Jim Engel 1990

Author's notes: This article, first printed in 1990, still gives
some useful insight into the American Canine establishment.

The score of some crazy minor league baseball game? The count of dogs exported to Outer Mongolia? No, my friends, this is the number of voting delegates representing these two breeds when the American Kennel Club elects board members or otherwise makes decisions effecting American canine affairs. Least you think that the German Shepherds or Dobermans are a better off, they each get one whole vote, out of 462. This grossly inequitable situation, and the historical events leading up to it, is the root cause of the escalating dissatisfaction with the organization Americans have long accepted as the ultimate authority in canine affairs.

The AKC is the largest and most powerful canine organization in the United States, if not the world. Unlike clubs in many European countries, the AKC does not derive power or authority from a national or state government. Indeed, you are perfectly free to start your own organization and will, from a narrow legal point of view, have the same status as the AKC.

There is in fact a smaller United Kennel Club based in Michigan which does register most breeds. The roots of this club are in our American hunting breeds, such as the Blue Tick Coonhounds, whose interests were, in the eyes of their advocates, ignored or subverted by the high and mighty at 51 Madison Avenue. The question which presents itself is whether other groups, believing that the heritage of their breeds is also being systematically oppressed and subverted, will also be able to break of and establish independent national organizations. Indeed, being outvoted by 13 to zero certainly should give our Rottweiler friends something to think about.

The primary function of the AKC has been record keeping, that is, maintaining breeding, stud book and litter records. They also designate conformation and obedience judges, specify the rules under which conformation shows and working trials are run and keep track of the results so as to issue the appropriate certificates and publish an announcement when a championship or obedience title is earned.

But their real agenda has been to turn every breed into "show dogs" where the original functionality - be it hunting or police style protection - is irrelevant or even to be purposely subverted where it conflicts with the belief of our betters of "how things are and should be in America."

Over the past months increasing press attention has put a searchlight on AKC politics and the evil inherent in the structure of this fundamentally undemocratic (read elitist) organization. Indeed, AKC bashing has become so popular that it threatens to replace the spill over of pit fighting dogs into American streets as the most volatile canine issue in the public eye. The cover of the March 1990 edition of "The Atlantic" magazine features a yellow Lab with large denomination bills in his mouth. The featured article by Mark Deer is entitled "The Politics of Dogs" and the lead in is "How greed and AKC policies are endangering the health and quality of American dogs." Its an excellent summary of the inherent inequities and biases in the "system." For several years Herm David has been spilling the beans on AKC infighting in the pages of Dog World magazine, something previously virtually unheard of.

The AKC is, arguably, the least democratic of our national institutions. No individual has a vote, for only the 462 "member clubs" designate a voting delegate. (All counts from the Member Clubs list in the January 1990 edition of the AKC Gazette.) Many more clubs - over 3000 - are second class "affiliated" clubs with no representation, vote or power. These include all of the regional Bouvier, Rottweiler and German Shepherd clubs and the vast majority of obedience training clubs. Until a few years ago women could not serve on the board or hold office.

Most, but not all, breeds are represented by a national "parent" club. If this were a matter of one breed, one vote it would still approximate a democratic process. But the influence of the breed clubs is swamped by the other member clubs, some with only a handful of members. As an example, the "First Company Governor's Foot Guard Athletic Association" of Connecticut is a member club, and its membership has as much representation in AKC affairs as the entire Bouvier or Doberman Pincher communities!

The real power is in the hands of local "kennel clubs," some legally "for profit" corporations with fewer than ten members. Although these clubs typically do nothing more than hold one or two conformation shows per year, they wield immense aggregate power in that they control the selection of judges for their shows and send a voting delegate to AKC meetings. To the best of my knowledge, the size and legal status of these clubs is not publicly available.

In addition to the disproportionate power in the hands of small, private, exclusive local clubs, representation is heavily biased in several other ways. The east coast clubs far out number other regions. Only a handful of obedience clubs (41, less than 10%) are represented. Perhaps the most inequitable situation is that of Rottweiler enthusiasts. With upwards of forty thousand registrations in a year, there is still no parent club, absolutely no representation at all for one of our most popular breeds.

The heaviest bias is against the continental protective heritage breeds, that is, the German Shepherd, the Doberman, the Rottweiler the Bouvier and the Belgian herding breeds. In spite of fact that the AKC member club roster is full of local terrier and hunting dog clubs (each with a vote) there are no - zero - local or regional member clubs for these protective breeds. The Beagle, on the other hand, is represented by twelve separate clubs, in addition to the national club. This is not a matter of a lack of interest, for all of these breeds have a network of strong clubs, every single one locked out of representation or power.

Outside of the AKC, when viewed from the perspective of half a century, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America can reasonably be claimed to have been our strongest canine organization. For several decades its network of regional clubs have operated virtually outside of the AKC in the sense of running hundreds of independent conformation shows and obedience trials. Although technically AKC member clubs, the "show orientated" Shepherd people virtually ignore all breed shows and trials to run their own. Only "specialty" judges are selected and, because of the point system, it is difficult to find a "major" at an all breed show. This has meant that to gain the championship a dog usually has to win at the specialty shows.

Indeed, since the "German Shepherd" of the American show ring has for all practical purposes become a different breed from European lines and the dogs in the hands of North American working enthusiasts, its supporters are effectively isolated from all other breed enthusiasts. In my view this sad circumstance is to a major extent the result the isolationist tendencies which have always held sway at the AKC.

The Doberman club is almost as strong and independent, and some of the "regional" Rottweiler clubs have upwards of a thousand members and rosters indicating a virtual national scope. Locked out of AKC power and influence, the enthusiasts for these breeds have built their own virtually independent structures.

The mechanism of this discrimination is based in the fact that most member clubs were established before these breeds became popular, and thus represent east coast interests and the breeds which were well established at the turn of the century. In every other area of American life the newcomers - the Irish, Polish, Germans and African Americans - have gradually been able to share power because of their access to the vote. The AKC establishment has neatly side stepped this processes by allowing virtually no one outside of the "old boy" network to vote.

This has enabled the AKC elite, the "exhibitionists," to hold tight reign on real power, leaving only token representation and pretense of power to the breed clubs. The most important aspect of this is the appointment of judges, which is totally under AKC control. This and the fact that the vast majority of judges for conformation shows are selected by local all breed kennel clubs means that the national and regional breed clubs have no real power. (The exception is the German Shepherd clubs, for the reasons explained above.)

The most damaging aspect of the system is the emasculation of the national breed clubs. Although they supposedly have some influence on the standard for their breed, they can not impose their own championship requirements, such as a working test, or exert any control over who serves as judge and designates champions. This has led to a system of "generic" breeds all judged pretty much the same way, by the same people.

In many ways, the power of the AKC is incredibly fragile. Until a few years ago you had to have a "license" to be a professional handler, and more than one breeder was harassed for handling dogs out of his own lines.

This came apart when one pro, upon having his license suspended, replied by in effect saying "Hell no, not only do I refuse to accept your suspension, I withdraw your right to license handlers. Shall we discuss this in court?" The AKC immediately backed down and gave up the handler licensing system! Although the bureaucracy takes in staggering amounts of cash, and wields immense power over the American canine scene with virtually no mandate from the people who actually breed and train dogs, its deep pockets and secretive ways have created an immense fear of the court room.

The most recent and flagrant example of the AKC wielding its power in support of its real constituency, the "conformation show elite", is the June 18th notice banning any member club from "sponsoring" Schutzhund and other serious tests for our protective heritage breeds. The wording can easily be interpreted to also prohibit the ATTS temperament test and precludes any club from supporting police service dogs. As we shall see, the real reason for this action was to stop the increasing involvement of the national Doberman club in Schutzhund activities.

Although the June 18th mandate may have seemed like a bolt out of the blue, it is in fact the last chapter in a long and torturous story. It was the direct result of the determination on the part of the Doberman working community to seek the restoration of their breed within the AKC framework. The immediate causative factor for the AKC dictate was the Doberman Club's program of issuing Schutzhund titles in conjunction with the German mother club and their membership in the American Working Dog Federation, the umbrella group for the serious protective heritage breed enthusiasts in America. Other AWDF breed organizations are the North American Working Bouvier Association, the United States Rottweiler Club and Schutzhund USA, representing the only really serious German Shepherd fanciers in our country.

I have watched this drama unfold, with increasing fascination, for well over a decade. Over all of these years Ray Carlisle, past president of the Doberman club and leader of the Doberman working movement, was the penultimate establishment man. As the rift in the German Shepherd world widened into a chasm, the working Rottweiler clubs began to slowly, tentatively emerge and the Bouvier advocates struck out on their own, Ray Carlisle stayed the course. He never wavered as he slowly, step by step, established his support within the Club, building from within.

The gathering strength of the working contingent made a crisis inevitable. In the past months the American Doberman community has been engaged in a family feud, ostensibly over the involvement of the Doberman Pinscher Club of America in the Schutzhund sport. In reality this dispute has little to do with Schutzhund, dog legislation, AKC policy, the nature of American society or what the politicians are about to inflict upon us.

The real issue is the character of the Doberman Pincher. Nobody questions that the breed was created as a police and guard dog. Apparently few would dispute that in America today the vast majority of "Doberman Pinchers" are not suitable for this original working role. In the hands of their would be American guardians the Dobermans have become only "pets" and "show" dogs. The "Doberman establishment" is not only responsible for this metamorphosis, they are for the most part proud of it. Those who attempt to train these "Americanized Dobermans" for their original purposes find them by and large insufficient in aggressiveness, courage and character. In their view the breed has been emasculated, stripped of its working character.

The growing success and popularity of the working enthusiasts within the club created panic in the hearts of the establishment and set the stage for an historic confrontation within the club. A knock down, drag out meeting at the last specialty went on far into the morning hours. The issue was finally to come to a show down mail ballot by the membership as a whole on continued involvement in the Schutzhund sport. Our expectation was a ringing endorsement of the sport, and, indeed of the heritage of the breed.

The repudiated old guard - Herman Fellton was a key player - went to the AKC board, who obligingly stabbed Mr. Carlisle and his associates in the back with their infamous declaration of June 18. The metaphor is especially apt in that this dirty work was done in secret, with no opportunity for the working community to participate and no record of the shameful act of board.

My opinion is that the AKC establishment was much more horrified by the precedent of the members of a national club actually deciding something for themselves, by means of a democratic balloting process, than by the Schutzhund activity itself. Next thing you know, the thousands of people breeding, training or owning Rottweilers will become so arrogant as to think that they also should have a voice in canine affairs!

This quarrel in the Doberman world is merely one facet of the larger picture. There is a struggle going on in America, indeed, in the world, to control the fate of our working breeds. Both sides are well entrenched, determined and certain they represent the voice of Western civilization. Neither is inclined to compromise, for the difference is too fundamental, too deep. The leaders of the "American establishment" have spent a lifetime devoted to the emasculation of our protective heritage breeds, and never doubted the righteous of their cause or the certainty that their views will predominate among all right thinking Americans.

The believers in the working heritage are even more dedicated and determined, knowing that should they fail even once there will not be another day to fight, that our heritage, handed down for generations, will have been allowed to flicker out. These people, no matter how small their numbers became through the years, have always believed that they are the rightful heirs of the founders, the keepers of the flame. I believe that they are correct. These are, ultimately, irreconcilable differences.

On the surface this is a bleak picture, promising only more strife. But there is an underlying subtlety, an aspect that renders the situation much more promising. This has to do with the nature and composition of "the establishment," the real core of which consists of the professional handlers, their cash laden "exhibitionist" clients, AKC bureaucrats and various other species of parasite.

Although they are compelled to play the game, the breeders, the guardians of the breeds, are to a large extent on the fringe. Those driven by show ring glory tend to burn out when they find out how empty "winning" really is. My observation is that the real breeders, the people actually interested in the dogs, tend to tolerate conformation exhibition as a necessary evil. They are in fact the hosts the "establishment" parasites live off of.

This means that although the working movement and the establishment are irrevocably at odds, serious breeders in many instances can be recruited into the working cause. They will support a return to a true working basis for a breed if they can be convinced that the working people are serious and dedicated, in for the long haul rather than dorks out for cheap thrills. One reason for this interest among breeders is that, at one level or another, they were originally attracted to the Doberman or Shepherd as police style breeds. Though most of us probably had very little idea of what this really meant in the beginning, the interest was there even if the opportunity to fully realize the reality was lacking. Another consideration, crass as it may seem, is that to remain as a breeder one must be able to sell his puppies, and increasingly it is necessary to show some credible working potential in order to do so.

Our experience in the Bouvier world is that, when the working people finally struck out on their own and formed the North American Working Bouvier Association, two surprising things happened. First, we were within six months bigger than the American Club. More importantly, our support among well established breeders was surprisingly strong. We have been in existence for four years now, and it has been a lot of hard work and more than a little frustration. But on the whole we are growing, with much of our membership and support coming from among long term Bouvier enthusiasts which the establishment assumed would be their loyal constituency.

The German Shepherd as well as the Bouvier has been split into separate national clubs, the AKC member parent club and a strong national working club, Schutzhund USA. (I do wish they would change their name to reflect their current place in the world!) The Shepherd split can on the whole be characterized as antagonistic.

The Bouvier situation is not quite so clear cut. Although there have been conflicts among individuals over the years, the relationship between the AKC affiliated American Bouvier des Flandres Club and the NAWBA have not been overtly antagonistic. From the beginning there have always been two or three dual board members, and much of the membership is common. In one sense it is unfortunate that the breed enthusiasts have been divided into two camps. The American Club has never been nearly as large as it was a few years before the split, and the effort to run two magazines has drained resources.

The Rottweiler situation is unique in that, in spite of the breed's immense popularity, there is still no AKC recognized Rottweiler parent club. (Somebody must have committed a major indiscretion somewhere along the line!) The strong regional clubs have on the whole had a relatively open attitude toward Schutzhund, and the United States Rottweiler Club openly follows the example of the parent club in the homeland. My perception is that there is relatively little "anti Schutzhund" sentiment among Rottweiler enthusiasts, establishment or otherwise. The reason for this is that, because of the recent growth of breed popularity, most of the people have become involved in the new era where the protective function of the breed is accepted as legitimate.

If current trends persist the result will be the separation of our working breeds into distinct genetic pools, that is, the "working dogs" and the "AKC exhibition dogs." This process is so advanced for the German Shepherd that it seems irreversible. The only possible way to unify the breed would be the virtual extinction of current American show lines.

On the twenty sixth of August it was my privilege to be in attendance at the formation of the new United Doberman Club in Chicago. Ray Carlisle, May Jacobson, Bill Knox and many other serious Doberman enthusiasts have launched a new club, will join together with the Doberman Pincher community at large to seek their destiny free of AKC interference and obstruction. This club is, in terms of structure and philosophy, almost identical to the North American Working Bouvier Association, similarly founded in Chicago almost exactly four years earlier.

These working oriented clubs, united through the American Working Dog Federation, are in the process of transforming the protective heritage breeds in America. I believe we will succeed in establishing a genetic pool of strong working stock in each breed and in building the training and competitive infrastructure necessary for a viable long term heritage.

Rather than stamping out the working movement - as was the intention of our enemies within the AKC - June 18th will prove to be our day of liberation, the day we were irrevocably cast out to seek our own destiny. Freedom, the realization that if we fail our beloved working lines will disappear from the face of the earth, is a frightening experience. But fear is a good thing, and I believe that we will take it to heart and nurture it, and thus rise up and prosper beyond our wildest dreams.

Jim Engel, Marengo    © Copyright 1990

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