NEW YORK — It's puppy love for the record books: The Labrador retriever was the nation's most popular dog breed last year for the 23rd year in a row, the American Kennel Club announced recently.
That's the longest any breed has been top dog since the organization's 1884 founding.
German shepherds, golden retrievers, beagles and bulldogs are holding steady in the top-five pack, with Yorkshire terriers, boxers, poodles, Rottweilers and dachshunds continuing to round out the leading 10, which mirrors last year. But the comical French bulldog is on their heels after a decade-long popularity spurt.
Surpassing the poodle's 22-year reign some decades ago, the Lab has proliferated as a congenial, highly trainable dog that was developed to fetch hunters' game but has taken other roles in stride.
"It does so many different things really well — it excels as a family companion, it's an awesome hunting dog, and it also has a great presence as a service and law enforcement search-and-rescue dog," AKC spokeswoman Lisa Peterson said.
The rankings reflect newly registered dogs, mostly puppies. The AKC doesn't release exact numbers but estimates its registry has included more than 40 million purebred dogs.
The top 10 remains a testament to the variety of purebreds, from the pert, portable Yorkie to the muscular, purposeful Rottweiler. But overall, the AKC has leaned toward larger dogs in the past decade.
Shih Tzus and chihuahuas have dropped out of the top 10, while Rottweilers and bulldogs have marched in. Such big breeds as the Doberman pinscher, the Bernese mountain dog and even the Great Dane have made double-digit gains on the popularity ladder.
But no breed has rocketed up the rankings quite like the French bulldog, now the nation's 11th most popular purebred, after its numbers more than quadrupled in the past 10 years. The Frenchie was 14th last year — and 58th in 2002.
With foreshortened faces, large pointed ears and an attitude that has been described as "a clown in the cloak of a philosopher," French bulldogs were in vogue in the United States around the turn of the 20th century. Their popularity waned until recent years, when they've gotten exposure in such venues as Martha Stewart's chic-domesticity empire, TV's Modern Family and a 2012 Skechers Super Bowl commercial.
Some people flock to Frenchies because they're compact and don't need a lot of exercise or elaborate coat care.