Bo Bengtson At Large | A Sport for Everyone?

If I may have one wish for the year that’s just begun it would be that everyone who really cares about breeding and showing dogs in this country — all the way from the AKC top brass on down — would take a long, hard look at a question we’ve mentioned several times in Dogs in Review. It is, quite simply, this:

Why are dog shows not a much more popular activity in the US than they are now?

I can already hear the response: “Oh, come on,” you say. “American dog shows are huge! We’ve got more registrations, more show dogs and more spectators than anywhere else,  and almost everyone agrees that our dog shows are the best in the world. So what’s the problem?”

Much of this is true. The totals for most AKC activities are higher than those for any other country. Registrations aren’t necessarily linked to show activity, of course — lots of puppies are registered which never see the inside of a show ring — but the totals give a fairly good indication of the interest in purebred dogs. AKC registrations in 2008 (last year’s figures are not yet available as this is written) totalled 716,195, and even though that’s the lowest since 1964, and less than half of the 1992 total, it’s still more than in any other country. The show entries add up to a grand total of 1,422,993 dogs competing in 1,534 all-breed and 2,258 specialty events, impressive figures by any standard and undoubtedly more than the equivalents anywhere else.

America is one of the world’s largest countries with one of the world’s biggest populations, so of course the totals for almost any activity here will be big. But once the figures are put into a larger context, the situation looks a little different. Let me present them to you as bluntly as possible, and then we can think about whether anything could — or should — be done to improve the overall picture.

Just a few years ago AKC’s registration figures were three or four times as large as any other country’s. Things have changed rapidly in recent years, and if the present decline continues there’s a definite risk that we won’t be “biggest in the world” much longer. We all know that AKC is challenged not just by the United Kennel Club but by a number of commercial “paper registries,” some of which appear to be downright fraudulent but nevertheless have a very negative impact on AKC registrations. Apparently no other national kennel club has a similar problem; this should be borne in mind when looking at the following data.

The largest national club outside the US, based on registrations, is the Japan Kennel Club with 465,176 registrations for 2008, despite the fact that Japan has less than half the population of the US. Japan is followed by Great Britain with 271,719 and Russia with 216,999 registrations. Based on each country’s human population, this means that one dog was registered for every 430 Americans, one for every 275 Japanese, 228 Brits and 653 Russians.

Would you have expected purebred, registered dogs to be more popular per capita in Japan than in the US? I wouldn’t. The real shocker is Russia, however, which has only had a national kennel club for less than two decades but is catching up fast.

Of course, the above figures fade compared to how popular purebred dogs are in a few of the smaller European countries — Finland, for instance, registered one dog for every 106 of its human population last year!

If you go by the number of shows held I don’t think any country gets even close to the U.S. According to official FCI records for 2008, Russia held 934 international or national shows and Brazil 786, but most countries, regardless of size, had fewer than a hundred shows. Totals for Canada and Australia are missing, and Great Britain, of course, focuses on just a couple of dozen huge shows, supported by a large number of lower-level events where championships cannot be gained.

Just how many dogs are exhibited, or how big all the shows are, is not known for most countries. We do know that the average AKC all-breed show now has less than 900 dogs in competition, and the biggest US shows today may have over 3,000 dogs  — AKC/Eukanuba’s entry of 3,918 dogs before Christmas was the highest for any show in the past couple of years. That stands in stark contrast to the shows in Great Britain (over 20,000 dogs at Crufts; about 10,000 at most of the other major events), Scandinavia (8,617 dogs at Finland’s recent one-day Winner Show), Russia (about 6,000 dogs at their Eurasia show in 2009), and the various title shows in Europe, some of which can have entries in the five figures. Australia, with a population 1/14th the size of ours, used to have shows with 5,000-6,000 dogs, although in recent years they have dropped off a bit. Japan, surprisingly in view of the figures presented earlier, does not appear to have any shows that are as big as the above, and most shows in Asia and Latin America are much smaller.

The US has all the necessary means to be not just the biggest dog show country in the world, but also to have shows as big as any other, with many more people actively participating. Why that is not the case is a mystery to me.

Does it matter?  Should we be satisfied that so many shows have small entries? We know that numbers don’t necessarily equal quality, but what will the consequences be for the sport as a whole if dog show participation remains a somewhat rarefied activity? If required, what can we do to improve the situation?

I would love to hear from you. Write to bobengtson@impulse.net and tell me what you think.


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