Breed Popularity

By Ginny Frizzi

February 5, 2010 7 min read

It's easy enough to find out which are the most popular dog breeds in the United States. Just visit the American Kennel Club's Web site (, where the top 10 breeds, based upon AKC registration, are listed.

The top 10, in order, are the Labrador retriever, Yorkshire terrier, German shepherd, golden retriever, beagle, boxer, dachshund, bulldog, poodle and Shih Tzu.

The Labrador retriever has led the AKC list for 18 consecutive years, according to AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson. Many other breeds are also regulars on the AKC's top 10, but the bulldog has been experiencing a notable rise in popularity. It made the list for the first time in 70 years in 2007, and in 2008, registration jumped 6 percent, placing the bulldog in eighth place.

The AKC list answers the question of what purebred breeds are the most popular, but it doesn't address why those breeds perennially keep landing on the list. One reason is that many adults grew up with specific breeds, Peterson says.

"They may have had a certain breed while a child and want to re-create the experience as an adult," she says. "If you had, say, a Lab, golden retriever or beagle as a child, you probably already like and know about the breed and will be comfortable owning one as an adult."

Breed choice also can be what Peterson calls a "generational thing," meaning that a family has favored one particular breed throughout the years. She notes that certain regions of the United States have demonstrated preferences for certain breeds.

"Many people in New York City live in apartments, so they go for smaller breeds that are lap dogs. Southerners like coonhounds, probably because they hunt a lot. People in Wisconsin and Minnesota like Nordic breeds because of the cold weather," says Peterson, who is from Wisconsin and breeds and raises Norwegian elkhounds.

Books, movies and television also affect the popularity of certain breeds, but not always for the best, according to Michele C. Hollow, a writer for the blog "Pet News and Views" and author of "The Everything Guide to Working With Animals."

"Movies and best-selling books have always had a major impact on the American public," Hollow says. "When '101 Dalmatians' came out, sales of Dalmatian dogs rose. Same with the Labs when 'Marley & Me' came out. Remember when the movie 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua' came out? People wanted them."

Peterson agrees. "People watch movies and connect emotionally with the dog on the screen. They fall in love with the breed and say, 'I'll get one,'" she says.

But that is not the proper way to select a breed. The process should involve learning about various needs and characteristics of a breed and the potential owner's identifying his own lifestyle and budget. Otherwise, it can be a recipe for disappointment.

"Unfortunately, people believe that their new puppy will be just like that adorable dog in the movie. It's not so, obviously. Right now, there are hundreds of Chihuahuas that are in need of good homes," says Hollow, who provided another example.

A book and movie are coming out about Hachiko, an Akita who accompanied his master to the train station each day when the man went to work and waited there for his return. His master died, but Hachiko would not leave his spot. The legend of the dog, who was honored with a statue, became popular in Japan.

"The author of the book is worried that once the book hits and the film comes out, everyone will want a loyal dog just like Hachiko," Hollow says. "So there will be a rise of Akitas in the market."

This way of selecting a breed is often because of the family's children. This is true with almost any animal, even fish, that enjoys movie popularity, according to Lindsay Sapp of Belleview, Fla., who formerly worked in a pet store.

"Any movie with an animal, especially a children's movie, is going to make the animal popular. Clown fish still sell like mad ever since 'Finding Nemo' came out, and I hear children refer to them as Nemo fish," Sapp says. "A dog breed's popularity seems to wane after the movie isn't quite as popular, because people get the dog on a whim and then realize it is nothing like the movie and surrender it."

Such problems are avoidable if the potential owner does his research about various breeds before making a decision. Peterson says the process can begin with looking at your own lifestyle.

"Do you have a lot of space? Many apartment dwellers choose small dogs -- such as Yorkshire terriers, dachshunds and toy breeds, such as poodles. You can also more easily take them with you when you travel," she says. "Border collies need to work, so you'll need the space and time to spend with them. And though some people won't believe it because bulldogs look so laid back, they need at least an hour of play per day."

Peterson also advises potential owners consider breeds' general temperament, especially if the owners have children.

Cost is another factor, including food, grooming and veterinary needs. Certain breeds are prone to certain physical problems whose treatments can prove costly.

"People should take a step back and review every factor. They should do their research about the breed and talk to breeders, who can answer most specific questions," Peterson says.

Incredible as it may seem, some breeds that were formerly popular aren't even recognized by some people now. Patricia Procopo of Pittsburgh finds this to be true of collies.

"I am the proud owner of a male collie, made popular by the television show 'Lassie' from the 1960s," Procopo says. "I get so many comments when I walk my dog, as many people have never seen collies before. Cars have stopped and asked what breed he is; kids ask whether he is a bear. People who do know the breed call out 'Lassie!' when they see him, almost mocking him. It is very rare to see collies these days, and I love raising such a rare, beautiful dog."

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