Toy Poodle

The Best Dogs For First Time  Australian Dog Owners

Written By Eloisa Thomas | Canine Coach, Double M.A in Anthropology.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 8th January 2024

Do you think you’re ready for your first dog? Congratulations! As dog lovers ourselves, we know this is one of the most exciting moments of your life. But now you need to set yourself up for success: choosing the right pup is key!

Training and raising a new dog go beyond teaching them to “sit” or “stay”, and it can be overwhelming. No worries, we’ve got the best dog for first time owners that make the whole process easier.

Are you interested in any of these breeds?

What Are Good First Dogs Like?

If you’ve never owned a dog, choosing your new best friend can feel overwhelming. After all, we’ve all heard those horror stories of very difficult pups, traumatic training lessons and biting.

While these cases do exist, they are mostly caused by irresponsible dog ownership. The fact that you’re here, looking for more information before committing to a specific breed, is proof you want to do better!

Remember that having a dog is like having a young kid. You are responsible for providing guidance, a safe space and keeping them healthy. However, even if you can give your new pup all that, sometimes good intentions aren’t enough. This is where choosing the right breed comes in!

As a first time dog owner, you’ll face many new experiences and challenges. So, a “good first dog” will naturally have fewer challenging traits. Here’s what to look out for:

  • People-pleasing: Some dogs are more inclined to please their humans than others. Those that are more independent have strong personalities and can be great dogs, but first-time owners might find them too challenging. It’s easier to train a pup that wants to do as you say, instead of trying to convince them.
  • Laidback and forgiving: This one goes hand in hand with the one above. Some dogs are way too smart and the first time you slip up on their training will reinforce unwanted behaviours. Of course, this can be corrected but you’ll need to invest more time into it. In contrast, laid back dogs won’t learn unwanted behaviours at the first try and you can feel better if you ever slip up. Just get back on track as soon as possible!
  • Playfulness: Dogs that love to play and enjoy spending time with their people are significantly easier to train. Since they feel rewarded easily through praise and play, you’ll have an easy time reinforcing good behaviours.
  • Energy levels adapted to your lifestyle: Not every dog fits every lifestyle. If you love being outdoors, spend 2+ hours a day in nature and want an adventurous buddy, you don’t want a brachycephalic breed that cannot be outside in the summer. On the other hand, if you’d rather spend your evenings on the couch and your idea of a workout is a brief run to the grocery store in the corner, a very active breed isn’t for you. Save yourself the headache and choose a dog that has naturally the same inclinations as you! That way, you won’t be forced to overhaul your lifestyle on top of training and living with a new pet.
  • Choose disposition over smarts: Most pups are pretty smart. They love to watch and understand the world around them! But very smart dogs also tend to be independent. Since they can “figure things out on their own”, they want to solve problems on their own terms. Sharing your life with this kind of dog can be very rewarding, but they are notoriously difficult to train and might even need to be bribed. Sometimes you won’t ever be truly sure they’ll follow orders, even after years of training. Plus, fiercely independent dogs need life-long training and positive reinforcement, so you’ll need to be on top of their sessions for as long as they live. As a first-time owner, this is probably too much for you! In general, we don’t recommend working breeds for most first-time owners, including the Australian Kelpie, Blue Heelers and Airedale Terriers.

    Related: Most Affectionate Dog Breeds.

Pro Tips For First Time Dog Owners

  • Let them stay with mom for longer. It’s common knowledge that puppies need to stay with their mum for at least 8 weeks. However, it’s also common to see pups being separated at 6 weeks, or unethical breeders that consider the 8-week mark as optional. Staying with their mum and siblings helps your puppy socialise and form their personality. 

The ideal minimum time that the puppy should be able to separate from its mother is 8 weeks. Still, many ethologists also claim that the puppy should be with its mother until 12 weeks of age.” – Hospital Veterinaries Gloriès

This means taking a puppy too soon might have life-long repercussions on their social skills, ability to relate to other dogs and general behaviour.

  • Remember dogs go through puberty! Dogs, like people, are mammals. And just like human teenagers, they go through a difficult period while they are young. For puppies, this stage usually coincides with teething, so you’ll encounter double the trouble. Dogs going through puberty will start exhibiting some sexual behaviours (like humping furniture or people), might be more rambunctious than usual and could be more challenging to train. We recommend spaying or neutering to avoid these behaviours and using positive reinforcement to encourage good manners.
  • All dogs need training. This might sound too basic, but many owners think that only because a dog is small, they can forgo training. Nothing farther from the truth! That’s why it’s so common to see nippy chihuahuas, barking poodles and generally destructive pups. Don’t let that be you! Positive reinforcement training is the best way to ensure your dog is healthy, happy and stable. We recommend trying clicker training, which is just pressing a clicker to signal good behaviour, then offering a treat. Eventually, your dog will associate the good behaviour with treats and they’ll repeat it often.
  • Use a buddy. Dogs learn better when they have someone to mimic. That’s why it might feel easier to train a dog once you have one or more already trained in the house! If you’re a first-time dog owner but know people with a well-behaved dog, try to set up playdates where you use cues on both dogs. Your puppy will understand what you’re asking faster. Keep in mind the buddy system also works to mimic bad behaviour, so choose your buddy carefully!

The Best Dogs For First Time Owners

Considering everything we’ve outlined above, now comes the fun part! Our experts have reviewed the best dogs for first time owners: these pups are easy to train, want to please and don’t have a strong independent streak.

We’ve selected a variety of sizes and energy needs so you’ll probably find the right fit! Here is our ultimate list:

The Poodle

Two poodles

These friendly pups are easy to train and great for those without a lot of dog experience. Due to their hunting and retrieving background, this active breed loves to play and enjoys pleasing their owners. In general, they only need training to be fun and positive, and they’ll love every second of it!

As family dogs, poodles are also a favourite. They are great with kids and will love to play ball for hours on end. Jogging, running and long walks are great as part of their daily exercise, but what they love best is getting in the water and going for a swim! On the flip side, because of their curly coat, this breed needs consistent grooming once a month.

If you can provide the exercise and upkeep they need, a Poodle can be a great option for a dog newbie! As always, we recommend trying to find a rescue pup. This breed is very popular but abandonment rates are also high, so many dogs are waiting for their forever homes at rescues:

The Staffy

staffordshire bull terrier

Also known as Staffies, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is a favourite as a first-time dog. These gentle dogs were bred as “nanny dogs”, and are great with kids. After being properly socialised, these pups are calm, loving and fun, while also being fiercely protective of their people.

Related: The Staffy Breed Profile.

While they are natural people-pleasers, they also have a strong prey drive. This means you’ll have to work extra hard on their recall, and provide consistent training throughout their life. Staffies also need daily moderate exercise consisting of at least 40 minutes, but they’ll take whatever you can offer: throwing the ball, going for a jog or running by your bike will all be welcome.

Since this breed needs consistent exercise and company to be happy, we recommend fostering first. That way, you’ll be sure it’s the right fit before committing to taking care of a dog for 10+ years. Here are some local rescues that are always in need of foster families:

The Labrador

Labrador Retriever

This is a first-time favourite for a reason! Labs are very well mannered, love people and retain that happy puppy-like behaviour well into their adult years. Because of their playfulness, many first-time owners choose them for their family.

Labs are devoted to their family and get along well with other dogs and other pets once they are properly socialised. On the flip side, this is a very active breed that needs at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise to stay happy.

Ideally, you’ll also provide more intensive exercise on the weekends. This breed thrives on attention and they don’t like being left alone for hours on end, so plan to include them in your daily activities!

The Golden Retriever

golden retriever

Of course, we couldn’t make this list without mentioning the all-time favourite Golden Retriever. This breed has been at the top of popularity lists for decades because of their sweet disposition and patience with grabby hands. On the flip side, they are very active and need daily exercise to stay happy. Be ready to go on 40-minute walks at the very minimum, and if possible also include some extra movement on the weekends.

Golden Retrievers are generally easy to train and love to please their owners, and this is one of the easiest dogs to own. With some food and praise, they’ll learn cues quickly and you can also try to teach them more complex sequences for agility training.

If you’re interested in adopting a Golden, check out breed-specific rescues. They always have pups waiting for their forever home and you’ll be able to find the right fit in no time:

The Pug

Pug dog

Interested in a loving, snuggly buddy? Then the Pug might be a good fit to be your first dog. This companion dog was selected centuries ago to be a companion, so their main goal in life is pleasing their people. They have a very mild temper and are pretty outgoing, perfect for social people looking for a bud.

On the flip side, Pugs are really sensitive and won’t do well with harsh training methods. Gentle correction and positive reinforcement is the best way to train them. Since Pugs loathe being alone, they are a great fit for people that work from home, retired people and families that plan on involving their dog in their everyday life.

Keep in mind this breed is prone to obesity and they overheat easily under stress, so exercise needs to be consistent but mild. Check out some local rescues here:

The Border Collie

Border Collie

When it comes to good first-time dogs, Border Collies are definitely pushing the boundaries. But if they naturally fit in with your current lifestyle, they are very easy to train despite their strong prey drive.

Border Collies are working dogs that have adapted very well to pet life. They are considered the smartest breed in the world, and because of it, they shine during training lessons. This breed needs a lot of exercise, and we recommend at least 2 short daily sessions plus training to keep them happy. If you fail to provide enough exercise, Border Collies will get restless, destructive and their prey drive will be out of control. Not good!

Related: The Border Collie Breed Profile.

If you are a naturally active person and plan to take your dog with you on daily errands, then this breed might be a good fit. We recommend trying to foster a Border Collie puppy before fully committing, to make sure you’re in tune with the breed’s needs. To find fostering opportunities, get in contact with local rescue centres:

Final Thoughts

Having a dog is a big responsibility, and you need to carefully consider its consequences. The expenses, the time invested and the patience needed to raise a well-adjusted, healthy dog isn’t something to ignore. If you’re unsure, fostering pups in need is the best option! It will give you a trial run and show you whether or not you’re ready for dog ownership. Living with a foster pup helps your local rescues but also gives you the skills to raise a dog yourself.

Finally, we recommend adjusting your expectations even after fostering. If you’ve never had a dog, you’re bound to mess up. You’ll make mistakes. They’ll misbehave. You’ll lose your patience. You might even choose the wrong breed altogether!

The important thing is staying on track. Remember why you wanted a dog in the first place. Give yourself and your dog some grace. Love them! Soon enough you’ll find your groove and you won’t remember the hard times.

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Eloisa Thomas

Eloisa Thomas is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach & Anthropologist.

With a double master's degree in Anthropology and awarded a Chancellor's International Scholarship to pursue a PhD in History at the University of Warwick (UK), she's well equipped to write well written and factual canine information that will actually help people understand their dogs better.

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