The nasty little loopholes in AKC registration (online registration, the administrative research registration, limited registration, UKC)

Since, of course, breeding (the DOGS, thank you so much; there’s a reason Last Daughter is going to be Last) is on my mind, I wanted to give my little treatise on the way breeding has gotten a little riskier in the last few years.

I think – I HOPE – that most pet owners and puppy buyers realize that the reason good breeders use AKC as their registry is that AKC has the most challenging shows and competitions, and because AKC is maybe MARGINALLY better at inspections. That’s really about it. AKC is no more a stamp of approval for puppy personality and health than being born at Johns Hopkins means you’re going to be a genius. AKC keeps track of pedigrees, many since the breed was first introduced into the US, which is no small task, and they offer the hardest conformation competitions. So an AKC championship tends to mean a little bit more about the physical (remember, physical only) quality of the dog than an IABCA or UKC championship. (The UKC Grand Championship is more indicative, but that’s another thread for another time.)  That’s why we stick with them. We also like that they donate lots of money (our money, but that’s OK) to research and good causes.

The AKC has always seen itself as a big smart filing cabinet. It keeps track of registrations, gives us a convenient way to track the points we receive, certifies judges, and so on. It doesn’t make a lot of judgements as an organization about what good breeding is or what bad breeding is; it holds standards but does not define them.

This worked out very well for the AKC when they were the only show in town for the vast majority of breeds, which was up until maybe 20 years ago. It also worked well when most dogs in the US were neither purebred nor registered. The AKC back then was an expression of the will of its constituency, who were show breeders.

As the logical expression of my total dog obsession, I’ve read just about every piece of vintage dog literature I could get my hands on. From A to Z, from Algonquin (soo sad) to Lad, a Dog and White Fang. Mentioning these books is not really a non sequitur. For, you see, those books are a fantastic view into the world of purebred dogs in the first part of this century, in the “golden age” of dog shows. When Morris and Essex only invited a few dozen breeds but attracted an entry of 1800 dogs, when celebrities showed dogs and bred them, when having an elite kennel was considered a vital part of being truly successful in business.

In those days, the common man was not considered worthy of owning a purebred dog. The heroes and heroines of these stories owned Collies, Sealyhams, Fox Terriers, Scotties. The villains and lowlifes owned nondescript mixes, tough pit bull types, “tykes” and curs. Terhune told you, point blank, not to buy a purebred unless you had the heart and the brain for it.

This phenomenon had the rather predictable effect of making owning a purebred a status symbol and from there it became a sign of having arrived at the comfort of middle-class and financial security.

And the AKC was registering all the dogs, so its numbers skyrocketed. In 1925, the US population was about 118 million. A few tens of thousands of dogs were registered at that time, from numbers I’ve seen (and can’t find again, so if somebody has this number please tell me). In 1997, there were 268 million people in the US and 1.5 million AKC registrations, over 550,000 litters registered (the rough number of three dogs per litter eventually getting individual registrations is pretty normal, in my experience – a lot of owners never bother to register).

In the late 1990s, AKC (quite properly) bowed to criticism and began two new policies: One, DNA analysis was required on frequently used sires (the ones siring more than a few litters) and eventually on all imported dogs and on male dogs siring litters using frozen or fresh chilled semen; and two, all kennels producing more than seven litters or 25 dogs per year had to be inspected.

Care to guess what happened next? The vast numbers of commercial and high-volume breeders just up and left. They formed their own “registries” (which are a TOTAL joke, but again that’s another post) and they stopped registering AKC.

This had a massive snowball effect, because careless “backyard” (hate this term) breeders usually get their initial dogs from pet stores or the smaller puppy mills (the millions of “Pik A Pup Kennel” and “Smiley Kennel” and “Puppy Luv Kennel” abominations that are all over the place). So when the time came for them to “make some money back” on their purchase, they couldn’t register the puppies in AKC.

And in just ten years, the number of AKC dog registrations was cut in HALF. And the trend shows no sign of slowing.

The AKC saw revenues fall dramatically. And so it did what I would say is the worst possible thing it could do. It decided to go back to its roots, the time when it was the only option for any breeder, the time when Macy’s and Gimbal’s and Neiman Marcus sold puppies next to the department store cafe.

In other words, it decided to seek out and court the euphemistically named “retail” sales. Pet stores.

I think this is idiotic not only because there’s only one place that retail puppies come from (puppy mills; I don’t think this was the case in 1950, which appears to be the decade AKC is yearning for) but because it so dilutes the AKC “brand.” Remember what I said above, that we use AKC because it has the highest standards for competition. They are teetering dangerously close to destroying that credibility with this move.

But what I really want to get to, which is the point of this whole article and what the preceding eleventy-seven paragraphs were designed to introduce, is exactly what the AKC is doing to court these retail buyers and others who would ordinarily not register their dogs. Because what they’ve done requires careful breeders to change some things that we’ve been doing for a LONG time.

When good breeders sell AKC puppies, one problem we must solve is how to keep the owners of the majority of the puppies from breeding them. I am happy to say that almost all pet puppy buyers really do want happy pets and they are very willing to spay or neuter them, but we all know the horror stories and we also know that, despite our carefully worded contracts, we don’t have much of a legal right to keep you from doing with your dog exactly what you’d like to do.

There are three strategies that breeders have often taken to discourage people from breeding. One is that we withhold AKC application papers from all non-show-quality puppies, so the new owner cannot register the dog and therefore cannot register the puppies. The second is that we use something called “limited registration.” A dog sold “on Limited” can be registered, but cannot be shown in conformation events and any offspring cannot be registered. Limited registration is something the AKC put into place under pressure from breeders; the AKC really doesn’t like it. The AKC does not like to make any normative recommendations for breeding, aside from VERY basic care and recordkeeping. So the Limited information page is full of dire warnings about the fact that AKC will NOT intervene in disputes and does NOT endorse this.

The third thing breeders do is spay or neuter REALLY early. I’m not going to address that one because while it does work, I think it’s bad for the dogs. I don’t want anyone to think I approve of it.

Get to the point, Joanna! Where is this going?

Well, here we are. Finally. The point.

The AKC, in its quest to make registrations easy and attractive, has made some radical changes.

One, individual dogs can now be registered online. You used to have to fill out a paper registration for each puppy. Yeah, so what? The so what is that the part where you as a breeder used to indicate whether the puppy was to be registered with Full (breeding) or Limited privileges? And remember where you used to have to put your signature? And remember how you used to ink in your kennel name in the first few blanks of the name section so your kennel name was always on the dog?

Yeah, not so much anymore. Now that AKC never sees those paper copies, the owner gets to fill in all of the information. And that includes the full name. And of course nobody’s looking at a signature anymore. And, most dangerously, the way AKC is handling the limited/full conundrum is that they put a little box there. And in that box is a number, like “782.” You as a breeder are supposed to blacken that box so the new owner can’t read the number. Putting that number in unlocks the registration and makes it full.

The thing is, ever written with a sharpie over a printed word? If you tilt the paper just right, or you look at it in bright light, you can often see through the sharpie. Or maybe you were running low on time and didn’t press hard enough. Or a million things. But now you as a breeder have to rely on an owner not being able to see a number on a form to keep your pet-quality puppy from entering the gene pool.

Here’s the second thing that I think is quite dangerous. The AKC has decreed, in its infinite wisdom, that it wants every “registerable” dog to be registered. Hey, you know that puppy you withheld papers from? That’s a registerable dog. And the AKC would like that dog to come to its loving bosom. And so the AKC instituted “administrative research registration,” which is a fancy phrase for “we’ll go over your head and register this dog if the owners apply.”

If an owner has the registered names of the sire and dam, all he has to do is call the AKC and say “I lost the puppy application for this puppy” or even “I wasn’t given a puppy application for this puppy.” The AKC will look it up, say “Sure, we see those two dogs as AKC registered dogs; let us call the person who we think is the breeder.” And so they call whatever phone number is on the dam’s registration and they try to talk to the breeder. And IF they get the correct breeder and IF she screeches and says “NO, I withheld those papers!” the owner doesn’t get a registration number. But if her phone number has changed or if she’s moved or if she’s dead, the AKC rep calls the owner back and says “We see no reason we cannot grant this registration,” and the default AKC registration is FULL, not limited.

So that puppy that you never wanted to be bred has all the privileges of your show-quality dogs.

Just HI-larious, huh? Dog Press thinks so too.

I have a suggestion to close both these loopholes, but the last one I’m going to bring up doesn’t have a good solution. And that’s UKC registration.

UKC gets a ton of registrations by accepting AKC dogs. The UKC is a good registry and I have a lot of respect for it. When it accepts AKC registrations it’s doing no more and no less than the AKC does when it accepts foreign registrations (which it does). There’s nothing wrong with what UKC does.

The problem is that UKC is even more of a “live free or die” registry than AKC is. One of the things it has steadfastly refused to do is institute a limited registration program that is analagous to the AKC’s.

So when someone with a Limited AKC registration applies to the UKC for dual registration, UKC will accept it and will issue a normal UKC registration to that dog. And that registration is completely breeding-positive. So your puppy buyer can become a UKC breeder and have fifteen litters with the dog you never wanted to reproduce.

Think it won’t happen? Wrong. One of my fellow Dane breeders sold a dog to someone who gave her a lovely song and dance about how this was going to be their beloved pet. He went on AKC Limited registration. And a year later, he was a “UKC-registered stud dog! Champion lines!”

The UKC problem is one I really don’t know how to handle. But I think the solution to the AKC’s inability to tell their elbows from a hole in the ground is pretty clear:

It is now incumbent upon us to register TO OURSELVES each and every litter, in entirety.

This makes my skin crawl. I have always felt that I was breeding as a caretaker for a family that was going to enjoy this lovely puppy that I worked and prayed and cried over. I LOVE, when I buy a puppy, filling out the paperwork and thinking of the perfect name and all that fun stuff. I don’t like taking it away from buyers. And I also don’t like the fact that it will artificially inflate my “owned” dog numbers. But it seems this is something I can’t escape.

So now I will register each litter as though I am going to keep every puppy. Each one will belong to me personally. And each one will be named by me, using the name I choose.

The AKC, which MAGICALLY anticipated this need, now offers a service whereby you can register the entire litter to yourself as owner; all you need is a credit card and oh, yeah, it’ll cost you three times as much as it used to cost to register a litter bred by you. How KIND and GENEROUS of the AKC to do us this favor!

If you’re catching some thick sarcasm, you’re right. It’s a very good marketing move to create a situation that can only be rectified by purchasing one of your products.

I’ve never had any patience for people who say that the AKC should be the breeder’s babysitter. That it needs to refuse to issue championships to dogs that don’t have working titles or that it should refuse to issue registrations to non-health-tested dogs. I think both are ridiculous not because I don’t want healthy, proven dogs being awarded, but because such a system would be a beaurocratic nightmare and would be rife with corruption and misinterpretation. Parent clubs should be advising you (though, again, not refusing registrations if you don’t follow this advice) on how to breed, but I think that AKC does best when it really is just a big smart filing cabinet that holds shows.

This series of moves, however, has taken AKC from good-breeder-neutral to negative. It’s something that is going to do NO good to the purebred fancy, and is plainly designed as a rejection of the AKC’s legacy of being the registry of the Best.

Apparently, it just wants to be the registry of the Most.

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