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What Was the Most Popular Dog Breed the Year You Were Born?
By: Brianna Gunter
Dogs are easily one of the most popular pets of all time in North America, with nearly 8 million pet dogs in Canada and a staggering 90 million pet dogs in the U.S. as of 2021. But which kind of dog people prefer is a different story. Different dog breed trends have come and gone over the years, and all kinds of pups have reigned in popularity over the years.
The most popular dog breeds by decade
We looked through over 100 years of data from the American Kennel Club (established in 1884) to uncover which dog breeds have been the most popular over the years. Scroll through the decades and discover what the most popular dog breed was the year you were born!
1910-1919: Boston terrier
A true New World creation, the Boston terrier originated in mid-1800s Boston as a cross between a white English terrier and an English bulldog. When it was admitted into the American Kennel Club in 1893, it was actually the first U.S. breed to gain such recognition. Though more American breeds have since come into prominence, the Boston terrier remains the only one to date that has reached the No. 1 position of most popular dogs in the country.
Placing second in prevalence was the Airedale terrier, also known as the Waterside terrier or Bingley terrier. Originating in England and the largest of all terrier breeds, the 1910s marked the highest the Airedale would rank to date in terms of popularity.
1920 – 1929: Boston terrier and German shepherd
At the onset of the “roaring twenties,” the Boston terrier still sat at first place for the most popular dog in North America. But the dog lost the lead to the German shepherd in 1925, thanks to widespread popularity of a certain Hollywood canine.
Rin Tin Tin was a male German shepherd rescued from a WWI battlefield by an American soldier, who then trained him on a wide range of stunts and commands. Rin Tin Tin went on to star in 27 films between 1922 and 1931, cementing the German shepherd’s popularity across North America as a capable, athletic canine.
1930 – 1939: Boston terrier
The end of Rin Tin Tin’s career resulted in German shepherds slipping down a few slots by the early 1930s, allowing the Boston terrier to regain its place as America’s most popular dog. As the Great Depression ravished the decade, it comes as no surprise that the other most popular dogs of the era were all on the smaller, more economic side: cocker spaniels, beagles, fox terriers, Scottish terriers, and Pekingese.
1940 – 1949: Cocker spaniel
After sitting in second place throughout the 1930s, the cocker spaniel rose to first-place popularity in the 1940s. Known for its long, flowing ears and even, cheerful temperament, the cocker spaniel dates back to the “water spaniels” and “land spaniels” of 14th Century Europe.
The term “cocker spaniel” actually refers to two similar yet distinct breeds: the English cocker spaniel and the American cocker spaniel. Though both have the trademark flowing ears and fur, the English version was bred primarily for hunting and is taller in build with a more pronounced snout, while the American cocker spaniel was bred for companionship and is shorter.
1950 – 1959: Beagle
The cocker spaniel remained prevalent throughout the 1950s, but as the second-most popular dog. Thanks to the October 1950 debut of Charles Schulz’ comic strip dog named Snoopy, the beagle skyrocketed to the top of mainstream popularity. To date, “Snoopy” remains one of the most popular names for beagles.
While the comic strip Snoopy is black and white, the majority of beagles are black, white, and reddish brown. Initially bred as hunting dogs in early 1800s Britain, contemporary beagles make energetic and loyal pets for families and individuals alike.
1960 – 1969: Poodle
Fashion and art got more vibrant in the 1960s, and this coincided in bigger dog breeds coming back to the forefront of North American pets. While the German shepherd climbed the ranks again to the No. 2 spot, it was the poodle that sat as the most popular dog breed of the decade.
There is some debate as to whether the dog was first bred in Germany or France, but in both cases the poodle was developed as a water dog to retrieve game and hunting equipment. By the 1960s, however, the dog achieved other practical purposes. With a hypoallergenic coat that doesn’t shed and can be sculpted into tufts, the poodle proved to be both fashion-friendly and a viable option for people with allergies.
1970 – 1979: Poodle
For the first time in the 20th Century, there was no change in the top popular dog breed. Prevalent in standard, miniature, and toy sizes, the poodle continued to reign supreme throughout the 1970s. The dog was again followed by the German shepherd in second place, but some change came in 1978 when the German shepherd was surpassed by another intelligent breed, the Doberman pinscher.
1980 – 1989: Cocker spaniel
The 1980s were a decade of big hair, tech advancements, and the return of the cocker spaniel as North America’s favorite dog. The lovable canine would stay comfortably in the lead spot until the early 1990s, and it’s remained in the top 30 most popular dogs ever since.
1990 – 1999: Cocker spaniel and Labrador retriever
At the onset of the ‘90s, the cocker spaniel seemed poised to stay North America’s No. 1 dog. But by 1992, the canine was edged out by the Labrador retriever. A British breed, the canine was first bred from fishing dogs that were imported to Britain from Newfoundland in the early 1800s. Typically monochromatic, labs come in black, chocolate (warm brown), or yellow colorings.
2000 – present: Labrador retriever
Impressively, the Labrador retriever held its lead as the most popular dog breed throughout the 2000s and 2010s. As of the end of 2021, it remains the most prevalent breed in North America. Seeing as labs are friendly, outgoing canines who thrive as family dogs and as companions to active individuals, it’s not hard to see why.
Other dogs that have thrived as popular pets throughout the past two decades include golden retrievers, German shepherds, beagles, bulldogs, and Yorkshire terriers.
What dog will rule the 2020s?
So far, the Labrador retriever is holding strong as the most popular dog of the 2020s. But it’s still early in the decade, and there’s no telling where trends will head. From loyal golden retrievers to wriggly pugs and everything in between, there’s a type of dog breed for every personality and lifestyle. Whether or not your pal made the list of most popular dogs over time, all that really matters is that he’s your happy and healthy companion.
Interested in learning more about different types of dogs? Check out the Trupanion breed guide.
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