Why Is AKC Not Better Known to the Public?

A judge and club delegate puzzles over why the AKC, after more than 126 years, is not better known to the public.

By Claire ("Kitty") Steidel | December 27, 2012

American Kennel Club

I am puzzled why AKC, after more than 126 years, is not better known to the public. I wonder why so few people know that AKC is the registry with many benefits — information about breeds, and links to health and research, to parent clubs, to breeders, to microchips for finding lost dogs, and to narcotics/bomb-sniffing and rescue dogs and more.

I am puzzled why the fancy has been asked to go it alone as the singular voice for an organization with far more potential influence than we among the fancy. I am perplexed why the financial burden of educating the public about our sport has always been shouldered by our club members and their clubs. I wonder why the word dog does not automatically bring to mind the American Kennel Club. I wonder whose job it is today to enlighten the public about AKC. We have always accepted the philosophy that education should be local, the financial burden assumed by our clubs and their members, both all-breed and specialty. We have risen to that occasion and have done our job dutifully for so many years. We have volunteered endless hours and monumental efforts to enlighten the public. Our efforts are most often one-on-one. However, when one considers how small we are and how few puppies the fancy produces compared to high-volume and backyard breeders, we know, in our one-on-ones with those who contact us, we can have only a very limited impact.

Is it possible that if the American Kennel Club had promoted itself (i.e., advertised its superior advantages as a registry for the last 10 to 20 years), it would have remained the registry of choice today, the registry associated with the welfare of dogs? AKC is far superior to all those registries that merely charge a fee and send a "paper." But few people know this except us, the AKC choirs.

My common sense tells me it has gone beyond time for the AKC to really toot its own horn, spend its own money and brand itself by advertising all the advantages that make it different from other registries, instead of relying on the financially strapped clubs and their members to do so. To the average dog owner a registry is a registry is a registry or they feel they do not need to register with any organization because they don't want to show their dog. For all these years the AKC has existed, it has not made it clear to the public what the AKC does and why it is so important for them to use the AKC registry. The AKC has merely preached to a choir that has given and given and given its time and energy.

Once upon a time we saw ads in Town and Country magazine and tiny classified ads in N.Y. newspapers about the buyer's entitlement to AKC papers from breeders. At that time, AKC was primarily a registry. But times have changed. There are numerous competing registries. With change, yes, we increased our advertising: We have Westminster, Meet the Breeds and the AKC/Eukanuba extravaganzas, but this is not enough. These events take place but four times a year.

My common sense tells me we need to go where the people with dogs are. We need to see spots on TV, which not only have the name American Kennel Club spelled out and in large print, but also a clear reference to the website and its links. We do not have to call other entities names or use disparaging remarks. The public is tired of the negativity in their lives. Instead we need positive branding of AKC. The spots need not be long, but they must be frequent. The organization's name, the American Kennel Club, must be written out and needs to be everywhere, along with its logo. With the great emphasis on dogs today, short ads might generate more attention about some of the useful information AKC offers. These spots would promote all the positive aspects of the organization that we in the fancy already know about: the AKC's readiness when disaster strikes, the information about breeders and clubs, and the Canine Health Foundation, which helps all dogs. Everyone should know about donations to the CHF and of what benefit their research is. There are so many advantages in AKC registration. However, nobody knows!

We may be too enveloped in ourselves and our dog shows. We assume everyone knows about AKC. The average dog owner or potential dog owner does not think, "I must go to the AKC website first thing every morning to see what is new." The fancy might think this way, but the public does not. I wonder what it would take to make the public even aware that there is a website? Unfortunately maybe we are all too wrapped up in the records, the shows and the glitz. But if we stepped up a program of branding, maybe it would work. I wonder why we don't advertise our good deeds loud and often. Folks remember the gecko lizard for Geico Insurance because of the many short ads. With the huge interest in dogs today, a regular TV advertising campaign with man's best friend — as opposed to a splurge two or three times a year — might work. I wonder if there is an advertising budget? If there isn't, there should be.

I am also puzzled why some people think the origin and history of breeds is not relevant anymore. Why do some breeders and the public really believe the dog show is the reason for the perpetuation of our unique and distinct breeds?  Recently, a discussion on one of the Internet lists dealt with The Today Show. Someone from the AKC had appeared on the program and introduced the newest of the recognized breeds by discussing their origins and original purpose. Critics from the fancy itself said few dogs perform their original jobs, so why continue to use history to brand the AKC to the public? I wondered about that comment. Seems any positive publicity is to our benefit. Much of the public at the moment is aware of Westminster, the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship and the Meet the Breeds event. Perhaps wanting to explore original purpose will stimulate the public's interest in delving into the history and development of the breeds, as well as their beauty. For it is the history that has given us the breeds.

I speculate, on the other hand, if the sudden awareness of large monetary prizes to the breeders and owners of the winning dogs connotes something false. I wonder if we have created the wrong impression that there is a lot of money to be made by taking your dog around the ring. Are we encouraging folks to show their pets as if our sport is a lottery or casino where anyone can hit the jackpot?

Why it is not clear to everyone that our breed standards, based on history and original purpose, lend understanding and insight into the appearance and the temperament of a breed? If it weren't for history and evolution we would not have the breeds we have today. We all know this, or we thought everyone did.

If, as was suggested during the broadcast of the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, the breeder is of utmost importance in our sport, why do we see such emphasis on Group and Best in Show results on all the websites, including the AKC Weekly Wins? And why are the field reps required to post Group and BIS wins following the shows? Recall that 40 percent of those that showed at the AKC/Eukanuba event were supporting the Bred-by-Exhibitor class.

Why is there an FSS listing for breeds that are fully recognized and registered in their countries of origin and/or whose registry is acceptable to AKC, yet they cannot be registered here until there are 150 (recently changed from 300) dogs of that breed in the US? It is not really a rare breed; it is just not yet established in the US. I wonder why the number necessary for recognition with AKC does not vary with the prevalence of the breed in its country of origin? Shouldn't each breed be considered individually for recognition on its own merit with the AKC? Demanding even 150 dogs clearly means people who never intended to breed their dog are pressured to do so, merely to boost numbers. It is no wonder that the rush to comply with numbers and the indiscriminate breeding has a deleterious effect on many breeds both with respect to conformation and the spreading of genetic disease. Help create the genetic problems by requiring a certain arbitrary number of dogs for admittance, then give money so the CHF can figure out how to decrease the risks of health problems. Does this make sense?

I remain hopeful. Although we have come some distance in making ourselves known, it is just not enough. Too little too late? I hope not.

AKC multi-Group judge Claire ("Kitty") Steidel is the Delegate for the Channel City Kennel Club of Santa Barbara, Calif.


From the December 2012 (2013 Annual) issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the December 2012 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.


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