Steadfast might be one way to describe Long Islanders’ preference for purebred dogs, as the American Kennel Club’s latest list of the most popular ones is little changed from the year before.
The top seven breeds in 2020 were exactly the same as in 2019, according to the New York-based nonprofit, which says it upholds the integrity of its registry of purebreds, advocates for them as family companions and advances their health.
In order, the top breeds were: Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, French bulldogs, Rottweilers, bulldogs and poodles.
Moving up this year were Cavalier King Charles spaniels, which ranked eighth in 2020 and did not appear on the 2019 list.
Havanese, small, silky-haired dogs native to Cuba, moved down one spot to ninth on the 2020 list. Boxers remained the 10th most popular breed. Dogo Argentinos — large, white dogs bred for hunting game — which ranked ninth in 2019, did not make the 2020 list.
The AKC, famed for the Westminster Dog Show in New York, has been criticized by a number of veterinarians, rescue groups and animal welfare activists for prioritizing purebreds' appearance over their health. Many purebreds have genetic problems that cause suffering and may trigger sizable vet bills, critics say.
"Perhaps if breeding organizations or places like the AKC would take an interest in avoiding certain problems that are being bred into the breed, perhaps they could use some genetic testing to create guidelines for who can enter their shows, and that may help prevent certain problems," said Dr. Diane Levitan, an associate professor at the Long Island University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Genetic illnesses can be weeded out, Levitan said, noting that, for example, a liver storage disease now afflicts many fewer Bedlington terriers, British watchdogs.
Mixed breed dogs may — or may not — be healthier. "It's more luck of the draw as to whether they have a health issue," she said.
AKC spokeswoman Jessica Rice D’Amato, responding to questions by email about whether, for example, judges should look at X-rays or other tests that would reveal whether a show dog has arthritis, replied: "A breed standard is based on the form and historical function of a breed. X-rays have nothing to do with judging. The judge is not looking at internal organs."
She added: "A dog show judge is determining how well a dog meets the breed standard, meaning the judge is looking at the overall conformation, temperament and structure. They are being judged as dogs that can carry on the best of their breed’s characteristics to the next generation."
The AKC website lists plentiful information about health problems that may arise with purebreds, and urges the public to select breeders carefully, inquiring about health tests they conduct.
Dr. Leni Kaplan of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine recommended meeting a puppy’s parents — and asking what breeders do if a puppy later falls ill.
"Most reputable breeders will absolutely, 100%, guarantee their puppies so that if anything happens, they will take the puppy back/refund the purchase fee/replace with a new puppy," she said in an email.
The top 10 dog breeds for Long Island in 2020, according to the American Kennel Club
1. Labrador retrievers
2. Golden retrievers
3. German shepherds
4. French bulldogs
8. Cavalier King Charles spaniels