Dog breeds

Popular Dog Breeds

Popular dog breed information to help you choose the right dog for your family and your lifestyle. Dog images and breed health advice.
Home 9 Dog Breeds 9 Popular Dog Breeds

Popular Modern Dog Breeds

Words & Images: Diana Andersen

All modern popular dog breeds have descended from wolves, but very few are reminiscent of their ancestor’s appearance. Selective breeding over many generations has shaped today’s dog according to its purpose. We have also dramatically altered its appearance to what we find personally appealing. The behaviour of dogs still has its roots in their wolf ancestry and is also affected by their original purpose. Although the most common role for the modern dog is companionship, considering their heritage should be important when choosing a dog. Making a choice based on breed popularity alone is a mistake that can lead to problems and the heartache of re-homing your dog.

Why does a dog breed become popular?

Breed popularity lists are published each year, and while there is often little change, there are spikes in popularity based on a breed becoming fashionable. For example, the Labrador Retriever has been at the top of the list for many years. A Labrador’s playful, easy-going temperament, short coat and relative soundness make it an ideal family dog. In this case, the popularity is well-earned.

In other cases, a breed becomes popular based on fashion, often driven by television appearances and being owned by celebrities. Once a dog breed becomes popular, the price climbs, and less reputable people begin to breed for the money, driving the price and popularity up even further. A case in point is the recent popularity of French Bulldogs. They are a delightful breed but have some significant genetic health problems that can be expensive and challenging to manage. French Bulldogs also have strong temperaments that can be hard to manage. They require a committed owner, and it is crucial to purchase from a knowledgeable, reputable breeder, not one cashing in on the breed’s popularity.

Are popular dog breeds suitable for all families?

Other breeds that feature well in the breed popularity lists are great dogs but only for the right family and situation. An example is the Border Collie. This intelligent breed features in the top ten each year. However, they are a working breed that requires training and activities to challenge their intellect and keep them occupied. If you don’t have the time and commitment to meet these needs, a Border Collie isn’t the breed you!

Border Collies, a popular dog breed.

Border Collies, an intelligent breed but not for everyone.

How do I decide?

Dog breeds are classified into groups by canine organisations and clubs worldwide for judging purposes. These groups link to the breed’s origin, such as working dogs or gundogs, or their types, such as terriers or hounds. Regardless of the breed’s heritage, a dog’s most common role in modern society is companionship. Therefore, you should base your choice on what suits your situation while still considering the breed’s heritage. There are four main areas to consider: size, coat, temperament and health.


Today’s popular dog breeds vary dramatically in size from tiny, in the case of Toy breeds, to canine giants like Great Danes and Wolfhounds. You can find dogs of every size and shape in between, so for this article, I will divide them into four groups, each with its own set of considerations.

Very Small Breeds

These dogs are usually judged and classified in the Toy group. As the name suggests, they are diminutive in size and include dogs like Chihuahuas, Pugs, Maltese, Miniature Pinschers and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. However, there are also very small terriers, such as the English Toy Terrier, the Australian Silky Terrier, and the Yorkshire Terrier. Small breeds have become extremely popular with smaller living accommodations in modern society. Size does not guarantee ease of care, however. They have their problems, which you must consider before deciding on a small breed.

Many have very short coats and small body mass and are often fussy eaters, making them susceptible to cold and hypoglycemia. They are certainly not outdoor dogs. Others like the Maltese, Yorkshire Terrier and Papillon have a long coat that needs daily attention unless you clip them. They have a reputation of being noisy and difficult to train, including toilet training, but owners often use this excuse for not putting the time and effort into training. Small dogs have a knack for squeezing through small openings, so a secure home is essential. Despite their small stature, exercise is still important for these dogs to maintain their health.

Small to Medium

There are many beautiful small to medium breeds that feature highly in popularity lists. These include French Bulldogs, Beagles, Shetland Sheepdogs, Miniature Poodles, English Bulldogs, and some Terrier breeds like Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Smooth Fox Terriers. Their smaller size makes them very manageable and desirable, but depending on the breed’s heritage, they can also be highly active or have other characteristics you should consider.

For instance, dogs with a herding background like Corgis and Shetland Sheepdogs can require activities that satisfy their working drive. Staffordshire Bull Terriers and English Bulldogs have a heritage in blood sports like dog fighting and bear-baiting. They are therefore inclined to be dog aggressive. Another example is the Beagle, originally bred as a pack hunting dog. They can be noisy without another dog’s company.

Medium to Large Dog Breeds

These dogs often have a working heritage in hunting, guarding, or stock management, like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. There are also breeds in the utility group known for activities like sledding, such as Malamutes and Huskies. These dogs can have high working drives and are often physically very strong. They require a commitment to training and exercise and are generally not suited to apartments and tiny backyards.

This group would include dogs like Boxer Dogs, Dobermanns, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds. In addition, it includes some breeds that feature well in the popularity lists like Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. They tend to be intelligent breeds that can be challenging to inexperienced dog owners.

Several sighthounds are also among the medium to large breeds, such as Greyhounds, Salukis, Afghans, Borzoi, and Pharaoh Hounds. Sighthounds can be very relaxed with easy-going temperaments but tend to be less reliable off-lead. Bred to hunt by sight, they can easily forget their training when distracted by some activity they spot in the distance.

Giant and Heavy Breeds

This group includes tall and heavy breeds like Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Mastiffs, Dogue de Bordeaux. It also includes coated breeds like Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands and Bernese Mountain Dogs. It is easy to be swayed by a cute heavy or giant breed puppy, but there are many things to consider before choosing one of these breeds.

Many are very relaxed and easy-going, but exercise is essential for these dogs to maintain their health. Crowded homes and small yards can be problematic as they can clear the table with one swipe of their tails. Giant breeds tend to be short-lived compared to smaller dogs, and many have loose jowls causing them to drool. If you can’t deal with liberally deposited drool on your clothing and furniture, don’t consider a giant breed!

They are also more inclined to suffer heat stress and bone and joint-related problems such as arthritis. Many are at risk of the potentially lethal digestive disorder GDV (gastric dilatation-volvulus), also known as ‘bloat’. There are many delightful giant breeds, but they require a committed owner. I highly recommend that you source your dog from a reputable breeder, knowledgeable about the breed and supportive of their puppy buyers.


The appearance of a breed, including coat and colour, is one thing that strongly influences our choice of dog. It is also one that can cause a lot of grief for pet owners as well.

Coats can be very short, fine and easy to care for through to long, curly, and very time-consuming. Three coat genes affect the length, texture (wire or smooth) and curl. Some coats grow to a set length, while others, like Poodle coats, grow continuously. Short, fine coats may be easy to care for, but their lack of insulation can affect the breed’s living requirements. Moderately long-coated dogs like Golden Retrievers and Border Collies can shed a great deal. If you can’t deal with tumbleweeds of hair floating around your house, these breeds are not for you!

Dobermann is an example of dog breeds with a fine short coat.

The Dobermann breed has a very smooth, fine coat.

Lakeland Terrier is an example of a wire-coated breed.

Lakeland Terrier is an example of a wire-coated breed.

The Lhasa Apso, with a beautiful long show coat.

The Lhasa Apso, with a beautiful long show coat.

Long Coats

Long coated dogs can be impressive and beautiful in full show coat but deciding on a breed based on its show appearance is a mistake. Few people can maintain the long show coat of dogs like the Lhasa Apso, Maltese Dog, Shih Tzu and Afghan. In pet homes, these breeds usually have their coats clipped off. It would be best to make sure that you like your dog’s appearance with a clipped coat.

Long coats can also be expensive to maintain if you don’t groom them yourself. Without regular grooming, they can become matted, increasing your dog’s discomfort and the likelihood of developing skin conditions.

Often, allergy sufferers look for breeds advertised as low-allergenic. In reality, there is no guarantee that one of these dogs will not cause an allergic reaction as they still shed skin cells, which can result in the same symptoms.

Coat Colours

Coat colours are often linked to canine health as well. White dogs, particularly those with no pigment on their eyelids, have an increased risk of skin cancer. Black dogs can have an increased risk of heat stress, and other colours have links to serious health issues. For instance, the Merle gene can result in blindness and deafness in merle-to-merle matings. Linked to alopecia, the blue gene in some breeds can result in hair loss. It is essential to obtain your puppy from a breeder aware of the genetics related to health and coat colour that actively avoids the problems in their breeding program.

Shih Tzu coats are usually clipped short in pet homes.

Long-coated dog breeds like Shih Tzu usually have their coats clipped short in pet homes.


Temperament is always a complex area to address. There is little doubt that there is a genetic component; however, a puppy’s temperament can be affected by a lack of socialisation, a traumatic experience, inadequate training, or a medical problem.

There can be variations in temperament within dog breeds and litters. Responsible breeders generally breed for a good family temperament, as most of their puppies are destined for family homes. One of the problems with breed-specific legislation is that many well-bred dog breeds targeted by the proposed regulations have no temperament issues. However, it is easier for governing bodies to ban the entire breed than to target individual owners and breeders who may be breeding dogs with bad temperaments.

Dog Breed Standards

Dog breed show standards, used to describe a breed by kennel clubs, are an excellent place to start researching the typical temperament of a particular dog breed. For instance, Labradors should have a friendly, outgoing character, whereas the breed standard for Australian Cattle Dogs mentions that they are suspicious of strangers. Like those chosen by the police force and still used for working stock, high-working drive dogs can be too active for laid-back family life, so it pays to do some research into the background of the puppy you are considering.

The most important thing you should do is speak to breeders and meet the parents of the puppy you are considering buying. The temperament of the adult dogs is by far the best indication of your dog’s future personality. Puppy pre-school, early socialisation and good training are also the best things you can do to end up with a dog that is a joy to have.

Rottweiler – socialisation, training and good breeding are crucial to good temperament.

Rottweiler – socialisation, training and good breeding are crucial to good temperament.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers playing.

Staffordshire Bull Terriers playing. Learning to play well with others when they are young is important.


Just like humans, dogs will require medical attention from time to time for illness or injury. Many dogs also suffer from genetic health issues that are prevalent in particular breeds. It is worth mentioning that crossbreed dogs are still susceptible to genetic disorders as the genes responsible are the same in all dog breeds. For instance, Poodles and Labradors both suffer from Hip Dysplasia. Therefore Labradoodles are also susceptible to the disorder.

Covering all the genetic health issues in a single article is impossible. For example, brachycephalic breeds with flat faces can suffer breathing problems, skin conditions, and eye injuries due to the short snout. Giant breeds and very active dogs frequently suffer from bone and growth disorders and many genetic disorders related to eyesight. Often, these issues are expensive to manage at best and potentially lethal at worst. The best advice is to research the breed you are interested in and make sure you know its potential health risks before shopping for a puppy.

Choosing a Responsible Breeder

Responsible breeders are working to reduce these health conditions in their breeding programs through genetic and other health screening. If you are keen to buy a purebred dog, be a discerning purchaser and make an educated and selective breeder choice to supply your puppy. Purebred dogs can be sound, healthy dogs when sourced from reputable breeders.

Purebred dogs can be sound and healthy.

Purebred dogs can be sound and healthy when sourced from reputable breeders. From left – Belgian Tervurens,  Australian Shepherds, Siberian Husky and a Koolie

Dog ownership can be rewarding and something I thoroughly recommend, but only if you understand the responsibilities and choose carefully. They are not a status symbol or something to match the decor of your home. They become part of the family and do not deserve to be dropped off at the nearest rescue if they become inconvenient. Choosing realistically and carefully based on breed research will help you find the breed that is right for you.





Saint Bernard

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