Learn about the perennially popular Labrador retriever

For two decades, the Labrador retriever has topped the American Kennel Club's list of most popular dogs. Now that's something to bark about.

Why so popular? Gentle, intelligent and family-friendly — those are the three character traits the American Kennel Club and the 100,000-plus American Labrador owners use to describe this breed. Throw in an aptitude for pleasing its master, its usefulness as a hunting companion, its ability to serve the blind as a guide dog, and usefulness as part of search and rescue teams, and it's no wonder the Labrador retriever dominates the list of most popular dogs.

The right dog for you? Just because the Labrador is the most popular dog doesn't mean it's the right dog for you, however. The Labrador retriever is best suited for active families and thrives as a trusted hunting companion. If your family doesn't have the time or ability to keep the dog active, a Lab may not be the best breed for you. The Labrador's family friendliness and gentle nature may, however, provide motivation for each family member to take the dog on regular walks and trips to the park.

What do Labradors look like? Labs fall into the medium-sized dog category. The American Kennel Club notes its "short, dense, weather-resistant coat; an 'otter' tail; a clean-cut head with broad back skull and moderate stop; powerful jaws; and its 'kind,' friendly eyes, expressing character, intelligence and good temperament" as its most distinguishing features. Labradors may be black, yellow or brown (chocolate) and typically weigh between 44 and 75 pounds.

They can act, too? A Labrador's willingness to be trained combined with a likable personality extends their popularity beyond just families. They're commonly seen working alongside medical or military personnel or visiting children or the elderly as therapy dogs. They've also hit Hollywood. A Labrador retriever became the star of one of 2008's most popular movies, Marley & Me, based on a book by John Grogan, who chronicles the life of and his relationship with a misbehaving Labrador.