The top dog guide

The best breeds for the city, country, kids and beginners. By the dog trainer Nigel Reed.

No amount of selective breeding is going to guarantee good behaviour. However hard you look for the perfect dog you should also have an understanding of its needs, language and emotional state.

Easiest to train

Big dog
Labrador
Calm and placid, labradors are companion dogs, definitely not guard dogs. They are bred for their soft temperament and are easy to train because they want to please you, so they make excellent guide dogs. They are also highly intelligent.
Other
Golden retrievers and border collies

Small dog
Pomeranian

Highly intelligent, inquisitive and alert to everything around it, the pomeranian can follow commands easily, but it is strong willed and needs a confident owner who will show firm leadership.
Other Miniature poodles and shetland sheep dogs

Best for reluctant owners

Cockapoo
Poodle crosses are good for those who are new to dog ownership or who may have been persuaded into it by more enthusiastic members of the family. Cockapoos are low shedding, often billed as hypoallergenic, friendly, intelligent and easy to train.
Other
Maltese and other poodle crosses such as jackapoos

Most hypoallergenic

Poodle
No dog can be entirely hypoallergenic, but some dogs are recommended more for allergy sufferers than others. Poodles — toy, miniature and standard — shed minimally and are an excellent bet for people with allergies or those who don’t want their soft furnishings covered in dog hair. They generally produce less dander (skin flakes, like human dandruff) than other breeds, though this varies from dog to dog. Their coats will need grooming every three to six weeks to keep them in good condition.
Other Portuguese water dog, yorkshire terriers, bichon frise and bolognese

Most intelligent

Big dog
Border collie
Border collies are eager to please and quick to learn. They know right from wrong and they need an equally smart owner to keep them on the straight and narrow. They love activities to keep them mentally stimulated — one-on-one games such as tug-of-war or fetching a ball.
Other German shepherds and poodles

Small dog
Cairn terrier
Despite its size, the cairn terrier is an intelligent, independent and confident dog (a cairn terrier played Toto in The Wizard of Oz). Descended from Scottish rodent hunters, it will happily chase anything that moves. Proper training is important so it knows its owner is in charge.
Other
Jack russell and manchester terrier

Best for a quiet life

Basenji
There is only one dog that doesn’t bark and that’s the basenji. Originating in the Congo, it is called “the soundless dog” because it has a narrow voice box, meaning it is quieter. I’m surprised it’s not a more popular breed, particularly among those living in densely populated areas.

Most low-maintenance

Big dog
Scottish deerhound
If you want a low-maintenance dog, look for chilled-out personalities and wiry hair (so the mud pretty much falls off). The scottish deerhound is a rough-coated dog, similar in appearance to a greyhound. It is adaptable and despite being relatively large it is happy in smaller spaces as long as it is exercised regularly.
Other Short-haired german pointer and rhodesian ridgeback

Small dog
Miniature schnauzer

These are good family dogs that are easy to train and hardly moult. They need a moderate amount of exercise and mental stimulation.
Other Parson terrier, yorkshire terrier and miniature poodle

Most loving

Cavalier king charles spaniel
It would be hard to find a soppier, more lap-loving, gentle dog than the cavalier king charles. They are sweet tempered, gentle and good with the whole family. The more energetic ones also make great walking companions.
Other
Maltese and pug

Best if you love long walks

Big dog
Hungarian vizsla
The vizsla loves exercise and people in equal measure. Affectionate and loyal, it makes a great pet if you’re prepared to give it the companionship and exercise it needs — at least an hour a day. It’s also a good swimmer.
Other Border collie and pointer

Small dog
Jack russell
Jack russells are fit, sturdy, enthusiastic and clever. They love playing games and being outside. My jack russell cross from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home loves cross-country walks.
Other Border terrier, beagle and norfolk terrier

Best if you don’t walk much

Greyhound
This may come as a surprise, but the best dog you could get if you don’t want to walk much is a greyhound (a retired one, anyway). The majority are happy with two 20-minute walks
a day. Greyhounds tend to retire from racing at three to five years old, so they are still young with a lot of life ahead — see retiredgreyhounds.co.uk.
Other British bulldog and pekinese

Easiest to clean

Border terrier
This is a good-natured, high-energy dog. It has a long history as a hunter of vermin and is a keen digger. Its wiry, rough-textured coat is easy to clean — the mud seems to slide off it. It still needs weekly brushing and occasional stripping (removing hair from the root).
Other Scottish terrier and manchester terrier

Best with cats

Bichon frise
Known for its happy-go-lucky personality, this breed is happy for other pets to be part of your pack, providing they have been introduced with care. Be warned: these dogs love a good walk but their coat is a magnet for dirt.
Other
Pug and beagle

Most chilled

Bernese mountain dog
The bernese mountain dog was bred to pull carts for farmers. It has a good nature, calm temperament and a relaxed attitude to strangers — human and canine alike.
Other Labrador and Boston terrier

Best for beginners

Big dog
Golden retriever
Cheerful, loving and easygoing, the golden retriever gets on well with humans and other animals alike. Very adaptable, its eager-to-please nature makes it relatively easy to train.
Other
Labrador

Small dog
Skye terrier
This breed is long-haired and friendly, as well as being brave, loyal and devoted. It is happier indoors than some terriers and easy to exercise, though it does like to be played with.
Other Bichon frise, shih tzu and papillon

Best for the city

Big dog
Great dane

Great danes aren’t designed to run for long distances. They’re sensitive, loyal, gentle and affectionate, making them some of the best cuddlers. Their one downside is that they drool a lot.
Other Bernese mountain dog and bull mastiff

Small dog
French bulldog
This breed doesn’t need much exercise. It can get too cold in winter due to its thin coat but will struggle to cool itself in summer because of its flat nose. In both scenarios it may refuse to go out, but it’s not being naughty.
Other Basenji and boston terrier

Most loyal

German shepherd
Often thought to be aggressive, german shepherds can be attentive, loving pets if given the right training and environment. Their loyalty to their owners, combined with their intelligence and strength, makes them valuable for police and military work and excellent pets.
Other Newfoundland and labrador

Get a rescue dog
The loyalty of a rescue dog is both a tragic and wonderful thing. This dog will appreciate and love you more than any person you will meet. The amazing thing about rescuing is you can pick a personality, age and size that suits all of your needs. However, it is important to consider the dog too. If it’s a dog that has to be exercised a lot, or if it won’t be happy being left alone for long periods, only take it on if you can meets its needs.

Most playful

Springer spaniel
If you want a dog to throw balls for, swim with and spend lots of time outside with, the springer spaniel is for you. It is athletic, versatile and always up for any activity. Without exercise and plenty of stimulation it can become destructive.
Other Cocker spaniel and boxer

Best guard dog

Big dog
Neapolitan mastiff

Neapolitan mastiffs are an ancient breed, ideal as guard dogs, impressively large and with a lumbering gait. But they are not aggressive — they just want to defend their owners, to whom they are devoted. Much like a cat that brings you a dead animal, this breed is said to have the peculiar trait of letting an intruder into the home but not letting them out.
Other Doberman and german shepherd

Small dog
Dachshund
Dachshunds have high energy and are quick to alert you to the presence of an intruder (be it a burglar or the postman). They need to be handled carefully and can’t be allowed to think they are the boss of the house.
Other Shih tzu and chihuahua

Best for children

Big dog
Newfoundland
A water dog that was originally bred for search and rescue, the newfoundland has a great deal of patience and is gentle and loving with a protective attitude. It is great with children — and moody teens — as long as it is introduced into the family correctly and its space is respected.
Other Labrador, golden retriever and bulldog

Small dog
Shih tzu
The name means little lion in Mandarin, but shih tzus are the opposite of fierce. They are happy, playful and just want to be loved. They can live in any size of home and get on well with people, other pets and small children.
Other
Bulldog and cavalier king charles spaniel

Best for retirement

Yorkshire terrier
The yorkshire terrier was originally bred to hunt rats in mines but now they are better suited to a warm, comfortable house. They love a lap and a cuddle, making them the perfect companion for older people.
Other
Papillon and havanese

Most misunderstood

Staffie
Due to their natural strength and big jaws, the bad press they receive and that they are seen as a status symbol, staffordshire bull terriers are terribly misunderstood. In Australia they attract a different type of owner, so they do not have a bad reputation. Their desire to please and love of play make them the perfect companion for anyone who wants a happy, energetic, playful dog — provided that they are prepared to train them well and demonstrate correct leadership.

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