Note: This article capitalises proper names of dog breeds as per Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) standard.
Although the domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) was domesticated from the grey wolf no later than 15 000 years ago and possibly tens of thousands of years before that, most modern breeds of dogs as we know them are generally no older than 500 years at most; the only outliers being ancient variants such as Basenjis and Dingoes that became separated from the main canine gene pool thousands of years ago and are classified as ‘Primitive types’ by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale. Given this short 500-year time frame with which to conduct selective breeding, the amount of diversity in dogs is phenomenal with approximately 300 to 400 different breeds recognised by various kennel clubs around the world.
Each breed of dog has been bred for a specific function (e.g. hunting, guarding, companionship, aesthetic display). Geography has played a huge role in determining the popularity of different breeds in different countries. As you’ll see below, even with the limited number of countries for which reliable data are available (finding information on the canine populations of developing and less developed countries is pretty well impossible, which means Africa, South America, and the Middle East are rather underrepresented here), the breeds of dogs preferred around the world are quite variant beyond a rather ubiquitous trio.
Data on dog registration from 32 countries around the world was used to compile these tables. Top ten lists for each country were used except for Israel (top five) and India (top seven). Countries for which recent data were available: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States. These data represent only dogs registered with kennel clubs and thus may not be entirely representative of the general canine population.
Below, the complete table of top ten breeds for the 32 available countries (click on image to expand).
The first thing one notices looking at the table is the near-ubiquitous popularity of the medium-to-large sized Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, and Golden Retrievers, which appear on a vast majority of the 32 lists. The exceptions are largely Asian countries, where there appears to be a distinct preference for toy dogs such as Poodles, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and various terriers (perhaps a reflection of the generally smaller living spaces in those countries making so-called ‘apartment dogs’popular). The Yorkshire Terrier and the Chihuahua rank as the top toy dogs, enjoying popularity across a wide spectrum of countries. Bulldogs are also popular across the board, although Anglophone countries tend to prefer English Bulldogs while Romance and Slavic-speaking countries prefer the French Bulldog.
Number of Placements of Dog Breeds in National Top Ten Lists (# out of 32 selected countries)
Labrador Retriever – 27
German Shepherd Dog – 26
Golden Retriever – 26
Yorkshire Terrier – 26
Chihuahua – 14
Rottweiler – 12
English Bulldog – 11
Boxer – 10
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – 9
Dachshund – 9
French Bulldog – 9
Poodle – 9
Miniature Schnauzer – 9
Cocker Spaniel – 7
Pug – 7
A black Labrador Retriever. Labs are the most popular dog breed worldwide. Source: Erikeltic, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BlackLab2009.jpg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Licence.
A Yorkshire Terrier. Weighing in at just 1.4-3.2 kg (3-7 lbs), ‘Yorkies’ are the most popular breed of toy dog worldwide. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Little_tootie.JPG.
There are certain breeds which are very popular in their land of origin but are quite obscure elsewhere. The Norwegian Elkhound appears in the top ten in Finland and Norway, but nowhere else. Russia’s top ten features two types of shepherd dogs (the Caucasian and the Central Asian) which don’t appear elsewhere, and Portugal’s top ten features four separate breeds not seen on any other top ten list (Miniature Pinscher, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Estrela Mountain Hound, German Spitz). In South Korea, strict canine import/export laws ensured that for years the Korean Jindo Dog was disproportionately popular there but invisible elsewhere. Only in recent years has it been usurped in South Korea by, of all breeds, the Maltese, whose tiny size stands in contrast to the medium-to-large Jindo, which was bred for hunting and is even used by the Korean Army to guard bases. Some of the more counter-intuitive top-ten placements include the popularity of the Siberian Husky in tropical countries such as the Philippines and Thailand, the Tibetan Spaniel in Norway and Sweden, and the Australian Shepherd (which was actually developed in the western US) in France.
Number of Top Placements of Dog Breeds in National Top Ten Lists (# out of 32 selected countries)
|Labrador Retriever||11||Austria, Brazil, Canada, Finland, India, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States|
|German Shepherd Dog||10||Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden|
|Yorkshire Terrier||3||Lithuania, South Africa, Spain|
|Shih Tzu||2||Philippines, Singapore|
|American Staffordshire Terrier||1||Russia|
|Staffordshire Bull Terrier||1||Australia|
When it comes to actual top placings, the Labrador and the German Shepherd are in a league of their own. Interestingly, the popular Golden Retriever is nowhere to be found on this list despite being the third-most popular breed on the planet. In fact, there are only four countries where they place second (Austria, France, Sweden, and Thailand); third or fourth is where they are most likely to be found.
ABC News (2008). Dog fight: jingoism vs jindoism. 10 June 2008. Available at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2008-06-10/dog-fight-jingoism-vs-jindoism/2466332. Accessed 21 October 2012.
Fédération Cynologique Internationale (2012). Breeds Nomenclature. Available at http://www.fci.be/nomenclature.aspx. Accessed 21 October 2012.
Hirst, K.K. (n.d.). Dog History: How were dogs domesticated? About.com: Archaeology. Available at http://archaeology.about.com/od/domestications/qt/dogs.htm. Accessed 21 October 2012.
Larson, G. et al. (2012). Rethinking dog domestication by integrating genetics, archeology, and biogeography. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109(22): 8878-8883.