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Which breed is America’s top dog?

You might not be able to tell by the lugubrious expression on his deeply jowled mug, and you’d have to look very closely to see his stubby tail wag, but the venerable bulldog has something to celebrate this year.

The breed, which has shed its ancient connection to the savage sport of bull-baiting in favor of a gentler reputation as a family-friendly companion, is moving up the charts on the American Kennel Club’s annual list of most popular dogs. In fact, it’s No. 6 with a ... bulldog.

But fans of the Labrador retriever need have no fear: Based on registration figures compiled by the AKC, the beloved Lab remains the champ in the annual list of most popular dogs, thanks to its well-earned reputation for playfulness and loyalty and its use as a police and search-and-rescue dog.

The AKC compiles the list based on the number of dogs registered each year with the AKC, said Christina Duffney, director of public relations for the AKC. Breeders of pedigree dogs provide their new owners with papers, and the owners file those papers with the American Kennel Club.

The bulldog knocked the boxer, a perennial favorite, out of the No. 6 spot on the 2010 list, the best showing the breed has had in 100 years. The boxer is now the seventh-most popular breed.

And that’s not the only surprise on this year’s Top 10 list, according to the AKC. After nipping at the heels of the golden retrievers last year, beagles have now taken away the No. 4 slot on the list. The goldens now slip to No. 5.

German shepherds, long the benchmark for reliable and even-tempered work dogs, retain the No. 2 spot, while the tiny Yorkshire terrier, a favorite therapy dog in nursing homes and hospitals because of its loving and sometimes exuberant personality, is listed as the third-most popular breed in the country.

The No. 8 spot is still held by the dachshund. The familiar “hot dog” breed comes in three varieties — smooth, wire-haired and long-haired — and two sizes, miniature and standard.

Poodles, also available in three sizes, keep the No. 9 spot. The standard poodle is the oldest version of the breed; the miniature may have been used for truffle hunting, and the toy was often employed in circuses. Today, the breed's main jobs are water retriever and companion.

Rounding out the list at No. 10 is the Shih Tzu. The long-haired, short-legged and flat-faced favorite may be small, but it is courageous; in fact, its name means “lion.”

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