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Illustrations of a German shepherd, pit bull and Labrador

Andjela Padejski

Who’s a good boy? A look at Chicago’s most popular dog breeds

As the weather gets warmer, more and more Chicagoans are out and about with their dogs. And that got us wondering: What are the most popular dog breeds in the city?

WBEZ analyzed data on more than 84,000 dogs registered with the city to find Chicago’s top dogs, as well as which breeds are most common in which neighborhoods.

While Chicago requires pups over four months old to be registered with the city clerk, not every dog owner does. Plus, owners don’t always guess their dog’s breed correctly.

Even so, by analyzing dog registration records from the city clerk over the last five years, we learned quite a bit, and actually found out more about dog owners than the dogs themselves. Turns out, Chicago’s most popular dog breeds are mostly a reflection of the times — and of their two-legged companions.

The most common dog breed in Chicago — making up about 14% of all registered dogs — is a mixed-breed dog.

After that, the most popular dog breeds registered were pit bulls, Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, shih tzus and goldendoodles, in that order.

Of course, just because someone registers their dog as a German shepherd doesn’t mean it’s actually a German shepherd. Recently, DNA tests have made it possible to identify a dog’s exact genetic makeup by breed. And data from Embark, one company that sells genetic testing kits for dogs, shows that half of all dogs tested in Chicago have some pit bull DNA.

According to Armando Tejeda, a public information officer at Animal Care and Control, animal shelters often reflect the most popular dog breeds in the city at a given moment. And that changes over time.

“Before bully breeds, it was Rottweilers,” Tejeda said. “There were Rottweilers in pretty much every municipal shelter coming in. When 101 Dalmatians came out, Dalmatians were pretty big in shelters.”

Bully breeds, a grouping that includes several breeds including pit bulls and bulldogs, made up 42% of all dogs taken in at Chicago Animal Care and Control in the last decade, according to data from the municipal shelter.

One reason experts say so many pit bulls in particular end up in shelters is “backyard breeders” — typically unlicensed dog breeders that sell animals on sites like Craigslist — try to breed for certain characteristics, like a red or blue nose. And they end up with a lot of dogs in the process.

“You tend to see a lot of these pit bulls where they end up in the shelter system because [breeders] went to sell those dogs, couldn't sell them and then just passed them off to the shelter,” said Abby Matzke, a shelter manager at Chicago Canine Rescue.

Some Chicago neighborhoods prefer certain dogs over others.

Labrador retrievers, for example, are most often found in North Side neighborhoods. And a lot of German shepherds live on the West and Southwest Sides.

As for the pit bull, the most commonly registered dog in Chicago in the last five years? They tend to be found on the South and West Sides.

“Pit bulls, I always say, are Chicago’s dog,” Matzke said.

Amy Qin is a data reporter for WBEZ. 

Matt Kiefer is WBEZ’s news applications editor.

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