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Which breed is America’s top dog this year?

The family-friendly, fun-loving Labrador retriever continues its reign as America’s top dog, but it finds a floppy-earned, vertically challenged canine nipping at its paws.

The Lab continued its unbroken string as America's most popular dog breed in new statistics released by the American Kennel Club and revealed on TODAY Tuesday, claiming the top spot for the 21st consecutive year, based on AKC registration statistics. But the beagle moved up to the No. 3 spot, displacing the Yorkshire terrier.

"This year clearly belongs to the beagle," AKC spokesperson Christina Duffney told TODAY.com. "The beagle's merry personality combined with his love of outdoor activities make him such a wonderful family pet that I wouldn't be surprised to see this spunky breed sniff his way to the top of the list next year."

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    Image: A curious beagle

    Top 10 dog breeds in America: 2011

    Where is the beagle on the list of our favorite canine companions? The American Kennel Club reveals the 10 most popular breeds of 2011.

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    The top dogs of 2011 -

    Which breeds top the list as the most adored four-legged friends? The American Kennel Club ranks the most popular dog breeds of 2011.

    10. Rottweiler
    Originally bred for their herding and guarding instincts, Rottweilers almost fell into extinction in the late 1800s as the need for them to drive cattle to the markets diminished. Today the breed thrives and often works as a police dog, herder, service dog, therapy dog, and devoted companion.

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    9. Dachshund -

    The breed lovingly known as the “wiener dog” has a strong personality with a dose of charm and a playful sense of humor. Dachshunds, meaning “badger dogs” in German, were first bred in the early 1600s in Germany with the goal of creating a fearless, elongated dog that could dig the earth from a burrow and eliminate the badgers for the farmers.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel / Courtesy of The American Kennel
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    8. Poodle -

    The poodle holds the record for being the most popular dog for 22 consecutive years (1960-1982). The stylish “poodle clip” seen in dog shows was designed by hunters to help the breed move through the water more efficiently. In fact, the English word "poodle" comes from the German pudel or pudelin, which means “to splash in water.”

    Courtesy of The American Kennel / Courtesy of The American Kennel
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    7. Boxer -

    Boxers are known for standing up on their hind legs and batting at their opponent, appearing to “box” with their front paws. People began importing them to America from Germany after World War I, and they began to grow in popularity in the late 1930s.

    Courtesy of The American Kennel / Courtesy of The American Kennel
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    6. Bulldog -

    Bulldogs are calm, loyal family dogs that are happy to curl up on the sofa, eat two or three square meals a day, and have their bellies rubbed. Said to have originated in the British Isles, the name "bull" was applied because of the dog’s connection with bull-baiting. The original bulldog had to be ferocious and courageous, and almost impervious to pain.

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    5. Yorkshire terrier -

    Though members of the Toy Group, this breed is terrierlike by nature — brave, determined, investigative and energetic. Yorkies are highly favored apartment dogs and lapdogs; they are very energetic as puppies and tend to be quiet and settled as adults.

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    4. Golden retriever -

    Golden retrievers are well-balanced, strong, active dogs with a kind expression, a gentle manner and an alert and self-confident disposition. The breed originated in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1800s, and the dogs were used predominantly for hunting.

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    3. Beagle -

    The beagle is the only breed to rank in the Top 10 every decade since the founding of the AKC. Originally developed to hunt rabbits, they naturally enjoy the company of other dogs and humans. Curious and comedic, they often follow their noses – which can lead to some mischief.

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    2. German shepherd -

    Hailed as the world’s leading police, guard and military dog, German shepherds also serve as guide dogs for the blind, guardians, and search-and-rescue dogs. However, they are best known for serving as devoted family friends and protectors.

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  • Image: Two labrador retrievers

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    1. Labrador retriever -

    In 1991 the Labrador Retriever was crowned America’s most popular dog according to the American Kennel Club and today the breed celebrates its 21st year as the country’s top dog. Originating in Newfoundland, Labs worked alongside fisherman helping pull in nets and catch fish that escaped from fishing lines. Labs are high-energy, action-oriented dogs that are happiest with active families.

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Dog lovers are catching onto the fact that beagles aren't really much like their most famous representative, comic-strip canine Snoopy. While Charlie Brown’s pet is a contemplative loner who liberally quotes from Edward Bulwer-Lytton, flesh-and-blood beagles are actually as family-oriented as they come. The AKC notes that beagles lived in packs for centuries, and the dog revels in being part of a human family, which it considers its pack.

While the trusty German shepherd maintains its No. 2 ranking in the new AKC list, other big dogs are moving up the charts — the stick-fetching golden retriever climbed from No. 5 to No. 4, while the rottweiler makes its first appearance in the Top 10.

The rottweiler gave the boot to its lapdog counterpart, the shih tzu in cracking the Top 10, continuing a trend that has seen smaller dog breeds waning in popularity. Cuddling an adorable rottweiler pup in Studio 1A Tuesday, the AKC's Gina Dinardo told Natalie Morales that dog owners are looking beyond the breed's sometimes scary reputation.

"They're fabulous," Dinardo said of rottweilers. "They love their families, (but) they need to be socialized like all dogs so that they get along well with strangers and other animals. But they are naturally protective, and that's the beauty of them."

The emergence of the big dog also signals a wane in popularity of some of the smaller breeds. Ten years ago, the likes of Chihuahuas, Pekingese and miniature pinschers dotted the upper reaches of the AKC most popular breeds list, but all have declined in popularity in recent years.

The Yorkshire terrier slid from No. 3 to No. 5 on the new list, and the dachshund  dropped from No 8 to No. 9. But the fancy, fluffy poodle is making a comeback; America's most popular dog from 1960 to 1982, the poodle breed rose from No. 9 to No. 8 in the AKC records this year. Other Top 10 finishers include the bulldog (No. 6) and the boxer (No. 7).

The AKC also notes that setters are seeing a rise in popularity — English setters, Irish setters, Irish red-and-white setters and Gordon setters all made climbs in registrations in the past year. And while the Yorkshire terrier fell in the top 10, other types of terriers — Bedlington terriers, border terriers and Dandie Dinmont terriers — all gained in popularity.

"(Terriers) are couture, and they come in a variety of sizes," Dinardo told Morales. "They're very feisty, and great with families."

But as if to show fox hunting isn't as popular as it used to be, the scent-driven coonhounds made the largest tumble in this year's AKC statistics. The black and tan coonhound, bluetick coonhound and redbone coonhound all fell sharply in registrations, according to the AKC.

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