Why do the majority of show breeders end up gravitating toward the AKC as the registry of choice?
The answer is a lot less sinister than you might think.
Show breeders see themselves as having a responsibility to move toward excellence in four areas, none more important than the other: Conformation, Health, Temperament, and Working Ability. Yes, even toy breeders care about working ability, since their breeds’ “work” is flawless companionship. We strongly believe that what isn’t INspected can’t be EXpected, so we try to have a third-party eye on each of the four areas of excellence. We don’t just stand in the yard and say “Yeah, looks like a good dog.” We work with vets and certifying authorities to confirm that each dog’s health is acceptable, we put our dogs out in public and gather titles and certifications for temperament and trainability, we use many breed-specific activities to show that the dog has not lost its working ability.
And to subject our dogs to peer review in terms of how their bodies are shaped so they can do their jobs and stay as sound as possible, we use conformation shows. The champion title is supposed to indicate that the dog is a high-quality example of its breed. And, despite detractors who yell about how “fixed” the whole thing is, it usually succeeds in indicating that.
Having talked with a lot of breeders about this, the answer as to why we use AKC is that, of the three registries in the US that are considered by most to be acceptable (AKC, UKC, and IABCA, though the last one is really a registry only for the purpose of conducting shows–they’re not a breeding registry), the AKC championship is the hardest to get.
That’s about it.
As a very few of us get very involved in the political end of things and move up in the ranks of our breed clubs and eventually become AKC delegates, there may be more of a sense of philosophical ownership–that the way the board of AKC parent clubs shape the process is the very best way to breed dogs–but for most of us the only time we really think about the way the overarching registry functions is when we’re waiting for puppy slips or cursing the fact that entry fees are going up.
The vast majority of our interactions with AKC involve its role as a giant file cabinet for keeping pedigrees straight, which we use (honestly) purely because it’s a lot easier to do it that way than it is to try to maintain thousands and thousands of records and pedigrees ourselves. We have no illusions that somehow “AKC registration” means squat about the quality of the dog or even means much about the reliability of the pedigree–we all know that anyone can cook the books. We trust them more when we can look at fifteen or twenty generations of dogs and see that all were owned by breeders we either know personally or by reputation (since serious breeders tend to be more motivated to keep pedigrees accurate), but I’ve seen enough breeders fined and banned for the infractions that the AKC catches (which are not many) that I never entirely trust any pedigree once it gets beyond the people or dogs I personally know.
A lesser degree of our interaction, but the more important reason for us choosing the registry above the others that will also keep track of our pedigrees, represents the shows that are offered. We stick with AKC because of the three available championships in this country, the AKC’s is most difficult to achieve and (therefore) attracts more entries and (therefore) remains difficult to achieve. See the circle? The other registries’ shows typically have much smaller numbers in each breed, with the exception of the breeds that have not achieved AKC recognition. So the other registries have to give entrants a way to achieve a championship with very little competition. The UKC says that in addition to gathering 100 points (a single-breed entry that automatically goes best of breed gets you 35 points) you must win three times “over competition,” which can be one other dog or a win in Group. The IABCA “International Championship” (which is a really bad term, since there is an FCI International Championship that is totally different and I don’t think you should be able to claim an International anything if you only show in one country) is based on ratings of the dogs–you don’t have to win in competition at all.
Each of these other registries offers additional titles that indicate wins in (often significant) competition, but their “base-level” championships are not very challenging to achieve. Which is why, interestingly enough, even those breeds that live solely within UKC don’t consider the Ch. the “terminal” award. They try to go on to the GrCH, and with the coonhounds and beagles they try to get multiple bench and field awards. I’d almost rather have the UKC drop the current Championship and turn the GrCH into the first award–I think it would have a more accurate comparison to how difficult it is to get an AKC championship and they actually might attract more people that way. I know that, personally, I probably have more in common with UKC’s philosophy of breeding than AKC’s, but a UKC championship is not worth me driving to the (usually far and scattered) show sites.
We ALL know that AKC showing is full of politics and money-grubbing and isn’t fair a great deal of the time. But it comes the closest to being a recognition of conformational acceptability of anything we’ve got. I’m living proof of the fact that you can be totally unknown in the ring, with dogs whose breeder is completely unknown in the area, and you can be a crappy handler, and the judges will put up your dogs if they’re good dogs.
I’ve offered many times and I offer it again: If anyone who thinks that AKC is some group of nutty money-grubbing politically motivated working-dog haters, pick out a show within a couple of hours of Boston and I’ll be happy to meet you there and walk around with you and explain what’s going on. You owe your convictions at least that much – prove to yourself exactly how terrible the AKC system is.