The Labrador Retriever is king in Metro Vancouver, but its reign is hardly unique: the lovable, floppy-eared dog has been North America’s most popular breed of canine for years.
And that is not surprising to Langley’s Michele Lavery, whose doggy Kessa is the third Lab she has owned.
“I think they are beautiful. I don’t think you can find a cuter face than a Lab. They are so family oriented,” Lavery, the mother of two teens, gushed about her chocolate Lab.
Kessa is one of 101,556 registered dogs from 15 Metro Vancouver cities whose name, breed and neighbourhood were collected by The Vancouver Sun through Freedom of Information requests to local city halls.
The newspaper used the electronic data to create a searchable database (www.vancouversun.com/dogs) of local canines.
The data shows Labrador retrievers are the most common breed in Metro. The total number of Labs in the database (13,516) include 8,080 purebred while the rest are hybrids.
Labs are followed in popularity by terriers, shepherds, shih tzus and collies.
But the dogs in the database represent only those with owners who have followed municipal bylaws and registered their canines.
The Vancouver Park Board estimates only 30 per cent of dogs in the city are registered, so in addition to the 20,693 puppies with dog tags there could be another 40,000 without licences.
These estimates are difficult to determine. Surrey city hall and the B.C. SPCA do not keep similar statistics.
Still, Metro Vancouver’s tally of popular registered dogs is similar to the American Kennel Club, which ranked the U.S.’s 2008 top dogs as the Lab, Yorkshire Terrier, German shepherd, Golden Retriever and Beagle.
But the well-loved Labs should watch out for those upstart terriers nipping at their heels. Little dogs are more in demand today as the role of canines is shifting from outdoor hunters and herders to indoor cosy companions.
Margaret Webb used to own large Golden Retrievers, but after her husband passed away she got Rosie, a cute-as-a-button little Boston terrier with a trendy doggy wardrobe.
“I felt that it would be easier to look after a small dog. I liked the idea of having a smaller dog in the house, and could take her with me everywhere I go,” said Webb, who lives on the Sunshine Coast. “I can put her in the basket in the back of my bike.”
The demographics of dog ownership is shifting, says UBC psychologist and dog expert Dr. Stanley Coren, towards older women (often looking for companionship after their husbands pass away) and young women (looking for companionship before they get married), who both will often live in small condominiums or apartments.
“You don’t want a Golden Retriever taking up half of your sofa when your sofa doesn’t even fit in your living room,” said Coren, who owns a beagle and a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever.
“We’ve been seeing an increase in the popularity of the smaller breeds, such as a Coton de Tuléar or Havanese.”
In the United Kingdom, Coren said, health care plans will pay for part of the cost of a dog if a doctor believes a pet would improve a patient’s physical or mental health.
Indeed, Roger and Maggie Keatley routinely take their border terrier Jock to a Richmond nursing, and say he has brought comfort to many residents. “He joins in their exercise programs, current events and lies on the beds of palliative care residents when they are no longer able to move around their home,” the Keatleys told The Sun.
Despite the influx of little dogs, big canines will never go out of vogue, at the very least because they provide a sense of security or are just a better fit for some people. “If you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, you aren’t going to walk a Bichon down the street,” Coren chuckled.
However, Coren is concerned that the ninth most popular dog in Metro Vancouver is the rottweiler, as he doesn’t believe they are good family pets due to their size and strong bite.
And there are 42 dogs in the region that are a product of a dog-wolf mix. “We spent at least 14,000 years trying to domesticate dogs,” Coren said, “and with one outcrossing to a wild wolf you can pretty much undo all that.”