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Which is the UK’s most popular dog breed? And which breeds are in decline?

David Tomlinson looks at which dog breeds are in vogue around the world, and ranks the top 10 most popular gundogs in Britain

Labrador colours

Labradors remain the dominant breed

According to the Kennel Club, the labrador is the most popular dog breed in Britain, having successfully fought off the trendy French bulldog for top spot. The American Kennel Club ranks the labrador as number one, too, a position it has held there for 30 years. Both clubs assess popularity on breed registrations, which make sense as it’s an accurate way of measuring the number of dogs. However, it’s also misleading, as it fails to take into account unregistered dogs. It’s widely reckoned that Britain’s most popular dog is the cockapoo, but there’s no way of proving it.

Measuring popular dog breed

The modern way that the popularity of breeds is measured is by the number of times a particular breed is searched for on the internet, a system that throws up some intriguing results. Using this system, the world’s top popular dog breed is the bulldog, a depressing thought. Of all the hundreds of breeds of dogs in the world, the bulldog is one of the least fit for function. Bulldogs typically have difficulty mating, puppies are usually born by caesarean, and their flat faces create breathing difficulties. Perhaps most damning of all, the average lifespan is ridiculously short. Get your bulldog beyond six and you have done well.

The Google-search system produces many other strange results. Would you believe that the golden retriever is the most popular dog breed in Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia, Norway and Mongolia, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia? I’ve travelled widely in India, yet can’t recall ever seeing a golden retriever there, though I remember seeing a number of labradors and even a St Bernard that was nearly as big as its handler.

My suspicion is that Google searches bear very little relation to breed popularity. For example, I’ve just searched online for the boerboel, as it’s apparently the top breed in Mozambique, but that doesn’t mean I like the breed; I’d simply never heard of it. And in case you are wondering, the boerboel is a great bruiser of a dog that looks like a mastiff. It’s a native of South Africa, where it is also ranked number one.


Guard-dog type animals are the favourites throughout Africa, with rottweilers top in Burkina Faso, German shepherds in Gabon and the bulldog in Rwanda. I’ve travelled widely in central Africa, from Ghana to Uganda, but the number of pure-bred dogs I have seen I can count on the fingers of one hand.

In Europe, the most-Googled breeds are the border collie and the cane corso, another mastiff-type dog that originates from Italy. It’s reputedly the most popular breed in Croatia, Romania, Georgia and Serbia. It’s not a breed I know well, despite having travelled extensively in Europe, so I’m not convinced that measuring popularity by Google searches really makes sense.

Working dog numbers

What would be interesting to know is the top 10 breeds of working (as opposed to pet) gundogs throughout Europe. However, even here in the UK nobody knows for sure what they are, but these would be my popular dog breed guesses.

Fox-red Labrador is a popular dog breed

The labrador takes the number one slot for David

In the number one slot I would put the labrador, followed closely by the cocker spaniel, then the English springer. A few years ago, I would have placed the springer ahead of the labrador, but its popularity has slipped in recent years, so much so that it’s no longer uncommon to go on a shoot without a single springer. The rise of the cocker has been spectacular, as the working strain hit a low 50 years ago from which it has made a remarkable recovery.

cocker spaniel

A cocker

The next seven breeds are rather more tricky. In fourth I would put the German shorthaired pointer, which ever since its arrival here after the last war has been much the most popular of all the HPR breeds. My fifth place goes to another continental breed, and the rising star of the HPR world, the Hungarian wirehaired vizsla. Kennel Club registrations put the smooth-haired vizsla well ahead of its wiry cousin, but it’s the latter I see most often in the shooting field.

A German shorthaired pointer

A German shorthaired pointer

My sixth place goes to the golden retriever. These handsome dogs are one of the most popular pets in the UK, but surprisingly few are to be seen in the shooting field. This is a great pity, as a good golden can rival even the best of labradors when it comes to retrieving.

Clumber spaniels

Clumber spaniels Bella and Boris

In seventh place comes the smooth-haired vizsla, with the clumber at number eight. The Working Clumber Spaniel Society must take the credit for restoring this big spaniel to its rightful role as a proper shooting dog. In the number nine slot comes the flat-coated retriever, a great picking-up dog, very popular in the show ring, but a rarity today in the shooting field.

Concluding my top 10 is the German wirehaired pointer, a tough all-rounder, and deservedly popular with rough shooters and deer stalkers. Of course, my top 10 is no more than a semi-educated guess and doesn’t allow for cross-breeds such as sprockers, so if you disagree, don’t hesitate to let me know.