Sunday, February 14, 2010

Playing Politics with Purebred Dogs

It's distressing to see the American Kennel Club play politics with registration data. The AKC is the world's largest registry of purebred dogs, a non-profit organization that is supposed to be committed to advancing the interests of purebred dogs and their owners. It does not always behave that way.

As a breeder of Labrador retrievers, I have followed the popularity of my breed since 2000. Prior to 2007, AKC published numbers of all dog and litter registrations. They posted numbers of dogs and litters registered each year by breed. Each year for the past 19 years, Labrador retrievers were the most frequently registered breed with the largest number of litters per year.

Labs are much more popular than any other breed, by a factor of 2.5 to 3 times more registrations than the next most popular breed.  The data are astonishing.

As you can see, the total number of dog registrations has declined substantially in these years and has continued to decline through 2009.  AKC revenues declined accordingly, and they are scrambling to make up for lost revenue.  Although more family dogs are purebred now than a decade ago, fewer purebred dogs are being registered with the AKC and more are listed with competing registries. The AKC is faced with declining registrations and the overwhelming popularity of a single breed.  What to do?

Evidently, they decided the registration data are politically incorrect, because the AKC no longer publishes registration numbers.  AKC decided to publish only rank orders of breed registrations, which obscures the overwhelming popularity of Labs and hides their declining registration numbers.  In February 2010, I requested numbers of dogs and litters registered in 2009 in the top 10 breeds and was told the "special report" would cost me $100.  When I receive the report, if they actually supply the data, it will be posted here.

To give an idea of Labs' comparative popularity, let's look at registration numbers for the top 5 breeds (rounded to nearest thousand).

--------------------2003 ---------- 2004------ 2005-------- 2006------ Total-------Labs:
Registrations by ---------------------------------------------------------- Reg.-----Others

Labrador -------145,000 -------147,000 -----130,000 ------124,000 ------546,000 --NA

Yorkshire ------ 53,000 --------- 53,000 ------47,000 --------48,000 -----201,000--- 2.7

German ---------44,000 --------- 46,000 ------42,000 ------- 44,000 -----166,000 ---3.3

Golden ----------53,000 --------- 53,000------ 41,000 ------- 43,000 ---- 190,000 ---2.9

Beagles ---------45,000 ----------45,000 ------33,000 -------39,000 ------162,000 ---3.3

Boxers ----------34,000 ----------39,000 ------35,000 -------35,000 ------143,000--- 3.8

In recent years, Lab registrations sum from 2 1/2 to nearly 4 times as many as other top breeds.

The AKC registers about 160 breeds (number changes as new breeds are recognized). From popularity rank 80 to rank 160, fewer than 1,000 dogs in each breed are registered in the US. If you want to buy a Sealyham or Dandie Dinmont terrier, it will be difficult, because fewer than 100 of these (and a dozen other) breeds are registered.

Judges and Breed Standards

Now consider the popularity of breeds that have won AKC honors as Best-In-Show in recent events.  Dogs born in the years given above are likely entrants in 2009-2010 AKC shows:

............................... .............Number Registered in 2006
English Springer Spaniel..................... 8,205
Norfolk terrier ..................................353
Poodle (all sizes)............................ 30,000
Newfoundland .................................3,415
Scottish terrier ............................... 3,545

In competitions for Group wins and best-in-show in conformation events, judges are supposed to assess the degree to which each entrant meets the ideal standard for the breed. Judges do not compare one breed with another.

What are the odds that a show candidate meets the ideal standard for the breed?   Likelihood of meeting a breed standard must be in part a function of how many dogs in each breed are registered and eligible to be shown.  Fewer members of a breed should translate into fewer being judged as matching the breed standard. More numerous breeds should contain more individuals close to the breed standard.

Assume a normal distribution of dogs' merit in conformation shows, with 3 standard deviations on the right tail containing individuals close to the breed ideal. A breed with 500,000 dogs will have about 1,500 dogs close to ideal, whereas a breed with 1,000 dogs will have only 3 dogs close to the ideal breed standard.  What are the odds that a few of those 1,500 Labs will enter conformation events, compared to the odds a smaller breed will have its few ideal individuals entered?

From more than half a million registered Labrador retrievers, none is judged close to the breed standard in major AKC shows.  Labs rarely win even the Sporting Group, which was recently won by an English setter (629 registered in 2006).  Breeds with fewer than 10,000 registered individuals are regularly judged to be closer to their breed standards than 550,000 Labradors are to theirs.  How can this be?

If judging were fairly based on written instructions and breed standards, more numerous breeds would win shows more often than less popular breeds.  Obviously, AKC judges and the AKC itself are highlighting less popular breeds in the hope they will become more popular.  By giving them exposure on televised shows, perhaps more people will want a Bedlington terrier (192 registered in 2006) or a Harrier (23).   Popularizing less popular breeds is a mission for judges and the AKC, who savor the diversity of man-made breeds.

I object to the AKC refusing to disclose dog and litter registration data, however.  Their political agenda should not rest on public ignorance.  A recent AKC Press Release on rank orders of 2009 registrations reported that German shepherds had displaced Yorkshire terriers as Number 2 (Labs are still Number 1, of course).  Then, they suggested, with hope in their hearts, that German shepherd dogs may overtake Labrador retrievers in popularity.
For the 19th consecutive year, the Labrador Retriever is the most popular purebred dog in America, but could this be the last year for the Lab’s reign?
If they had disclosed numerical registration data, I doubt they could have asked that question with a straight face.

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