Best Small Dog Breeds for First-Time Owners

Outdoor shot of a Shih Tzu, one of the best small dog breeds for first-time owners, walking on the grass.
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Are you a prospective first-time pet parent looking to adopt a dog in need of a good home? Maybe you’re drawn to the idea of a larger dog, but are nervous about the care needs that can come with more sizable working or herding breeds. While there are certainly large breeds who are easier to care for, it may feel a little less daunting to start with a pup from our list of small dog breeds for first-time owners.

Benefits of small dog breeds for first-time owners

To put it simply, smaller dogs often feel more manageable for first-time owners. Think about the difference between a compact companion breed and a towering Mastiff. A small, cuddly dog will immediately seem more amenable as a beginner dog breed. If you choose to rescue a fully grown dog, opting for a smaller breed can be less intimidating to train or socialize than a larger, stronger canine.

Not only do smaller dogs tend to have easier day-to-day care requirements, but they can also save you money in the long run. Food, grooming, and even monthly preventative medications tend to be more budget-friendly for petite pups compared to their larger counterparts. What’s more, many small dogs are healthier and live longer, giving you more years with your canine companion. And let’s be blunt — a smaller dog also means less poop to scoop, which is an undeniable bonus for first-time owners. The more manageable size, lower exercise needs, and potential cost savings of small dog breeds can make them an appealing choice for novice pet parents.

The list of top dog breeds for new pet parents

While there are many small breeds who would make great pets for new dog moms and dads, this is our list of the best canines to consider making your first companion.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a small dog breed for first-time owners, standing atop a wall in an outdoor park against a diffuse background of leaves and vegetation.
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Affectionate, easygoing, and eager to please, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel tops our list of best small dog breeds for first-time owners. Named for being favorites of Charles II of England, these adorable compact dogs have a long lineage of bringing joy to their human companions.

While these pups rank highly among breeds perfect for novice pet owners, it’s important to research the potential pros and cons of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. In particular, these darling dogs can be prone to certain health conditions, largely due to their brachycephalic facial structure. This can cause breathing problems, especially in hot climates or during intense exercise.

Coton de Tuléar

A purebred Coton de Tulear dog without leash outdoors in the nature on a sunny day.
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Sweet and cuddly with a clownish personality, the Coton de Tuléar is always ready for a good time. This smart little dog originated in Madagascar and is related to the Bichon Frisé and the Maltese. Highly affectionate, these pups are the epitome of a lapdog. They’re also a smart choice for apartment dwellers because they aren’t too energetic and are happy to spend the day lounging. They’re also very easy to train and have a beautiful, soft, allergy-friendly coat. Fun fact: The Coton de Tuléar is also the national dog of Madagascar!

Havanese

Happy black and white Havanese puppy, one of the best small breeds for first-time owners, in the grass.
(Photo Credit: Dorottya_Mathe | Getty Images)

Similar to the Coton de Tuléar, the Havanese has earned the distinction of being Cuba’s official national dog. As the only dog breed native to the island nation, it’s fitting that these adorable pups are celebrated as the country’s beloved canine representatives. Gentle, playful, and deeply loving, Havanese dogs form strong bonds with their human companions. Eager to please, they thrive on making their owners happy, which goes a long way in training and establishing close companionship. Accordingly, the Havanese’s affectionate nature and adaptability make them a wonderful choice for first-time and experienced dog owners alike.

Shih-Poo

Closeup photo of a brown Shih-Poo, a small dog for first-time owners, standing looking at the camera.
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A unique crossbreed between the Shih Tzu and Toy Poodle, the Shih-Poo would make a wonderful pup for a first-time dog owner. Fans of this breed celebrate these small-sized dogs for their loving and laid-back personalities. Shih-Poos typically inherit a combination of the Shih Tzu’s friendly and loyal nature along with the Poodle’s intelligence and hypoallergenic coat qualities. A word of caution, though, you will want to dedicate effort to maintaining this breed’s beautiful coat, as they can be prone to mats and tangles.

Papillon

A Papillon breed dog lying in the grass. Narrow depth of field with focus on the eyes.
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The Papillon — named for their large, butterfly-like ears — makes a wonderful companion for first-time dog owners. These petite companion pups, weighing only five to 10 pounds, require little in regards to grooming. Thankfully, occasional brushing should do the trick.

Papillons are also highly intelligent, loving, and eager to please. As a result, they readily respond well to training. Beyond their manageable care requirements, these small dogs have moderate exercise needs. Papillons are generally satisfied with a few short walks and play sessions per day.

Schnoodle

cute grey Schnoodle in autumn park
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Another popular Poodle mix, the Schnoodle is a lively, intelligent hybrid breed. A cross between a Schnauzer and a Poodle, these dogs have wonderfully colorful personalities that will surely keep you on your toes. The size of a Schnoodle can vary, depending on the characteristics inherited from their parent breeds. Despite their higher energy levels, Schnoodles are eager to learn. They are also highly playful, making them a great choice for families with children. Due to potential stubbornness during training, consistent positive reinforcement and a steady supply of rewards are key when teaching a Schnoodle basic obedience or fun new tricks.

Yorkshire Terrier

Beautiful Yorkshire Terrier, one of the best small dogs for first time owners, playing with a ball on a grass
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Affectionately called the “Yorkie” for short, the Yorkshire Terrier is a small pup with a big personality. Feisty yet loving, these dogs make wonderful companions for people of all ages. In fact, Yorkies are the most popular toy dog breed in the United States, having won over many admirers with their devoted temperaments, elegant appearances, and suitability for apartment living. While Yorkshire Terriers can make delightful pets, their tendency to bark may not make them the best choice for owners in apartments with thin walls. Moreover, prospective Yorkie adopters should also be prepared to provide the grooming these tiny terriers need.

Pug

Headshot of Pug on white background sticking tongue out
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The instantly recognizable Pug makes a great dog for first-time pet parents. Originating in China during the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BCE), Chinese royalty cherished these compact canines for their endearing personalities and elegant appearances. With their small, stocky builds, wrinkled faces, and short snouts, Pugs are undeniably adorable. Beyond their distinctive looks, they are also renowned for their friendly temperaments. They do not require excessive exercise, and their grooming needs are manageable. Pugs are also highly adaptable, thriving even in apartment living. However, as a brachycephalic breed, owners should take care to monitor their Pugs during hot weather and periods of activity to prevent overheating.

Bichon Frisé

Close-up of Bichon Frise, one of the friendliest dog breeds, sitting on a rock in forest covered in orange autumn leaves.
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The Bichon Frisé — playful, allergy-friendly, and intelligent — makes a wonderful companion, even for novice owners and those living in apartments. However, Bichon Frise also require ample playtime and activity. Additionally, they do not do well when left alone for long periods. If you travel often or work long hours, this pup may not be right for you, as they can be prone to separation anxiety. If you can provide your Bichon with plenty of attention and affection, they will shower you with tenfold the love in return.

Miniature Poodle

A smiling little puppy of a light brown Miniature Poodle in a beautiful green meadow is happily running towards the camera.
(Photo Credit: Linas Toleikis | Getty Images)

Sweet, affectionate, and remarkably intelligent, the Miniature Poodle is an adorable small dog who makes a great companion for novice pet parents. These energetic, intelligent pups were once famous for performing complex tricks and balancing acts as circus performers, a testament to their willingness to learn. While you may not be able to train your Poodle to balance on a ball or jump through hoops, you’ll likely have no problem teaching them basic commands like “sit” and “come.”

Tips for first-time dog owners

Although you may have set out to find the “best” small dog breeds for first-time owners, remember what you put into training and socializing your pup is the most important factor, regardless of the breed. Start training and acclimating your new companion to different environments as soon as possible.

If you adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, you may need to invest a little more time and effort into helping your new companion become their best self. Should you decide to purchase a puppy, be sure to research how to find a good dog breeder.

Moreover, get ready for pet parenthood by learning the fundamental first steps to take when bringing a dog home. With the right preparation and commitment, any breed can make a wonderful addition to a first-time pet owner’s family.

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