The 11 Most Common Dog Breeds Found in Animal Shelters

By: Alyssa SparacinoUpdated:

A happy dog standing outside in grass Thomazini

The 11 Most Common Dog Breeds Found in Animal Shelters

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If you visit a local shelter or large rescue organization to check out the dogs available for adoption, you have probably noticed the same types of dogs showing up again and again. So, why do certain dog breeds seem to end up in shelters more often? The answer, says Holly Sizemore, chief mission officer of Best Friends Animal Society, is that certain regions of the country may experience a higher volume of certain types of dogs, largely due to the popularity of that breed or mixed-breed type in the area.

If you see the same type of dog in your area shelters, your assumption may be that dogs of that particular breed may not make a good pet. But remember: Dogs end up in the shelter system because of “human problems, not dog problems,” says Sizemore. From housing restrictions to a failure to work with a pet professional on proper training, there are countless reasons why some dogs who would make amazing pets end up waiting in a shelter or rescue for someone to adopt them into their forever homes.

Another complicating factor: Shelters and rescues sometimes don’t know the breed history and will list a dog according to their best guess. “We know that visual inspections are not very good. A dog may look like one breed, but be another,” says Emily Weiss, former vice president of research and development for the ASPCA. For instance, a dog could be labeled as a Jack Russell based on looks alone, but may actually be a Chihuahua-mix, she says.

So, what breeds and breed mixes are you most likely to find at your local shelter? We pulled data from and other shelter experts to bring you this list.

American Pit Bull Terrier

A bully breed dog playing outside Thomazini
American Pit Bull Terriers are often lumped together with other bully breeds and commonly referred to as Pit Bulls. This may be part of the reason the breed is seen in shelters in such high numbers. This dog is extremely popular and also has the misfortune of being misunderstood and stereotyped as inherently dangerous. Some municipalities have even passed laws banning Pit Bull-type breeds, which causes them to be relinquished. Pit Bulls are generally a very athletic, loyal and loving dog that can be protective of their humans.

Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retrievers often suffer from Big Black Dog (BBD) syndrome in shelters—a theory which argues that big black dogs are adopted less often than other types of dogs. Others say fewer are adopted just because there are so many in shelters and rescues. Whatever the reason, the Labrador is a hugely popular dog who is highly energetic, loyal and loving. These pups make great family companions and will quickly become your best friend.

German Shepherd

The German Shepherd remains a very popular dog for their role as a guard dog. Often confused as a “working dog” due to their task-oriented positions in law enforcement and the military, the German Shepherd is technically part of the herding breeds group. Weiss says this is one of the most commonly misidentified dogs in the shelter. “People see black and tan and assume it’s a German Shepherd,” she says. This breed is very active and can be very loyal and protective of its humans and home.


Chihuahuas are extremely popular, especially in urban areas, because of their small size. Weiss says that although they can be found in shelters and rescues across the country, they are more likely to be found in high numbers on the West Coast. Maybe that’s because certain Hollywood celebrities have used their fame to make Chihuahuas hugely popular. (Remember Paris Hilton and her pampered pup?)


The Boxer is a large muscular dog with a square blocky head and it is sometimes mistaken for a Pit Bull. This dog became hugely popular in the late 1990s and its popularity has yet to subside, which makes it a prime candidate for overbreeding, leading to higher numbers in shelters and rescues. The Boxer is a very active breed and needs a home that can handle their high activity level. The dog makes a great family dog and generally gets along well with children.


Since the debut of America’s most famous Beagle, Snoopy, the popularity of this breed has not waned. Beagles may have a history as hunting dogs, but they are also loving, docile and very tolerant of people. As a family pet, they are a hunting breed, so they require a lot of exercise. They are also known for their mournful baying, which might not bode well if you have close-by neighbors.

American Bulldog

Known as one of the dogs in the family of “bully breeds,” the American Bulldog is the tallest and among the heaviest in the Bulldog family. American Bulldogs weigh between 75 and 125 pounds. They are more athletic than most bulldogs and therefore make good guardians and protectors. Once again, these dogs can be very loyal and loving, but they are sometimes lumped into the “bully breeds” category by local governments seeking to ban Pit Bulls and similar dogs.

American Staffordshire Terrier

An American Staffordshire Terrier in a garden Vedernikova
Another of the dogs in the bully breed category, these dogs are sometimes lumped into breed- discriminatory bans too. The American Staffordshire Terrier has a large muscular build with a large head and pronounced jaws. In the U.S., these dogs have historically been used as herding and farm dogs. They are quite strong and are known for their courage. As pets, these dogs are very loyal and can be very playful and good with children.

Border Collie

A Border Collie laying down in autumn leaves
This high-energy breed needs a lot of mental and physical stimulation, which can give some potential dog parents pause and may contribute to their high shelter population. But Sizemore caveats that not all herding breeds need to run miles and miles every day to be efficiently stimulated and happy in a home. Interactive dog toys and puzzle games are a great tool for any pet parent to keep their canine busy and mentally engaged. In fact, Border Collies are one of the smartest breeds around, so games indoors, plus ample exercise outdoors will be the secret to success for pet parents of this breed.

Australian Cattle Dog

An Australian Cattle Dog in the forest
Much like the Border Collie, the Australian Cattle Dog (also known as the Blue Heeler or Australian Heeler) is a herding breed with a high-energy drive to work, so they do best when they have a task. Again, Sizemore cautions that it’s very rare for purebred dogs to enter the shelter and many homeless pets can be unintentionally mislabeled with the wrong dominant breed, so don’t let spots or pointed ears fool you into thinking just any shelter pet is a high-energy cattle dog. However, if you’re looking for a hiking or running partner, this smart, loyal, breed will suit your family well.

Golden Retriever

A Golden Retriever sitting on the ground
While it may be surprising to find a Golden Retriever or mixed-breed Golden, such as a Golden Doodle, in the shelter, Sizemore says it does happen — particularly as the breed and mixes have exploded in popularity over the last several years. That said, these are often some of the first dogs to be adopted out of the shelter system due to their desirability, she adds. Golden Retrievers seek a lot of attention from their family members, and want to be in the center of the action all the time. This smart, lovable breed is also kid-friendly, making them one of the best dogs for a household with young children.

Thinking about rescuing a dog? Here's everything you need to know about dog adoption.

Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell contributed to this story.

Expert input for this story provided by: Holly Sizemore, chief mission officer of Best Friends Animal Society; and Emily Weiss, former vice president of research and development for the ASPCA.


By: Alyssa SparacinoUpdated:

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