Dog Clubs

A world of fun, joy, and competition for all who love dogs


The dog world sometimes seems to be divided into pet owners and show dog breeders and exhibitors, with each group looking at the other with a bit of suspicion.

Pet owners often look askance at people who are fussy about the appearance or pedigree of their dogs, claiming (rightfully) that any dog – mixed breed or purebred, perfect specimen or not – is worthy of love and concern. Show breeders sometimes consider that ‘just a pet’ dogs owned by people more interested in a couch potato or a jogging partner than a competition dog are somehow lesser dogs because they will never have a championship or an obedience title.

But pet owners and show dog breeders and exhibitors have much more in common than people in either group may think – they love dogs, care about their welfare, enjoy their company, and spend money to keep them healthy. Pet owners often get together to chat, to sing the praises of Sassy or Brutus, and to watch their dogs romp in the dog park, but they can learn much about dogs from those who pursue dog sports as an avocation. And, since turn about is fair play, canine sportsmen can learn a lot from people who appreciate the dogginess of their pets.

Dog clubs

The United States has many dog clubs. Most are affiliated with the American Kennel Club, some as full-fledged AKC members, others as organizations sanctioned to conduct AKC events. These clubs host all-breed shows, specialty shows, obedience-only shows, agility trials, hunt tests and trials, herding tests and trials, lure coursing tests and trials, and go-to-ground events.

First, a little history. The American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club are the oldest and largest national clubs that register purebred dogs and promote dog sports. AKC was founded in 1884; UKC opened its doors in 1898. Each club has a list of recognized breeds and requires proof that a dog belongs to one of those breeds before they grant registration privileges. Both publish magazines; train judges; support dog health research; attempt to assure the integrity of their registries; work for reasonable laws to protect dogs and dog owners; oppose unreasonable laws that target dog breeds and numbers and restrict breeding; allow affiliated clubs to host shows and trials; and work with breed clubs to establish and maintain standards by which the breeds can be judged.

Although UKC registers more breeds, AKC is larger and has broader impact on the world of purebred dogs through its extensive network of education and legislative coordinators, free education program for students, contributions to canine health, administration of a microchip identification registry, and involvement in more than 15,000 dog shows, tests, and trials each year.

Dog breeding was a pursuit of well-to-do dog fanciers in AKC’s early years, a history that is reflected in prestigious all-breed shows such as the annual Westminster Kennel Club show at Madison Square Garden each February and a handful of other long-established shows throughout the country. Handlers, judges, and spectators ‘dress up’ for these shows; evening wear is the fashion in the show ring and the stands. These traditions trickle down to local shows; female handlers and judges generally wear skirts and blouses, dresses, or pantsuits and male handlers and judges wear suits or sports jackets and dress pants at all-breed shows. Dress in sporting events is more down-to-earth, however.

The work of the two national registries is mirrored by the operations of local clubs. For example, UKC clubs concentrate on events, but AKC clubs are often deeply involved in their communities. AKC requires that clubs host at least one dog show annually and participate in educational projects in their home area. Most clubs host at least two events; some go far beyond the basic requirements with several different types of shows, education projects, and practice events for owners of performance dogs and pets.

All dog breeds and mixes are welcome to train at many obedience clubs. Obedience classes begin with puppy kindergarten and go through advanced competition sessions. Several obedience clubs offer agility classes as well, so pet owners can choose from a broad menu of courses for fun or, if they get bitten by the bug, to earn obedience or agility titles.

Club membership brings many privileges: a newsletter, reduced rates for training classes, and social events ranging from pot-luck suppers to barbecues and holiday parties. Best of all, however, is the opportunity to chat with dozens of dog owners and trainers who simply enjoy their dogs.

Kennel and specialty clubs

Local kennel clubs and national and local specialty clubs work hand-in-hand to plan dog shows. AKC kennel clubs conduct events for all AKC breeds. More than a dozen kennel clubs are within two hours of Cincinnati, and most conduct two shows each year.

Kennel clubs meet monthly, hold education programs, plan shows and seminars, honor the achievements of their members, participate in community events, maintain lists of area breeders, and donate money to local and national charities. While obedience clubs generally attract many pet owners through their good manners classes, kennel clubs seldom have members who are not interested in some aspect of dog showing or in advancing the wellbeing of purebred dogs.

Specialty clubs work solely to protect and promote the interests of a single breed or group of breeds. Each breed has a national club that hosts an annual show for that breed only, maintains the breed standard, participates in breed rescue, and raises money to support breed health research. The national specialty show for a breed with few registrations is often held in conjunction with an all-breed show to reduce costs for the breed club, but a specialty for a popular breed like Labrador Retrievers or German Shepherds can draw more entries than a small all-breed show.

Many breeds, especially those with large numbers of registered dogs, have regional clubs to provide social occasions for owners, host specialty shows, support area rescue efforts, provide breed education, and maintain a list of responsible breeders. These clubs are likely to support the entry of their breed at a local all-breed show to boost numbers and thus provide more opportunities to finish championships.

Performance clubs

Many dog clubs or associations exist to promote only a particular sport. There are national clubs for agility, weight-pulling, dog sledding, herding, schutzhund, hunting, and lure coursing. These clubs have a limited focus and seldom get involved in events outside the narrow parameters of their interest.

The North America Dog Agility Club and the US Dog Agility Association sponsor agility trials in addition to those sanctioned by AKC and UKC. The American Sighthound Field Association sponsors lure coursing events, the Australian Shepherd Club of America and the United States Border Collie Club conduct herding trials for their breeds, and the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association conducts hunting tests and trials for several sporting breeds.

Schutzhund is a European sport created to maintain the working character of German Shepherd Dogs. Development of the sport paralleled development of the GSD breed around the turn of the 20th Century. Schutzhund dogs must prove their suitability as breeding dogs by passing tests in conformation, endurance, and protection. Today, many breeds, including Airedales, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Bouviers, American Bulldogs, Giant Schnauzers, and all four varieties of Belgian Sheepdogs, compete in schutzhund competitions. The United Schutzhund Clubs of America holds trials for German Shepherds and the American Working Dog Federation hosts events for all schutzhund-trained dogs.

The International Weight Pull Association organizes weight pull competitions for all breeds and mixes, and some breed clubs (Newfoundland, Rottweiler, Bernese Mountain Dog, St. Bernard, Samoyed, Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute for example) offer titles in weight pulling, carting, or sledding. Several regional clubs provide education and opportunities for dog sled enthusiasts.

Impact on local economies

While many dog club events are small and have little impact on local economies, AKC all-breed shows and some other competitions add considerably to the welfare of the communities. Based on a 1999 survey of dog show participants, AKC estimated that the average exhibitor spends $73 per day on food, lodging, gasoline, and shopping, an amount that multiplies quickly for a two-day or three-day show weekend that attracts more than 1000 dogs per day. Added to the dollars spent by exhibitors who travel to the show are expenses paid by the host club: rental fees for grounds and tents, costs to cater lunches and house judges, and payment for miscellaneous services. In addition, the host club frequently supports area charities with a portion of the proceeds from each show.

Value to pet owners

Kennel, breed, obedience and performance clubs enhance enjoyment of dogs throughout the community by offering good manners training, providing advice for owners of problem dogs, helping potential buyers find responsible breeders, working with local authorities to write reasonable dog laws, and demonstrating responsible dog ownership.

What more could a pet owner ask?

Norma Bennett Woolf

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