20 Most Popular Dog Breeds in America

“Every day they amaze me with what they can do. And I try not to underestimate what they can do. I try to set my expectations and the bar very, very high. But even though I do that, they still seem to find a way to surprise me — and in a positive way,” Thomas, 52, told TODAY.

But he’s not at all surprised that Labs have been America’s top dog for over three decades.

“There is a reason for that,” he said. “They are the best dog.”

No. 2French Bulldog

French bulldogFrench bulldogCourtesy National Dog Show
Fans of the canine character Stella on “Modern Family” won’t be surprised that French bulldogs, aka Frenchies, are so popular. In fact, there’s something inherently comedic about their looks — like their distinctive “bat ears” — and personality.

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“They’ve got kind of an old face almost, with a few wrinkles in it, but they also look like they’re young and energetic. They have a pretty unique expression,” Frei said. “They can be real clowns.”He said the world’s first French bulldog specialty show took place in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria in 1898. A champion Frenchie named Gamin de Pycombe perished on board the Titanic, which sank a week before the 1912 show.He noted that in 2021, French bulldogs were the most popular purebred dog in New York City, according to the AKC, which makes sense since their temperament, size and energy level is well-suited for apartment living.“You don’t need to go for a run with a Frenchie — you go for a walk,” he quipped. “People love the look. They’re very entertaining and fun to be around, and I think that’s what’s giving them a place on this list.”

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No. 3 — Golden Retriever
Golden retrieverGolden retrieverCourtesy of National Dog Show
Like the Labrador retriever, a golden retriever has never won best in show at prestigious American dog shows like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show or the National Dog Show — much to the consternation of fans of the beloved family dog.

Frei said one of the qualities that make Labs and goldens so popular — an eagerness to please their people — might be the same trait that keeps them from winning in conformation competitions.

“Sporting dogs like the golden and the Lab, they want to be in your world. They want to do whatever you’re telling them to do,” he said. “And some of these other dogs, like the terriers, they don’t care about their handlers — I say that half-jokingly. They were bred to look for trouble, so they're on their toes looking around saying, ‘What can I do now?’ And the Labs and goldens, they just say, ‘OK, what are we going to do now?’ looking at their people instead of looking at what’s going on around them.”

No, it’s not just to make themselves look adorable. Dogs curl up in a ball when they sleep due to an age-old instinct to keep themselves warm and protect their abdomen and vital organs from predators.

It’s more important that with their golden fur, intelligence and friendly dispositions, golden retrievers have won the hearts of people around the world — including animal lover extraordinaire Betty White , who adored her golden retriever, Pontiac.No. 4 — German Shepherd
German shepherdGerman shepherdCourtesy Beverly Hills Dog Show
German shepherds gained celebrity status in the early 1900s with film stars Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin. Both dogs have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They’re also consistently in the top 10 most popular dogs thanks to their intellect, athleticism and versatility, according to Frei.

“They really are the total dog,” he said. “They can do everything. They’re a companion animal. They do police work. They’re service dogs. They’re guide dogs. Their temperament and character lets them do just about anything that you would ask them to do. They’re a confident dog.”

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The regal dogs are also successful as show dogs. In fact, the champion German shepherd Manhattan, who won Westminster in 1987, is one of Frei’s favorite show dogs of any breed.

No. 5 — Poodle

Standard poodleStandard poodleCourtesy National Dog Show

Poodles — including toy, miniature and standard — round out the top five breeds for 2021. It’s a comeback for the breed that held the top spot from 1960 to 1982 but then went out of fashion for a spell.

“People just have a misconception about poodles because of the haircut,” Frei lamented. “If I were the PR guy for poodles, I would say, 'Let’s let them be shown in a sporting cut.'”

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If I were the PR guy for poodles, I would say, 'Let’s let them be shown in a sporting cut.'

David Frei

He knows how much work goes into the fastidious grooming and doesn’t want to disparage those efforts. Still, poodles were bred to be water retrieving dogs and the full coat protected their internal organs from the cold, he noted.

“They’re great athletic dogs — I’d have a poodle in a minute,” he said. “They’re amongst the smartest breeds you could have, and they’ve got a size for everybody and a color for everyone. It’s a fun breed.”

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No. 6 — Bulldog

BulldogBulldogCourtesy National Dog Show

Bulldogs are popular pets as well as school mascots — a bulldog is a mascot for more than 40 colleges and universities in America, according to Frei.

“I always figure they’re the cartoonist’s dream because of that expression — it’s that kind of sour expression but they’re the furthest thing from being sour,” he said. “They’re great, fun family dogs.”

No. 7 — Beagle

BeagleBeagleCourtesy National Dog Show
For starters, the classic “Peanuts” character Snoopy is a beagle. How can America not love this breed?

Here’s looking at you. Dogs have three eyelids, an upper lid, a lower lid and the third lid, called a nictitating membrane or “haw,” which helps keep the eye moist and protected.

Beagles love people but are also independent since they’ll follow their powerful noses anywhere — one reason they excel at sniffing out contraband at customs checkpoints or bedbugs in hotels.

When a beagle named Uno won Westminster in 2008, mayhem ensued. The champion lived with Frei for half the year and the country’s love of the charismatic breed was on full display. Uno drew a crowd wherever they went, whether throwing out the first pitch at MLB baseball games (well, fetching a ball thrown by Frei) or riding on a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float with — you guessed it! — Snoopy.

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“He loved the attention and he loved doing things. He became a therapy dog with me and we went to five different Ronald McDonald houses around the country,” Frei recalled. “They’re a great all-American dog, you know?”

No. 8 — Rottweiler

RottweilerRottweilerCourtesy National Dog Show

Frei likes to call rottweilers “the middle linebacker of dogs” and said he loves the breed. But, as with any dog, it’s important to know what their temperament is like and what their training needs are before welcoming one home, he noted.

“You’d better be smarter than your rottweiler if you’re going to get a rottweiler,” Frei said. “You have to be firm with them — let them know you’re in charge and that you love them and that you’re going to take good care of them. … They love to work. They need to work.”

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