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The American Kennel Club (AKC) is a registry of purebred dog pedigrees in the United States. Beyond maintaining its pedigree registry, this kennel club also promotes and sanctions events for purebred dogs, including the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, an annual event which predates the official forming of the AKC, the National Dog Show, and the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. Unlike most other country's kennels clubs, the AKC is not part of the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (World Canine Organization).
The AKC is not the only registry of purebred dogs, but it is the only non-profit registry and the one with which most Americans are familiar. Founded in 1884, the AKC is the largest purebred dog registry in the world. Along with its nearly 5,000 licensed and member clubs and affiliated organizations, the AKC advocates for the purebred dog as a family companion, advances canine health and well-being, works to protect the rights of all dog owners and promotes responsible dog ownership. An example of dogs registered elsewhere in the U.S. is the National Greyhound Association which registers racing greyhounds (which are legally not considered "pets").
For a purebred dog to be registered with the AKC, the dog's parents must be registered with the AKC as the same breed, and the litter in which the dog is born must be registered with the AKC. If the dog's parents are not registered with the AKC or the litter is not registered, special registry research by the AKC is necessary for the AKC to determine if the dog is eligible for AKC registration. Once a determination of eligibility is met, either by litter application or registry research, the dog can be registered as purebred by the AKC. To register a mixed breed dog with AKC as a Canine Partner, you may go to the AKC website and enroll the dog via an online form. Once registered, your mixed breed dog will be eligible to compete in the AKC Agility, Obedience and AKC Rally Events.
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Registration indicates only that the dog's parents were registered as one recognized breed; it does not necessarily indicate that the dog comes from healthy or show-quality blood lines. Nor is registration necessarily a reflection on the quality of the breeder or how the puppy was raised. Registration is necessary only for breeders (so they can sell registered puppies) or for purebred conformation show or purebred dog sports participation. Registration can be obtained by mail or online at their website.
The AKC supports some canine health research and has run advertising campaigns implying that the AKC is committed to healthy dogs, but the AKC's role in furthering dog health is controversial. Temple Grandin maintains that the AKC's standards only regulate physical appearance, not emotional or behavioral health. The AKC itself states that "There is a widely held belief that "AKC" or "AKC papers" guarantee the quality of a dog. This is not the case. AKC is a registry body. A registration certificate... in no way indicates the quality or state of health of the dog."
The AKC has no health standards for breeding; the only breeding restriction is age (a dog can be no younger than 8 months). Though the majority of the 170 breed-specific parent clubs have a health committee devoted to their breed's specific concerns, the AKC prohibits clubs from actually imposing stricter regulations. That is, an AKC breed club cannot require a higher breeding age, hip dysplasia ratings, genetic tests for inheritable diseases, or any other restrictions. Parent clubs have the power to define the looks of the breed, or breed standard and may also restrict participation in non-regular events or classes such as Futurities or Maturities to only those dogs meeting their defined criteria. These non-regular events can require health testing, DNA sampling, instinct/ability testing, and other outlined requirements as established by the hosting club.
In summary, attention to health among breeders is voluntary and not mandated. By contrast, many dog clubs outside the US do require health tests of breeding dogs. The German Shepherd Club of Germany, for example, requires hip and elbow X-rays in addition to other tests before a dog can be bred. Such breeding restrictions are not allowed in AKC member clubs. As a result, some US breeders have established parallel registries or health databases outside of the AKC; for example, the Berner Garde established such a database in 1995 after genetic diseases reduced the average lifespan of a Bernese Mountain Dog to 7 years. By comparison, the Swiss Bernese Mountain Dog Club introduced mandatory hip X-rays in 1971.
For these, and other reasons, a small number of breed clubs have not yet joined the AKC so they can maintain stringent health standards, but, in general, the breeders' desire to show their dogs at AKC shows such as the Westminster Dog Show has won out over these concerns.
The AKC Canine Health Foundation funded research that lead to the mapping of the canine genome (DNA sequence) with grants totaling more than $2 million. Sequencing of the dog genome began in June 2003, funded in large part by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and finished the completed sequence of the entire dog genome at MIT’s Broad Institute in 2005. Because people inherit many of the same diseases as dogs, humans can also benefit from health research funded for dogs.
The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the AKC Canine Health Foundation have established the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) to encourage health testing by breeders and provide breeders and researchers with information to improve breeding programs. More than 135 different breeds have specific health testing pre-requisites required by their parent breed club.
AKC Parent Clubs form the nucleus of the American Kennel Club community as the guardians of their respective breeds and keepers of the breed standards. Parent Club activities include:
The Purebred Alternative Listing Program (PAL), formerly the Indefinite Listing Privilege Program (ILP), is an AKC program that provides purebred dogs who may not have been eligible for registration a chance to register "alternatively" (formerly "indefinitely"). There are various reasons why a purebred dog might not be eligible for registration; for example, the dog may be the product of an unregisterable litter, or have unregisterable parents. Many dogs enrolled in the PAL and ILP programs were adopted from animal shelters or rescue groups, in which case the status of the dog's parents is unknown. Dogs enrolled in PAL/ILP may participate in AKC companion and performance activities, but not conformation. Enrollees of the program receive various benefits, including a subscription to Family Dog Magazine, a certificate for their dog's place in the PAL, and information about AKC Pet Healthcare and microchipping. Dogs that were registered under the ILP program keep their original numbers.
The Canine Partners program presents an opportunity for owners of mixed breed dogs, dogs not eligible for AKC registration, and dogs in breeds not accepted by AKC to compete and participate in AKC. Wolf hybrids and unfixed dogs are not able to join Canine Partners. Dogs registered in Canine Partners are able to compete in Agility, Obedience, and AKC Rally, and can achieve the same titles as purebred dogs, along with receiving various AKC benefits. Registration is available for $35.
The AKC/Eukanuba National Championship is an annual event held in both Orlando, FL, and Long Beach, CA. The show is by invitation only. The dogs invited to the show have either finished their championship from the bred-by-exhibitor class or ranked in the Top 25 of their breed. The show can often be seen on major television stations.
The Foundation Stock Service (FSS) is an AKC program for breeds not yet accepted by the AKC for full recognition, and not yet in the AKC's Miscellaneous class. The AKC FSS requires that at least the parents of the registered animal are known. The AKC will not grant championship points to dogs in these breeds until the stud book is closed and the breed is granted full recognition.
The AKC sanctions events in which dogs and handlers can compete. These are divided into three areas:
As of June 1, 2011, the AKC fully recognizes 173 breeds with 15 additional breeds granted partial status in the Miscellaneous class. Another 60 rare breeds can be registered in its Foundation Stock Service.
The AKC divides dog breeds into seven groups, one class, and the Foundation Stock Service, consisting of the following (as of January 2011):
The AKC also offers the Canine Good Citizen program. This program tests dogs of any breed (including mixed breed) or type, registered or not, for basic behavior and temperament suitable for appearing in public and living at home.
Another AKC affiliate is AKC Companion Animal Recovery (AKC CAR), the nation's largest not-for-profit pet identification and 24/7 recovery service provider. AKC CAR is a leading distributor of pet microchips in the U.S. and a participant in AAHA's free Pet Microchip Lookup tool.
The AKC tracks all dog related legislation in the United States, lobbies lawmakers and issues legislative alerts on the internet asking for citizens to contact public officials. They are particularly active in combating breed-specific legislation such as bans on certain breeds considered dangerous. They also combat most legislation to protect animals such as breed-limit restrictions and anti-puppy mill legislation. While they argue that their motive is to protect legitimate breeders and the industry, many argue their incentive is purely financial.