Saturday, April 07, 2007

AKC's Stranglehold on the World of Dogs

SUMMARY: AKC is just one player in the world of dogs. Yet they have an amazing stranglehold on the minds of Americans.

A friend commented today that if AKC decides to allow mixed breed dogs to compete in agility, it could be the death knell of USDAA. She fears that there are already a lot of newbies who start only in AKC because that's what they know about and that there aren't enough newcomers in USDAA to sustain it if even nonregisterable-in-AKC dogs are allowed to compete in AKC.

An AKC competitor said that she felt--and that others agreed with her--that AKC is considering doing it only for the money. Well, duh. That's the only reason in MY opinion that they got into agility in the first place. There was a perfectly fine agility organization (USDAA) already established in the US long before AKC got into the act. We had many discussions at the time about whether AKC entering the agility world would kill it for other organizations, such as USDAA, NADAC, and UKC agility (which was its own flavor anyway).

Back then, though, it seemed to feed rather than hinder the growth of the other organizations. AKCers who had previously entirely ignored agility discovered suddenly that the sport was fun, having tried it in AKC, and when they discovered that there was MORE agility, they started signing up for USDAA and NADAC events as well.

Those of us whose dogs were ineligible for AKC didn't much care anyway; AKC agility was obviously an afterthought and a second-rate venue, with judges who didn't know how to design courses, only a single offering per day (Standard; Jumpers With Weaves came later), and $20 per run when you could enter other trials for $8 a run.

But I wonder what effect it would have now, as AKC agility has matured quite a bit, at least at the Masters (um--Excellent?) level. Could it really unseat USDAA? USDAA is huge--at least, in California. The National Championships--oh, sorry, the Cynosports World Championships--even with more stringent requirements every couple of years, draws more and more top-quality participants from not only the States but also other countries.

The hold that the AKC has on American minds, however, is scary. Coincidentally, last night in a bookstore I picked up a book about Border Collies. Not an AKC press book, just one in a series by some (random) publisher. I flipped to the chapter on activities you can do with your dog. It described in detail AKC agility and AKC titles you could earn. (And AKC herding, and AKC obedience, and so on.) Not even the slightest hint that there is any other flavor of agility in existence. How could someone researching and writing such a book be so oblivious to one of the largest moving forces in agility, the USDAA, let alone other venues that have large followings in their own demographics?

I put the book back in disgust.

And yet I remember, as a kid, avidly reading books about dog breeds and believing, really believing, that all of the breed lists that I memorized WERE all the breeds that existed in the world. Looking back at those books, even if they mention AKC, they mention it in passing, but the breeds they list are all AKC.

And in my two years of very involved work on moving the Wikipedia Dog Breeds Project forward--and even today--every time a new person gets involved in helping to define what breeds should be listed in "list of dog breeds" (vs., say, "list of cross-bred dogs"), inevitably they make a comment to the effect of, "If it's not recognized by AKC, it's not a real breed." And this in an online encyclopedia with a very active international community, with links to non-U.S. breed specs in every article! How AKC-centric American dog lovers are, and the sad thing is that most of them don't even know that they've been brainwashed by a commercial organization into thinking that their product is the only one.

At times, I despair. AKC is more than the Microsoft of the dog world. It's closer to the Chairman Mao, methinks.

3 comments:

  1. I really doubt that USDAA will ever be in trouble if the AKC allows mixed breeds. They'll never--no matter how hard they might try--be the highest standard of agility in this country. Why? AKC Breeders won't allow it. And Conformation *is* the AKC.

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  2. Oh, good. That sentiment is so consistent with what I think about AKC. I feel better already. :-)

    -ellen

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  3. I can't speak for other areas but in CO non-AKC dogs account for maybe 7-8 dogs out of the total entry at a USDAA trial. I can think of only one person with a mix that I know for sure started with USDAA because she couldn't get into AKC. I could have probably ILP'd one of my dogs and the other could ILP for sure but I prefer USDAA. Most of the really hardcore USDAA people out here have purebreds and many also do AKC but they'll drive long distances to do USDAA over a nearby local AKC trial. I think I was the only one from CO at Nationals with mixes and I'm also the only one likely to travel out of state for USDAA with my mixes.

    If it makes you feel any better the starters class at the USDAA trial last weekend was huge and I saw lots of new faces.

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