Years later, I know that my parents meant Guinness (that was his name) was a purebred bulldog and they had the papers to prove it. I know the American Kennel Club, or AKC, is the best-known governing body of all things canine but I don’t know much else about it or the topic of dog breeding, so I thought I’d find out.
According to the AKC’s website, the club started in 1884 when a group of breeders from various dog clubs got together in Philadelphia. These dog-men drew up a constitution and bylaws and established offices. Three years later, they decided they needed to have a reliable book of stud dogs so they put one together based on a similar compilation of data started by a man named Dr. N. Rowe. The organization then started a magazine that has been published ever since.
In the first two decades of the 1900s, the club was finding its feet. Breed categories evolved and a points system was gradually developed for a championship title. Prizes began to be developed for single-breed and multiple-breed competitions. In 1920, AKC-sanctioned shows began providing a training ground for handlers to learn rules and be more prepared for bigger shows. By 1924, a new group alignment was in place that resembles what is still in use today. There were five groups: sporting (which included hounds, made into its own group in the late 1920s), non-sporting, working, terriers and toy breeds. Best of breed winners were judged to determine a best in group, and then the group winners met to decide a best in show. The first organization to include best in show under the new judging rules was The Westminster Kennel Club.
Rules and processes continued to evolve over the next few decades. Judging guidelines and a small recording fee were implemented in 1950, though a motion to allow women to sit as delegates failed. In 1961, the AKC’s offices in New York City grew to cover several floors on Madison Avenue. Women were finally admitted as delegates in 1974 and The Dog Museum of America opened in 1980. In 1984, the AKC turned 100 and in 1988 the organization’s Gazette publication celebrated its centennial.
Dog breeders and owners register with the AKC and other similar organizations to verify their animals truly have a certain bloodline. Some registries qualify animals for competition while others are for more health, genetic or more general purposes.
The AKC isn’t the only dog registry out there. The American Canine Association (ACA) formed in 1984 and describes itself as a health tracking registry. The Amerian Rare Breeds Association formed in 1991 to give owners of unusual dog breeds a place to show their animals. The United Kennel Club, formed in 1898, is based in Michigan and hosts more family-oriented, educational events.
“The only reason that it really matters whether a dog is registered is if you’re going to breed it or show it,” said Glenna Elrod, a Sparks resident who shows shiba inus. “Otherwise, doesn’t matter at all if a dog is registered.”
Even if a person is just looking for a family pet, another reason for a person to care about a dog’s registry is to know what to expect from the animal, according to Ernie Slone, editor of Dog Fancy magazine, based in Southern California.
“It’s not that purebred dogs are any better but the advantage is ideally to have consistency,” Slone said about selecting a dog that is registered. “If you get a dog and it is a beagle it will behave a certain way and have a certain temperament. If people looking for a family dog, they will look for certain breeds because they are a certain size or have other certain qualities.”
Stephanie Smith, club communications manager for the AKC in New York, said the organization currently has 170 fully recognized breeds and between three and six new breeds are added each year. In addition to trait consistency, she said breeders who are certified by the AKC are more reputable in terms of how dogs are bred and treated.
“So you know you’re getting a well-socialized, well-brought-up dog,” she said.
Supporting AKC-certified breeders perpetuates a certain level of quality and confidence, Smith said, as the fees collected by the organization fund kennel inspections, canine search and rescue, grants and other philanthropy.
Elrod said people need to be wary of registries that exist solely so breeders can say their dogs are “registered.” Various Internet discussions talk about how some organizations exist to give credence to puppy mill operations. In the case of the AKC, a dog can only be registered if both its parents were registered, helping to ensure the integrity of the designation.
Elrod said “designer dogs” often are registered with phony credentials, commanding high price tags. The process is not perfect, she said, and people need to check records carefully.
“A breeder told me once that if you’re talking to a breeder and during an interview they don’t make you feel uncomfortable at least once they aren’t looking out for the best interest of the puppy,” Elrod said.
Even though a person might never want to show a dog or enter it in any kind of competition, researching the breed is important in selecting an animal to live in a person’s home.
“Doing your homework is best way to find good dog,” Slone said.