Bo Bengtson At Large: The Best Breeders

Honoring the best breeders, the unsung heroes of our sport.

Who are the best breeders? This question is discussed endlessly among dog fanciers everywhere, including in this column in the past. Experts disagree, as witnessed by the controversy that erupts each year when AKC announces its list of “Breeder of the Year” nominees. Most people will acknowledge that while AKC often gets it right, there have also been a few decisions that leave anyone who’s familiar with the American dog show scene scratching their heads.

Yet everyone agrees it’s a wonderful idea to honor the breeders. They are the often unsung heroes of our sport, the backroom workers who combine lofty goals and a high degree of idealism with the most basic, down- and-dirty work on the ground. Breeding dogs is not for the squeamish, but you still need to have the soul of an artist to succeed at the highest level, to be more than “just a name in the catalog,” as someone put it.

Raising a litter of healthy puppies is an achievement in itself. To do so repeatedly and achieve any level of success is certainly worthy of praise. One would expect the AKC Breeder of the Year nominees to clearly be the best in their breed and their group. That’s sometimes true, but not always. And for such a highly prestigious award as this, that’s a problem.

Is there really no way to define clear, independent criteria for measuring a breeder’s success? What kind of research does AKC do to find the nominees? What are the main considerations? AKC simply says that these are “outstanding” breeders who have “dedicated their lives to improving the health, temperament and longevity of their chosen breed.” That’s a tall order, but it’s also rather vague. Here are a few things that probably ought to be taken into consideration:

  • Longevity. At least a couple of decades’ breeding activity should be required.
  • Health. Both breeding stock and offspring must have successfully passed the required health tests. 
  • Home conditions and ethics. What are the kennel facilities like? Do the dogs live happy, healthy lives? How does the breeder deal with pet buyers?
  • Success ratio. Obviously you need to breed more than an occasional litter to reach top breeder status, but the percentage of winners should be proportionate to the number of litters and puppies bred.
  • Show ring success. How many champions? Specialty winners? All-breed wins? (The latter is perhaps the least important, but also the easiest to check. My records of AKC all-breed Best in Shows for the past decade indicate that some nominees have not experienced much, or any, success in this area.)
  • Performance success. This is obviously impossible to measure in some breeds, but obedience achievements, and now the CGC title, count for something, as would of course field and working degree titles.

Not everyone is capable of revolutionizing their breed the way Pat Trotter and her Vin-Melca Norwegian Elkhounds did, for example. Pat was honored with AKC’s Lifetime Achievement award in Orlando in December. Nobody is more worthy; few can come even close to achieving Pat’s success — but she sets an example that I hope all AKC “Breeder of the Year” nominees aspire to.

Finally, some figures that looked suspious proved to be, in fact, totally incorrect. As one reader pointed out, the French Kennel Club, the Societe Centrale Canine, states on its website that it registers 700,000 dogs annually — more than AKC does. That figure should be 200,000 and was apparently the result of a “typographical malfunction>” Thanks to Dogs In Review contributor Karl Donvil; Dr. Peter Friedrich, president of the German KC (VDH); and Christian Eymar Dauphin, the new SCC president, for confirming the correct figure.

This means that AKC really is the biggest purebred dog registry in the world, just as claimed — so far. But watch out for Russia, Japan and China, up- and-coming dog countries poised to overtake our position.


From the January  2013 issue of Dogs In Review magazine. Purchase the January 2013 digital back issue or subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs In Review magazine.

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