Labrador Retrievers continue to be the UK’s most popular dog, with over 35,000 newly registered in 2017. This is reflected in Essex, with more Labrador registrations than any other dog according to The Kennel Club, the UK’s official governing body for canine activities and statistics, and the oldest kennel club in the world.
Labradors are likely the most popular dog among Essex pet owners, in part, because of their high intelligence. Following a poll by Animal Friends Pet Insurance of UK pet owners, Labrador Retrievers were voted the third-most intelligent dog in the nation, behind Border Collies and German Shepherds in the number one and two spots, respectively.
According to pet experts James Wellbeloved, intelligent dogs display high levels of energy, ease of training, long-term concentration, and talkativeness (how often they bark or vocalise). Dogs with a lot of energy, who concentrate for long periods, and are easily trained were originally bred to work long days on farms or out on hunts, so are much better at forming a bond with people, while talkative dogs and are more capable of understanding a higher number of commands.
Intelligent dogs make more popular pets because, by being better able to understand human commands, as well as out facial expressions and physical cues, they can better understand what we want. This makes them far easier to train. It also means they are better able to understand their surroundings, and so are less likely to react to a stranger aggressively, provided they have seen their owner is calm and welcoming.
However, while Border Collies and German Shepherds remain popular dog breeds in Essex, there are more registrations of Labrador Retrievers. This is likely because of another factor that contributes to determining a dog breed’s level of intelligence: friendliness.
Friendliness is determined by several factors, including playfulness with strangers, tolerance, and loyalty. For instance, while few dog breeds are more loyal than German Shepherds, they are often mistrustful or disinterested in people they don’t already know. Consequently, some are not very playful or tolerant of strangers. Meanwhile, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and Springer Spaniels are all rated as being highly friendly because, provided their owner has approved a stranger, these dog breeds are just as likely to engage a stranger in play as their own owner. These breeds are also great with young children, as they are highly tolerant to being pushed and pulled without reacting aggressively.
Besides being excellent family pets, intelligent dogs are still widely used to perform various roles throughout Essex and across the country. Labrador Retrievers are the most guide and seeing-eye dogs, although Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are also popular. Labradors, Springer Spaniels, and German Shepherds are also still widely used—and honoured—by Essex police. And Retrievers are the most popular sniffer dogs, whether they are detecting illegal goods or diseases in people.
Despite the continued popularity of intelligent dogs amongst Essex owners, including Yorkshire Terriers and English Cocker Spaniels, there has been an increase in utility dog registrations over the last two years, especially for Pugs and French Bulldogs. While not as intelligent as some other breeds, both are considered very friendly and, as they were not originally bred for working, require less daily exercise.
Ultimately, every breed has positives and negatives to make them suitable for some owners and not others. Families with young children and frequent visitors should prioritise friendliness, while owners who cannot dedicate multiple hours each day to exercising their dog should seek a low-energy breed. But the statistics support that the majority of Essex dog owners agree that the best dog is a clever and friendly one.