Learn about the most popular dog breeds in the UK as we do the countdown from 20 down to 1.
Ever wondered which breed is Britain’s most popular dog? Thanks to data from a 2020 survey by Rover, you can find out!
The survey included a large sample of over 20,000 dogs, using key info from Rover’s own database.
Rover is the largest pet-sitting service in the world, and the details of their customer base can provide some very useful insights.
Keep reading for a countdown of the UK’s most popular dog breeds, complete with a bit of trivia background information on each.
Can you guess what dog made number one? It might surprise you!
20. Bichon Frise
Kicking off the list at number 20 is the Bichon Frise – pronounced bee-shawn free-say.
The name of this breed originates from the French phrase bichon à poil frisé, which literally means ‘curly lap dog’.
The Bichon Frise breed has a long history, reaching back to the 14th century when they were highly popular in Spain and Italy.
These sweet, small dogs made their way to France, becoming the favourite companions for French nobility.
Although Bichon Frises are small dogs (5-10 kg), they’re not officially a toy breed. In terms of temperament, they’re happy, playful, and cuddly; they enjoy attention and make for great family pets.
Their size and relatively low exercise needs mean that they thrive well even in small apartments.
This breed’s fluffy white coat is hypoallergenic, which means that it’s less likely to trigger an allergic reaction in people sensitive to dog hair.
19. West Highland White Terrier
Originating from Scotland, West Highland White Terriers – commonly ‘Westies’ – have been playing the role of man’s best friend since at least the sixteenth century.
Despite their small size and cute appearance, they’re most certainly not your typical lapdogs. Westies were first bred as ‘ratters’ – their job was to remove rats from barns, farms, and mines.
Eventually, they became hunting dogs – and excelled at pursuing prey underground, into burrows and dens. Once they had their prey cornered underground, they’d bark loudly to alert the hunter.
Westies are loyal, friendly, active, and alert. As an intelligent but independent breed, they require very focused puppy training if they are to be obedient as adults.
Thanks to the strong prey drive of a hunting dog, they love chasing after things – so a long lead is a must for walks!
Rarely shedding or drooling, Westies are hypoallergenic.
Lastly, a piece of trivia for Harry Potter fans – J. K. Rowling owns a Westie named Brontë.
Next up is UK’s own Beagle. Mentions of the breed – or rather, its ancestors – can be dated back to Elizabethan times. The Beagle as we know him today is the result of focused breeding in Great Britain, which started in the 1830s.
Beagles were first bred to be scenthounds – tracking dogs used to sniff out small prey during hunts. They excel at tracking rabbits and hare, and even today they’re still a common companion to hunters the world over.
Medium-sized and short-haired, Beagles are quite low-maintenance. They don’t require haircuts and are very easy to brush and clean.
In order to stay healthy, a Beagle should get at least an hour of exercise per day.
They’re intelligent, strong-willed dogs that can be quite challenging to train, so they’re not always the best choice for first-time dog owners.
Once properly trained, though, the merry, active, friendly Beagle makes for a great family pet.
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17. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is one of the largest of the toy breeds, weighing between 6-8 kg on average.
These spaniels were first developed in the UK several centuries ago, and the breed went through several major modifications – most notably, cross-breeding with flat-nosed breeds.
Modern Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are excellent family dogs, thriving in a home environment.
They require plenty of attention and affection and are more than willing to offer the same to their human companions.
Gentle and extremely patient, this breed is a great choice for homes with small children.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are eager to please and therefore easy to train, though they may give in to their hunting-dog ancestry every now and again and go after a squirrel or a bird!
Due to their thick, medium-length coat, these spaniels have quite extensive grooming needs – daily brushing is necessary to help them stay healthy.
Pugs are definitely one of the most recognisable dog breeds worldwide. They originate from China, where they were bred as companion lapdogs, not suited for hunting or any type of work.
This breed arrived in Europe in the 16th century and immediately made an impact, becoming a favourite in several countries’ royal courts.
Queen Victoria, in particular, had a well-documented fondness for Pugs.
Pugs are affectionate, gentle, loving dogs with a funny, mischievous side.
Highly loyal and eager to please, they love receiving and showing affection – but don’t do so well when left alone for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, due to their genetic makeup, Pugs are susceptible to a range of health problems. Breathing issues are relatively common, alongside eye injuries and prolapse, and hip dysplasia.
This shouldn’t discourage prospective dog owners from getting a Pug, of course – but it’s important to make sure you’re aware and prepared for any potential problems.
15. English Springer Spaniel
Fifteenth on the list of the most popular dog breeds in the UK is the English Springer Spaniel.
The breed has a history as a ‘flushing dog’ – a kind of hunting dog used for startling birds into the air at the right moment to bring them out into the open for the hunter.
Nowadays, there are two distinct varieties of the English Springer Spaniel – a working line and a show line.
Show English Springer Spaniels are slightly larger than their working counterparts, with longer ears, a rounder skull, and other minor differences.
In terms of personality and temperament, English Springer Spaniels are active, excitable, and affectionate.
Thanks to their long history of acting as close companions to humans, they’re obedient and easy to train.
English Springer Spaniels will happily live indoors with the family, but they also excel at tracking, obedience, and agility training.
14. Yorkshire Terrier
As the name suggests, this breed comes from Yorkshire, where it was developed in the second half of the 19th century.
Though tiny (about 3 kg), Yorkies are terriers through and through – complete with the feisty temperament. Friendly, playful, and highly energetic, they can also be surprisingly head-strong.
Yorkies require careful socialisation and training during puppyhood and should be introduced to new places and experiences gradually.
Because they’re so small, and therefore very fragile, Yorkies are not the best choice of pet for families with small children.
However, they can get on relatively well with other dogs, and it’s not uncommon for people to own Yorkies in pairs.
This also helps to prevent them from experiencing separation anxiety while you’re out.
Many people consider Yorkies to be hypoallergenic, though researchers don’t agree on the topic. However, it’s definitely true that Yorkies shed much less than most other breeds. All in all, we can call them ‘low allergen’ dogs.
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13. Golden Retriever
The thirteenth most popular dog breed, UK, is no surprise: the Golden Retriever.
Originating from 19th century Scotland, this breed was used for wildfowl hunting, Specifically, the dogs would retrieve shot game from both land and water – hence the name, Retriever.
Since game had to be retrieved in one piece, Golden Retrievers have what’s known as a ‘soft mouth’ grip.
This means that when they pick things up with their teeth, they do so very gently, without biting down.
Gentle, patient, and easy to train, Golden Retrievers make excellent disability assistance dogs and therapy dogs.
The breed is also among the top choices for search-and-rescue and detection dogs. As if this wasn’t enough success for one breed, Golden Retrievers also excel at obedience and agility training.
And of course, they’re a favourite for families and really great with kids. Ideally, Golden Retrievers need a couple of hours of exercise every day, as well as regular grooming.
12. German Shepherd
German Shepherds were first bred in Germany in the 1800s, as a result of mixing six different working breeds. Originally, they were used for herding sheep – a task at which they excelled to the point of gaining international popularity.
You might know the breed under a different name – an Alsatian, or Alsatian Wolf Dog. This is because between WWI and 1977, this was the Shepherd’s official name in the UK.
Though the name German Shepherd was reinstated, some people in the UK still refer to these dogs as Alsatians.
Strong and independent, German Shepherds are famous for their incredibly high level of intelligence.
These traits have made them excellent working dogs in military and police jobs, as well as the perfect disability assistants. Because they’re highly trainable, they also commonly appear in TV and film.
German Shepherds are loyal and form very strong bonds with their human companions, though they do require a firm hand and some experience in canine training to socialise properly.
Although they’re commonly known as ‘wiener dogs’ or ‘sausage dogs’, this breed’s German name actually means ‘badger dog’. Unsurprisingly, this is due to their origins as tracking dogs.
The history of the breed covers at least three hundred years. Dachshunds originate from Germany, where they tracked and chased badgers right into their burrows, to ‘flush out’ the prey for hunters.
This explains the low, elongated shape of these dogs, which had to be small enough to easily navigate in dens underground.
The breed has a friendly, curious temperament and a fair deal of energy. Though they’re highly intelligent, they can be challenging to train due to a strong independent streak.
Dachshunds are usually exceptionally healthy dogs, not prone to a large number of breed-specific diseases.
However, it’s important to control a Dachshund’s diet to make sure he doesn’t become overweight – which could lead to spinal injuries.
Chihuahuas originate from Mexico, which is reflected in the breed’s name – taking after one of the Mexican states. Weighing up to 2.7 kg, Chihuahuas are one of the smallest dog breeds in the world.
Not much is known about the early origins of the breed. Since becoming registered with the American Kennel Club in 1904, however, they’ve rapidly gained popularity. Eventually, they became one of the national symbols of Mexico!
The popularity of Chihuahuas in the UK can be attributed at least in part to their ability to thrive in a flat. They don’t need a large space to get their fill of exercise and playtime.
Prospective owners shouldn’t be deceived by this dog’s tiny size: given half an opportunity, they’ll rule the household like a first-rate dictator.
It’s important to maintain a firm hand in training a Chihuahua, in order to ensure the dog is aware that you’re in charge. Training itself shouldn’t be challenging, however, since Chihuahuas are intelligent dogs with a people-pleasing streak.
9. Shih Tzu
A breed first developed in Tibet, Shih Tzus arrived in Europe in the 1930s, immediately winning over dog owners’ hearts with their sweet, large, expressive eyes.
Pronounced sheet-su (or sher-zer in Chinese), the breed’s name literally means ‘lion’. Despite this fearsome name, Shih Tzus are a very small breed, categorised in the toy group – they rarely weigh more than 7 kg. According to Rover’s survey, Shih Tzus are Britain’s most popular toy breed.
Shih Tzus are affectionate, loyal, and usually sociable – they make friends easily.
However, they can sometimes be overly possessive or jealous around other dogs, so early socialisation is important to make sure they learn to share!
While Shih Tzus can be a little bit stubborn, with proper training they present few behavioural issues – though they’re prone to barking a lot. As fairly fragile creatures, they’re not usually suitable for families with small children.
8. Border Collie
Border Collies originate from the UK – in fact, the breed’s name comes from the fact that they lived along the Anglo-Scottish border.
Working Border Collies are experts at herding sheep and other livestock. Agile, fast, strong, and incredibly intelligent, they’re very quick to learn and highly loyal to their human companions. They’re usually patient and sociable.
When living as pets, Border Collies need a lot of physical exercise and mental stimulation.
Therefore, they’re ideal four-legged friends to people who live an active lifestyle and have regular access to an outdoor space for the dog to explore. Ideally, Borders should get at least an hour and a half of vigorous exercise per day.
Borders enjoy learning new things, so they also benefit from taking obedience and agility classes – at which they typically excel. In fact, they regularly come in first during agility championships!
7. French Bulldog
Despite their name, French Bulldogs actually originate from the United Kingdom. The breed was created by crossing full-sized bulldogs with small terriers, in order to create a miniature bulldog.
These dogs were popular companions to English lace workers in the 1850s, who began to emigrate to France, bringing their dogs with them.
The breed gained rapid popularity in France and has since been associated with this country.
Because French Bulldogs are companion dogs – as opposed to working or hunting breeds – they’re friendly and mild-mannered.
Patient, fun-loving, and very affectionate towards their human family, they’re fairly easy to train – even if they can be stubborn sometimes. If living in an apartment, it’s worth knowing that these dogs rarely bark.
Before adopting or buying a French Bulldog, it’s important to note that this breed is particularly prone to several health problems.
Selective breeding has led to increased risk of issues with breathing, eye health, joints, spine, and temperature regulation, among others.
At number six, it’s the Cockapoo – which thus turns out to be the most popular designer breed in the UK.
By designer breed, we mean a dog that’s the result of deliberate cross-breeding of other existing breeds. In the case of the Cockapoo, it’s a mix between a Cocker and a Poodle.
The Cockapoo was first ‘designed’ in the United States in the 1960s.
Because they’re not technically a pure breed, they’re not recognised by the Kennel Club – and don’t have a specific breed standard yet. Cockapoos vary in size and can weigh between 5.4 kg (toy) and 11 kg (‘maxi’).
Cockapoos are the perfect companion dogs and family pets, thanks to their sweet, gentle disposition and loving nature.
They’re easy to train and highly sociable, and only need a little bit of exercise every day to stay healthy – for smaller Cockapoos, just 15 minutes of play will be enough to stay healthy.
5. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier – sometimes called ‘Staffy’ – appeared a few hundred years ago in Birmingham. The breed is the result of crossing the Old English Bulldog with the Old English Terrier.
Unfortunately, Staffies were mostly bred for dog fighting. When blood sports were finally outlawed, breeders re-directed the development of the breed, favouring Staffies that were affectionate and would make good companion dogs.
This history of blood sports still sometimes gives Staffies a bad reputation – which, by the way, is entirely unfounded.
Although strong and muscular, these dogs are usually gentle and loyal, and very loving. In fact, a 2019 survey by the brand Eukanuba found that Staffies (together with Westies) are the most affectionate dog breed!
Still, Staffies are formidable dogs – so focused training is essential to ensure they grow up to be friendly, obedient companions to the whole family.
4. Jack Russell Terrier
Fourth on the list of Britain’s favourite dogs is the Jack Russell Terrier. The breed was developed by the English Reverend John Russell in the 19th century, with the original purpose of fox hunting.
The breed was later refined with badger-digging in mind. From WWII onwards, breeders focused on Jack Russells as companion dogs, though it’s undeniable that the breed still very much has a ‘working dog’ mentality.
Jack Russells, then, are highly energetic, vocal, fearless, and very intelligent. It’s essential to provide these dogs with lots of vigorous exercise – failure to do so often results in behavioural issues, such as destroying furniture.
Jack Russells are also prone to stubbornness and occasional aggression, so professional obedience training is definitely worth considering.
Given that their activity needs are met, these dogs make for happy, loyal, entertaining companions for active families.
3. Cocker Spaniel
It comes as no surprise that Cocker Spaniels came in so high on this list. With several centuries of history behind them, Cockers originate from England, where they were initially used as hunting dogs.
The job of a Cocker Spaniel was to ‘flush out’ game – most commonly birds – to bring it out into the open for the hunter. Later, as Cocker Spaniels became an increasingly recognised breed, more focus was given to their looks and specific characteristics.
Nowadays, there are two varieties within the same breed – the working line and the show line. Dogs from the working line are more energetic and active, while show Cockers are more laid-back.
There are minor differences in appearance, particularly in the length of the ears and shape of the skull.
Cocker Spaniels are very gentle, sweet, loving dogs, who very rarely show aggression or displeasure. They’re popular family pets, thanks to their patience and sturdy build.
In addition, they’re intelligent, affectionate, and highly loyal, prone to forming very close bonds with family members.
2. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever needs little introduction – they are Britain’s most popular pure-breed dogs, after all!
Though the breed itself was developed in England, using fishing dogs that were brought over from Newfoundland.
Originally, they were hunting dogs used to retrieve game from land and water – hence their name. They also served as working companions to fishermen.
Though large, Labs are famously gentle, intelligent, and friendly.
They’re playful, loyal, obedient companions as pets and priceless as disability assistance dogs, particularly as aids for blind people and those on the autism spectrum.
Labrador Retrievers form bonds very quickly, becoming steadfast friends with the whole family – including other pets.
As a fairly big breed, they require a high amount of exercise, ideally an hour every day. They’re also successful contestants in agility and obedience competitions.
So here it is – the most popular of all dog breeds the UK is… not actually a breed! If we’re only taking pure-breed dogs into account, Labs come first.
However, the most common canine companion in British homes is a mixed-breed dog – also known as a mutt.
Simply put, a mixed-breed dog doesn’t belong to any official breed and is not the result of intentional mixing between breeds (like the Cockapoo, for instance).
Mutts can show characteristics of several breeds, and sometimes it’s possible to determine their ancestry through a close visual analysis.
Many people believe that mixed-breed dogs are healthier than pure-breed ones.
The idea behind this theory is that pure-breed dogs are subjected to selective breeding, which means that certain genetic faults are passed on from one generation to another.
Mutts, meanwhile, carry the genes of various breeds and are therefore less likely to suffer from these breed-specific complaints.
Research appears to confirm this theory to some extent. A recent study has confirmed that mixed-breed dogs live 1.2 years longer, on average than pure-breed ones.
In practical terms, it’s also much cheaper and easier to get a mixed-breed dog than a pure-breed – the prices of the latter can reach thousands. Also, mutts are much more commonly found in shelters, ready to be adopted.