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Factors That Portend the Future of the Sport – Part 5

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124 – September 2019

By Dr. Carmen L. Battaglia

Entries and attendance have always been good measures of the health and popularity of a sport. Unfortunately, the conformation dog show is now in its 15th year of declining entries and it continues in a downward trend that may be going unnoticed by many of the stakeholders. It was these conditions that prompted an in-depth study–conducted in 2016–of the 188 breeds that make up the AKC stud book (2). To avoid any unusual event occurring during any one year, the data used was calculated based on the three-year average (2013, ‘14, ‘15) of AKC breed data.

The first of the many reports was presented to the AKC Board in 2017. It focused on the factors contributing to the declines observed in the conformation sport. A second report followed in August, 2018. Both focused on the impact of declining litter and dog registrations, growth of Low Entry breeds (LE), loss of breeders, shrinking breed populations and the increased use of limited registrations (LR). Four summary reports were then published in The Canine Chronicle. (6, 7, 8, 9).

The key factors noted were:

 1. Fifteen years of declining show entries

2. Low entry breeds growing to 47% of the stud book

3. Number of breeders who do not use breed standards, health initiatives or show the pups they breed

4. More than one million dogs placed on a Limited Registration

5. 60% of all pups born not being registered

7. 47% of All-Breed shows occur in northern states with boundaries of Maine, Minnesota, Missouri and Virginia

8. 17 parent clubs not hosting a national show

9. 39 breeds not sponsoring a “Meet the Breeds” booth at the AKC National Dog Show in Orlando

 Summaries of these reports followed and were shared with several AKC Delegate Committees and published in the AKC Perspectives magazine. (5) AKC distributed 10-year statistical histories of each breed and distributed them to the AKC delegates and their parent clubs. These reports and statistical summaries were intended to promote awareness, stimulate discussions and encourage action by the breed clubs and their breeders.

Four reports were also published in The Canine Chronicle that attracted much attention. Part 1 focused on the downward trend in dog registrations, the graying effect on club membership, loss of breeders and the impact on breeds and their health initiatives, and the shrinking of breed populations. (7) Part 2 focused on the low conversion rates of registrations (CR) and their impact on shrinking breed populations. The most troubling finding was that 60% of all pups born were not being registered by their new owners and were lost to the stud book. (6) Part 3 focused on the growth of LE breeds which now exceeds 47% of the stud book. The threshold for a LE breed by definition occurs when conformation entries in a breed fall below 3,500 entries in the previous year’s events. Unfortunately, 80% of all LE breeds have fewer than 1,000 entries per year, which is well below the threshold for LE breed status and well below the 1,440 All-Breed shows held each year. Additionally, seventeen LE breeds did not have a National Specialty Show and six had National shows with fewer than 20 entries. (8)

Part 4 focused on the breeder’s tool called the Limited Registration (LR). (9) This tool was intended to help breeders limit the breeding and showing of dogs with disqualifications, serious breed faults, and/or health problems. Based on population statistics and the Bell Curve, the number of poor quality dogs expected in a breed should fall in a range of 4-6%. AKC data shows that 75 of the 188 breeds (40%) place more than 25% of their pups on a LR. Because the actual number of dogs placed on a LR is significantly greater than expected, a breeder/buyer bias was studied using a three step approach. The first step involved a review of organizations whose mission supports research that helps breeders make improvements. Since 1993, more than $110.9 million has been spent on canine research: AKC Canine Health Foundation and Morris Animal Foundation ($95 million), Nestle Purina Pet Care ($14 million) and Zoetis ($1.9 million). These research efforts, when taken together, account for many notable breed successes and accomplishments. The second step involved a review and the widespread use of the Symbols pedigree (Figure 1) by researchers and breeders. This pedigree helped breeders identify the carriers, affected individuals, the strengths and weaknesses in them.

The third step involved interviews with breeders known to use the LR tool. Many admitted they used this tool to control the behavior of puppy buyers or as a means to require more money for a fully registered pup. The faults and non-health reasons given were found to be small and not worrisome.

Based on the advances made in canine research, and the successes achieved, it is fair to say that the steady growth in the use of the LR’s is not justified based on the number of pups expected to have DQ’s, breed faults and/or health issues. One must conclude that breeders are using this tool for reasons other than those intended. Figure 2 shows the distribution of breeders who use this tool.

In 2017, breeders set an all-time 25-year record by placing 121,227 pups on an LR.

Based on the growth of LR’s, it is fair to say the use of LR’s are affecting breed populations, event entries, club membership and the sport. There is also evidence to support the concerns about gene pool size and genetic diversity. These conditions portend the future for some LE breeds and their potential for good health. (Bell)

Based on low registration rates and 15 years of steady decline in show entries, the 60 breeds with the least number of litters registered were identified as candidates for extinction in the show ring. Breed population specialist Hughes of the Mars Corporation reported that when a species declines to fewer than 500 individuals, it is considered “endangered”. The low downward rates in AKC registrations for some breeds signal a concern because 101 of the 188 breeds in the stud book are now registering an average of fewer than 500 pups per year.

Many other problems are impacting clubs and the conformation sport. Because they are complex, a breed risk assessment tool was developed using a twelve question survey that can be answered “yes” or “no. Clubs interested in assessing their risk of sustainability can complete the survey.

The slow and steady 15-year decline in show entries at All-Breed shows (Table 3) is troubling.

Complicating matters for those interested in the sustainability of their breed, club and sport are new reports about the changing demographics of America. Recent articles published in USA Today show that 55% of all future retirees say that Social Security will be their primary source of income and 23% stated they never plan to retire. Complicating these data are new facts about young Americans. According to a 2017 Pentagon report, 71% of Americans ages 17 to 24 are ineligible to join the military because of obesity, lack of high school diploma, or a criminal record. These data will cause clubs working on sustainability issues to think about their policies as they struggle to find ways to attract young breeders and exhibitors and keep the sport relevant for future generations.


 ?AKC is a club of clubs and as such, on January 30, 2018, AKC reported: 630 member clubs, 35 competitions, 4,085 Licensed clubs, 205 Sanctioned clubs and more than 23,000 events annually. One of the most pressing problems suggested by the data is that new owners are not as motivated to register their new pups, join a club, or enter their dogs in AKC events as their parents. These conclusions suggest that there may be a need for a further study.

?In summary, it seems fair to say that given the scale of AKC venues and the significance of the data presented, it is still remarkable that many breed clubs have not yet assembled a sustainability committee to study the problems and conditions affecting their breed, their club and the sport.

?Parent clubs are the stakeholders and the owners of these problems. Because the conformation sport is highly regulated and carefully orchestrated, the delegate body and each national parent club must work with the AKC to find solutions. As the guardians of their breed, the stakeholders have a duty to educate their judges and breeders, provide mentors for new exhibitors and breeders, and create an environment that is conducive to the support of their breed, club and the sport.


1. American Kennel Club, 2018. Canine Heath Foundation Annual Report, 2018. Raleigh, N.C.

2. Battaglia, Carmen. 2018. 60 Breeds-Extinction in the Conformation Sport, American Kennel Club, paper presented November 2018, AKC Board Meeting. NY., NY.

3. Bell, Jerold. 2005. The Ins and Outs of Pedigree Analysis, Genetic Diversity, and Genetic Disease Control. Tufts’ Canine & Feline Breeding and Genetics Conference, September 29 – October 1, 2005

4. Bell. Jerold. 2017. The Aspect of Population Size on Healthy Breeding in Dog Breeds. Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, proceedings, 2017 AKC Canine Health Foundation National Parent Club Canine Health Conference.

5. Battaglia, Carmen, 2018. Delegate Sustainability Projects, 2018. Perspectives, The Delegate Newsletter, June, Vol. 32, No 2.,

6. Battaglia, Carmen, 2018. Four Factors Portend the Future of the Conformation Sport, Part I – The Canine Chronicle, Ocala, FL, April, 2018. pg. 168-174.

7. Battaglia, Carmen, 2018. Four Factors Portend the Future of the Conformation Sport, Part II – The Canine Chronicle, Ocala, Fl, May, 2018 pg. 103-105.

8. Battaglia, Carmen, 2018. Four Factors Portend the Future of the Conformation Sport, Part III – The Canine Chronicle, Ocala, FL, August, 2018, pg. 182-187

9. Battaglia, Carmen, 2018. Four Factors Portend the Future of the Conformation Sport, Part IV – The Canine Chronicle, Ocala, Fl, August, 2018, pg. 149-150.

10. Blount, Jeb, , 2019. USA Today, Military Pool of Recruits is Drying Up. McLean, VA, July 8, Pg. 1.

11. Editor. 2019. USA Today, Americans 17-24 Will Not Retire”. McLean, VA, July 9, Pg. B2

12. Hughes, Angela. 2018. Presentation Paper given at the 2018. NAIA Conference, Orlando, FL.

13. Ljungren, Doug. 2018. Reduce Bureaucracy/Make It Easier to Participate, paper presented at AKC Board meeting April 2018. New York, New York.

14. Smith, Fran, 2018. Presentation Paper given at the 2018, NAIA Conference, Orlando, FL.

 About the Author

Carmen L. Battaglia holds a Ph.D. and Master’s Degree from Florida State University. As an AKC judge, researcher and writer, he has been a leader in promoting the better ways to breed dogs. An author of many articles and several books, he is also a popular guest on TV and radio talk shows including several appearances on Animal Planet. His seminars about breeding, structure, pedigree analysis, selecting sires and choosing puppies have been well received by breed clubs all over the country. Those interested in learning more about his articles and seminars should visit the website

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124 – September 2019

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  • December 2019