America’s Most Popular Breeds–Are They Right For You?

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

The American Kennel Club released its annual ranking of America's most popular dog breeds. Incredibly, the country's most popular breed hasn't changed in the last 23 years. If you're thinking about getting a new dog, check out my thoughts on America's 5 most popular breeds, and see if they might be right for your family.

Most importantly, consider adoption! Many shelters and private rescue groups are filled with beautiful purebred dogs. And if having a purebred isn't important to you, mixed breeds make absolutely wonderful companions.

#1: Labrador Retriever

Did you guess it? For the 23rd year in a row, Labrador Retrievers hit the top spot on the list. Labs are known for being goofy and fun family dogs, which may be why they continue to top the list.

  • Most well-socialized labs can make great family pets, but it's important to note that there are always exceptions to every breed's standard temperament.
  • Labs need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to prevent boredom and nuisance behaviors like chewing, digging, and barking.
  • A lab is not a good idea if you work a full 8-hour day. Labs thrive on having a "job" to do and suffer when they don't get the outlets they need.
  • Always do your homework before bringing home a new dog.  Shelters are overflowing with labs and lab mixes so please consider adoption!

#2: German Shepherd

The second dog on the list is the German Shepherd. Intelligent, athletic, and fiercely bonded to its owner, the German Shepherd can make a wonderful, loyal companion. But if placed in an ill-suited home, the results can be disastrous. Before you decide to bring home a Shepherd, make sure you're ready for the responsibility of owning a high-drive breed.

  • German Shepherds need extensive exercise and mental stimulation to be well-balanced and happy. A unstimulated Shepherd can develop troublesome behaviors. 
  • Shepherds can be protective of their family and home. It's extremely important to socialize them well as puppies to prevent any aggressive or fearful behavior from developing in adulthood.
  • Know that you're bringing home a high-drive working dog. Be prepared to give your dog the mental and physical stimulation he needs. This is not a dog for a couch potato!

#3: Golden Retriever

Rounding up the top 3 most popular dogs is the Golden Retriever. Known for its happy-go-lucky temperament and gentle nature, it's no wonder they continue to be a popular breed in America. Although they are known for being excellent family dogs, socialization and training are still extremely important.

  • Keep in mind, Golden Retrievers shed--a LOT! Be prepared for a little extra vacuuming.
  • Although they are known for being great with kids, you should still never leave any dog and young child together unattended, even for a moment.
  • As with any breed, Goldens will need consistent positive reinforcement training in order to live happily in your home.
  • Young Goldens especially need plenty of exercise, toys, and games to keep them from becoming bored and destructive.
  • Golden Retrievers are prone to several anxiety-based behaviors including separation anxiety and thunderstorm phobia, so be prepared to work with your dog to prevent or improve these potential issues.
  • Make sure to find a responsible breeder or rescue group. Goldens can be susceptible to several types of chronic health problems and cancers, especially if they come from poor breeding.

#4: Beagle

Fourth on the list is the Beagle. Originally used to track small animals during a hunt, they are now popular family dogs. These adorable hounds can be cute, cuddly companions if placed in the right environment.

  • Beagles are known to be gentle with both children and other dogs, although they may not always be suitable for a home with cats or other small animals.  Again every dog is different within a breed type so what applies to one might not apply to another.
  • A Beagle lives by his nose! They need to be on-leash or have a very reliable recall if unleashed and need to be contained in a fenced area at all times (no electric fences), or they may wander off to follow a scent.
  • Beagles may not make a great dog for you if you live in an apartment, especially if they are left alone for long hours. Your neighbors may not appreciate the howling and barking that might ensue.

#5: Bulldog

Bulldogs round out the top 5 list of America's most popular breeds and are a personal favorite of mine.  Although the breed has been popularized throughout the country, you may want to think twice before making the decision to bring one home.

  • Bulldogs are a brachycephalic breed, meaning they have a compressed, shortened skull and a "smushed nose" appearance. This can result in breathing problems as well as other extensive medical issues leading to high costs for veterinary care and potential need for surgery. 
  • Although many Bulldogs are perfectly content without too much exercise, it's still important they receive exercise in short increments and plenty of mental stimulation.
  • If you live in an extremely hot climate, it may be difficult for a Bulldog to acclimate to the hot temperatures. They should never live outdoors.
  • It's important that Bulldogs receive training and socialization from a young age to deter undesired behaviors in adulthood.



  1. Linda

    February 3rd, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Thanks Victoria I am so glad you are educating others.

  2. Kathe Mauldin

    February 3rd, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I would like to see Mutts up there too. Finding a mixture of your top favorites is always a possibility at a shelter. Second-hand mutts are the best!

  3. Leanne Marshall

    February 3rd, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    I like in the uk and have a 2 year old beagle. He is very mischievous but he is a brilliant dog! I would not recommend this breed if you are out all a
    Day as they then to dislike being on their own- I'm lucky I take my pooch to work, he does get a bit bored but it's better than being left alone! I have to say he is really really good off the lead BUT it took a lot of hard training and patience - oh and a whistle for when he does shoot off after squirrels!! :-)

    Wouldn't change his for the world even if he has chewed through 7 sky remote controles!!!

  4. Leandro

    February 3rd, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Hi Victoria,

    I work 8h a day, but I really want to have a dog. I understand no dog likes being alone for so long, but which breed would be more suitable for apartment living and staying many hours on his own? I would exercise the dog a lot at evening hours.

    Please let me know!

  5. Vivi

    February 3rd, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    I get our English mastiffs from very reputable breeders i would not rescue one- again -we did at one point in our lives not 4 years ago he started having seizures and basically lost his mind. Not even two. People buy dogs and I hate the new breeds out there--in the making---Labradoodles etc-- and then when people think I want a lab they got to a pet store most likely. I would like a English Bull BUT only from the breeder I know whose dogs are basically very healthy. We have 2 Engllish right now male and female---both fixed--very well behaved. And from Fantastic breeders. That makes a big difference.

  6. Susan Hammond

    February 3rd, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    I would add to the German Shepherd that they are not cuddly dogs. I love my guy, now 17, but he has a hard time relaxing and not patrolling the boundries of our house and yard. I know Rottweiler was on the top 10 and mine is a one person lap dog. He likes all people as long as I am not out of sight. Our American Bulldog mix loves everyone and everything and is a cuddlebug.

  7. Gretchen Shotwell

    February 3rd, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    Love your comments. I am the proud companion of a German shepherd and a German shepherd mix. Yes, LOTS of work, exercise (I think I lost at least five lbs the first year after I adopted my boy!), and mental stimulation. I caution folks who think they're such "cool" dogs. Be prepared to put in the time! And the resulting companionship and joy is worth it!

  8. Alyssa

    February 3rd, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    I don't understand the choice with Labs and Goldens. There's no sense of personal space. Much prefer a Husky or Malamute.

  9. Anna Mikheleva

    February 3rd, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Last year I decided to foster a German Shepherd, he's became my best friend from the very first day.
    Thank you Victoria for the beat description of a GSD. My boy is the most loyal creature in the world. He is also the most favorite guy in the office ))))

  10. erin

    February 3rd, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    Hi Victoria, myself and I bet lots of your fans would love to see your top 5 or so breeds suitable as house dogs for your average modern busy households (knowing of course ALL dogs require daily attention, training, and exercise to thrive).

  11. Leandro

    February 4th, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Why my comment has been deleted? :(

  12. Leandro

    February 5th, 2014 at 8:30 am

    I completely agree to Erin!

  13. Herm

    February 7th, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Agreed with Erin. A list of dogs who won't suffer so much from a parent with a full-time day job would be really handy. As much as I'd love to work from home with a dog on my lap, it simply isn't possible...

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