is that the staff there will have a very good idea of which of their dogs will suit first-time owners, and which might benefit from more experienced owners. And while there will undoubtedly be some of the above breeds available for adoption, there’ll be a lot of mixed-breed dogs too, any one of which could have the right ‘look’ and personality for you.

Learn how to bring up your new puppy with our guide to puppy training.

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