The Labrador Retriever’s reputation as a happy-go-lucky, energetic family pet has once again put the breed at the top of the American Kennel Club registration charts for 2000. AKC registered 172,841 individual Labs and 45,332 lit-ters, far more than the second place Golden Retriever with 66,300 individuals and the Dachshund with 30,697 litters.
Overall, AKC’s individual registrations of 148 breeds totaled 1,175,473, up from 1,119,620 in 1999. However, litter registrations were down from 527,023 to 506,727.
Registrations for the Rottweiler, a top five breed for many years, are down 32 percent since 1998. This much-maligned breed dropped from fourth in 1998 with 55,009 individuals to eighth in 1999 with 41,776 registrations then to 11th with 37,355 last year.
The Dalmatian, another stigmatized breed, dropped again in numbers from 9722 in 1998 to 4652 in 1999 and 3084 last year. Once a Top 20 breed, the Dal now holds the 49th spot.
Downward trends in popular breeds take several years to affect the gene pool, but big year to year changes in rare breeds can have a devastating effect. The Curly-coated Retriever dropped from 199 individual registrations to 127, a loss of 36 percent. Field Spaniels went from 150 registrations to 102 (down 32 percent); Skye Terriers dropped from 119 to 85 (28 percent loss); Sussex Spaniels went from 86 to 60 (30 percent drop); and English Foxhounds, last year’s least popular breed, went from 40 to 17 (down 57 percent).
Rotties, Dals, Chow Chows, Shetland Sheepdogs, Bichon Frise, Pekingese, Lhasa Apso, German Shepherds, Cocker Spaniels, Shih Tzu, Poodles, Chihuahuas, and Pomeranians all had big drops in registered litters, but Otterhounds (1999’s least popular breed) went from two litters to seven.
Numbers tell us only what has occurred, not why it has occurred. There are many reasons for a breed’s increase or decrease in popularity, some as plain as day and some not so obvious.
The universal appeal of the Labrador Retriever is a no-brainer. A well-bred Lab is just about the perfect pet for an active family, a steady companion for handicapped owners, and a dedicated working dog for fire departments, search and rescue teams, and more. Handsome, bright, friendly, energetic, affectionate, and easy-to-train, the Lab is an awesome dog.
The dramatic downturn in Dalmatian numbers in spite of the popularity of the recent Disney movies is a study in itself. Bred as a coach dog, the Dal is a breed of uncommon energy and stamina that needs a firm hand. Responsible Dal breeders knew that families would want one of the spotted dogs when the movies were released (who could resist? Dals are beautiful, and the movie dogs were talented, brave, and affectionate), so they cut back on breeding and worked with Disney to help educate people about the characteristics of these dogs.
People painted the breed as hyper, not good with children, and destructive in an effort to keep families from purchasing a puppy because the kids wanted a dog like Pongo or Perdita. The result was far fewer registered Dals but the drop didn’t necessarily reflect the number of spotted dogs produced by backyard breeders and commercial kennels because many of those dogs are never registered.
Many of the breeds that have declined in litter registrations are small breeds that are heavily favored by people who live in apartments, condominiums, and townhouses – breeds that are easy to produce for sale in pet stores. The decline could be traced to new AKC rules. Since the integrity of the registry depends on the accuracy of the paperwork filed by the breeder, AKC now requires DNA testing of any male dog used to sire more than three litters in a year and of dogs and litters if parentage is in doubt. AKC inspectors do random inspections, follow up on complaints, and visit kennels that register more than seven litters in a year to make sure the records match the dogs. (The January 2001 AKC Gazette includes an article about kennel inspections.)
If a breeder has faulty paperwork, a substandard conditions, or sickly dogs, or refuses a DNA test, his registration privileges are suspended. Many commercial breeders have balked at compliance with the new rules and have switched to other registries.
AKC registration is not a mark of quality, it is merely proof that the dog has purebred parents. For most of its long history, AKC could only depend on the integrity of the breeder when it accepted registration applications, and, although a vast majority of breeders were honest, stories abounded of unscrupulous puppy producers who obtained extra registration forms by falsely reporting the number of puppies in a litter, used forms received for one litter for puppies in other litters, and otherwise circumvented the system.
Now, with the advent of DNA testing, scientific proof is but a cheek swab away; whenever there is doubt about parentage and whenever a male dog sires more than three litters in a year or more than seven litters in a lifetime, a DNA test is required. These developments have caused some breeders to switch rather than submit.
Obviously, those who want to show their dogs in AKC events must register their dogs with the organization. AKC hosts thousands of events each year, most of them open to spayed and neutered companion dogs, so owners who want to join activities with their pets can participate in agility and obedience trials and events for herding and hunting breeds. Training schools are popping up all over and more and more people are attending classes and learning about the fun things they can do with Fido.
AKC registers 148 breeds and varieties of dogs and is guiding several more breeds through the recognition process. Pet owners and commercial breeders get some value out of AKC registration, but it is the breeders in the fancy who protect and honor their breeds and try to produce dogs of compatible form and function that can survive and prosper in today’s world.
Without AKC and the fanciers who register dogs with that organization, pet owners would have a hard time finding a Labrador Retriever, an Akita, a Pomeranian, a Brittany, a Pug, or any other breed that looked like the pictures in a book or the pet of a childhood.
Purebred dogs have no more intrinsic value to pet owners than mixed breed dogs. Dogs that cost hundreds of dollars from a responsible breeder are not “better pets” than just the right mixed breed pup from the accidental litter down the street or the pooch adopted from the animal shelter. Purebred dogs are part of human history and bring something extra to the human-dog mix – an appreciation of skills developed over generations; a consistency in appearance, size, and coat; an ability to compete in activities that blend training and joy; and the belief that future generations of humans will have access to future generations of these wonderful creatures.
AKC’s Top 10 AKC’s Top 10 breeds in individual registrations in 2000 (1999 numbers in parentheses)
* Dachshund numbers include both standard and miniature versions
of the breed’s three varieties: Smooth coated, Wire-coated, and Long-coated.)
** Poodle numbers include all three varieties: Toy, Miniature, and Standard.
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