French bulldogs leap in recognition in U.S.

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NEW YORK – Americans still love Labrador Retrievers, but the nation’s flirtation with French Bulldogs has reached new heights.

Labs have been the most popular purebred dog in the country for 27 years, while German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers rank second and third in the American Kennel Club’s new rankings released on Wednesday.

But the French hit the highest number 4 ever, and the German short-haired pointers cracked the top 10 for the first time.

The rest of the top 10

The Bulldog is fifth after setting a record fourth last year. Places six to ten are the Beagle, the Poodle, the Rottweiler, the Yorkshire Terrier and the German Shorthair Pointer.

Originally bred for hunting, the pretty, athletic “APS” is increasingly becoming apparent as a bomb-sniffing dog, as well as in agility and other dog sports. An APS also won the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show in 2016.

“You’re a dog that does anything you want, except lying around,” says Jeffrey Drogin, a longtime owner in New York.

The eclectic, sociable laboratory had the longest reign as a front runner. It broke the record in 2013.

But you can’t beat the beagle for consistency. It is the only breed to have made the top 10 in every decade since the AKC was founded in 1884.

The French upswing

The French Bulldog has raced from 76th to fourth place in just 20 years. It previously reached sixth place in the 1910s and 2015-2016.

Frenchie aficionados appreciate the interest but are concerned that it will attract unscrupulous breeders and under-informed owners.

“It scares me that everyone wants it because it’s popular. But not every family is good for a French Bulldog, ”says Kerry Boyd, a Natick, Mass. Handler who breeds Frenchies.

The scaled-down bulldogs with pointy ears and funny facial expressions have become favorites of city dwellers who appreciate compact, relatively calm dogs. Enjoyed watching movies, ads, and celebrity owners. The late Carrie Fisher’s Frenchie even inspired an alien creature in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” from last year.

Then the breed made headlines this month when a Frenchie puppy died after a flight attendant forced him into an overhead bin.

The death sparked discussion of respiratory problems in French bulldogs and other short-snouted breeds (although pets don’t belong in overhead compartments). Flat-faced dogs are prone to overheating and sometimes require nose or palate surgery. Frenchies and bulldogs can also be prone to certain spine and eye problems. They are often born by caesarean section because of their large heads.

With all this in mind, New York’s then-weekly The Village Voice dedicated a 2015 cover to French bulldogs, urging, “Don’t buy that dog.”

Newton, Massachusetts-based veterinarian Dr. John de Jong sees the Frenchies’ problems firsthand, but notes that other breeds are vulnerable to their own conditions.

“I would say to anyone who buys any breed of any kind, do their homework,” said de Jong, president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Other movers

The Siberian Husky and Australian Shepherd Dog have jumped into the top 20 over the past decade. The Chihuahua, Pug and Maltese have fallen out.

The rarest breed

It is the Norwegian lundehund, an unusually flexible six-toed dog that historically hunted puffins.

Doodles and mixes

The ranking reflects puppies and other dogs that were newly registered in 2017. The AKC, the oldest purebred dog registry in the country, doesn’t publish raw dog numbers.

The club doesn’t record hybrids as popular as Labradoodles and Puggles or other mixed breed dogs. However, you can register as an AKC dog partner for dog sports. According to AVMA estimates, there are around 70 million dogs (and over 74 million cats) nationwide.

The debate

Regardless of the rankings, animal rights activists say purebred fads drive puppy mills, put other dogs in shelters, and prefer looks to health.

“The AKC’s aesthetic standards can result in dogs being crippled and in near constant pain,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote to the club this month.

Breeders like Boyd say they spend thousands of dollars on testing for healthy dogs to reproduce. The AKC argues that breeding preserves certain traits that can help police officers choose K-9s or households choose suitable pets.

Whether purebred or mixed breed, “the most important thing is that you love the dog that is yours and that you own and care for it responsibly,” says AKC spokeswoman Gina DiNardo.

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