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Which breed is America’s top dog this year?

/ Source: TODAY contributor

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

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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