American Kennel Club Metamorphosis
Joseph Byer, Jr., Research Editor
Intriguing changes in the sport of dogs, breed standards, judging protocol, PHA, product sales and whether today’s AKC is the cause or the result.
Throughout the early years the AKC pledged "to do everything to advance the study, breeding, exhibiting, running and maintenance of purity of thoroughbred dogs." Commonsense has been struggling to stay alive but it seems to be on its last legs in a sport passed down to the common folks from the wealthy gents of yore where the “my dog is better than your dog” contests morphed into today’s dog shows.
In 1920, sanctioned matches began. The 1930s saw the formation of the PHA (Professional Handlers Association), the first book of AKC rules was presented, the first AKC Gazette was published, Obedience was formalized, and dog shows were fun.
Professional judges formed the Professional Dog Judges Association in the 1940s and a judges' directory entitled "Licensed Judges" was issued. Refinements to showing rules were initiated in the 1950s and the Madison Ave. offices were leased in the ‘60s. We also saw the advent of the Provisional Judging program that led either to approval or retraining. Dog shows were the rage!
Women had their day in the ‘70s with the election of the first women delegates. Cluster shows were created because of fuel shortages and American Kennel Club licensing of handlers ended following a lawsuit by pro handler Billy Lyles. The 1980s introduced The Dog Museum of America in NYC but then changed the dog museum to the Missouri location, only to be brought back to the AKC headquarters at 51 Madison Ave. in 2018 and renamed The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog.
With the changes occurring at the AKC in the early ‘90s, we can see the influence of money when it was substituted for passion. The acceptance of sponsorship monies at AKC was NOT widely received as a good change. It just so happened we called AKC headquarters on the day a vote was taken regarding the acceptance of sponsors. We were talking with Jim Derringer who said they had just taken the vote and the old-timers there were upset. He told us “this will change the dog world forever.” How right he was!
Changes began to occur at a lightning pace: “The Journal of Purebred Dogs” banner on the AKC Gazette was removed, the flagship magazine was retired and replaced with “The Family Dog”. Writers long recognized as skillful were dismissed and the quality of the articles reduced to an elementary school level. Jay Leno said, “I like progress – its change I don’t like.” Where’s the progress in AKC print media?
In the new millennium, an organization-wide “reformatting” of breed standards was launched under the banner of consistency but bad things happened on the way to this regimentation. Disqualifying faults were purged from most Breed Standards - faults that the creators of these breeds thought necessary to accurately preserve their breeds. Thus the dilution of quality and the stripping of judging guidelines began in full force. Was this progress?
For a long time, dogs that “looked” like a purebred could request an I.L.P. (Indefinite Listing Privilege) that once approved, allowed limited privileges for participation at AKC events. The I.L.P. popularity went the way of the
AKC Gazette; replacing it with “The All American Dog” and in 2008 the All American Dog program was announced. Under the new name – Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) program, these mutts were invited to participate in Performance sports at AKC events. Is there progress to be found there?
The AKC websites began changing to the point where AKC.org became a navigational nightmare. It’s almost as if they want you to get lost trying to find something. The AKC/CHF site is a dream to navigate; two sites same organization. The difference is that one is for collecting money, the other not. Progress or just change?
So, where is the American Kennel Club headed in terms of purebred dogs? Their actions clearly embrace an “all dogs” approach because that’s where the money resides, or so they hope. Every year the American Kennel Club has launched more and more merchandise with the AKC logo on it. Will licensing deals be brokered throughout the merchandising world to an even greater extent? An animated cartoon movie or cartoon series? All possible if the money is there.
What is this leading up to you ask? Perhaps a challenge to the world famous Crufts Dog Show? After all, the AKC is challenging Westminster with its Eukanuba series so the “Bigger than Crufts Dog Show” is not out of the picture. More change.
The conformation rings are more than ever like professional wrestling where the outcome is predetermined. The weekend warriors are virtually locked out of the points competition but are needed to contribute to the winner’s points and the pocketbooks of the AKC.
Judges and handlers see all this as income and so I’d expect them to Follow The Money. Ribbon chasers may have no choice but to follow, however those who go to shows for the enjoyment may eventually realize that the “Big Top” is just not going to allow them to win and they will retire from showing. I’d hoped to end on a rosy note but today the sport of dogs seems to be more about money and glamor than it is about breeding better dogs.
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