The AKC dog registration statistics for 2012 represent 175 breeds and varieties of purebred dogs, ranked in order of popularity from most registered (Labrador Retriever) to least (English Foxhound). Although the nation’s oldest purebred dog registry no longer publishes figures for the total number of dogs and litters registered, its latest list still makes it clear that some breeds are more popular than others.

Popularity influences many of the decisions we make in our lives, from the type of dog we welcome into our homes to where we sat in the school cafeteria. Trends among American consumers are reflected in the choices we make, and when it comes to selecting a purebred dog, our lifestyle greatly determines whether a breed moves up or down the popularity chart. Size, temperament, exercise needs and grooming requirements are all factors that impact a breed’s popularity.

AKC’s 2012 list includes 10 breeds positioned at the top of the charts. Even though it’s no longer possible to obtain figures for the number of dogs represented by these breeds, it is likely that their popularity constitutes a large percentage of the total number of registrations.

The breeds most often registered with the AKC last year were, in order of popularity: the Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, Beagle, Bulldog, Yorkshire Terrier, Boxer, Poodle, Rottweiler and the Dachshund. Looking at these breeds from a puppy buyer’s point of view, their popular appeal might fall within three distinct categories based on lifestyle choices: babies, buddies and bodyguards. Every breed, exclusive of those dogs used solely for work, fits loosely into one or more of these categories.

Let’s examine this idea further by taking a look at the 10 breeds most often registered with the American Kennel Club, and see if they might enjoy their popularity thanks to their baby appeal, budding charm, or capacity to act as bodyguard.

Many people purchase – or rescue – a puppy as a precursor to parenthood. Photo by Stephanie Swartz/Dreamstime.

Many people purchase – or rescue – a puppy as a precursor to parenthood. Photo by Stephanie Swartz/Dreamstime.

We’re Having a Baby!
It’s no secret that for many couples, the first attempt at having a child is often the “adoption” of a dog. I understood that our cultural relationship with dogs had changed when I received a puppy birth announcement for the first time. The notecard indicated that the couple had just added a wee one to their household, and friends and family were invited to celebrate at a party complete with cake, coffee and Beggin’ Strips!

For many people, it is no longer enough to consider a dog as a family member. “Pet parents,” as marketers and merchandisers refer to dog owners, often view the new puppy as a child. Today’s dog is just as likely to be viewed as a baby, with all the trappings of infancy including baby sitters, strollers and homecoming parties.

When it comes to treating a dog like a baby, some breeds are better suited than others. Toy breeds, for example, have been bred for generations – in some cases for millennia – to be pampered for the entirety of their lives. In fact, virtually every type of dog, from Spaniel to sighthound, has been miniaturized for the express purpose of being spoiled rotten.

Among the top 10 registered breeds, the Yorkshire Terrier and Toy Poodle easily satisfy the needs of the modern family that wants a dog to baby. The Miniature Poodle might also be a good choice, as would the Miniature Dachshund, but these varieties might behave more like a 3-year-old child than a toddler that’s easily pacified.

Of course, even the largest of dogs can still be treated like a baby, albeit with bigger toys and a larger playpen.

A dog can be a great companion no matter your lifestyle. Photo by Tina Rencolj/Dreamstime.

A dog can be a great companion no matter your lifestyle. Photo by Tina Rencolj/Dreamstime.

My Bosom Buddy
If some Americans view their dogs as babies, an even greater number likely view their dogs as a kind of friend – a best friend, in fact. The dog’s reputation as a good listener who doesn’t pass judgment is not lost on anyone, from outdoorsy types to bookish introverts.

For people aged nine to 90, a dog can be the perfect yin to their yang. Having a dog to pal around with is akin to starring in your own buddy picture, a kind of Butch and Sundance or Thelma and Louise who get into trouble only to grow closer together. In fact, it’s not at all unusual for someone to announce without a trace of irony that their dog is their soul mate.

Few moments in life are as reassuring as when a boy (or girl) and a dog grow up together. Those memories last a lifetime, and a better metaphor for unconditional love cannot be found than the devotion shared between a man or woman and his or her dog. The dog’s loyalty is so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness as Americans that for many of us the thought of going through life without a dog to call our own is unthinkable.

When President Clinton added a dog to his White House in 1997, he chose the breed that has dominated the popularity chart for more than two decades: the Labrador Retriever. The chocolate-colored canine named, appropriately enough, Buddy, burst onto the national scene with the unerring friendliness for which his breed is so highly regarded.

Although the Labrador has been the most popular companion dog for so many years, it is not the only choice for those in search of a trusted partner. The Golden Retriever, Beagle and Standard Poodle can certainly fill the role of confidante and companion, and even the dour-faced Bulldog is a fun-loving and faithful friend.

When it comes to casting the next buddy picture, AKCs Top 10 list provides a kennel full of qualified candidates.

The instinct to protect person and property has allowed countless dogs to find loving and permanent homes. Photo by Wollertz/Dreamstime. //Link “Dreamstime” to: To Protect and Serve/strong>

The instinct to protect person and property has allowed countless dogs to find loving and permanent homes. Photo by Wollertz/Dreamstime.

To Protect and Serve

Cultural anthropologists have posited that the human-canine bond began around a campfire. Dogs were lured by the possibility of a free meal, they theorize, whereas the cooks took advantage of the dogs’ pack behavior by enlisting their service as both hunter and guardian.

No matter its size or shape, the dog has always been nature’s most dependable alarm system. Watchfulness is an inherent quality in the dog that’s highly valued wherever people and dogs have coexisted. The dog’s capacity for alerting to potential dangers and providing protection when needed is as valued today as at any time throughout our symbiotic relationship.

Virtually any dog can serve as a watchdog, if only to watch intruders walk out the front door with the family jewels. Truthfully, most dogs seem to instinctively understand that part of the deal they’ve struck with us requires that they regularly stand guard both day and night. In exchange for their service, they receive regular meals, free medical care, a warm bed – and the occasional birthday party.

Of course, some breeds are better equipped to protect and serve than others. Among the most popular breeds, the German Shepherd Dog remains the breed of choice for many dog lovers in search of an intelligent and trustworthy bodyguard. The Boxer has both the name and the face for intimidation, even if it’s a tough guy with heart, and few breeds can lay claim to a demeanor as calm, confident and courageous as can the Rottweiler.

Since the dog has morphed into such a wide and wonderful array of unique breeds, a breed exists today that is capable of fitting into virtually any lifestyle. Breed popularity, however, is not the best barometer for making a selection for adding a baby, a buddy or a bodyguard to the family. For every breed at the top of the charts, a dozen or more less popular breeds can fit the bill with equal or greater success.

The selection of a dog is often influenced by what is popular, and is dependent on trends that reflect who we are – or who we would like others to think we are.

So does your choice of breed tell the world you’re a parent, a friend or someone in need of a bodyguard? Maybe you’re all three?