America Loves Its Labrador Retrievers

The outgoing pooch again topped the American Kennel Club's Top 10 list.

January 21, 2009, 1:42 PM

Jan. 21, 2009— -- In the world of wagging tails, the Labrador retriever wins the popularity contest, paws down.

For the 18th straight year, the bubbly dog topped the list of most popular breeds in the country, according to an annual list of 161 dog breeds put out by the American Kennel Club.

"They are probably one of the most versatile breeds," AKC spokeswoman Daisy Okas told

Labs, which come in black, chocolate and yellow varieties, are commonly seen working alongside military or emergency personnel, visiting children and the elderly as therapy dogs or simply lounging in front of the fireplace with the family.

"You meet a Lab, they're going to be wagging their tail," Okas said.

It was the breed's personality that drew retired veterinarian Robin Kelly to Labs. She currently owns two lab mixes and volunteers with the San Francisco-based Golden Gate Labrador Retriever Rescue, Inc., which placed about 350 dogs last year.

Kelly, who lives in Lake Tahoe, Calif., said her area has been hard-hit by foreclosures, which often result in owners giving up family dogs for financial reasons. The Labrador retriever's popularity means "we have no trouble getting our dogs placed," she said.

"They blend into families very well."

The AKC's Top 10 list is compiled using the club's registration numbers. The No. 2 dog on the list, the Yorkshire terrier, had 41,914 registrations, a distant second to the Labrador retriever's 100,736 registrations.

Okas -- who owns a beagle, the No. 5 dog -- said the breed with the fewest registrations this year is the American foxhound, a breed championed by President George Washington. It registered with a measly 117 dogs.

The 'Marley & Me' Effect

Missing out on the Top 10 list is not necessarily a bad thing. Many breed enthusiasts worry that lists or certain dog-themed movies encourage consumers to rush out and buy the breed du jour without doing the proper research.

"Everybody thinks their breed is the best kept secret," Okas said.

Though the lovable lab is hardly a secret, the recent box-office hit "Marley & Me," based on a newspaper columnist John Grogan's life with an unruly Labrador, has caused a surge in interest.

Kelly said she received a phone call Tuesday from a woman who had seen the movie and wanted a lab like Marley even though she'd never before owned a dog.

Kelly remembered wanting a Dalmatian as a child after seeing the movie "101 Dalmatians." She never got one, but that movie, she said, caused a surge in Dalmatians surrendered to shelters by owners who weren't prepared for the breed's demands.

Bulldogs continued their climb up the AKC list this year to rank No. 8, up from No. 10 in 2007 and No. 23 in 1998. The breed's showing in 2007 marked the first time in 70 years that the bulldog cracked the Top 10.

The bulldog also made the Top 10 in nearly every one of the 50 cities ranked by the AKC.

Barbara Dannewitz, the secretary for the Chicago Bulldog Club, said she wasn't especially pleased with the bulldog's rising popularity. She owns four, including a 6-month-old puppy named Nugget.

"I think you tend to have people breed them for money," she said. "It tends to destroy breeds."

There have been a number of breeds, German Shepherds among them, which have seen a spike in health complications reportedly from poor breeding ethics.

A good breeder, Dannewitz said, will try to breed out some of the health concerns from their lines. But when irresponsible breeders get ahold of bulldogs, she said, they perpetuate problems like elongated palates, which cause breathing problems in a dog known as a brachycephalic breed for its shortened snout and smashed face.

A Dog for Your Lifestyle

Okas said the best thing a person can do after deciding to get a dog is research, research, research.

"Every breed's a little bit different," she said. It's important to pick a dog not based on looks but on which breed best matches the prospective owner's lifestyle.

Okas said the Obama family is the perfect example of responsible dog owners-to-be. They have researched their options as a family and are waiting for the right time. Of the Obamas' reported two top choices -- a labradoodle and a Portuguese water dog -- only the latter is a recognized AKC breed.

The Portuguese water dog has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity -- up 44 percent in the last decade to take the No. 64 spot this year. They are known to be active and athletic, according to the AKC's Web site, and they have a hypo-allergenic coat, which would help with 10-year-old Malia Obama's allergies.

And with the breed now in the running to become the newest Obama, "I feel it's going to be more popular," Okas said.

The AKC is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. When the club started in 1884 there were nine registered breeds, none of which are in the current Top 10. The highest ranking breed from that first year is the Cocker Spaniel at No. 21.

The French bulldog had one of the biggest increases in the last decade, up 467 percent, which the AKC attributed to urban owners wanting apartment-sized dogs. Among lesser known breeds, the Ibizan hound, a member of the sight hound family, has seen a 74 percent increase in the past decade. It currently ranks 134 out of 161.

Breeds on the decline in the last decade include the Lhasa Apso, down 80 percent, and the Rottweiler, down 76 percent.