Labrador retrievers extended their record run last year as America's most popular dog breed, leading the American Kennel Club's new rankings Tuesday for a 26th straight year. But Rottweilers are enjoying renewed favor, and some other dogs have been striding up the popularity ladder.
THE TOP 10
In 2013, Labs grabbed the record for the longest stretch at No. 1, and they haven't let go. Affable, relatively easy to train and eager to please, they're popular partly because "you don't have to be an expert dog owner to own a Lab," says AKC Vice President Gina DiNardo. But for those seeking more than a family pet, the breed has proved itself at everything from bomb sniffing to guiding the blind.
The rest of the top 10, in order: German shepherds, golden retrievers, bulldogs, beagles, French bulldogs, poodles, Rottweilers, Yorkshire terriers and boxers.
The stats reflect puppies and other newly registered dogs in the AKC's 189 recognized breeds. They don't encompass the nation's millions of mixed-breed dogs or such deliberate hybrids as Labradoodles and maltipoos.
At No. 8, the Rottweiler posted its highest ranking in almost 20 years. Renowned for their loyalty, confidence and protective instincts, Rotties were America's second-most-popular dog in 1997 but faded to 17th within a decade, as some small breeds surged for a time. But Rottweilers muscled their way back into the top 10 in 2015.
Alexandra Niles is among the new Rottweiler enthusiasts. Seeking a big, sturdy dog, she got Talos four years ago, promising his breeder she'd learn to show him. He's now a show champion, is working toward a therapy-dog certificate and competes in obedience and other dog sports. He has even herded sheep.
As strong dogs with guardian tendencies, Rottweilers need good, early training, socialization, activities and their people's companionship. "They aren't a breed for everyone," says Niles, of Scotch Plains, New Jersey. "But whatever you put into them, they give back to you a millionfold."
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
Several breeds in the top 10 have been there for a decade or more, but French bulldogs were ranked just 36th a decade ago. The quizzical, push-faced dogs had been out of the top 10 for nearly a century before making it back the past two years, while their larger bulldog cousins have hit their highest-ever ranking.
Some other breeds making sizeable moves in the past decade: Siberian huskies, up from 25th to 12th; great Danes, from 24th to 14th; and Australian shepherds, from 34th to 16th.
And keep an eye on the Belgian Malinois, which sprang from 90th to 47th as it became increasingly visible in the U.S. as a police dog.
Some rare breeds simply haven't had much time to build a following. Those such as the Cesky terrier and the sloughi earned AKC recognition only within the past 10 years. But last year's scarcest breed was the venerable American foxhound, part of the AKC's roster since 1886.
DiNardo encourages people to give rarer dogs a look. "Breeders are there, trying to preserve and protect those breeds," she notes.
A breed's popularity can reflect anything from ease of grooming to exposure from celebrity owners. Some familiar breeds that once held the top spot, such as collies and cocker spaniels, aren't in the top 10 today.
The only breed to rank in the top 10 every decade since the AKC's 1880s founding? The beagle.
The AKC doesn't release raw numbers, only rankings. But DiNardo says the total number of registered dogs grew 8 percent last year.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and some other animal-rights activists deplore the pursuit of purebreds, saying it fuels puppy mills and diverts people from adopting mixed-breed dogs. The AKC says conscientious breeding helps owners predict what dog will be right for them to make a lasting match.
Whether purebred or mixed-breed, "there's a right dog for everyone," DiNardo says.