But when it comes to America's top dog for the past 20 years, practicality beats being fashionable. The Labrador retriever's intelligence earns high marks among owners who sought out the breed.
VanFossan, who lost sight in both eyes by age 22, has owned two Labs. He tried using a cane for six awkward months, then got a guide dog -- a Lab named Gilly. Their time together became a book in January -- "Through Gilly's Eyes: Memoirs of a Guide Dog" -- and his second dog is Achilles.
"Achilles is a little more sensitive but is better at remembering. It's incredible. I can go to a new place just once or twice, and he'll have the route memorized. Sensitivity has its advantages," VanFossan said.
Linda Markley, a mother of three in Los Angeles, returned to the breed after her first Lab -- a shelter find -- died. When the rescues turned up none, she went to a breeder to buy Riley.
Markley said she loves Riley for dozens of reasons, but is most impressed with her memory for human vocabulary and street smarts. She knows such words as "keys," "shoes," "park" and "shake" and can understand phrases such as "go to Ryan's room," "go to Jack's house" and "let's go for a hike," the proud owner said.
And Markley has no doubt that Riley understands what she's saying: "She loves sticks, so she doesn't chase balls or swim in the pool. If you say, 'Do you want to go in the water?' she will run the other way."
Top 10 dog breeds
1. Labrador retriever
2. German shepherd
3. Golden retriever
6. Yorkshire terrier