NEW YORK--The gentle and uber-cute French bulldog has claimed the title of most popular dog in the United States, ending the Labrador retriever's 31-year reign as king of the purebreds in the American Kennel Club's 2022 rankings.
With its flat face, doe eyes and bat ears, the Frenchie has steadily climbed the rankings for the last decade, hitting the No. 2 spot the previous year, according to the club, which maintains the largest registry of purebred dog pedigrees in the country.
"What's not to love about them? They're great companions, cute and show great affection," said breeder Johnny Danley Jr., of Atlanta.
The Frenchie held the No. 14 spot in the 2012 ranking. Since then, registrations have climbed tenfold, the club said on its website.
Danley started breeding French bulldogs for about a dozen years as a hobby, selling to friends, before he opened his own business, Damn Danley Kennels, in 2018. But the puppies are not cheap, with prices starting at $3,000.
"I've heard of some selling for $1 million. But we sell to blue-collar, 9-to-5 people who want to spend a little for a great companion," Danley said.
The breed's rising popularity - and price tag - has led to a surge in French bulldog thefts in recent years, according to the club. In an incident that made national headlines in 2021, two Frenchies owned by Lady Gaga were stolen in an altercation in Los Angeles that left the singer's dog walker with a gunshot wound.
Danley acknowledged that some of the pint-sized Frenchies can have health problems affecting the respiratory system and spinal cord. But the risks are much lower when only healthy dogs are used for breeding, he said.
The former top dog, the even-tempered Labrador retriever, still has plenty of fans, as it slipped a notch to the No. 2 spot, ahead of No. 3, the Golden retriever and No. 4, the German shepherd. Pulling up the rear at No. 199 is the English foxhound.
"Those are all great dogs," said Ersylan Hughen, breeder and co-owner of Royale French Bulldogs in the Atlanta suburb of Union City.
"I love labs, don't get me wrong," Hughen said. "But Frenchies are the best. They're like little people. When they look at you, they just melt your heart."