Labrador retrievers ousted as top US dog breed after record 31 years | Dogs

For the first time in three decades, the US has a new favorite dog breed, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Adorable in some eyes, deplorable in others, the sturdy, push-faced, perky-eared, world-weary-looking and distinctively droll French bulldog became the nation’s most prevalent purebred dog last year, the club announced on Wednesday. Frenchies ousted labrador retrievers from the top spot after a record 31 years.

“They’re comical, friendly, loving little dogs,” says the French Bull Dog Club of America spokesperson, Patty Sosa. City-friendly, with modest grooming and exercise needs, she added, “they offer a lot in a small package.”

Yet the Frenchie’s dizzying rise – it wasn’t even a top-75 breed a quarter-century ago – worries its fans, to say nothing of its critics.

The little dogs have been targeted in thefts, including last month’s fatal shooting of a 76-year-old South Carolina breeder and the 2021 shooting of a California dog walker who was exercising singer Lady Gaga’s pets.

There is concern that demand, plus the premium that some buyers will pay for unusual coat colors and textures, is engendering quick-buck breeders and unhealthy dogs. The breed’s popularity is sharpening debate over whether there is anything healthy about propagating dogs prone to breathing, spinal, eye and skin conditions.

The British Veterinary Association has urged people not to buy flat-faced breeds, such as Frenchies. The Netherlands has prohibited breeding very short-snouted dogs, and the country’s agriculture minister aims to outlaw even owning them.

“French bulldogs can be a polarizing topic,” says Carrie Stefaniak, a Glendale, Wisconsin-based veterinarian who is on the Frenchie club’s health committee.

She has treated French bulldogs with breathing difficulties, and she stresses that would-be owners need to research breeders and health testing and to recognize that problems can be expensive to treat.

However, she owns two and has conditioned them for agility courses and hilly hikes.

“These dogs can be very fit, can be very active,” Stefaniak said. “They don’t have to be sedentary dogs that can’t breathe.”

The AKC’s popularity rankings cover about 200 breeds in the nation’s oldest canine registry. The rankings do not count mixed breeds or popular designer hybrids such as labradoodles, puggles and morkies.

The AKC’s top 10 were: French bulldogs, labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, poodles, bulldogs, rottweilers, beagles, dachshunds and German shorthaired pointers.

French bulldogs became chic among American elites around the turn of the 20th century, then faded from favor.

That changed, rapidly, in this century. Social media and celebrity owners, ranging from Leonardo DiCaprio to Megan Thee Stallion to the US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, boosted their popularity. Breeder and a veterinarian Lori Hunt sees Frenchies as ideal companions but their popularity as “a curse, not a blessing”.

“They’re being very exploited” by unscrupulous breeders, she said.

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