Are you thinking of joining the ranks of the more than 48 million people in the US who share their lives with at least one dog? You’re in good company. America’s love affair is growing deeper and more profound every year.
More than 38% of US households have one or more dogs chasing sticks, doing tricks for treats, snuggling on the couch, and otherwise bringing joy to the people they live with. In the first year of the global pandemic, dog adoptions doubled, leaving pet shelters short of canine companions and purebred dog breeders scrambling to meet the demand for puppies. Puppy finder websites—some of them puppy breeder scams offering dogs for sale that didn’t exist—were flooded with traffic.
Given the limited supply of available dogs, some new pet parents jumped at the chance to bring any dog home and found a mixed-breed at the local shelter to shower with love. But others took the time to ask themselves, “What’s the best dog breed for me?”
Veterinarians, who understand better than anyone that dog ownership is a tremendous commitment, usually recommend a more studied approach.
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How to Choose a Dog Breed
How many types of dog breeds are there? Experienced pet owners will tell you there are as many types of dogs as there are types of dog owners. Maybe you’ve always envisioned giving a silky little lapdog a loving home, or you’re searching for the most affectionate dog breed on the planet. Maybe you’re a self-avowed “quiet type” and know you’ll be able to relate best to the calmest dog breeds out there. The key to finding the perfect dog takes self-knowledge—and a little bit of luck, of course.
We’ve put together a list of the most important things to consider as you start to search for the best match. Consider these queries carefully. Understand your own priorities—and put yourself in a dog’s place, too—and you’ll be on your way to narrowing your choices and finding a dog you can live with happily ever after.
Firstly, take a look around at your living situation. Are your quarters already cramped to the point where you’d be stepping over your dog to get to the bathroom? If you live in a small studio, you’ll likely be better off with a small breed dog—maybe even one you could carry in your tote bag or backpack.
Ask yourself how much space your dog will have to run and play in. You may only have a small yard, but public dog parks are popping up all over the country. Bear in mind that all dogs need exercise to enjoy optimum health. And the larger the dog, the more exercise they’ll need. If you have a large yard that is fenced-in, and you expect to walk your dog frequently, you can offer most any size dog a healthy, active lifestyle. If you’re fortunate enough to live near a dog park or wooded area, all the better. The right dog for you is also the right size dog for your home.
People in Your Household
Safety should be top-of-mind when you consider the best dog breed for you, your family, and any other pets living in your home. Like people, dogs can be unpredictable. They can even be, however unintentionally, hazardous. Dogs may jump up on you, get underfoot, demand attention or become annoyed with you, and sometimes even bite you. That’s why it’s essential to look at the personality, size, and trainability of any dog breed you consider.
Will you be raising kids while you’re bringing up Puppy? Some dogs—those known for being the friendliest dog breeds—are considered much safer for homes with young children. You’ll want a dog that doesn’t mind getting his tail tugged or having a toddler climbing all over him.
If you or someone you live with is physically frail or prone to falling, you’d be better off with a laid-back dog that isn’t so physically powerful. Try to match your dog’s energy level, activity level, and physical strength to yours and the other people in your household. If you have cats, they might appreciate living with a dog that has little to no prey drive and an easy-going, calm personality.
You should also consider how much time your dog will be spending alone before selecting a breed. Some dogs crave human companionship more than others and may be susceptible to separation anxiety when they’re left alone for extended periods.
Some dog breeds are easy to train, and quickly learn how to “do their business” outside. These breeds thrive on communication and relish the time they spend learning to do tricks. Others are more aloof or even stubborn. Ask yourself how much time you’re willing to invest in training your dog and how advanced you want that training to be. If spending Saturday afternoon duck hunting or at a canine agility competition sounds like a lot of fun to you, there’s definitely a dog for that.
For those who feel safer with a guard dog on duty—you’ll need to train him or her well to be sure that protective behavior doesn’t turn into aggressiveness. While they may be among the most loyal dog breeds, some guard dogs practice fidelity to a fault. They may literally bare their teeth when someone approaches their owner or territory even when no danger exists.
If you just want your dog to follow basic rules like come, sit, and stay, you have a lot more breed choices. But don’t kid yourself. All dogs need basic obedience training. Dogs that know what’s expected of them are happier and make better companions. You can probably undertake basic training yourself. But if you don’t have the patience, have a tendency to spoil the people you love, or have adopted a particularly stubborn dog, you may need to call in the professionals.
You’ll need to be consistent and patient with training no matter which dog breed you choose. But if you’re looking for an instant good doggie, you can tip the scales in your favor by picking a dog breed that’s recognized for superior intelligence. Border collies, standard poodles, golden retrievers, and Doberman pinschers show up in most lists of the smartest dogs.
You know that high-maintenance friend of yours who’s always at the spa or shopping for fancy cosmetics? The world is full of canine equivalents. Certain types of dogs require regular brushing, not just for the sake of beauty, but for their health and comfort. Matted fur can lead to painful and even dangerous skin conditions.
Many long-haired breeds will shed endlessly if they’re not regularly groomed, which will leave your house in perpetual need of grooming, too. And even if you try to keep up with grooming tasks at home, they’ll still require occasional professional attention. Some of the top dogs in the US, including the affable Golden retriever and the polite poodle, need frequent trips to the groomer for shampoos and anti-shedding treatments, haircuts, nail clipping, and basic sanitary care.
So be sure to ask yourself how much time and money you’re willing to invest in keeping your dog looking runway-ready. Grooming is one of the most expensive aspects of pet care.
According to the American Kennel Club, the lifetime cost of dog ownership tops $23,000. The AKC estimates that dog food, toys, medications, veterinary care, and miscellaneous dog products can reach nearly $2,000 annually. You may need to make some significant upfront investments to keep your dog safe, too, including fencing. Can your budget absorb all of these costs?
To hedge against unexpected expenses, many dog owners buy pet insurance. Fortunately, pet insurance prices on medical coverage for dogs has been decreasing. Furthermore, the increasing number of companies has intensified competition, bringing the customer some new, cheap pet insurance options.
Most policies cover behavioral problems and dog therapy, in addition to accidents and illnesses. Some policies even offer coverage for pet telehealth. But some dog breeds cost more to insure than others. Before selecting a dog, you may want to compare pet insurance policy costs on several breeds that interest you. And speaking of insurance, owning certain dog breeds can increase your homeowners insurance premiums or even cause your insurer to cancel your policy altogether.
Not to raise a sad subject, but life expectancy among breeds vary. Part of estimating how much dog ownership will cost you is knowing approximately how long your new dog will live. Generally, the larger the dog, the shorter its life will be. Selective breeding increases the likelihood that a dog will succumb to genetic illnesses. Mixed-breeds dogs of any size are likely to live longer than their purebred counterparts. That’s a great reason to consider adopting a dog from a shelter: lovable mutts abound in animal rescue facilities.
A recent Money.com survey of cat and dog owners found that 67% of pet parents would spend any amount of money they had to save a furry friend’s life. Are you one of them? If so, those feelings should be part of your calculus as you consider what dog breed is right for you.
Drooling and Shedding?
Lovable as they are, dogs are not the neatest creatures. They will invariably leave nose prints, paw prints, and the outdoor debris they drag in on their paws and fur. These minor messes can frustrate very tidy people. But you can minimize two common dog messes—shedding and drooling—by choosing the right breed. Certain dogs, like poodles and Maltese, barely leave a trace of fur in the home. They’re particularly well-suited to allergy sufferers. Some dogs are known for their incessant drooling. Avoid purebreds like bloodhounds and bulldogs, who are well-known for slobbering, if you’d prefer not to have to carry a drool rag with you at all times. And if you share your home with a veritable fur factory, consider booking your dog for a de-shedding treatment each time you groom him or her. It costs a little extra, but you won’t have to vacuum as often.
Best Dog Breeds
We’ve researched the most common ways people search for recommended dog breeds and have come up with eight popular dog breed categories. Our recommendations are based in part on our conversation with Martin Lee, the owner of K9 Citizens Dog Training in Toledo, Ohio whose career spans almost three decades in the canine world. Over the years, he has worked in veterinary practices, dog training, the dog food industry, dog breeding, dog grooming—pretty much anything dog you can name. There are over 350 breeds and sub-breeds of dog and the AKC recognizes nearly two hundred of them. According to Mr. Lee, many breeds fit multiple categories. “And don’t discount mixed-breed dogs, either. If they’re the right size for your home, have the temperament that matches your own, and skills that complement your lifestyle, mixed-breed dogs can be the best friends imaginable,” he advises.
Now, on to our recommendations.
Best Family Dogs
The world is filled with cherished family dogs. Maybe you even grew up with one. With proper training and patience, most every breed of dog can be a great family dog. But some breeds stand out from the crowd, adapting beautifully to family life. So you may want to focus your search on these breeds that have proven themselves to be particularly well-suited.
The ever-popular golden retriever takes top honors in Money’s Best Family Dog category. They may also take the prize in the friendliest dog breeds category. Year after year, these lovable pals appear on the American Kennel Club’s list of most popular dogs. Super-intelligent, eager to please, and easy to train, they’re an excellent choice for both beginner and experienced dog owners. Neither aggressive nor timid, they’re the perfect, affable guests at every party. They do require a fair amount of grooming and exercise, so be sure you and your family are up to the task of keeping them beautiful and active.
Labs resemble other retrievers. They’re smart, loyal, active dogs that enjoy all the exercise you can give them. They can be real clowns and will bring lots of laughter to your home. While shorter-haired than goldens, they tend to shed a lot. It’s just a different kind of fur. For a larger breed—in top condition, they weigh between 55 and 80 pounds—Labrador retrievers also have a relatively long lifespan
While every size of poodle is known for being polite, highly intelligent, and easy to train, experts often recommend standard poodles as the best choice for families. They’re sturdy enough to handle all the rough-and-tumble activity kids throw their way, they thrive on company and inter-species communication, plus they’re less prone to timidity and don’t startle easily. They’re ready to roll with rambunctious toddlers or keep pace on a power walk. Poodles are one of the most hypoallergenic breeds, ideal for sensitive noses and throats.
Best Dogs for Kids
Each of the best family dogs we’ve mentioned is well-suited to households with children. But some dogs offer kids more opportunities for fun and learning. You may want to consider bringing one of these especially kid-friendly dogs into your life, particularly if you’re looking for a medium-sized companion for your kids.
Widely recognized as one of the smartest breeds out there, border collies are highly trainable. Involving your kids in teaching them basic commands and tricks can teach them important skills while also helping them feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Border collies thrive when you give them a job to do—and since they are bred for their herding capabilities, one of their jobs may well be keeping your kids in line. Border collies are also extremely active dogs and perfect for entertaining a bunch of high-energy playmates.
How much attention and playtime are you willing to give your dog? When you have a houseful of curious, active kids, the answer could be, “All that pup can handle.” If you’re looking for a very energetic dog with a gentle temperament, the medium-sized beagle could be your best bet. Bred as hunting dogs, beagles are slaves to their noses, which can make them a little distractible. You’ll need a firm training hand to keep them focused. But they’ll more than reward your patience by offering a lifetime of love and loyalty. Be forewarned though: beagles are barkers, which makes them great watchdogs. But the breed might not be ideal for you if you treasure your peace and quiet.
Bull terriers have a face only a mother could love. And they more than return that love. They’re known for being one of the most affectionate dog breeds out there. Just like kids, bull terriers love to play. This funny-looking, medium-sized breed, whose head resembles nothing more than an oversized football, offers other advantages, too. Their short, flat coats make them easy to care for. Best of all, bull terriers are hearty souls. With proper care, they can live to the ripe old age of 14 years.
Best Small Dog Breeds
There are lots of reasons for choosing a small dog. They fit easily into any size home. They’ll thrive on as much exercise as you’re prepared to give them, even if that’s not very much. Plus, small dogs are less expensive to feed and tend to have long life spans. From toy- to teacup-sized, we’ve come up with a short list of the most lovable pint-sized pups for your consideration.
Honestly, pug dogs deserve a place in several best-of categories. Weighing in anywhere from 13 to 18 pounds, pugs pack a lot of personality into a small package. They’re small enough to carry in a tote bag or stash in a bicycle basket. They’ll love all the attention they get when you cart them around, too. At home, they’re up for as much cuddling as you can dish out. So if you like to curl up with your Kindle and a hot cup of tea, your pug will be a very willing companion. Just be careful not to let him pack on too much pudge. They’re so loving, it’s easy to spoil them with too many treats.
Looking for a dog to who will lift your spirits every day? Check out bichons, whose sunny dispositions and charm are enough to cut through even the cloudiest weather. The average bichon is about 12 inches tall and 12 pounds of cheer, but many are even smaller. Their curly coats are a delight to the fingers. Plus, the breed is kind to allergy sufferers. Bichons do require a fair amount of grooming to keep them snowy white and free of mats and tangles. But a freshly-coiffed bichon rates ten-plus on the cuteness scale.
Aptly nicknamed “wiener dogs” for their sausage-shaped bodies, dachshunds are literally the hot dogs of the small dog category. Super-friendly, easy to care for, and highly trainable, they consistently rank in the top 10 most popular dog breeds. The breed offers many options, from smooth-coated to feathery and full-size (16 to 30 pounds) to miniature (11 pounds and under). They also come in a wonderful array of colors, including the classic chocolate and caramel combination, medium tan, and piebald patchwork. Due to their unusual, long-backed physique, dachshunds are susceptible to spine problems as they age. So rather than engage them in strenuous activities, it’s best to let them follow their natural inclination to be affectionate lap dogs.
Best Guard Dog Breeds
Some dog owners value the protection a canine companion can provide. Dogs of all sizes and breeds can fulfill the role of casual watchdog: they bark when they sense anything amiss, from a change in the weather to a stranger on your doorstep. But if you’re looking for more peace of mind and a dog who will actively protect you from danger, experts point to these three breeds. It’s critical to note that, if you choose one of these more protective breeds, you must learn to control your dog’s aggressive tendencies. Guard dogs must be meticulously trained to fulfill their duties safely.
Fearless, loyal, and physically imposing, Doberman pinschers are frequently drafted for police and security work. They’re also highly intelligent, which further qualifies them for the job of protecting your family and property. Dobies have a reputation for being ferocious and unpredictable. But in recent years, they’ve have been selectively bred to moderate their aggressive tendencies. It takes a very firm hand to raise a Doberman you can count on to be calm and gentle when you need him to be. But fans of the breed say they also make terrific family dogs.
According to the AKC, German shepherds are the second most popular purebred dog in the US. The breed has a hundred-year history and was originally bred by a German cavalry captain who was trying to create a capable herding dog. But due to its high intelligence, the breed turned out to be exceptionally versatile and is a favorite choice for police, military, search and rescue, and assistance dog work. German shepherds are extremely loyal. They’re not naturally aggressive, but they’re hard workers and capable of learning a wide variety of skills, including protecting people and property.
As one of the most physically powerful purebred dogs, Rottweilers provide protection based purely on their commanding presence. Bad guys take one look at these jowly, barrel-chested giants—they can weigh upwards of 130 pounds—and think better of breaking the rules. Dog experts frequently name Rotties in their top ten lists of smartest dogs. And they’re particularly known for their emotional intelligence: their ability to size up everyone they meet. They can literally sniff out bad intentions. That’s why they’re considered one of the best guard dogs.
Best Companion Dogs
If you’re committed to finding balance in your life—particularly in your leisure time—you need a dog that can roll with you, whether you’re heading out for a five-mile run or kicking back on your couch with Netflix. When it comes to flexibility, here are our top picks.
English setters are equally at home running by the river or napping in front of the fireplace. Originally bred for hunting, they are athletic dogs that will happily accompany you on a wooded trail. Indeed, they do require some daily exercise to keep them fit and happy. But they’re also known for their placidity and for enjoying a good snooze. They’re as easy-going as they are handsome.
The greyhound runs so fast and so well, years ago, they named a bus line after him. Sadly, for many years, greyhounds were bred for racing and gambling and institutionally mistreated in the process. That’s the bad news. The good news is that greyhound racing is now outlawed in forty states. Countless greyhounds have been rescued and are available for adoption. In addition to giving a dog a new lease on life, greyhound adopters can revel in their pups’ indefatigable urge to fetch while also enjoying the quiet company of a dog the AKC describes as a gentle, noble, and sweet-tempered companion. High-energy greyhound pups settle into being polite indoor dogs with proper training.
Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
If you’re looking for a dog with boundless energy and a loving personality, it’s hard to top the soft-coated wheaten terrier. This compact, oh-so-silky breed, which weighs in at 35 to 40 pounds, is well-suited to apartment living and loves to cuddle. But Wheatens will also test your endurance as a playmate. And there are few athletic feats as joyful to behold as the Wheaten leap. When they work up a head of steam, Wheatens literally fly through the air as they run. They can be a little willful, though, so consistent training from puppyhood is a must for Wheatens if you want them to be on their best behavior.
Best Behaved Dog Breeds
Intelligence and a natural willingness to please are the traits that contribute to good behavior in dogs. Some of the breeds we’ve already named earn high marks for behavior, including the Golden retriever and poodle. But there are a few other dog breeds you may want to consider if easy training and a polite demeanor are your top priorities.
Remember Lassie, the blonde-haired beauty whose keen intelligence and exceptional communication skills kept her young charge Timmy out of trouble? Lassie was a collie and exemplary of this well-behaved breed. Collies are among the most expressive dogs, with ears and eyes that continuously tell a story. Collies are also known for their loyalty and flexibility. They’re great dogs when you’re on the go. You can take them anywhere and count on them to be calm and polite guests who don’t forget the rules when they’re away from home. If collies have one fault, it’s that they’re given to barking. You can train that bad habit out of them or simply have fun figuring out what they’re trying to tell you.
Cardigan Welsh Corgis
Don’t confuse this breed with its stubborn cousin, the Pembroke Welsh corgi. Cardigans are cooperative, compact companions with a sturdy build that belies their short stature. Originally bred as herding dogs, Cardigans are quick to learn new tasks. While very affectionate with their own people, they tend to be a little more reserved around strangers. That makes the breed ideal for homebodies. They only need a little bit of exercise each day to keep them content and well-conditioned.
If you have room in your home, it’s easy to find room in your heart for the St. Bernard. The breed is famous for its rescue capabilities. Historically, the breed has proven to be a lifesaving friend to mountaineers and Alpine skiers. At home, they exhibit the same caring nature. If your kids could use a nanny to look after them, a St. Bernard will naturally take on the job. While infallibly gentle and surprisingly placid, the Saint is also an excellent watchdog, with a big bass bark and a massive body likely to discourage all but the boldest intruders.
Best Dog Breeds for First Time Owners
No matter how excited you may be to welcome a dog into your life, if it’s your first, you’re going to be less experienced and, perhaps, a little more flustered than a repeat dog parent. Make it easy on yourself by choosing one of these tried-and-true breeds.
The Lovable Mutt
Small, large, and in-between, satiny and fluffy, active and lazy, there’s a mutt out there for everyone. Sadly, many are living in public dog shelters and private rescue facilities. If animal welfare is a cause you can get behind, arguably, mixed-breed dogs are more worthy of your attention than purebred dogs. But mutts offer other benefits to first-time dog owners, too. Some are financial. Shelters typically charge a nominal fee for adopting a dog. So if you’ve experienced sticker shock while researching purebred dogs—$2000 and $3000 price tags are not uncommon—mixed-breed dogs offer a much lower cost of entry into dog ownership. Selective breeding has made many purebred dogs more susceptible to health problems. Mutts are less predisposed to hereditary diseases. So you can expect veterinary bills to be lower when you adopt a crossbreed. Mutts tend to live longer. And particularly if you adopt a full-grown dog, you’ll know what you’re getting into personality-wise when you join the ranks of millions of mutt owners.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Who wouldn’t love a dog that looks like a puppy forever? The cavalier King Charles spaniel, with its expressive eyes and playful nature, is the Peter Pan of the canine world. The breed also offers the advantage of being quite small—they’re about a foot tall and weigh about 15 pounds on average. That means they cost less to feed, create less of a mess, and are particularly portable. They get along well with children and, despite their long hair, require just the occasional brushing. Most live to a ripe old age and offer loyalty and love that lasts.
There’s a right-sized poodle out there for every home. All sizes share similar capabilities and a common temperament. For first-time dog owners, miniature poodles, who are usually happy with a couple of brisk walks around the corner each day, ask for a moderate time commitment. They’re content as city dwellers and they won’t take up much room in your apartment, topping out at about 15 pounds. What’s more, they’re whip-smart and highly trainable. And talk about cute. White is a classic poodle color, but black, brown, and apricot poodles are a terrific choice if you’re looking for something not so frou-frou. Best of all, miniature poodles have an exceptionally long lifespan. Many live as long as 18 years.
Best Running Dogs
If running is your passion, a pooch who can keep pace with you will be an inspiring fitness companion. Like people, dogs have to build their endurance slowly. And more importantly, puppies aren’t fit for running until their bones fully develop. The AKC recommends you wait until your pup is a year and a half old to begin putting any serious mileage on those joints. But you can start training early, teaching the basics like loose leash walking and working a few short jogs into your walks as your puppy grows. Be sure to leave your dog home when you’re running in extreme weather conditions, too. Dogs can’t take frequent slugs from a water bottle. They they don’t wear shoes to protect them from ice clumps in their paws and frostbite. But here are a few breeds that love to run, on their own or alongside their people. Incidentally, many dogs take easily to running on a treadmill or beside bicyclists, too.
What’s your running style? If you like to go the distance at a steady pace, check out Dalmatians. They’re among the best long-distance runners. If you enjoy a good sprint, Dalmatians are an ideal choice. They’ve been clocked at speeds up of to 37 miles per hour. Because they are heavy-boned, though, they tend to pound the pavement. So they may be best suited to soft trail runs, not sidewalk sojourns. Consider where you’ll be running before you choose a Dalmatian.
If you like to live in a northern part of the world and are happy to brave the cold when you’re running, Malamutes are an excellent choice. They were bred in Alaska to pull sleds long distances. They crave exercise and thrive when they have a job assigned to them, such as keeping you company while you run. Malamutes are far more cold-hardened than most humans so you may wind up envying their thick coats on the chilliest days.
On the opposite side of the weather spectrum, you’ll find the Rhodesian ridgeback. They also love to run. And because they were bred in South Africa, where tropical heat is the norm in summer but temperatures are moderate during the winter, they’ll be up for running with you during every season. Be forewarned, though. Ridgebacks are strong…and fast. If you want to raise one as a runner, teaching good leash manners when they’re still pups is essential to your safety and theirs.
The Bottom Line
What dog breed is best for me is a complicated question. And there’s no single right answer. The perfect dog for your family is the one who can make your entire family happy, who’s content to live in your home, and one you can afford to purchase and care for. Dog ownership is both a privilege and a lifelong commitment. Don’t be shy about consulting various breeders, a veterinarian, a dog adoption professional, and friends and family members who own dogs for recommendations. Carefully considering all of the questions we’ve asked is a smart, simple way begin the search for your perfect canine match.