The stock market has been extremely strong to start 2019, and the Dow Jones Industrials (^DJI -1.24%) have posted solid gains to begin the year. Yet fears about future market volatility haven't disappeared, and there are still many investors who want to remain conservative, given the potential for further downturns.

One investing method that tends to focus on defensive stocks is known as the Dogs of the Dow. Less than two months into the new year, it's far too early to make a call on whether the Dogs of the Dow will outperform the overall Dow in 2019, but so far, the signs aren't entirely promising. Below, we'll look at which companies have done well for the Dogs and what's held them back so far this year.

How the 2019 Dogs of the Dow have fared


Price Gain in 2019 Year to Date

Dow Jones Industrials


Dogs of the Dow


Source: Yahoo! Finance.

The basics behind the Dogs of the Dow

The Dogs of the Dow strategy involves choosing the 10 top-yielding stocks among the 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrials as of the beginning of the year. You then invest equal amounts of money in each of the 10 Dog stocks, and hold onto the shares throughout the year.

Many see the Dogs as a defensive strategy, and that worked out in 2018. Although the Dogs lost ground, their losses were smaller than the overall Dow's decline. Moreover, investors got more income from dividends from the Dogs, given their higher yields. Overall, the track record for the Dogs has been strong lately, with seven winning years out of the last nine.

Dog in front of calculator with spread-out fan of money.

Image source: Getty Images.

Why the Dogs have fallen behind

Unfortunately, 2019 hasn't followed that pattern. The Dogs are up considerably, but they're still lagging behind. A 3.5 percentage-point difference isn't impossible to bounce back from -- as the Dogs did last year. But it's still a substantial obstacle to overcome.

The problem stems largely from relative performance among the component stocks. Only two Dow stocks have lost ground so far this year, and both of them are among the 10 Dog stocks. Meanwhile, only three Dogs have managed to outperform the broader Dow average on a percentage basis.

The Dow's price-weighting methodology has also helped it compared to the equal-weight Dogs of the Dow strategy. Boeing (BA -2.20%), which is not a Dog stock, has continued its ascent in 2019, adding to massive gains in recent years with a nearly 30% rise year to date. Its stock price has jumped above $400 per share, giving it an 11% weighting in the Dow. That by itself represents the full amount of the Dow's outperformance over the Dogs.

That's not to say the Dogs haven't had their success stories. IBM (IBM -1.95%) is up more than 20%, as sentiment about the tech stock has turned following good results to finish 2018 and hopes for a continued rebound. Efforts to compete against other tech giants in cloud computing are showing encouraging results, and Big Blue gave good guidance for the coming year. Cisco Systems has shown similar success in mounting its own tech recovery, while ExxonMobil has been able to overcome oil-price headwinds to push higher.

Check out the latest IBM earnings call transcript.

Yet weakness elsewhere has held the Dogs back. Coca-Cola (KO -1.30%) stock plunged following its earnings report, when the beverage giant predicted that 2019 financial performance wouldn't be as strong as most shareholders had hoped. Despite efforts to adapt to changing consumer expectations, Coke's recent investments haven't shown the conviction of an industry leader, and soda consumption continues to decline.

Also among the Dogs, Pfizer (PFE -1.82%) hasn't posted any gains for 2019, as investors grappled with the possibility that after a strong 2018, the drugmaker might not have any gas left in the tank for further gains. Loss of patent protection for the key drug Lyrica will offset any gains that Pfizer's able to get from up-and-coming treatments, and CEO Albert Bourla suggested those headwinds could last into 2020, as well. That's not making investors optimistic about near-term prospects.

Are the Dogs doomed?

With more than 10 months to go, there's plenty of time for the Dogs to catch up to the Dow between now and the end of the year. A lot will depend on whether high-flying non-Dog stocks see setbacks that bring them back to earth. In challenging market environments, the Dogs of the Dow are often able to post their best performance -- and investors will have to wait and see what the rest of the year brings.