What does AKC registration really mean?

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is the oldest purebred dog registry in the US. AKC registered more than 1.3 million purebred dogs and more than 550 thousand litters in its 145 breeds in 1997. The top 10 breeds (Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Poodle, Beagle, Dachshund, Cocker Spaniel, Yorkshire terrier, and Pomeranian) accounted for more than 560 thousand of the total individual registrations.

Most people who breed purebred dogs claim some affiliation with a registry as a seal of quality for their puppies. Many use that affiliation as a marketing tool, but buyers often learn the hard way that an AKC puppy purchased from a pet store or a backyard breeder is highly unlikely to be of the same caliber as an AKC registered puppy purchased from a reliable breeder.

How does registration works? When puppies are whelped, the breeder registers the litter; AKC sends a blue slip for each puppy in the litter; the breeder signs the puppy over to the buyer, who then registers the individual puppy in his name and is sent a registration certificate. Cost of litter registration is $20; cost of individual registration is $10.

AKC registration means that the parent dogs were registered, that an irresponsible breeder lied or was mistaken about the breeding that produced the litter, or that an unprincipled breeder was commiting outright fraud to raise the value of the puppies. Registration itself is neither a guarantee nor even an indication of quality. No one examines the parent dogs or the puppies to see if they really qualify for registration, and AKC depends on breeders to be honest when applying for a litter registration. Some unethical breeders apply for registration forms for puppies that have died or were never born, and they then use these certificates on puppies of doubtful parentage.

To complicate matters further, a female dog can be impregnated by several male dogs during her fertile cycle; if the dogs are not watched closely and appropriately confined, some puppies in the litter may have different fathers than other puppies. Thus, in kennels where males and females of different breeds typically run together, mixed breed puppies can actually be registered as purebred. This is not uncommon with puppy mill dogs or with backyard breeders who have several breeds, and has led to many complaints that the puppy purchased as a particular breed has grown into a dog that looks like something else.

AKC will investigate and may revoke the litter registration if the puppies or adult dogs do not have the appearance of the breed they are registered as. In the past, proof was difficult to obtain, but the advent of DNA testing has given inspectors a new weapon. If there is doubt about the parentage of a puppy, the AKC inspector can require a DNA test.

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