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"A house without either a cat or a dog is the house of a scoundrel."
– Portuguese Proverb
Man's relationship with dogs and cats goes back to times of antiquity. Over the 12,000 years of domestication, man has selectively bred these species to meet specific purposes. Some were selectively bred to hunt, some to retrieve, and others were bred for human companionship. It is only natural that humans would want to showcase the talents of their beloved pets and working dogs. So the concept of dog and cat shows was formed to allow man's best friends to compete with one another in an effort to distinguish who had the best pet.
However, when shows were originally developed, not all dogs were "pets". In fact, most owners were showing off how well their dogs worked and boasted that their dog could beat other local working or hunting dogs. Performance was the first quality evaluated in competitions after which came competition for the "looks". Hunting and working dog contests were organized well before any conformation ring show, even though they were less official. Dogs with specific performance talents were bred to the same and great breeds were the result. At that time the breeders had to keep their own breeding records to insure the breeding of the traits they desired. Recording pedigrees started with the breeders.
The very first recorded conformation dog show was in Newcastle, England, in 1859. In America, interest in purebred conformation competition didn't take hold until after the Civil War. It wasn't until 1877 that the first Westminster Kennel Club Show took place. During this time, dog clubs for specific breeds and specific talents were becoming customary, such as hunting clubs (like hounds and gun dogs), and breed fancy clubs. Cat Fanciers caught the competition bug in the early 1900s. The very first cat shows in America were held in 1906.
The necessity for National Breed Dog Clubs or Breed Parent Clubs grew in importance, as there were more and more breeders and competitors every year. This provided the owners of specific breeds the avenue to communicate with one another, promote their breed, and gave the founding members of those clubs the opportunity to set the standards for their breed. With the concept of showing dogs growing all over the world, it became increasingly important to have uniform show rules, and to document the winnings and pedigrees of the top rated dogs for "many" different breeds. The year 1884 saw the development of the first all breed, purebred dog registry in America, The American Kennel Club, or AKC. The AKC works with National Breed Clubs, and other organized dog groups that will serve as the Parent Club for a breed, which will apply to the AKC (or other registry) for breed acceptance. The clubs must meet The AKC breed acceptance criteria before going into the miscellaneous group, after which it may move up to a permanent dog group with all criteria being met.
Different all breed registries were formed through out the world, each with different breed acceptance criteria based on their philosophies. The National Breed Clubs, Parent Clubs, or other organized groups, decide which registry works for their goals and locale. With any breed club's registry acceptance attempt, the "very important" breed standards have to be detailed, and its format and information have to be accepted by the registry. Three are some exceptions such as the UKC, which actually sets the breed standard based on the input of that breed's professionals and original function of the dog. All breed registries will differ somewhat with what they want to see in the breed standards, but not necessarily the actual wording. Formalizing a breed standard can be a very political event. The decisions made will affect the breed forever, be it good or bad.
There are breeds that end up with two clubs who disagree on breed function, or breed standards, and choose to register their breed with different registries. The breed standard set for a specific breed with the AKC may not be the same as with the UKC, not only because the registries may differ in their criteria, but also because more than one breed club may have existed, thereby creating two different breed philosophies of form and function. One club (be it National Breed Club or organized fancy group) may have divided and chosen different paths, such as with the famous Jack Russell Terrier also known as the Parson Russell Terrier, depending on to which registry your referring.
Below are short histories of the most prominent registry kennel clubs in North America and a few of the differences between them.
The American Kennel Club (AKC)
James M. Taylor and Elliott Smith established the AKC in 1884. This club was originally established to govern dog shows across America and ensure all participants that they were being judged fairly under uniform rules. Eventually, the AKC began canine registries and studbooks. There are currently over 150 breeds recognized by the AKC. The AKC maintains very strict standards and regulations regarding recognition of a new breed. Most new breeds recognized by the AKC must have been well established in other countries, or the US, for a long period before being considered. The Board of Directors determines entry of a new breed if it has met all the criteria. Breeds are branched off into eight groups for AKC shows.
Dogs within these groups are judged by a strict format set by the National Breed Club, or Parent Club. This determines how the dog is to be judged via a point system for each area of conformation, such as head 20 points, top line 15 points, overall appearance 30 points, etc., total 100 points (each breed may differ). The dog with the highest score at that moment, in that class, wins. The top winners receive points, which go toward championship titles. The AKC maintains an excellent Web site (www.akc.org) that contains specific criteria for showing your dog. The AKC is a non-profit organization. To learn more about showing with AKC go to their website at www.akc.org.
The Canadian Kennel Club (CKC)
The earliest dog shows held in Canada were governed under AKC rules. Canadians quickly jumped on the purebred wagon by establishing a non-profit registry known as the Canadian Kennel Club in 1888. The purpose of the club was to devise their own rules governing dog shows, encourage the showing and advancement of purebred dogs, guiding responsible owners and breeders in Canada, and create an all breed registry for purebred Canadian dogs. Today, the CKC is the main purebred dog registry club in Canada. A specialty of the CKC is the CANADACHIP, which is a 24-hour animal recovery network that helps owners to recover lost pets.
The CKC currently has 160 recognized breeds with seven groups.
The United Kennel Club (UKC)
The UKC boasts to be the "second oldest and second largest all breed dog registry in the United States," second only to the AKC. The formation of the UKC came about in 1889 by Chauncey Z. Bennett who had an interest in the "total dog." The UKC emphasizes dogs that look and perform equally well.
The UKC criteria are not as rigid as those of the AKC when it comes to recognizing new breeds. However, each breed's standard is strict and formalized by the UKC, which feels that it is important to intervene in a breed's history early on to maintain proper records and pedigrees.
The UKC sanctions dog shows focusing on conformation, obedience, agility, coonhound field trials and many others. It puts much emphasis on customer relations and individual service, and maintains a personal approach at all events.
There are currently 302 recognized breeds and eight group classifications.
The UKC also boasts a number of firsts. They were the first to offer performance pedigrees, the first to offer DNA profiling, and the first to take a proactive stance against puppy mills.
The Cat Fanciers Association (CFA)
The CFA is a non-profit association that was established in 1906, and sanctions hundreds of cat shows across America every year using their own rules and guidelines. It is the largest registry of purebred cats in the world. The CFA currently recognizes 33 breeds to compete in their Championship Class.
The main goal of the CFA is the welfare of purebred cats. The association registers and keeps close track of those cats that are entered in CFA sanctioned shows. The CFA does not have individual members, but is an association of member clubs. Memberships may be obtained only by belonging to one of the member clubs. They currently have 657 member clubs worldwide. The CFA is also strongly involved in research that benefits all cats.
The American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA)
This organization was founded in 1955 by a group of people that wanted more flexibility in the development of purebred cats and catering to the greater needs of the cat fancy at large. The founders of this association wanted a more democratic approach to the rules governing purebred cat shows. The ACFA is the "fairest, friendliest and most fun feline association," taking a more laid back approach to showing and breeding purebred cats. There are currently 45 ACFA recognized cat breeds.
The ACFA does accept individual membership. These members have the benefit of deciding on the future of the organization, according to the following principles: (1)"The members elect who will represent them on the Board of Directors; (2) the members suggest and ratify any amendments to the Rules of the Association and, (3) the breeders of a particular breed vote on any changes to their respective breed's Standard of Perfection."
Today you will find many dog and cat clubs for many reasons. They will reflect the philosophies of the founders and the members. Some are for fun, some for show or performance and breeding, and some for registering and recording pedigrees and show records. There are clubs, which have no interaction with all breed registries, and National Breed Clubs, which set all the rules for a particular breed. There are parent clubs that will promote a new and rare breed into a registry. There are all breed clubs, specific breed clubs, and specific performance, working and hunting clubs. There are local, national, and worldwide dog clubs.
There are enough varieties of clubs to meet any individual's needs. To learn more about a breed, join a breed club, and attend that breed's special all breed show. If agility, obedience or field trial events interests you, there are many performance clubs available. They embrace new members and are willing to educate and assist you in your endeavor. The potential is endless.