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   Does "AKC" mean a quality dog?

A lot of puppy ads proudly proclaim that their puppies are "AKC" puppies. The initials "AKC" stand for American Kennel Club. The AKC is the leading breed registry in the United States of America. The assumption, often by both the seller and the buyer is that if the puppy is an "AKC" puppy it must be of high quality and healthy. It would be a wrong assumption, as the AKC explains on their web site at

A "purebred dog" is a dog that comes from parents of the same breed - that is all. In the USA if the sire is a German Shepherd registered with AKC and the dam is a German Shepherd registered with AKC then the puppies can be registered with the AKC. It has to do with lineage, not quality, not fitness, not health - just the pedigree, the ancestry, the parentage of the dog. If both parents are AKC registered and are of the same breed then the puppies are also eligible for registration. They can be high quality healthy puppies, or genetic nightmares - it doesn't matter just so long as the parents are registered and of the same breed. At least one state, California, requires breeders to disclose this to buyers. CALIFORNIA CODES HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE SECTION 122300-122315 (See ARTICLE 3. Dog Pedigree Registries [122300 - 122315]

Well, why can't the AKC guarantee quality?

The AKC is not a governmental agency. It has control over its registration policies, but that control has been limited by legal challenges. Do I think there ought to be more requirements before a dog is eligible for "papers"? Yes, absolutely. Do I think it will ever happen? Nope, not in my lifetime. Too much politics, plus greed, plus the American dislike/distrust of government control, plus too much variation in opinion as to what is "doing right" by dogs all equals bloody unlikely.

Some breed clubs have been able to achieve some improvements, with varying success depending upon the breed club. The differences are most notable among breeds that are not AKC recognized, but even there politics and disagreement significantly interferes with achieving the goals. So we are left with education about the system we have, and how to use it to best effect.

If the label AKC doesn't mean quality, then why bother?

A breed registry, such as AKC, provides a centralized location for maintaining records on pedigrees. A pedigree is the ancestry of a dog. For many dogs the pedigree is unknown. That makes it more difficult to predict the various qualities in that dog. Keeping good records of a dog's pedigree allows better understanding and tracking of both good and bad qualities that appear in dogs. In some cases the appearance of a genetic defect can be traced to a single dog. Often genetic defects do not appear until after the dog has matured and been bred. The ability to trace pedigrees with some accuracy allows a better basis for breeding decisions.

OK, So then what do I look for to get a quality dog?

Dog shows and performance events are the primary means of evaluating the qualities of the dog. Success at these shows is not a requirement before breeding, and it is not a requirement to make the puppies eligible for registration.

Conformation shows evaluate movement, size, coat, color, dentition etc. Conformation shows do not necessarily evaluate health, although there are plenty of health problems that will result in being ineligible for the show ring. Understanding what conformation shows can, and cannot, evaluate is important. They evaluate far more than their detractors presume, and they evaluate less than their proponents often believe.

Performance events help evaluate the abilities of the dog - depending upon the kind of event - its ability to use its nose to track a scent, to jump, to climb, to turn quickly, to swim, to run for long periods, to accept and respond to instruction, and more. Performance events likewise do not directly test for health, although again there are plenty of health problems that will either make the dog ineligible or will seriously interfere with performance.

Success in both the conformation ring and in performance events tends to reflect upon both good health and good temperament because both these qualities enhance success in those cases. Nevertheless neither health nor temperament can be presumed by success in competition. Participation in competition is merely one piece of evidence that dogs being bred are being bred with care and attention to health, temperament, and conformity with the expectations of a person looking for that particular breed.

It is critically important that people be able to select breeds that match their expectations. A person who is unwilling or unable to provide a Border Collie what it needs may nevertheless be a excellent companion to a Basenji. It is, therefore, important the qualities of the dog be predictable. A breeder who is involved in competition is more likely to know what are the expected qualities for the breed. And the competition itself helps both the breeder and the buyer evaluate those qualities on a less emotional basis.

Well they are from "Champion Bloodlines". That's pretty good, isn't it?

Not really. When someone uses the term "champion bloodlines" it normally means that the sire and dam of the puppies has never been shown at all. If the sire and dam had been successful in either the performance or conformation arena don't you think the breeder would be happy to mention it? Should this make a difference to you? Is there any reason you should care if the sire and dam were successful in competition? See above. Success in competition helps you evaluate the health and temperament of the puppies, but is no guarantee. The main advantage of looking to success in competition is that the qualities are evaluated by a more neutral party than the breeder. If there is no objective evaluation you will have to come up with another way of evaluating qualities that are important to you.

Someone who uses the term "champion bloodlines" is suggesting that you should be pleased about it. A knowledgeable breeder would know that it isn't very meaningful and would explain how they have evaluated the sire and dam in the absence of competition. Usually they will also explain why they have not been competing.

The "champion bloodlines" might be of some help in evaluating the puppies if most of the recent generations have such evidence of success. The thing to know is that nearly all litters have at least some puppies that make wonderful pets but can't be successful in competition. If you are looking for a pet what you want to know is if it makes a difference to the health, and temperament of your dog, or any other qualities that might be important to you. Some parts of the breed standard don't affect the health of the dog, others might. It isn't always obvious which is which. So if the breeder doesn't know this information and you want one of their puppies it will be up to you to know what is important and what is not.

Is there anything else?

Well yes, there are other things to think about. For example, as noted above soundness of temperament and health can't be determined by AKC registration nor success in competition. You, as the buyer, must become familiar enough with the breed to know what genetic health problems may occur, and what the breeder should be doing to try to avoid them. You may also wish to consider ethical issues, such as whether the breeder is taking steps to avoid contributing to the numbers of dogs killed every year because the owners are unable or unwilling to provide what the dog needs to remain a member of the family. For more information see the Breeder's Ethics page, Registries offer more than just papers and the AKC Responsible Breeder, Getting Started Series. Also this excellent article on Kennel Blindness.

                 Examples of some other breed registries


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