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Best Family Dog Breeds: Five Most Popular in the U.S.

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Explore the five most popular breeds for families in the U.S.

Explore the five most popular breeds for families in the U.S.

The best family dog breeds are common ones, and they're the most popular choices for a good reason. Do you know the five most popular dogs in the US?

  1. Labrador Retriever
  2. German Shepherd Dog
  3. Beagle
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Yorkshire Terrier

1. Labrador Retriever

This breed is the most common in the world and has been the most popular year after year for a lot of reasons. Even though they are big dogs at about 30-35 kilos (66-80 pounds), the majority of Labs are gentle around kids and older people.

Another reason Labs are so popular is that they are intelligent and easy to train! Over 90% of the dogs tested have a good temperament, and in the book The Intelligence of Dogs, they are listed as the seventh most intelligent breed of dog. That means they pick up new commands easily and are likely to remember them all.

Shedding is one drawback and a reason that Labradoodles are becoming more popular. They shed about twice a year, but the hairs are short and if they are groomed with a rake-type comb, it is not too bad.

Labrador retrievers also have some serious health problems. Some of them are prone to hip or elbow dysplasia, a trick knee (luxating patella), and arthritis when they become older. Some are prone to eye problems, ear infections because of their floppy ears, and a few lines have inherited muscle diseases.

The most serious health issue in Labradors, however, is obesity. They like to eat, and since most Labs do not exercise enough, they are usually overweight. Some dogs become so fat that they have to be put on a drug to control weight gain, but limiting calories and increasing exercise is enough for almost all dogs.

Labradors live about 11 years, but if they are kept slim, they usually live another two years. During that time, they might serve as a hunter, a tracker, a therapy dog, a guide dog, or maybe just a great family companion. They are versatile dogs.

A German Shepherd puppy.

A German Shepherd puppy.

2. German Shepherd Dog

This popular dog has not been around that long. Even as recently as 1919, there were only about 50 dogs registered as German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs) in the UK. By 1926, there were over 8000. Such a huge increase was not without problems, however, and the modern German Shepherd Dog has several.

Some of the German Shepherd Dogs being bred are no longer working dogs and do not show the intelligence that the breed was originally chosen for. GSDs that are selected just for the show ring, or not selected at all, are more likely to have hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, behavior problems, and problems with their ears and teeth. They can also have problems with bloat and develop arthritis later in life.

Good dogs are still athletic, and they are the third most intelligent breed in Dr. Coren's book The Intelligence of Dogs. They learn new commands easily and repeat them almost every time, so they are popular with the police, army, and as search and rescue dogs.

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Almost all guide dogs for the blind used to be GSDs. Labs and Goldens are a lot more popular at this task now but GSDs are still popular since they are a “one-man” dog. (They are usually very loyal to only one person, but many have a reputation for aggression and make some people nervous. Golden Retrievers and Labs rarely do.)

German Shepherd Dogs usually live to about 10 or 11 years of age. Their ability to serve as a guard dog, a personal protection dog, a police or army dog, or a search and rescue dog keeps them in demand. Their role as a great companion makes them a great pet, and one of the most common dog breeds.

Are Beagles popular because they are so cute?

Are Beagles popular because they are so cute?

3. Beagle

This popular dog is really different than the rest of the common breeds. He is a scent hound, developed to hunt with his sense of smell, medium-sized (from 8 to 16 kilos, or 18 to 35 pounds), usually tricolor, and although they do not bark much, they are incredibly vocal!

This breed has probably been around a long time; the Beagle has been common since long before the development of the other popular dogs. Their ancestors were around since the 11th century and they were already known in the time of Queen Elizabeth.

In the US, they have been popular since the late 1800s and in the 1950s were ranked number one on the AKC´s breed list. That position has been taken by the Labrador retriever for many years, but Beagles have never lost their popularity. They have been popular because of their gentleness, their affection for kids, and even their love for cats!

Although they were bred for beagling (hunting with their noses), they are also used as scent dogs to find drugs at airports, dogs to find plants at border crossings, search and rescue dogs, and, since they are usually healthy, they are used in a lot of labs.

They are free from most health problems seen in other popular dog breeds. Few have hip dysplasia, and the main reason they are taken to the vet is recurrent ear infections in their floppy ears. Some of them will have eye problems, and a few dogs will develop more unusual problems like epilepsy, but their most common problems are injuries when out hunting, or obesity when sitting around. Beagles love to eat!

They usually live around 12 or 13 years. Among the common dogs, the Beagle is rated lowest in intelligence according to The Intelligence of Dogs.

Beagle fanciers point out that this is because the dogs are single-minded and are really only interested in the scents in the world around them. If dogs were trained by scent, Beagles would be number one!

4. Golden Retriever

Goldens are popular because they are great family dogs and like kids. They were bred to be gun dogs that would retrieve birds without damaging them, but their personalities are so good that they have become one of the most common dogs in the US and the rest of the world.

Besides doing so well with kids, Goldens also like cats, get along with horses, and since they are rated as the fourth most intelligent dog breed, they are easy to train and perform well in obedience trials at dog shows.

Golden retrievers are also used in search and rescue, as guide dogs, hearing dogs, and of course when they are family dogs. They perform in hunting, agility, and sports like flyball and dock jumping.

Golden retrievers are great dogs but they do have some serious health problems. A lot of big dogs suffer from hip dysplasia and it is common in Goldens. Some of these dogs also become obese as they get older and develop arthritis secondary to their joint problems.

Some of them also are prone to eye diseases, like cataracts and glaucoma, lick granulomas, heart diseases, and allergies.

Anyone who has been around Goldens will also be concerned about cancer. Over half of the dogs end up dying from osteosarcoma (bone cancer), mast cell tumors, hemangiosarcomas, and lymphosarcoma.

Despite the health issues, Golden retrievers usually live to be about 11. They are not guard dogs, not personal protection dogs, but despite this, the families that find a Golden are almost always satisfied with this great dog.

A Yorkie puppy.

A Yorkie puppy.

5. Yorkshire Terrier

The Yorkshire Terrier is the smallest of the common dog breeds and popular for a lot of reasons. He does not shed much, a big advantage when you have any dog in a small apartment. He is tiny (usually less than 3 kilos or about 7 pounds), lives a long time, and is feisty and intelligent.

Stanley Coren ranks him only 27th on his list of intelligence, a lot lower than some of the other common breeds. Anyone who has ever owned or trained a Yorkie will disagree with this rating.

Yorkies do bark a lot, great if you want a watchdog, not so good if you have neighbors. Their fine coats are said to be hypoallergenic. Although actual hypoallergenic breeds do not exist, they do not have much saliva on the hair and can be put up with by a lot of allergic people.

Yorkshire Terriers do have a lot of health problems but since they are so popular, most veterinarians are familiar with them. The biggest problem is their small size, little mouth, and crowded teeth. The teeth need to be brushed daily to prevent the onset of periodontal disease, and even then may need professional cleaning early in life.

Yorkies also have some joint problems, like trick knees (luxating patellas) and Legg-Calves-Perthes disease (poor circulation to the head of the femur), eye problems (like cataracts, eyelash diseases, and retinal dysplasia), weakness and collapse of the trachea, a liver disease called portosystemic shunt, and several other problems.

Some of them are so tiny that they develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and they can have seizures because of a lack of sugar in the brain. It can be so bad that Yorkies can die from it, so every Yorkie owner needs to learn to identify and treat this disease.

Despite all these problems, healthy Yorkies live a long time and their life expectancy is well over 15 years, often over 17. Train your Yorkie, take him for a walk every day, and enjoy his long life!

The English Bulldog almost made this list due to its worldwide popularity.

The English Bulldog almost made this list due to its worldwide popularity.

The Dog That Almost Made the List: English Bulldog

In many parts of the world, the English Bulldog is one of the most popular dogs.

Find These Breeds at a Shelter or Rescue

Common dogs are also found a lot at animal shelters. Over 24,000 Labs are available for adoption in the US and several thousand of them die each week because they do not find homes.

Fewer Yorkies are available since they only whelp two or three puppies but any breed can be found. Evaluate the dog to make sure he will fit in with your family and home, and if you can take the dog to your regular vet for an examination before you finish the adoption process.

If you want one of these five breeds please check with your local humane society and on before you contact a breeder. The common dog breeds are out there, just keep looking!

More About Great Dogs . . .

© 2013 Dr Mark


Pat Cary on January 29, 2015:

What about Standard Poodles? Yes, you have to clip them, but as a family fun dog, they are smart, loyal, super easy to train, kind, and love to do whatever you want to do. They don't shed! They are the best dogs EVER.

I hope the doodle crosses don't ruin them.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 09, 2014:

You are fortunate, Alphadogg. Before you get another dog, read my hub on Shiloh Shepherds, or you can find other great web sites about them. They are GSDs but are now considered a separate breed as the breeders are all focusing on health issues while keeping the great personality aspects of the GSD. I do not know if there are any breeders down in your area but you might even want to travel to find one.

Kevin W from Texas on February 09, 2014:

Great hub DrMark, I have 2 German Shepards, my 2nd generation of them however I was unaware of the common health problems that they could potentially have, as my first generation of Shepards didn't suffer from any of these issues. Voted up on your hub.

Dr. John Anderson from Australia on Planet Water on February 09, 2014:

I suggest a Jack Russell / Maltese Terrier cross - fabulous but too smart perhaps!

Jessica Peri from United States on February 09, 2014:

As my aunt's German Shepherd got older she had trouble walking. My grandparents started taking care of her, as they were home all day and the dog enjoyed the company of my grandparents' Dalmatian. She was a good dog, it's so sad that they end up with hip and joint problems.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 09, 2014:

Thanks! That German Shepherd with the floppy ear makes me smile every time I see her.

JR Krishna from India on February 09, 2014:

Those pictures are so cute!!!

Shared them in pinterest

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 27, 2013:

Only demanding when she needs to be, right? Sounds fun. Labs are great but if you had purchased one 11 years ago it would be the end of his life, and with a Shih Tzu you might still have 4 or more years in front of you.

Thanks for sharing this!

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on March 27, 2013:

Hi there Dr. Mark. A great look at these beautiful breeds. Years ago when we broke down and got a dog I wanted a Lab but my wife and kids opted for a Shih Tzu. She's 11 now and been a great companion although she is a little stubborn and demanding, especially when she wants to eat. They really do give unconditional love and she is certainly a member of the family. Great job. Voted up, shared, etc.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 27, 2013:

How old is Zowie? Recent research shows that spaying makes females more aggressive if done early.

Pamela-anne from Miller Lake on March 27, 2013:

Well researched hub great info on a variety of breeds we have a black shepherd (Zowie); she gets aggressive around other dogs at dog park. I am hoping if we get her fixed she will become less aggressive. Thanks for the info take care.

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