American Kennel Club, Inc.

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American Kennel Club, Inc.

260 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10016

Telephone: (212) 696-8200
Web site:

Nonprofit Organization
Employees: 500
Sales: $69.98 million (2004)
NAIC: 115210 Support Activities for Animal Production; 511130 Book Publishers; 711320 Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events without Facilities; 813990 Other Similar Organizations (Except Business, Professional, Labor, and Political Organizations)

The American Kennel Club, Inc. (AKC) is involved in a wide range of activities relating to purebred dogs. It is best known for its registry of millions of dogs that dates back to before the 20th century. The group also sanctions dog shows and events put on by its 479 independent dog clubs and more than 4,000 affiliates. It has taken to lobbying for owners' rights and has sponsored services such as microchip-aided dog recovery. The AKC has embraced DNA technology as a way to verify pedigrees. It also has sponsored veterinary research into hereditary diseases. The AKC has been producing its Gazette magazine for more than 100 years; other publications include The Complete Dog Book. Headquartered in New York City, the group has significant operations in Raleigh, North Carolina.

19th-Century Origins

The American Kennel Club (AKC) was formed in 1887 by representatives of a dozen existing dog clubs. The AKC was to oversee a confederation of independent dog clubs. About a month after their initial meeting at the Philadelphia Kennel Club, the delegates adopted a constitution and bylaws when they convened in New York City's Madison Square Garden on October 22, 1884. Major James M. Taylor was named the group's first president.

The AKC was not the first organization of its kind in the world; the British Kennel Club had been launched in 1873. For that matter, the classification of various breeds dates back at least to 1576, when Johannes Caius wrote his Of Englishe Dogges.

The British held the first known dog show in Newcastle in 1859; the practice soon spread, however, to Europe and America. The first dog show in the United States is believed to have been held in Mineola, New York in 1874, predating the famous New York City's Westminster Kennel Club show by three years. The first Westminster show boasted 1,201 dogs.

The AKC got its first permanent office in 1887 when one was rented at 44 Broadway in New York City. Around this time, the group was publishing The American Kennel Club Stud Book, which had been started by Dr. N. Rowe several years prior to the AKC's formation. A serial, the Gazette, was launched in January 1889. It would be published continuously throughout the 20th century and beyond.

The AKC was incorporated in New York State on May 18, 1908 by an act of the legislature. Headquarters were relocated to 221 Fourth Avenue (later Park Avenue) in 1919 and would remain there for 45 years.

A major refinement of the dog judging rules came around 1924, when breeds were separated into five groups: Sporting Dogs, Working Dogs, Terriers, Toy Breeds, and Non-Sporting Breeds. A few years later, Hounds were made a separate group from the other Sporting Dogs. Herding dogs got their own category for judging purposes in 1983.

A long-running publishing venture was launched in 1929 as Pure Bred Dogs. It was renamed The Complete Dog Book in 1938.

Postwar Popularity

Dog show judging became more professional in the 1940s and 1950s. The Professional Dog Judges Association was formed in the mid-1940s, and a directory of judges was published soon afterward. The number of dogs each judge could see per day was limited to 200 in 1951.

The AKC's standards for establishing breeds also were updated in the mid-1950s. The new rules required breeds to have been documented for at least several generations by a domestic or foreign kennel club, with more than 100 members presenting representative dogs. A few more years in a probationary "development" period then followed.

The popularity of purebreds boomed after World War II. The AKC was sponsoring about 1,750 events a year in the mid-1950s, with 300,000 dogs participating, according to the Atlantic. The AKC registered 443,000 dogs in 1960, with poodles the top breed in the era of the poodle skirt. About 850 AKC dog shows were held in 1960, drawing as many as 250,000 participants and one million spectators, according to a contemporary Saturday Evening Post feature. The AKC, it said, "controls the purebred-dog world the way the Treasury controls the minting of money."

Headquarters were moved to 51 Madison Avenue in 1964. Within a few years, the organization was using computers to store pedigrees of the increasing number of AKC-registered dogs.

Celebration and Scrutiny in the 1980s

The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog opened in New York in 1980 and moved to St. Louis seven years later. To celebrate its 100th anniversary in 1987, the AKC organized a massive, 8,000-dog show in Philadelphia.

At the end of the 1980s, the AKC had about 450 member clubs. It was sponsoring about 11,000 events a year, with 1.5 million dogs participating. Revenues were about $20 million a year, with most from registrations. The AKC was recognizing 130 breeds at the time. According to the Atlantic, 12 million dogs were AKC registeredhalf of the country's eligible pure-bred dogs. (Other groups, like the United Kennel Club, together had about five million in their registries. Mutts and nonrecognized breeds accounted for the United States' remaining 28 million or so dogs.)

In spite of its success, Mark Derr reported in the Atlantic, the AKC was facing criticism for allegedly harming purebred dogs. By emphasizing appearance above other qualities such as health and ability, the group was encouraging inbreeding, some said. The group also was accused of failing to deal effectively with puppy mills and other pet industry problems.

The AKC was, though, successful in lobbying to prevent communities from banning specific breeds, such as the pit bull, in "vicious dog" ordinances. The group also was funding research into hereditary disorders.

There also would be allegations of rampant fraud in the AKC registry. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the AKC had hired its first investigator in 1973. The group would be dogged, however, by allegations that its registries were in large part "worthless," since they relied on the word of the breeders, who stood to profit considerably from AKC designation for their dogs. Several investigators turned whistle-blower in the mid-1990s.

Technical Advances in the 1990s

Revenues were $29 million in 1993. Some of the AKC's functions were moved to Raleigh, North Carolina by 1998, and the headquarters was moved up the street to 260 Madison Avenue. The data center in Raleigh employed about 350 people. By this time, the AKC's 15,000-member licensed and sanctioned events were attracting two million canine participants every year, while more than one million dogs were being registered.

In 1999, the organization made its database of 30 million AKC-registered dogs available on its revamped web site. Pedigrees were available to owners for a small fee. An online store was another main feature of the site. Also in the 1990s the AKC began backing a number of public-minded initiatives, including the Canine Health Foundation, the Canine Good Citizen program, and the Companion Animal Recovery program. The AKC ended the 1990s with revenues of about $50 million a year.

The AKC was turning to DNA testing to assure the accuracy of its registry, as well as sponsoring research into genetic diseases. In other high-tech developments, an affiliated company called Companion Animal Recovery was implanting microchips to aid in dog recovery and identification. The AKC from time to time acknowledged the existence of new breeds. About 250 of the 400 breeds known to man, however, were not counted by the AKC.

Company Perspectives:

The organization's mission is to maintain a registry for purebred dogs and preserve its integrity; sanction dog events that promote interest in, and sustain the process of, breeding for type and function of purebred dogs; take whatever actions necessary to protect and assure the continuation of the sport of purebred dogs.

Key Dates:

The American Kennel Club is formed.
The Gazette begins its run as one of the country's longest-lived magazines.
The AKC is incorporated.
The AKC begins publishing The Complete Dog Book (originally Pure Bred Dogs ).
The AKC registers 443,000 dogs; one million people attend 850 AKC dog shows.
American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog is opened. 1987: The AKC's centennial is celebrated with an 8,000-dog show in Philadelphia.
Pedigrees are made available online.
The AKC launches "Responsible Dog Ownership Day."

Reaching Out After 2000

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a fancier could spend a half-million dollars to campaign to success at Westminster. The costly sport of showing top dogs was made a little bit more lucrative with the launch of the AKC/Eukanuba National Invitational Championship in 2001. It featured a $50,000 prize for best in show.

In 2002, the group launched a magazine title geared toward the general dog owner called AKC Family Dog. It also was reaching outside the world of the fancier in print advertising.

The AKC was reinforcing its communications efforts in an attempt to reverse a several-year decline in membership figures, reported PR Week. The group had had poor relations with the media, after being blamed for trends such as overbreeding and puppy mills, a pet columnist told the journal. One initiative to improve public relations was "Responsible Dog Ownership Day" held on the group's September 17, 2003, anniversary.

In 2004, the Labrador retriever was into a 15-year run as the most popular dog in the AKC's annual registrations. The once-supreme poodle was still popular, but had slipped to eighth place.

By 2005, the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship was attracting more than 3,000 dogs, some from as far away as Thailand and Australia. Competitions included the National Obedience Championship and the wildly popular National Agility Championship.

Principal Competitors

American Rare Breed Association; BowTie, Incorporated; International All Breed Canine Association; National Canine Association; United Kennel Club.

Further Reading

"AKC to Offer DNA Certification," Dog World, May 1998, p. 8.

"The American Kennel Club's Dogged Pursuit of a More Groomed Image," PR News, April 20, 2005.

Coile, D. Caroline, Ph.D., "The AKC and the Gene Pool," Dog World, September 2004, pp. 18, 43.

, "The Other Shows," Dog World, June 2004, pp. 32ff.

Dale, Steve, "Meet the AKC's Top Dog," Dog World, July 1997, pp. 30ff.

Derr, Mark, "The Politics of Dogs," Atlantic, March 1990, pp. 49ff.

Durand, Marcella, "AKC Begins Advertising Campaign to Reach Dog-Lovers," Dog World, February 2003, p. 6.

Eckstein, Sandra, "The Road to Westminster," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 9, 2003, p. LS1.

Hirshberg, Charles, "Barking Up a Different Tree: The Strangest Dogs You've Never Seen Mingle at the American Rare Breed Association's Cherry Blossom Classic," Life, July 1, 1999, pp. 58f.

Hively, Suzanne, "Meet the All-American Team of the AKC," Plain Dealer (Cleveland), July 9, 2003, p. E10.

"It's a Dog's Life," Economist, December 21, 2002.

Jaynes, Gregory, "In Philadelphia: Superdogs," Time, December 17, 1984, pp. 12f.

Kuehn, Bridget M., "A Puppy Paternity Test," Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, April 15, 2004, pp. 1239f.

Lemonick, Michael D., and Ann Blackman, "A Terrible Beauty," Time, December 12, 1994, pp. 64ff.

O'Hallaren, Bill, "The Crazy World of Dog Shows," Saturday Evening Post, April 1, 1962, pp. 1313, 8587.

"Organization Case Study: PR Breeds Knowledge of the American Kennel Club," PR Week (US), March 10, 2003, p. 10.

Popiolkowski, Joseph, "Popular Culture Goes to the Dogs: Mathematical Model Shows Breeds Follow Whims of Style," USA Today, June 9, 2004.

Ray, Angela G., and Harold E. Gulley, "The Place of the Dog: AKC Breeds in American Culture," Journal of Cultural Geography, Fall/Winter 1996, pp. 89ff.

Satchell, Michael, "Should You Buy That Doggie in the Window?," Parade Magazine, July 19, 1987.

Smith, Samantha Thompson, "American Kennel Club's New Web Site Features Canine Lore, Pedigrees," News & Observer (Raleigh), October 26, 1999.

Stark, Karl, "American Kennel Club Does Little to Verify Lineage of Dogs It Registers As Purebreds," Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, December 30, 1995.

Warren, Ellen, "American Kennel Club Recalls Dog Book Following Ferocious Feedback Over Which Breeds Aren't Kid-Friendly," Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1998.

Wood, Fran, "Breeding Trouble at the AKC," Star-Ledger (Newark, N.J.), February 11, 2001.

Frederick C. Ingram

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