By: Norma Bennett Woolf  Date: 01/8/2012 Category: | Canine Issues |

The report is in.

The American Kennel Club High Volume Breeder Committee has opened the door to the 21st Century for the world’s largest advocacy body for purebred dogs.

Charged with the gargantuan task of questioning the organization’s relationship with commercial kennels, examining its inspections and investigations policies, and outlining recommendations for changes, the committee has issued a report that will shore up AKC’s position as a true leader in canine welfare.

To describe the mission as controversial is more than an understatement. The committee had to thread its way through a minefield of resistance from breeders within the AKC dog fancy while ignoring disdain and opposition from animal rights activists who accuse the registry of consorting with profiteers who make a living selling puppies. The resulting report shows that committee members held true to their charge from the AKC board and to the welfare of purebred dogs.

The basic premise of the committee report is that AKC can upgrade conditions for all purebred dogs by accepting registrations from commercial kennels in a variation of the operant conditioning method so popular in dog training circles. The ability to register puppies with AKC is the reward for good behavior; the potential for suspension or revocation of registration privileges is the discipline for ignoring the cue. Since AKC inspectors suspend kennels for substandard conditions and report those kennels to local authorities, the intent is to bring marginal kennels into compliance with accepted practices as well as conformity with AKC recordkeeping rules and to work with USDA and local authorities to close those kennels that keep dogs in substandard conditions.

Recommendations from the committee include

  • hire more inspectors to increase the frequency of kennel inspections;
  • create a breeder’s division within AKC to provide education and information for breeders, an 800-number hotline for dog owners, and a program for recognizing the achievements of outstanding breeders;
  • require minimum age of eight weeks and microchips for all dogs sold at auctions;
  • require all dogs registered with AKC to be microchipped;
  • explore the use of registration incentives;
  • set a five-year goal for DNA testing of every sire and dam in the AKC studbook;
  • establish a dialog with high volume breeders;
  • establish a separate entity for rescue or add a rescue component to an existing AKC affiliate such as the Companion Animal Recovery program to support responsible rescue efforts; and
  • commission a national survey on dog ownership.

Before formulating these recommendations, committee members spent a year doing field work that included an open meeting with high volume breeders and members of the fancy and visits to commercial kennels and the headquarters of a national pet store chain. Among the findings were:

“Sometimes, the lines between commercial, performance and AKC show breeders overlap. Most commercial kennels breed strictly for the pet trade, but during the term of the committee, it was interesting to note that a couple large commercial kennels regularly produce AKC champions. One large-scale stock dog kennel produced titleholders in conformation, agility and herding.”

“...great improvements in kennel conditions and in AKC record keeping have occurred during the last 10 years. .... some driven by activist groups, some by the industry itself and others by regulatory efforts.”

“Technological improvements include air exchange systems that reduce the spread of disease and odor and newer and non-porous building materials that make cleaning easier and more effective. Smaller breeders typically operate from their homes using a converted garage or another outbuilding as a kennel. Some of the larger kennel operations maintain full-time animal care workers. Most are family-run operations with two or more family members working full time in the kennel.”

“Committee members observed that even though the dogs looked healthy and socialized in some of the older kennels, the appearance of hutch-type buildings is offensive and reinforces negative stereotypes about commercial breeding operations. Committee members also noted that a basement or garage full of dogs in crates presents a negative picture as well.”

“The committee also toured the national headquarters of a large pet store chain and its flagship store. The committee heard presentations from company executives about company practices, warranties and programs. Afterward, the committee toured the store to observe their practices in operation. The store was outfitted with modern kennel equipment similar to that found in veterinary clinics. Store personnel were trained as animal caregivers and pet counselors. The store provides up-to-date vaccinations, a warranty, a health certificate, a lifetime agreement to take back or help purchasers rehome dogs they can no longer keep, and a purchasers’ information pack that includes a training video and a phone number for lifetime consultation with a certified canine behaviorist. This pet store chain says it delivers 10-15 percent of its puppies neutered.”

“Committee members never lost sight of the fact, however, that they were seeing the very top of the industry. Some committee members also visited pet stores in their areas. It should be noted that many of these local pet stores did not come up to the same standards as the store visited by the committee as a whole. That being said, there is no denying the enormous advances demonstrated by these pet industry leaders.”

“Despite widespread consensus that major improvements have occurred in large scale breeding operations during the last few years, the committee does not suggest that bad kennels are a thing of the past. Indeed, all of the inspectors who spoke to the committee and the committee members themselves conclude that there is still a lot of work to do.”


The committee has faced antagonism within the fancy as well as derision from animal rights activists who blame dog breeders for the ill-defined “pet overpopulation problem.”

In an interview with BJ Andrews published on, committee member Susan LaCroix Hamil said that resistance from fanciers comes from an us-and-them separation that some fanciers believe they have a vested interest in continuing.

“... the Fancy has taken a dramatic shift from those days of large kennels as was the custom of the top kennels 50-60 years ago,” said Bloodhound breeder Hamil. “We are what we say we are, hobby breeders who do this for the love of dogs. So I think that’s why many of us feel threatened by the commercial breeders who have at their disposal immense quantities of money, political power, time and facilities. No wonder we feel threatened with AKC’s dialog with them. They are our competition for good pet puppy homes!

“We are trying to maintain breeding kennels with very small numbers, and sometimes that is difficult when you want to bring something back into your line or make an improvement and you don’t have first hand knowledge because you can’t have those dogs in your own possession. And over the years we talked ourselves into saying, ‘well, one of the criteria of a good breeder is that you don’t breed very much.’ You breed small numbers and you only breed for yourself. We have other jobs, we don’t derive our income from dogs so we can’t manage a large number of dogs as effectively as a commercial breeder.”

Some critics have charged that AKC intends to lower standards so that commercial kennels can qualify to register dogs, but Hamil told Andrews that nothing could be further from the truth, that the committee actually recommends raising the standards for all breeders.

A glance through the report backs up Hamil’s contention. Recommendations such as the development of emergency plans for all high volume kennels, microchip identification for all dogs sold at auction, changes in Animal Welfare Act regulations that bring more commercial breeders under federal oversight, DNA profiles on all breeding stock, and a ‘gold standard’ designation for exceptional breeders combine to raise standards for all AKC-registered dogs and give meaning to “AKC registration.”

AKC Leads

AKC’s leadership goes far beyond its oversight of breeders who use its registration services. Dog health, public education, return of lost dogs to their owners, aid for owners and breeders fighting punitive legislation, and venues to prove dog skill and stamina are part and parcel of the AKC package of benefits for pets and show dogs.

The Canine Health Foundation grants hundreds of thousands of dollars to canine health research projects each year. AKC started the ball rolling with millions in donations and still gives hundreds of thousands to the effort each year.

The Companion Animal Recovery division has an identification database of microchip and tattoo numbers that has returned more than 100,000 lost animals to their owners.

The AKC public education department provides a broad range of free pamphlets, flyers, and booklets about breed selection, nutrition, pet care, and more; sends the Best Friends pet care education program to thousands of public and private schools; and maintains a network of public education coordinators through members clubs all over the country.

The AKC Canine Good Citizen test is available to all well-behaved dogs, purebred or mixed breed. The CGC helps dog owners prove they are responsible and is the basis of tests that certify therapy dogs to work in nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities.

The AKC legislative department spreads news about laws and policies affecting dog owners and provides information to help fight dog number limits, breeding restrictions, breed-specific bans and restrictions and to help establish dog parks.

The AKC DNA certification program helps determine the lineage of puppies when breeding practices are sloppy or mistakes are made.

The monthly AKC Gazette highlights articles about dog care, training, and health and features breed profiles that help prospective buyers make informed breed choices.

There are problems. Some breeders who register dogs lack integrity, but AKC is catching up with them through the use of DNA profiles. The registry seems unable to get the word out about its programs, leaving the mistaken impression that the accusations of activists are well-founded. The new publicity department is making an effort, and implementation of the High Volume Breeder Committee Report will provide a perfect opportunity for a major campaign.

This article appeared in the Winter 2003 NAIA News.

About The Author

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Norma Bennett Woolf -

Editor and Writer for the National Animal Interest Alliance.

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