Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Emperor's Striptease

Until about 2006, the American Kennel Club published its registration statistics every year -- how many dogs of each breed registered, the comparable number from the previous year, each breed's relative position in popularity rankings, and the overall number of individual dogs registered.

Once the interwebz had evolved, those statistics were easy to find, handy to access on the AKC's site -- and announced with fanfare and fatuous press releases every January -- "Labrador Retriever is America's Top Dog Fourth Year in a Row -- Yorkshire Terrier Closing In."

But starting in 1992, the statistics tell a more interesting story than the timeless drama of poodles vs. Rottweilers.

From what is itself an outlying peak of over 1.5 million registrations in 1992, the numbers went into an immediate tailspin -- not a slow, steady decline, not an accelerating curve, but an impressive nosedive. By 2002, AKC registered fewer than a million new dogs -- over a one-third reduction in registrations over the course of a decade.

One institutional response to this extraordinary development was to circle the wagons and stop putting those registration statistics out where people like me could see them. That will fix it!

According to the AVMA, in 2001 Americans owned 61,572,000 dogs. 36% of American households included one or more dogs. By 2007, 37% of US households owned 72,114,000 dogs. And the average number of dogs per dog-owning household increased from 1.6 to 1.7.

Dog ownership rates increased slightly over that six year period, the human population increased, the number of households increased, and the total number of owned dogs jumped by over ten million animals! During the same period, AKC annual purebred registrations dropped -- as I've just learned, by 300,000.

No wonder they've circled the wagons.

But, you say, wouldn't a well-run business try to find out why they were losing market share, and then do what they needed to do to change that?

Of course it would. We'll get back to that.

I was surprised to find that the AKC recently allowed a gross account of its registration statistics to be published here.

No surprise, the tailspin has not abated.

(And yes, I tried to embed these figures here -- fair use -- and they won't go. I found a workaround to display the gif images. I get the distinct impression of an organization that is still desperately trying to control the message.)

In 2008, the AKC registered the same number of dogs it did in 1965 -- the year I was born. Even more dramatic, when the data controls for the size of human population -- number of dogs registered with AKC / human population -- the potential revenue loss shitstorm from 1992 to 2008 is more on the order of 62%.

Now, the article from the ag-industry astroturf organization NAIA would have us believe that the reasons the AKC's registrations are dropping are:

• New laws and regulations that target breeders
Imports of purebred puppies*
• 30 years of bad publicity about breeders

Reality: none of the above.

AKC isn't drowning. It's in quicksand. It jumped in by itself. All of its witless struggles just send it deeper. And as it screams abuse and curses at its former subjects, fewer and fewer of them are feeling inclined to throw it a rope and get pulled in themselves.

The real reasons for the drop in registrations have something to do with general cultural trends and consumer behavior, and quite a lot to do with the behavior of the AKC itself, past and present. These factors interact with one another, form feedback loops, weave into a full picture and become effectively impossible to parse out into separate threads. Nevertheless, I'll give it the old college try.

Top Ten Reasons the AKC's Registration Revenues are Down the Shitter

10. Televised Dog Shows

Does watching the Miss USA pageant on television make you want to run right out and buy a JonBenet Ramsay Junior Pageant Whore-Baby kit for your daughter?


Yeah, I didn't think so.

Westminster and other televised dog shows do nothing to encourage regular dog owners to become "dog fanciers." While they are moderately popular with viewers -- so are reality TV shows featuring freaks, misfits, drama queens and assorted object lessons.

As your teacher tried to tell you, They aren't laughing with you, they are laughing at you.

The viewers -- mostly dog lovers -- who watch for the weird dog haircuts, unfortunate handler fashion decisions, strange misshapen breeds, and tiny dogs with absurd names that weigh more than they do, are not gaining a higher opinion of the ACK, dog shows, and dog fanciers. The whole exercise in artificial glamor and hype for the cameras makes that world seem even more remote and bizarre.

9. Shelter Adoption

The last two decades have seen a revolution in attitudes towards dogs in animal shelters. Dogs that were formerly killed are now adopted as pets.

None of those dogs are producing purebred offspring to be registered. All of them are occupying a growing, but still finite number of slots in family homes.

There's a special place in my own black little heart for breeders who bitch about rescue because rescue adoptions deprive them of puppy sales. (Yes, really, I've had breeders complain to me about this, as if they would find a sympathetic ear.)

A registry that pisses and moans about essentially the same thing is no better.

8. Puppymills

Consumers began to become aware of the puppymill/pet store connection in the 1970's; awareness continued to grow through the eighties and nineties. The pet stores went on the defensive, with marketing spin that all their puppies came from USDA-registered breeders. (Read: puppymills.) "We buy our puppies from local breeders, not puppymills." Etc. The puppymill marketers and consumer consciousness have been in a sort of arms race of spin versus cognition for over 30 years, but in general, ordinary dog owners and would-be dog owners are aware that puppymills are bad and cruel and to be avoided.

Sadly, many dog buyers discover the provenance of their dog after the fact, when they are standing in a vet's office with a sick or psycho puppy and folder containing the receipt from Petland, a useless warranty, and the puppy's possibly fraudulent AKC "papers."

The postwar marketing scam that had duped American consumers into believing that "AKC-registered" was synonymous with "quality dog" was unraveling.

The AKC was not only willing to register pups that had passed from massive mill to wholesaler to retailer to unwitting pet buyer, it actively courted those revenues. Even when the little sales units weren't individually registered by their ultimate buyers, the AKC took a cut every time the beastie changed hands -- much more lucrative than a hobby or show breeder who sold a puppy just once to a pet buyer. Without the massive revenues of the puppymill industry to subsidize the swank Madison Avenue HQ and glittery dog shows, ACK would have been forced to scale back or require its vassal fanciers to bear the actual cost of their hobby.

Related post: At Least, Don't Buy This

7. Puppymill Registries

Ironically, the biggest hit on AKC registrations came as a direct result of ACK's single arguably good deed.

If the central function of an animal registry is to keep an accurate account of the pedigrees of the animals registered, the AKC was failing because of its long-standing policy of rubberstamping whatever the puppymills reported. It was an open secret that the sale of "papers" for breeding stock and the sale of the animals themselves were two independent and unrelated transactions in puppymill land. If a production unit breeder dog died, its papers were still a lucrative property. This was not limited to simple fraud about identity. Especially in the case of expensive and delicate small breeds, it becomes convenient to cross the breeds, with a small sire caged with some bigger-breed bitches in order to maximize litter size and survivability. No one knows how many Petland "Maltese" are the offspring of a bichon mother and a Maltese father, but by the time the switcheroo becomes apparent, they are in little danger of being returned to the store -- if the owners ever figure it out at all.

The AKC's core constituency -- dog fanciers whose hobby is competing in dog pageants -- was understandably miffed about the open secret that their core values of pedigree accuracy and breed "purity" were overwhelmingly compromised.

In response, the AKC instituted their frequently used sires program, requiring that males that engendered more than a certain number of litters (it is now six, or three in one year, though I believe the initial thresholds were higher) be DNA typed.

The puppymill industry's reaction was to vote with their feet, and create their own papermills with cheaper fees and no questions asked. Not only do the ACA, APRI, CKC, et. al. issue bogus pedigrees for their core constituency, but they are happy to keep on doing so for the mill-puppy buyers turned backyard breeders whose classified ads are the last thing keeping dead-tree newspapers out of bankruptcy.

So now, most puppies bought at pet stores are not AKC-registered, and fewer and fewer of the pups sold by casual breeders and local direct-to-consumer puppymills are. Yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pet classifieds included 58 ads for pups registered with AKC, as against 37 that mentioned no registry, 23 for cross-breds (almost all deliberate "designer dog" crosses) and 18 that mentioned "other" registries -- puppymill industry registries. However, most of the ads for deliberate crossbreds and many of the ones for ACA, WWKC, and other papermill-registered pups bore the field marks of direct-to-consumer mills -- websites, takes Visa, multiple litters listed in one ad -- so the number of pups sold per ad in that category is indubitably higher than the single litters listed.

No question, the Frequently Used Sire Program and concurrent crackdown on records violators -- steps the AKC took to assure its delegates and core customers that it was doing job they pay it to do -- severely cut into the profits. And there is probably no way for them to take it back without digging the hole deeper. Not that they aren't capable.

6. The Return to Normalcy

The practice of sending money to a stranger and accepting in return a sheet of paper that repeats the information you sent along with the money is a curious one, and it only goes back a little over a hundred years in this country. It was initially an indulgence of wealthy fanciers, and remained exclusively so for decades.

The wealthy fanciers also set the habit of paying someone to tell them what they could and could not do with their dogs -- the Government of Dogs proclaimed that there would be no race-mixing, that thus and such color or shape or fur texture was anathema, that ears must be amputated for this dog, but never for that one -- and their subjects jostled one another aside to be the first to obey. (Still cheaper than hiring a dominatrix or Frank Lloyd Wright, and the welts and structural defects are on the dog, not you.)

It wasn't until after the Second World War that very many ordinary middle-class people were convinced that they needed a "pedigree dog." (And there were never more than six AKC registered dogs per year per one thousand Americans, even at the outlying peak of registrations.)

The practice of registering dogs with, and paying obeisance to, an organization that is designed to indulge the hobby of a tiny proportion of dog owners, is a historical blip in the culture. Choosing not to register, not to follow "the rules," is more in keeping with the way that Americans -- humans -- have always kept pet and working dogs.

Rather than ask why Americans no longer register their pets with the AKC, we might seriously ask how it is that they were persuaded to do so, for no apparent benefit to themselves or their animals, for nearly fifty years.

5. Michael Lemonick and Mark Derr

In the March 1990 issue, The Atlantic published the first mainstream media critique of the institution of fancy breeding of dogs. Mark Derr laid out the harm to animal welfare and human needs that follows from selection for physical uniformity, closed studbooks, and exaggerated type in "The Politics of Dogs." (Not available online without paying $$ to The Atlantic.)

More than a decade later, Time's Michael Lemonick laid it all out again in the cover story "A Terrible Beauty."

While most mainstream media coverage of doggy matters remains firmly in the realm of fluff and fatuousity, the horse has left the barn. Even the shallowest treatment of show dogs and "The Fancy" now typically includes some mention of the evils of rewarding only for beauty, inbreeding, ignoring health and temperament. Sure the journalettes have no idea what they are talking about, and get it mostly wrong, but there is some obligatory embedded backlash nevertheless. The reading public is reminded that AKC papers "are best used to housebreak the puppy" at regular intervals.

The popular perception that purebred dogs are inbred (largely true) and that mixed breed dogs are healthier (also on average true) has fueled the market for gormlessly crossbred "designer dogs." While consumers misunderstand the precise nature of the problem, and have definitely fallen for a marketing scam with the "solution," they are to some extent on the right track.

4. Gen X, Y and Z

We don't need your stinkin' certificate to tell us we got a dog, dude!

Oddly enough it was Boomers -- yeah, you're all revolutionaries, sure you are -- who obediently sent in the check for their pets' papers in unprecedented numbers.

That swan dive starting in '92? Right around the time my generation started settling down and getting their own dogs. (Yes, I am 44 years old. That is Generation X. Seriously. Few tats, no piercings. Lotta Gulf War veterans. Look it up.)

3. People Like Me, You, and This Here Lamppost

I used to encourage my clients to send in their dogs' registrations, just in case they might want to go into the obedience ring one day.

I haven't done that in years.

Now, when a client asks, I discourage them from sending in the money. The boys on Madison Avenue don't need your fifteen dollars. Spend it on a nice leash. If they want to know about the pedigree, their breeder should have already provided it. If the breeder won't give a pedigree, that's about all we need to know about that breeder.

I talk about the shortcomings of the ACK -- including a lot of the ones listed here -- to all sorts of people, not just dog hobbyists who seek out a blog like this.

It boils down to advancing the idea that the AKC offers no value for money spent, and is actually bad for dogs.

Viruses spread. Most of you regular readers have spread this one.

2. The Dog Wars

Once upon a time, the gentlemen of independent means from the Westminster KC who actually call the shots at Madison Avenue HQ had some pretty strict criteria for "recognizing" a breed.

A club of fanciers had to come hat-in-hand to the back door, present a studbook that established the unassailable "purity" of their breed, and sing a cool island song to melt their hot hearts, or whatever, in the hopes of being granted permission to send money to the AKC in exchange for a piece of paper that tells them what they already know -- and especially, being included in the honor of having someone who knows nothing about their dogs tell them which ones are wonderful and which are shite.

There were even a fair number of disappointed office seekers. My own breed was dismissed from the servant's entrance for being inadequately pure and insufficiently "standard," some time in the 1950's.

Whew! That was close!

This changed in the early 1990's. 1992, I think it was, when AKC announced that it would "recognize" the Australian shepherd.

Except, the Aussie owners' club had no interest in being so honored. It was doing just fine by itself, with a registry, pageant shows (there was their mistake -- a topic for another day), and open-to-all obedience and working trials.

But AKC was in an acquisitive mood. It cobbled together a little group of Aussie owners who wanted to enter the big pageants, declared them the official club, and to Hell with the studbook -- they'd just take your word for it on the pedigree.

Most of the Aussie people I knew at the time took a fatalistic view -- they didn't like it, but basically rolled over and peed themselves. "I guess I have to double-register, or else lose puppy sales. They're going to close the studbook." (Edit: I do not mean to imply that all Aussie owners went this way; I was just shocked and disappointed about the ones I knew at the time, who all did.)

And they were off.

Next in the sights was the border collie.

Their owners did not roll over and pee themselves.

They "lost," in that they could not prevent the ACK from appropriating the name "border collie" for their transvestite show dogs, nor from capturing the registrations of dogs from working breeding whose owners were addicted to the rush of kicking ass at agility and obedience trials.

But the thing about a little guy who gets beaten by a bully -- all he really has to do is give the thug a bloody nose, and he's won. Better yet if a whole crowd of people watches the fight. It not only clearly reveals the bully for what he is, it plants the seeds of resistance in all of the spectators' minds.

The ABCA continues to register over 20,000 border collies a year -- more than ten times as many as the AKC. Most of those latter are "captured" agility and obedience dogs, and many of those are dual-registered.

The AKC's "standard" version of the "border collie" is widely referred to as the "Barbie collie," and recognized for the pale imitation that it is.

Nowadays, when the AKC announces that it is fixing to "recognize" a working breed, it is universally (and accurately) assumed that this is a hostile acquisitive action fronted by a tiny hollow shell group of wannabes who do not work their dogs.

The involuntary quality of recent annexation is even true of companion breeds, such as the Coton de Tulear, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and Leonberger.

The boards of "rare breed" clubs no longer present themselves at the service entrance and tug their forelocks while handing over the sacred studbook for scrutiny. Yet AKC keeps trying to make up for lost registration revenues from the Labrador and fox terrier columns by grabbing up rare breeds and declaring them "recognized."

It leaves a foul taste in the mouths of even the most die-hard pageant fanciers. Some object only to the untrustworthy pedigrees and opportunities for fraud. But most see how shabbily their Overlord treats those who don't get with its program.

1. Institutional Arrogance

The AKC cannot make up its mind whether it is a Most Anciente and Exclusive Order that has charged itself with governing a small, fanatical, and timorously obedient cadre of social-climbing dog-pageant addicts, or the divinely-ordained Government of Dogs in all of America.

One identity is primarily insular and snobbish. The other is primarily totalitarian and expansionist. They commingle gracelessly into something resembling a Stalinist Switzerland.

Virtually every disastrous decision the organization has made traces back to one of these two identities, or to the grating disharmony between them. But both identities are grounded in over a century that fanciers spent cultivating institutional arrogance -- starting in the dark-wood-and-leather smoking rooms (No Girlz Alowd!) where men who needn't work for a living decided How It Was Going to Be over cigars and sherry.

Arrogance underlies the presumption that "just a registry" has the right to tell the owners of dogs of every breed which dogs are worthy and which impermissible, whom they may breed to, from where they may import an animal.

It defines the conceit that what is important, exciting, and worthy about a dog of any breed is what can be seen in a few seconds by a man in a penguin suit or a matron in sequins who has never owned a dog of that breed, never worked one, never seen one work.

It is indispensable in maintaining the unsupportable faith that purebred dogs are exempt from the principles of genetics that apply to all living beings, and that the answer to the disaster of the closed-registry systematic inbreeding "experiment" is more of the same purge-and-purify insanity.

It drives the see-want-take impulse behind almost twenty years of hostile takeovers of breeds and the imperious treatment of the unconsenting human beings who own the actual dogs and the ephemeral creature that is "the breed."

It governs the institution's imperious dealings with its core constituents as embodied in its own delegates -- and even the previous presumption that their puppymiller gravy train would roll over and keep sending the munneyz when the paper-peddlers no longer winked at the wholesale fraud and unconscionable animal abuse that has paid for so many silver cups and Landseers.

It underlies the transparently grabby attempt to take credit for the achievements of working dogs. ("To qualify, the purebred dog must be AKC registered or an AKC recognized breed ...")

If the AKC wasn't fueled, steered, and simultaneously blinded by its own stupefying arrogance, not only would it avoid the consequences of its own oblivious decisions, it would be much less susceptible to the loss of respect and revenue that has been driven by cultural evolution.


* Total about 70,000 young pups in 2006. No hard figures given for prior years. So no way of knowing a baseline (say, 1992) figure for puppy imports. Some of these pups -- I think a lot -- are English and French bulldogs bred in Russia or other Eastern European countries. That's a new phenomenon; most of these pups aren't going to be AKC registered. Some will be German shepherds and other working-breed dogs born in Germany and imported by private American buyers or pretty much legitimate brokers. Many of those will be registered with the AKC -- probably many more than are native-born GSDs for the neighborhood pet market. That import market has been around for a long time. Some are dogs bred by fanciers or working breeders in Canada and Mexico, sold to private pet and show and working buyers in the US -- again, a well-established practice along those porous borders. Just as likely to be AKC registered as a comparable native-born pup. Some are like this guy. Definitely registered.

I don't think there's any damned way that 70,000 imported pups, many of which ultimately
are registered with the AKC (which presumably knows the exact number), and which may or may not represent an increase in imports, account for much of the > half a million fewer dogs registered in 2008 v. 1992.


  1. The AKC board minutes, which minutely detail registrations, are public and have been for years. Six years worth here: http://www.akc.org/pdfs/about/board_minutes/

    Also, the AKC recognition of new breeds is not and has never been involuntary. The process for recognition is public and extremely predictable; you can follow the process of several of the "newer" breeds applying for and receiving recognition in the Board minutes. Considering that I personally have talked to the people who got the Vallhund into AKC and the ones who worked on the Leonberger, and followed closely the people who were getting the Coton, the Border Collie, the Pyr Shep, the Cavalier, and a couple others in, I can absolutely vouch for this.

    The AKC is a FCI partner. As such, it has a process for recognizing a situation THAT ALREADY EXISTS; it does not push for new breeds to be created or recognized and it does not register any dogs involuntarily. It says "If your breed ALREADY exists as purebred, has for a number of years, and there's a sufficient quantity of you who want to be recognized by us, we'll do it as long as you jump through these hoops." In every case, a group of breeders - BREEDERS, not the AKC - decided they wanted to pursue AKC registration and began the process. The AKC will not refuse to register a breed if the breed club follows the process.

    If you want to talk about what dogs should or should not do or where (or if) owners "should" register, fine. But I am super, super tired of this line about the AKC involuntarily annexing breeds. In every single case it was a group of breeders approaching them and pushing VERY hard for recognition.

  2. I'm sure the JRTCA, the ABCA, ASCA, the CKCSC, the LCA, the various Coton clubs would be happy to hop in and tell their side of the story.

    See, I know people too.

    Yes, I'm sure you followed the people who were getting these breeds "in." The malcontents and puppymillers who didn't want to be constrained by real codes of ethics and breed survey programs and health registries and requirements -- who wanted those easy first-year championships and to cash in on the newly trendy puppy sales and to breed and register their genetically diseased animals without oversight.

    The north of 90% of owners of all these breeds who resisted being "in" for the health and future of their beloved breeds don't count, because any couple of scoundrels can get "help" to form their own "club" and kowtow to Madison Avenue. And Madison Avenue can outlawyer any lil' breed club.

    If the clubs all wanted "in" then how is it that since the Aussie hijacking, AKC can't seem to get hold of the studbooks so easily anymore? How is it that the JRTCA and ASCA and ABCA et. al are still going concerns with their own registries?

    So they just say screw it and tell the deserters to write down what they think is the pedigree and that's what it is.

    And the FSS, the foot wedged in the door -- which has recently had the threshold number of animals in it dropped to 150 in order to become "fully recognized." Presumably because of widespread lack of interest.

    That's not 150 living animals, just 150 total!

    Three mass breeders can get ya there in five years.

    FYI, the AKC has actively solicited my breed club with the offer to take that pesky registry stuff off our hands, you know, just use the FSS, we are all about helping you out so you can "improve" your dogs.

    They got positively pesky about it.

    Nom nom nom.

  3. Oh, and nice try, but there are no registration statistics in those spectacularly well-hidden board minutes PDF files.

  4. As well as the fact that the AKC and the FCI have not been associated for that long.

    The AKC fought acceptance into the FCI for years.

  5. Dear Doggers,

    Ms. Joanna wrote:"The AKC recognition of new breeds is not and never has been involuntary."

    And the stalker's victim "really wanted it".

    Donald McCaig

  6. "That guy" you linked to in the notes at the end sure does seem to be one helluva good dog. Wish he were mine.

    Wait ... he IS mine.


    Seriously ... another great post. I'll be sharing it.

  7. Re: Arrogance.

    During the dog wars I thought we'd win because the AKC hacks were too stupid to defend against the media lambasting.

    "No," my self-made, very rich businessman friend disagreed. " Stupid people don't know what's in their own self interest. Let me disagree with smart people. If they're smarter than me, I'll just hire smarter people to deal with them. Stupid people - they'll kill you if it kills them too."

  8. Just wanted to say I enjoyed the wit and wordsmithing you put into this.

    I am going to have read it several more times in order to soak it all in, the reading of it is so entertaining!


  9. 2009 AKC registration, show that the Labrador was number 1 again, and the GSD (!) was number 2.


    Yorkies got mass produced in recent years, and many of these dogs were not what people wanted at all!

  10. "One identity is primarily insular and snobbish. The other is primarily totalitarian and expansionist. They commingle gracelessly into something resembling a Stalinist Switzerland."

    That made me laugh out loud.

  11. Joanna - I was an active member of the Leonberger Club of America when they were unceremoniously hi-jacked into the "honor" of AKC recognition.

    In a membership vote conducted about a year before the axe fell 97% of the club members voted against AKC recognition.

    Not to be thwarted, AKC partnered with a very small group comprised largely of:

    Canadian breeders hungry to sell puppies in the larger US market without incurring the expense of the LCA's pedigrees and health screening requirements (not recommendations;

    US breeders whose dogs didn't meet the LCA's strict breeding requirements who wanted to breed their dysplastic, thyroid-diseased, neurologicall challenged dogs and sell them for the same kinds of prices that the fools who only bred BACL'd dogs did;

    A small group of people who were obsessed with conformation shows and ribbons and didn't think that UKC, ARBA and LCA offered enough weekend entertainment options.

    As I recall, they comprised approximately 2% of the original club membership. However, though a loophole in the FCI rules - once AKC accepted a US breed club no matter how small and insignificant only Leonbergers registered with that club would be eligible to breed back to European dogs. Since most of the world's population of Leonbergers exists in Europe and is registered with FCI clubs - staying out once that one club was recognized would effectively shut your dogs out of most of the gene pool. This is a momentous issue when you're dealing with a breed that had at that time a breeding (not registered) population numbering in the hundreds of dogs.

    Yeah, the LCA eventually went along for the ride, but as Donald put it, they did so as happily as date rape victims.

  12. Australian Shepherds were recognized due to the efforts of a very small percentage of Aussie owners and breeders. The Australian Shepherd Club of America - a very large and active registry for Aussies - conducted a vote and the majority of the membership said no to AKC recognition.

  13. I am very well aware that it's often a splinter group of breeders that ends up wanting to get into AKC, but the fact remains that it is BREEDERS who APPLY. You can say all the nasty things you want about those breeders (and for all I know it may be correct), but it is not AKC involuntarily annexing. AKC does not get involved in club politics; if you satisfy the FSS requirements you can start the process.

    In many breeds a dog can be registered in one of half a dozen breed clubs and group clubs; the AKC doesn't decide that one of those is the legitimate one and refuse to let the others apply for FSS. If you have the numbers, the standard, and the pedigrees, it lets you begin. So, yes, go blame the breeders. Don't state something completely unfactual about the way AKC accepts new breeds.

    And, Heather, I don't know how difficult it is to go to the home page and click on "About AKC," but that's where the board minutes are so spectacularly well-hidden. Top of the About page, with a picture to encourage you to click. Read through the minutes for a few months; go look at the Delegates minutes (same section). Lots and lots of detail about exactly how many registrations there are and how much the club is making and whether revenues are falling or event fees are rising.

    You're welcome to talk to my friends who worked on some of these breeds, as long as you agree to look them in the eye and tell them that they're puppy-millers who don't care about ethics.

    It's awfully easy to be vicious on a blog when you don't have to face the actual person you're accusing, and don't have to look at their dogs, or listen to them tell you about the way they've devoted their entire lives in some cases to this one breed.

    I don't really care about what registry you do or don't belong to; I manage to raise a herding dog in AKC and my practices wouldn't change a bit if I were in a different registry. It's the breeder, not the registry, that does or doesn't do things to a breed. Personal ethics are always the ones that count.

    What I object to is either making completely unfactual statements OR being offensive and cruel to people who actually exist and who are better dog breeders than I or you or 99% of the rest of the world.

    When you accuse someone of being a puppymiller who loves to breed diseased dogs, you're talking about Kirsten, who brings her mother, an immigrant, in a wheelchair to every dog show weekend so her mom can watch her beloved elderly dog, who she imported from her home country, compete like the old lion that he is and get scritches and pats from the hundreds of people who know him. That old boy has been bred, who knows, maybe twice? Three times?

    So come to a show; I'll be happy to introduce you to Kirsten.

  14. Dear Doggers,
    Ms. Joanna wrote: "I am very well aware that it's often a splinter group of breeders that ends up wanting to get into AKC, but the fact remains that it is BREEDERS who APPLY."

    I thank Ms. Joanna for repeating this particular AKC mantra. My earlier responses were snarky but didn't address her central error.

    Most of the AKC's "Recognition" (aka "Stalking") process occurs offstage, so I cannot speak knowledgeably about what happened to other breeds. Typically. the first I'd hear was when some frantic officer of the stalked breed club called to ask what they could do to prevent the very few from giving away their breed to AKC administrators who knew nothing about their dogs and cared less.

    I do, however, know in detail how the AKC recognized the Border Collie and Ms. Joanna's view as cited is false.

    An American Kennel Club Vice-President actively solicited Border Collie people to form an AKC-friendly club to seek AKC membership at least three years before the AKC admitted interest in our breed.

    I can produce witnesses and their affidavits.

    Donald McCaig

  15. Because I own an American breed, and the two other working breeds whose histories I know best are either American or effectively non-FCI, I underestimated the effect of the FCI hammer on the AKC's ability to blackmail the clubs for breeds that originate elsewhere.

    Effective genetic isolation from the bulk of the world population is a slow death sentence -- but faster than the Death By Kennel Club that awaits all closed gene pools. Hobson's choice for people who love both their dogs and their breed.

    Ms. Kimball is passionate in her defense of a version of reality that paints the HQ on Madison as a sort of massive ova, passively waiting while the spunky little spermy breed clubs thrash about to see who can "get in."

    Since Ms. Kimball breeds and shows, but does not work, train, or trial, an AKC "herding breed" whose primary field mark is extreme chondrodysplasia, and which had no history in this country as a functional dog when it was "recognized" 75 years ago, she may not be as familiar as she believes with either the process of defunctionalizing a working breed via fancy breeding, or the actual political machinations involved in the last two decades of hostile breed takeovers.

    I'm sure the dog fanciers she meets on her weekends who are so excited about finally getting to hang out with the popular kids at the winter formal tell a certain story of their struggle for "recognition." That doesn't make that story The Truth, or even true. (But I bet it includes tales of another group of Mean Girls who selfishly voted against their cool plans to put on a show -- maybe even voting well north of 90% against in each account. 'Cuz being a tiny minority means that you are automatically a victim, not that you are wrong.)

    "Kirsten" is a very compelling character who may actually exist and even have the elderly immigrant mother et. al. No way to know, as "Kirsten" has no surname. Ms. Kimball was not so forthcoming as to even identify the type of dog in question. Nevertheless, I submit that even in reference to an exclusively pet breed, characterizing the process of trotting or ambling in a circle and then standing still for a few minutes as "competing like a lion" shows a poverty of appreciation for any dog's potential for real achievement in the world.

    However, if Ms. Kimball believes that I have not called out individuals to their faces on their breeding and husbandry practices, as well as the unintended but predictable consequences of their other actions -- well, she can just come on down.

    Which brings us back to the whole point of this post, doesn't it?

    Dog buyers do not want this.

    The numbers don't lie.

    If Ms. Kimball wishes to continue breeding dogs from a closed gene pool, presenting them to be judged on fancy points, and courting the approval of her fellow fanciers for the next five decades, well, it's a free country. Lots of people have stranger hobbies. I don't condemn my friends for spending money going to Buffy Conventions or collecting anime.

    But to expect the rest of the culture to applaud that hobby is presumptuous and silly.

    To expect those whose passion is the conservation of working dogs and companion dogs as functional, healthy animals to do so exposes too much time spent in a self-referential milieu.

    To believe that anyone gets a pass on genuine animal welfare concerns -- including the suffering caused by avoidable genetic deformity that is written in to breed standards and the big business of puppymills, from which the entire "Fancy" has drawn a subsidy for decades -- because one's own dogs are impeccably-groomed, well-fed show dogs who see the vet twice a week -- betrays both a glorious absence of self-awareness, and the infectious nature of institutional arrogance.

  16. Once upon a time in a land far away, I cared about this. As an owner of a breed where the split between show and field is well established, I no longer do. It just doesn't matter.

    I like field trials, so I have field trial bred Labs. Yep, they're butt ugly. I used to show Labs, and I still have one bench bred Lab. She's cute as a bug's ear and actually looks like a Labrador. Unfortunately, she can't count past two. Ya can't have it all...

    "The work" of the breed (which is to be a hunting companion capable of helping to put food on the table, no competition involved) is somewhere between these two extremes, and ALL of my dogs can do that.

    I like AKC games, and therefore, I have AKC registered dogs of an AKC recognized breed. Different games need different types of dogs even within the same breed. It doesn't bother me that they're both called the same thing.

    I understand fewer people are registering their dogs. That's fine. I also understand the AKC's problem with this - they've got a business to run.

    What I don't understand is why this is such a big deal. As Heather said, it's a free country. Clubs can join the AKC or not, people can register their dogs or not. Whatever.

    We've got so many more, bigger, problems to worry about these days.

  17. Now to argue about something I actually care about.

    Donald McCaig has written about what happened to the poor border collie when the AKC Moloch cast its view onto that working breed.


    The AKC looks for quislings, and then it does what the communist parties in virtually every Eastern European country did to consolidate power: Salami tactics.

    Take a piece here and there.

    Until they have the whole thing.

    That border collies and others have been able to hold out even after recognition says a lot.

    I'm seeing the same debate happening now with the Lacy dog. Virtually all Lacy people are anti-AKC, but I've run into a few who are doing all they can to get the breed recognized. The AKC can find its quislings there.

  18. Institution arrogance is going to lead to institutional obsolescence.

    This whole thing is based upon being a quality control organization-- a consumer reports for dogs, if you will. But when their shoddy practices are called out, they go -- "We're just a registry."

    You can't be both. You're either the "dog's champion" (as they call themselves) or you're just a registry.

    And that's where the emperor is totally naked.

  19. In about the same time that I cared about such things, I was also naive enough to think that the AKC actually stood for something and that they really did intend to look out for dogs, or at least purebred dogs.

    Their willingness to support PAWS II showed me the folly of that belief.

    If the market wants and permits their demise, that's fine with me. I just hope somebody comes up with some decent alternative to their retriever field trials. The UKC already has alternative hunt tests and obedience trials, so I've got that going for me.

    Otherwise, yes, they're guilty of a lot of empty promises and false posturing, but that's true of most of corporate America. The problem comes with expecting better of them. One can't.

  20. I'm with eleanor, either a dog is what it does or what you call it. If a dog is what it does then who cares how many herding 'breeds' make up your dog, it's a herding dog. period, by definition. A dog is what it does. Who cares how many different retrievers are in my dog, he is a retriever, because he retrieves. Once you accept that who cares if the AKC 'appropriates' the border collie, that is just a name. People raising and working herding dogs still do so. If you want a herding dog you go to a breeder who makes herding dogs. Unless maybe there is some value in being a West Yorkshire droving collie. Maybe the only reason people care what the AKC does is they think a dog is more than what it does, but also what it is called.
    Jacob L'Etoile

  21. Heather --

    1) I didn't see the original links for the graph images above, but I was wondering whether you were attempting to link the images straight from the AKC's website. If so, it's likely they have a offsite referrer restriction that forbids it.

    2) Let us say that I have a friend who is considering buying a puppy from a pet store, or talking someone else in his family into doing so. As good as this piece is, it has the singular disadvantage of being rather long. Is there a bullet-point summary of why pet stores are a bad idea laying around in your archives, or elsewhere that you would recommend?

  22. Rob --

    Neither short nor bullet-pointed, but more on-topic:


    I had a couple of pages that more fit your bill bookmarked way back, and they seem to be gone in site restructurings now.

    But maybe some of the other readers have favorites that are to-the-point.

    I have a handout for clients on training a puppymill puppy that goes over what challenges and problems to expect -- it assumes they've already screwed the pooch.

  23. This one is new to me, and definitely on-point, covers most of the bases:


    This one, from HSUS of all critters, is good, but relies on a lot of links:


    This one, good, simple:


    In the last year or so I have seen a change in the standard-issue warnings about pet shop pups; I used to be very frustrated when the boilerplate said that pet store puppies "often" came from puppymills. Because only a puppymill sells through pet stores. So the correct term is always. The "often" gave plenty of space for sales spin in the store.

    But now I am seeing more and more "always" or unmodified statements -- "puppies sold in pet stores come from puppymills."

  24. Hi again.

    Ms. Kimball grew up on a small working farm and raised dual-purpose sheep, dairy goats, meat rabbits, horses, and (gasp!) English Shepherds (unregistered) before she married someone who preferred not to have manure fill up the yard. Our first dog together was a field-bred livestock guard dog. I can talk about DHIR and USDA and scrotal circumference with the best of them. I've bred under half a dozen registries of various species, some with open herd books/stud books and some without.

    My herding dogs, who are supremely useful little dogs who are not allowed to be bred before they demonstrate not just herding instinct but capability (Bronte lived on a working farm for six months, for example), are achondroplastic dwarfs. It's a deformity but a functional one; it was an ancient preference for a dog who had the instinct but was physically restricted by the shorter legs. Fabulous for working up close and extremely protective to the dog when they're presented with a threat or a kick; they tuck and roll and are back up again instantly. My Cardigans can out-corner and out-accelerate Aussies and BCs, so they can work appropriately in very small spaces. Short-legged herders existed as a landrace for thousands of years in areas where the pasture was an acre or two and not a thousand; they're fantastic in that type of situation and have the added benefit of needing almost no food to work all day.

    Kerstin's mom's old dog is a champion, CD, RAE, NA, NAJ the last time I saw him. He's also a service dog who detected her mom's last stroke.

    See? When it's real people, it gets messier. You make big statements about how dumb the dog must be and then it turns out the dog's not so dumb; maybe it turns out the human's not so dumb either.

    It ALWAYS comes down to personal responsibility as a breeder. You can do it right in any registry; you can do it completely and totally wrong in any registry. I've talked to people in NAVHDA who proudly showed me their Korthals and talked about how much better he was than an AKC dog; he was a complete trainwreck conformationally and I'd be surprised if he made it without injury until he was three. I've watched trials where the BCs made me wince as they bunnyhopped anytime they slowed down from a dead run. NO registry means "healthy dog." NO registry means "dog who can work." You stick in the registry that allows you to do your best work as a breeder, but when you have to make an accounting nobody's going to be saying that they should blame (or praise) your registry. It's up to you.

    And, yes, it is the individuals who choose the registry, which has been my point all along. Nobody held anybody under a gun and told them to go apply to AKC for FSS recognition.

  25. "My Cardigans can out-corner and out-accelerate Aussies and BCs, so they can work appropriately in very small spaces."

    Joanna, I recognize that you love your dogs, and have a lifetime of buy-in to what you do. That kind of thing is hard to escape.

    But your statement shows a degree of kennel-blindness that's really hard to swallow.

    No, there weren't any Cardis in the speed jumping agility finals at the USDAA World Cynosport Games (which perhaps says something in and of itself) but the BCs and Aussie had faster times on bigger courses than the smaller dogs. And you don't get those kinds of times without explosive acceleration and spin on a dime turns.


    Look at the back half of your dog. Look at the back half of a BC, Aussie, McNabb, Heeler, what-have-you. Your dogs don't have the structure or the musculature to out-perform real working dogs. Not on acceleration. Not on a turn. And not on a straightaway. Probably not even on escaping a kick from a nasty steer.

    That doesn't mean they're not nice dogs -- I have always liked corgis a lot -- but you have to be honest, at least with yourself.

  26. A Cardi might be useful for flyball, where the height of the hurdles is based upon the height of the shortest dog.

    Interesting little dogs. It's a shame the Welsh crofters were nearly wiped out because of the Enclosure. Those little dogs were functional little "curs" for their families. The corgi evolved without fences. Their job was to round up and control free roaming stock that bred relatively freely on the commons.

    I don't think they can make it in the border collie and Aussie world.

    Same with curly-coated retrievers, whose real talents are never really tested in the modern world. They are more independent thinking breed than goldens and Labs. And more so than flat-coats, so even flat-coats are going to be more numerous than they are.

    If only we had bird poaching contests!

  27. I bet there are Kenyans who I can outrun in a distance race. In fact, I'm sure we could find some. This proves nothing. It certainly doesn't make me the winner of the Boston Marathon.

    I'm sorry Ms. Kimball, but the Scarecrow does not live here, so no one will be playing the part of the Straw Man to engage your nonsense. If you want to argue about something that someone actually said, then hop to it.

    Kirsten/Kerstin's wunderhund notwithstanding.

    You breed and show, but do not work or train, a dog which by design suffers a hereditary deformity that qualifies a human sufferer for handicapped license plates and, if he's lucky enough to have good insurance, lifelong maintenance by medical specialists.

    You know that you are positively selecting for a physical structure that overwhelmingly predisposes the dog to the excruciating pain, devastating disability, and frequently early death of disc disease.

    And you select for this physical structure because to do otherwise would knock you out of the ribbons, and because you have a story about how it was "functional" at one time.

    Yet the dogs who actually perform this function in the modern world do not share this genetic deformity.

  28. This isn't the first exchange I've had with Joanna-- the first one wasn't pretty.

    There are heeling breeds that don't have short legs, and I can find them pretty easily. We call them Australian cattle dogs, but most rural people call them blue heelers or Queensland heelers.

    Corgis are out of a different time and different place-- a place that no longer exists. Wales no longer has an open field grazing system. There are not thousands of small crofters living on the land, relying upon their cows for their only sustenance.

    The Enclosure opened the door for the strong-eyed collies, and since we've not returned to feudalism, I don't think we'll be seeing must use for the Cardigan or the Pembroke.

    Nice pets, though.

  29. The AKC FSS department just declined to present the Finnish Lapphund for the board's consideration to move out the Miscellaneous class. The reason? The fancy has not bred enough litters since inclusion in the Miscellaneous class. ISYN!

    The Lappie will be considered again in six months. I guess AKC is giving the fancy time to generate enough registration income (ie. shit out some puppies) to see if they will be considered worthy of full recognition.

  30. AKC. Probably in response to that registration nosedive, they finally relented to the non-breed folks and created 'Canine Partners' allowing mutts to compete in agility and obedience at their shows - when the organizers allowed it.

    BIG whooha here in Phoenix when the organizers of the AKC Fiesta Cluster decided it would only allow breed-registered dogs to compete in ANY of the cluster shows last year. Want to play in agility? Too bad ya cur, we don't want your kind here.

    Resolution? They are moving the agility competition away from other events at Westworld and into another venue. And allowing us mutts in. Sort of separate but equal, I guess. Nice, huh? Don't know about the dock diving or other trials.

    AKC folks do seem to like to shoot themselves in the foot, don't they?

    My mongrels? - a rescued designer dog that needed a job (Rat Terrier/Chi) and my up and coming Patterdale terrier/pound dog.

  31. I have herding dogs - AKC dogs no less. I have actually had 3 herding breeds work on our small farm. A farm which could be managed without dogs but dogs make it much easier. *My* breed is the Belgian Tervuren & there are actually a fair number of Tervs who do both beauty pageants & work (in herding, obedience, tracking, agility, etc). Our parent breed club has worked hard to keep work ability in our breed - we do go through cycles where the beauty queens may triumph but it has come back every time so far.
    And, heaven forbid, my daughter had a Pem Corgi that I would have put up against ANY working dog when it came to drive, instinct & work ethic. She is the dog who in a sleeting/snowing/freezing rain storm leapt in & swam across the creek, then forced my sheep into the flooded culvert & up to the barn. Yes, only 21 sheep but a "dwarf dog" owned/trained by a little kid. She outran many a BC time in agility & worked up until 13 yrs of age. A top agility handler asked if we would consider placing her as that handler felt they could make the World Team with this dog. A top BC handler asked if we would consider placing her as they felt they could run her in BC trials. Flash was handicapped by belonging to a little kid but she made her mark. Perhaps an exception, but that still proves there are those exceptional dogs out there.
    And my latest Terv pup (from the first litter I have bred after 27 yrs in the breed) did finish his breed CH at 8 mos of age but a day later passed his TD in 6 min flat depsite having to drag me up & down a steep hill. He is working in rally, agility, obed, herding & more tracking. So there are breeds that can continue to work even within the confines of the AKC. Don't knock all our dogs :) that said, I don't agree with AKC 100% either.
    Deb E

    1. "Don't knock all our dogs."

      I promise not to as soon as you actually demonstrate that you have read and understood what anyone actually wrote.

  32. Well Heather, you did say, "Yet the dogs who actually perform this function in the modern world do not share this genetic deformity". There are working Corgis - including 2 that work dairies in upstate NY that I know of. I am not saying that all AKC Corgis can & do work, but at least some do.
    However, you & I agree on more than we disagree. There are many things about AKC that I don't like.
    Deb E

  33. re: Deb and her Tervs, forty years ago, I was involved in breeding, training and showing German shepherds. After many years without dogs (I was too busy making a living, in a profession that made it nigh impossible to own dogs, and do them any justice) I went looking for a dog to acquire. And though the GSD's we bred went variously to the Air Force, police, cattle ranches, dairy farm, local sheep operations, obedience, and conformation homes (from the same litters), that was not the dog I saw in the modern breed. We had one HUGE male back then, that if he hadn't dropped dead of gastric torsion at fifteen months of age, could likely have gone a long way to being a champion. And HUGE then was 85#. My Mom's last GSD, the smaller of the two males, was 115#. And in show condition (i.e. not terribly overweight, though carrying more weight than I like to see on my dogs, who are very active). And when she decided that she really didn't like sending him off to shows, he did have a couple of points toward his championship, so he was the norm for the ring. So, over time, the conformation ring did indeed change the breed, and not for the better. Plus breeding for more extreme angulation meant breeding for looser ligaments, which is what causes the wobbly gait that you see in show bred GSD's, and why now those same police departments, military, etc., look outside our country for almost all the dogs they use. Or go to other breeds, like the Malinois. So, though I was proud that *my* breed still worked, it really was only a matter of time before it too went the way of the Lab, Irish setter, wire hair fox terrier, and others, with so much emphasis on what the show ring dictated.

    AKC, kind of like guns, doesn't kill dogs, people do. But the culture that created and fosters the whole mindset of canine eugenics, and judging a dog's worth based solely on what it looks like, is from whence the AKC arose. And it's all part of the larger picture, and has created a lot of problems, in both the health and temperament, in a whole lot of breeds of dog. Closed gene pools, which preserve the "purity" of the breeds, also ensure that deleterious mutations become widespread in those populations, with no way to fix them (re dalmatians, ALL of whom have liver issues, Rotties, 70% of which carry a gene predisposing them to osteosarcoma, Shelties, most of whom have the MDR1 gene which can make drug interactions potentially lethal, etc.) Breeding for looks alone also means that working characteristics can and usually do, over time, get diluted or disappear completely in a huge proportion of a breed's population.


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