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12 Most Challenging Dog Breeds for First-Time Owners

German Shepherd dog chews shoe

Reviewed by: Dr. David Tittle,BVetMed, CertVA, GPCert(WVA&CPM), MRCVS

So, you’re thinking about getting your first dog, but, as a first-time pet parent, you aren’t sure which dog breed is best for you.

When considering getting a dog for the first time, there are some important factors to keep in mind. You want a good fit for your dog and your family, so it is important to be realistic about your expectations and lifestyle to set your new dog up for success. 

Table of contents 

This article will take a close look at the twelve most challenging dog breeds for first-time pet parents so that you can make the best choice for you and your family. 

How Do You Choose a Good Dog Breed For You?

First-time dog parents may not be prepared for a dog who requires extensive grooming, has serious health concerns, needs significant training, or needs a lot of exercise. If you like to keep a clean house or are not very active, some breeds may be a better fit than others. 

Temperament can also play a significant role in how well-suited a specific dog or breed may be for a first-time owner. Without much experience, highly independent, task-oriented, stubborn, aggressive, or anxious dogs can be very challenging for first-time pet parents and require intense training and attention. 

How Does Temperament Affect How Challenging a Dog Is?

While dog breed temperaments can vary widely within individual dogs, some breeds are generally known to have characteristics that can be challenging for new owners. These traits might require experienced handling, consistent training, and an understanding of the breed’s specific needs. 

Here are a few examples:

  1. Working Breeds: Breeds like the Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, or Belgian Malinois require high levels of mental and physical stimulation. They are typically intelligent and energetic and excel at tasks like herding or obedience. Without proper exercise and mental stimulation, they can become bored, develop behavioral issues, or exhibit destructive behaviors.
  2. Independent and Stubborn Breeds: Certain breeds, such as the Siberian Husky, Afghan Hound, or Basenji, tend to be more independent-minded and may exhibit stubbornness during training. They may require patient and consistent training methods to establish boundaries and prevent behavioral problems associated with their independent nature.
  3. Terriers: Terrier breeds like the Jack Russell Terrier, West Highland White Terrier (Westie), or Airedale Terrier can be energetic, feisty, and prone to assertiveness. They may exhibit a strong prey drive and be more inclined to dig or bark. Their high energy levels and determination require regular exercise and mental stimulation.
  4. Guardian or Protective Breeds: Breeds with strong protective instincts, such as the Rottweiler, Doberman Pinscher, or German Shepherd, can be more challenging for inexperienced owners. They require proper socialization, consistent leadership, and early training to ensure they become well-behaved and well-adjusted companions.
  5. High-Prey Drive Breeds: Breeds like the Greyhound, Saluki, or Dalmatian may have a high prey drive, leading to potential difficulties when cohabitating with small animals or in off-leash environments. Managing and redirecting their natural instincts requires careful training and reinforcement.

It’s important to remember that individual dogs within breeds can have unique temperaments and personalities. Early socialization, proper training, and providing adequate mental and physical stimulation are crucial for the well-being and overall behavior of any dog, regardless of breed. 

If you are a new dog owner, it may be helpful to work with a reputable breeder or consider adopting an adult dog with a known temperament that matches your experience and lifestyle.

Should You Get a Puppy or Adult Dog? 

Many prospective pet parents want cute little puppies. Although they may be cuddly and adorable, they are a lot of work! 

Between health check-ups, potty training, socialization, young pup energy and quirks, and other behavior training, puppies need time and attention that not everyone is ready to take on. 

Adult and senior dogs can be excellent options for first-time pet parents. They tend to have more manageable energy levels, and many have already mastered potty training and some basic commands. Adult and senior dogs will love you just as much as a puppy would but without some of the puppy challenges. 

However, it is important to note that bringing home adult rescue and shelter dogs can also be challenging, particularly for a dog who has come from an abusive, neglectful, or otherwise traumatizing background. They may have behavioral issues, fear, and stress and may not easily settle into their new family right away. 

Be sure to meet any dog you plan to adopt in advance and ask shelter staff or foster families about their personality and needs to make sure it’s a good fit. Consulting a dog trainer to teach you how to assess a dog’s personality or asking your veterinarian about what to look for when meeting a prospective pup can be invaluable in your decision-making process. 

Support for First-Time Pet Parents 

At ElleVet, we believe you don’t have to go through the challenges of dog ownership alone! Particularly for first-time pet parents, a dog trainer or a reputable book or online training guide can help you teach your dog good manners and help them manage and understand their world. 

Ask your veterinarian for recommendations for dog trainers or animal behaviorists. The Best Friends Animal Society, the Humane Society of the United States, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and Fear Free Happy Homes are all great places for pet parents to start! 

What Are the Most Challenging Breeds for New Pet Parents? 

Not every dog is the right fit for every owner, and it’s possible that a first-time dog owner may find certain breeds more of a challenge than others. Here are some of the most difficult dog breeds for first-time owners. 

1. Akita 

Akitas were bred to hunt big game, so they have a strong prey drive and can be aggressive if not adequately socialized and trained. Highly protective by nature, these dogs are often wary of strangers and do not always get along with other dogs. It takes an experienced pet parent to keep Akitas grounded and trained. 

2. Alaskan Malamute 

Traditionally bred as sled dogs, Alaskan Malamutes are high energy and shed heavily. They can be prone to pulling on the leash, which is a safety concern with such a large, strong dog. Similar to other high-energy breeds, these dogs require a lot of exercise and can easily become bored. 

They are escape artists and will run away, given the opportunity. Malamutes will become destructive if not allowed the time and space to exercise adequately. They also thrive in cold weather. 

3. Australian Cattle Dog 

These herding dogs were built for endurance and are intelligent enough to regularly outsmart their humans. Australian cattle dogs need a job and plenty of exercise to stay mentally and physically stimulated and can be prone to getting into mischief if they get bored. They require a lot of time and attention from their owners. 

4. Belgian Malinois 

These dogs are very intelligent and athletic, meaning they can easily get bored and destructive without enough stimulation and exercise. They also have a high prey drive, making them a potential liability for families with children or other pets. 

With their immense strength, an untrained Belgian Malinois can easily overpower and injure their owner and others. Malinois dogs are popular for K-9 military, police, and security jobs, with strong instincts for protecting and guarding. 

Intense training is key to helping them learn basic manners. These dogs must understand how to distinguish between a friend and a potential threat. 

5. Border Collie 

Traditionally bred as livestock herders, Border Collies are intelligent workaholics, needing lots of exercise and a job to do. Without an outlet for their herding instincts, they may nip at the heels of children or chase after bikes or cars.

They are also very attuned to their surroundings and can be prone to stress. Owners should keep them busy mentally and physically and well-socialized. 

6. Chow Chow 

They may not look all that scary, but Chow Chows were bred as guard dogs. They tend to be aggressive and reactive towards strangers and other dogs if not properly socialized and trained. With their strong will, Chow Chows are less eager to please and will become the boss if you let them. 

7. Doberman Pinscher 

Similar to Chow Chows, Dobermans were traditionally bred as guard dogs and are always protective and on edge from threats. They require lots of socialization and training to get comfortable around strangers and can be aggressive otherwise. 

8. German Shepherd 

German Shepherds are very smart and require extensive physical and mental stimulation on a daily basis. Naturally protective and defensive, these dogs can exhibit aggressive and dominant behaviors if not properly socialized and trained. 

German Shepherds are also prone to some serious health issues. Hip dysplasia, arthritis, and degenerative myelopathy can impact their mobility and comfort. These conditions can be particularly challenging for owners, as these dogs are large and need extensive exercise. 

9. Jack Russell Terrier 

Jack Russells are often referred to as hyper. They are extremely energetic, very smart, and have a strong prey drive. 

They are prone to digging and barking, two disruptive behaviors that first-time pet parents may not be up to addressing. Burning that energy, training, and keeping these dogs socialized is essential. 

10. Rottweiler 

All Rottweilers have strong territorial and protective instincts. This can lead to aggressive behaviors if not properly trained. 

These dogs are also very strong and, like other large dogs, can usually easily overpower their humans. Much like Chow Chows, Rottweilers are strong-willed and may try to assert their dominance if their owner is not assertive. 

11. Saint Bernard 

Although these dogs have cuddly looks and typically a sweet demeanor, they can be very stubborn. Saint Bernards can develop temperament and behavioral issues if not socialized and trained early. 

Given their incredible size, undesirable behaviors like jumping on people and counter-surfing can get out of hand. Have we mentioned how messy these dogs are? Saint Bernards are prone to excessive drooling.

12. Siberian Husky 

Huskies are far from being low-maintenance dogs. This high-energy breed requires a lot of exercise and is prone to bolting out the door. 

They are also very intelligent and skilled escape artists with a strong will that can lead them to ignore you in favor of doing whatever they want. They tend to want to sleep outside in winter and thrive in colder climates.

Wrapping Up

Getting a dog, particularly for first-time owners, is a significant commitment and requires time, energy, and money. Dogs need a lot of time and cannot and should not be left alone all day. Soon-to-be new pet parents need to consider their expectations, abilities, and lifestyle. Not every dog is the right fit for every owner. 

There are many helpful resources and support systems available for dog parents, and all dogs require basic socialization and training to thrive. There are many dogs, and personalities vary from dog to dog, even within a breed. 

Use your best judgment when finding the dog that fits your family, and you soon won’t be able to imagine life without them! 


How Different Personalities Affect the Reaction to Adoption of Dogs Adopted from a Shelter | NIH 

What to expect when you adopt a shelter pet | Ohio State University.

Akita Dog Breed Information | American Kennel Club.

Belgian Malinois Dog Breed Information | American Kennel Club