The UK's top two gundogs are on the up, while the English springer could be slipping in the rankings, says David Tomlinson
There was a great surge in dog ownership last year, but this didn’t benefit the Kennel Club registrations as much as you might expect. It seems that many of the puppies that found homes in 2020 were cross-breeds, such as cockapoos and labradoodles. As a result, there were not nearly as many registration fees paid into the KC’s coffers as you might expect. However, overall, the Club did have a good year. Labrador registrations went from 35,347 in 2019 to 39,905 last year, ensuring that the breed retained its slot as our most popular breed of registered dog. It was a narrow victory over the French bulldog, which notched up an impressive 39,266 registrations.
Kennel Club registrations by group
The seven groups are: utility, gundog, terrier, hound, working, toy and pastoral. Of the groups, the most stable in terms of annual Kennel Club registrations is gundogs.
In 2011, 95,969 gundog puppies were registered and last year the figure was 95,652. In contrast, over the same 10-year period, toy registrations have plummeted from 30,494 to 18,085, a decline echoed by terriers (28,764 to 18,259).
Surprisingly, perhaps, hounds have risen from 15,057 to 23,015, an increase largely explained by the growing popularity of the smooth-coated miniature dachshund, with some 10,369 registered last year compared with 2,857 in 2011. The pastorals have slumped from 17,879 to 13,109. The working group has shown a marked decline, too, down from 20,714 a decade ago to 12,752 last year. The KC recognises 38 breeds of gundog, including a couple so rare they are of little significance. Two American water spaniels have been registered in the past 10 years and only nine small Munsterlanders.
Labradors remain the dominant breed, but the popularity of cockers continues to increase, with 25,565 registrations last year, up from 21,663 the year before. My observations suggest that the majority of these would have been working-bred dogs, but it may be that because I live in the countryside, I see far more working cockers than long-eared show dogs.
Third place in the gundog popularity stakes is the English springer, but though last year’s total of 9,123 registrations was a few hundred up on 2019, it was the second lowest score in the past decade.
In contrast, golden retrievers continue to show a slow but steady increase, with 8,653 registered, the biggest total in the past 10 years. At this rate it can’t be long before goldens push springers into fourth place.
Registrations of most of the spaniel breeds dropped in 2020, with one exception being the field spaniel, with 69 registrations compared with 67 the year before. Sussex spaniels managed only 44, making it our rarest native breed of gundog and one that is in desperate need of new blood.
Most of the continental HPRs had a good year, with the majority showing an increase. The 1,761 German shorthaired pointers registered pushed this breed into the UK’s top 20 for the first time. Hungarian vizslas enjoyed their best year (2,810), while their wirehaired cousins scored 782, an impressive total for a breed virtually unknown here 25 years ago.
German wirehaired pointers did well with 617 registrations, up from 489 in 2019 and the breed’s best-ever figure. Weimaraners also made a comeback, the 1,307 puppies equalling registrations in both 2012 and 2014, itself a remarkable statistic.
In recent years, the Kennel Club has expressed concern about the falling number of English setters. The 140 registered was the lowest number ever and almost half the total for the previous year. With 268 registrations, Gordon setters had their best year since 2013, unlike Irish setters with their lowest-ever figure of 645 puppies, compared with 869 in 2011.
Frustratingly, what these statistics don’t reveal is how many of these puppies were bred from working parents and nor do we know how many will end up doing the job they were bred for. Statistically, I suspect, very few.