We’re already in the midst of the second week in February, which means it is once again time for the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City. That interests me mainly because I’m a “dog person” and although I don’t follow these sorts of things closely enough to care about any of the favorites or most of the technicalities involved, I do enjoy tuning in sometimes on TV when there’s nothing else worth watching (which is often the case) just to cheer on my favorite breeds and breed groups. Although I enjoy seeing the dogs in those breeds, I find the whole world of dog shows more than a little odd, which is why it was more than ripe for parody in the 2000 Christopher Guest comedy Best in Show. Plus, as a dog owner, I have more than a few problems with any sort of beauty contest for dogs which my beautiful and charming mutt would be unable to enter.
Regardless of which dog is named “Best in Show” in New York this week, I saw this story a few weeks ago about the ten most popular dog breeds in the U.S. Although, this is just one list and an imperfect one at that (some of the flaws in the method employed are explained here), personally I found it somewhat encouraging that even at the start of Obama’s second term, the Labrador Retriever is still the most popular dog breed in America, followed by the German Shepherd and the Golden Retriever. I like the fact that three large breeds are the most popular. These are not dogs for wimps. Although Goldens and Labradors are both known for their sociability and for being great family dogs, they are also good hunting dogs, and great companions for athletic people who spend a lot of time outdoors; German Shepherds are also great active dogs, known for their loyalty and intelligence, and they are great guard dogs. In fact, the top four dogs are the same as they were in 2002.
What’s more intriguing is the shifting positions of other breeds and dogs further down the list in the last 10 years. Among the top 10 dogs, I’m puzzled by the rise in popularity of the Bulldog (#18 in 2002, #10 in 2007 and #5 in 2012), but I suspect it is connected to the rise in popularity of the Rottweiler (#13 in 2002 and #9 in 2012), the Doberman (#23 in 2002 and #12 in 2012), and the French Bulldog (#58 in 2002 and #14 in 2012). My initial impression of this trend is that in the Obama economy, people worry more about the security of their homes and their possessions, and so increasingly they are opting for dogs that can be fiercely protective over those that are just cute or aesthetically pleasing. I think the trend points to increasing feelings of unease in our society, but I’m more curious to know our readers’ thoughts on the implications of the enduring or changing popularity of different breeds for contemporary American culture. Should we be encouraged by the latest list, or is it a sign of more trouble ahead?