While every puppy is irresistible, the top 20 dog breeds to cast their magic spell on Americans range from the tiny Yorkshire terrier to the majestic Great Dane. Temperament, appearance, size, personality and energy level all factor into which breeds are the most popular to own in the U.S.
AKC Popularity Statistics
The American Kennel Club list of the 20 most popular breeds in the U.S. is a helpful guide to which dogs you might consider owning. In 2011 the most popular in respective order are as follows:
#1 - Labrador retriever
#2 - German shepherd
#3 - Beagle
#4 - Golden retriever
#5 - Yorkshire terrier
#6 - Bulldog
#7 - Boxer
#8 - Poodle
#9 - Dachshund
#10 - Rottweiler
#11 - Shih tzu
#12 - Miniature schnauzer
#13 - Doberman pincher
#14 - Chihuahua
#15 - German short-haired pointer
#16 - Siberian husky
#17 - Pomeranian
#18 - French bulldog
#19 - Great Dane
#20 - Shetland sheepdog
Each breed has its own characteristics, and the AKC sorts them into seven groups that are bred for specific traits.
Top Sporting Breeds
Dogs in the AKC sporting group have stamina and energy to spare. If you're up to it, these active dogs will provide you with nonstop fun. They are bred to point, flush and retrieve game but are wonderful companions for nonhunters, too. Enthusiastic about just about anything, these dogs love playing ball, jumping for Frisbees, swimming and hiking. Friendly, intelligent and eager to please, the most popular are Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and German short-haired pointers. Keep in mind these breeds require lots of exercise to burn off their abundant energy and to stay fit.
Bred to hunt game by sight or smell, hounds tend to be independent and enjoy nothing better than pursuing prey. They are also endearing family pets and especially gentle. The most popular hounds are the beagle and dachshund. Both are wonderful with children and extremely affectionate to their humans. Like all breeds, they have a few little quirks; dachshunds are quite fearless and love to dig, while beagles always follow their noses, so they should be on lead or under supervision lest they wander off in pursuit of prey.
Top Herding Breeds
The most popular breeds in the AKC herding group are the German shepherd and Shetland sheepdog. These dogs think for themselves and excel at problem-solving. Bred to herd sheep, cattle and other livestock, both are extremely high energy. Although the German shepherd is included in this group, it also exhibits characteristics of the AKC working group as well, possessing outstanding guarding instincts and a strong willingness to work. The Shetland sheepdog, also called a Sheltie, is much smaller than the shepherd and ranks high in its desire to please. Both breeds have both natural beauty and brains. They are intensely loyal, affectionate and responsive to training.
Top Toy Breeds
Buoyant, alert and inquisitive, toy breeds are ideal dogs for adults who spend a lot of time indoors because they manage with minimal exercise. The most popular are the Pomeranian, poodle, Chihuahua and Yorkshire terrier. These spirited little characters are often fearless watchdogs, especially the Chihuahua, a rottweiler in disguise. Poodles are also considered one of the most intelligent dogs. All are perfectly pretty and tons of fun for couch potatoes or anyone who wants a wonderfully affectionate little companion.
Top Working Breeds
Bred for guard and draft work, the AKC working group dogs are strong, loyal and willing to work. Often used for security and protection, they are without equal when it comes to dedication to their owners. The most popular are the rottweiler, Great Dane, Doberman pinscher and boxer. The German shepherd, though listed in the AKC herding group, ranks as one of the top working breeds, used throughout the world for police work, in the armed forces and for protection. With their regal appearance, self-confidence and inherent desire to protect home and family, these breeds are becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.
Top Nonsporting Breeds -- Bulldogs and French Bulldogs
The AKC nonsporting group includes dogs that don't quite fit into any other. Diverse in appearance, size and personality, the most popular of this eclectic group are the bulldog, French bulldog and shih tzu.
The lovable bulldog with his quizzical expression and dignified bearing is medium-sized but would be a lap dog if he had his way. Their gentle disposition and adorable wrinkles make them among the most popular breeds. The bulldog needs minimal exercise and forms strong bonds with their people.
French bulldogs, known as Frenchies to aficionados, are small and muscular with gentle, affectionate personalities. They have a minimal need for exercise and are distinguished by their signature "bat" ears.
Top Nonsporting Breeds: Shih Tzu
The shih tzu is believed to trace its ancestry back to the temple dogs of Tibet, bred in that country for over 2,000 years. Their name means "lion dog" in Chinese. Blessed with beauty and an outgoing, affectionate personality, the shih tzu is also intelligent, docile, happy and friendly. This former pampered palace pet adapts well to apartment living. With a distinctive royal bearing, the shih tzu's sole purpose is to be a companion and house pet.
The only terrier to make the top 20 most popular list is the miniature schnauzer. Miniature schnauzers are the only schnauzer classified as a terrier. The other two, giant and standard, are classified as working breeds. Bred to go to ground after vermin, terriers are fearless and feisty. The distinguished and handsome miniature schnauzer is a delightful companion, the perfect choice for fussy housekeepers with their hard, wiry, nonshedding coats. Alert, spirited and naturally protective dogs, they make excellent watchdogs. A daily walk will keep him happy and fit.
Tips on Choosing a Dog Breed
Dogs are a lifetime commitment and as cherished family members, they enrich our lives with unconditional love and devotion. Whether you decide on one of the 20 most popular dogs, or adopt a mixed breed from a rescue shelter, it's important to do extensive research to find the breed that suits your lifestyle, regardless of trends. When researching breeders, look for those who offer health and temperament guarantees. It's also important to meet a puppy's sire and dam to assess their temperament.
By Susan Dorling
American Kennel Club: Sporting Group
American Kennel Club: Non-sporting Group
American Kennel Club: Working Group
American Kennel Club: Herding Group
American Kennel Club: Toy Group
American Kennel Club: Hound Group
American Kennel Club: Terrier Group
American Kennel Club: Miniature Schnauzer
About the Author
Based in Ontario, Susan Dorling has written professionally since 2000, with hundreds of articles published in a variety of popular online venues. Writing on a diverse range of topics, she reflects her passion for animals, interior design, home decorating, style, fashion and business.