166 – Mark Dunn: AKC Registration Trend Reversal|Pure Dog Talk



According to Mark Dunn, AKC Senior Vice President of Registration and Customer Development, more breeders are registering more dogs, reversing a 20-year downtrend.


The last four years have shown notable increases in the number of dogs registered.  Mark Dunn tells us that the number of litters registered and the number of people breeding dogs are also on the rise.

“…it says something about the role that AKC Breeders are playing in getting dogs into American homes. Which is really important to all of us, to be there for people who love dogs,” Dunn said

Good news on the overall increasing number of registrations is tempered somewhat by a different trend in the low-number breeds. Dunn notes that while the Top 10 breeds have been booming, the bottom 60 breeds are in decline or showing noteworthy reduction in registrations. Labrador Retrievers, for example, represent 15 percent of ALL dogs registered in more than 200 breeds.

Some of the lower registration breeds are new to AKC registration and working to improve their numbers, while other ancient breeds like Otterhounds and Dandie Dinmont Terriers struggle to maintain their popularity.

“I want to be there for parent clubs and provide any information or help those breeders need,” Dunn said.

The Breeder of Merit program was established seven years ago. Dunn believes it had a vital impact on these increasing registrations. Today, nearly a quarter of AKC registrations are produced by BOM approved breeders or those on that path, he noted.

Research indicates that Americans LOVE their dogs. Ninety million of them, in fact. With average lifespans, an estimated 8 million “replacement” dogs are required to meet the annual demand by dog owners in the US. Dunn says AKC breeders produce 1.3 million, with another several million available through shelter placement.


The low registration breeds are a popular topic in this area. Dunn noted that during his presentation to the AKC Delegate’s Parent Club committee, he was asked about marketing rare breeds to increase demand.

“The worst thing we can do is make a hard-to-find breed more popular,” Dunn said. “… if we simply try to market our way to success for particular breeds, we can create a real problem. …if we drive demand for a hard-to-find breed, someone is going to go try to fulfill that demand. Unfortunately, it might not be the parent club breeders and it might not be the people that are … most concerned about the proper stewardship of that breed.”

As registration and breeder numbers increase, Dunn advocates continuing the positive direction with specific actions, including education.

“So, what we saw last year,” Dunn said, “was a lot of growth in the number of people breeding that are not currently considered either commercial, by any definition. They only bred one litter with AKC. They’re very low volume. Maybe one or two litters tops. But they’re not currently on track to be a Breeder of Merit so they either have not finished dogs or they are not competing in conformation to any large extent. Now half of those breeders are very new. They’re either new as in last year was the first time they showed up on our radar. Or they’re new because they’ve shown up once or twice in the last two or three years. The real key is to bring those people in. To bring them along. And the way we do that is through education.”

Here at Pure Dog Talk, we’re happy to offer education to new and old alike!  Hope you enjoy my talk with Mark.


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Laura Reeves: Welcome a Pure Dog Talk. I’m your host, Laura Reeves and we have a great guest today. We have Mark Dunn from the American Kennel Club and Mark is going to give us his full and official title all by himself because it’s lots of words, but he’s in charge of things like knowing how many dogs are being registered and really talking about that and he visited with the AKC delegates in December is that right.

Mark Dunn: Yeah.

LR: Right. With some of this information and now our listeners get to hear it too. So welcome Mark. Thanks for joining us.

Mark Dunn: Thank you. Thanks for having me. So you mentioned my title is a little long but let’s see it senior vice president of registration and customer development. So it does encompass everything registration related with AKC and most of our customer service, which most customer service we do at AKC is registration related. We take about 35,000 phone calls a month and about 85 percent of those calls are related to registering a dog, registering a litter, trying to figure out how to do something in the registration area of AKC. So that’s a real important part of what we do and it’s what we really focus on.

LR: And our listeners will remember Mark joined us earlier last fall talking about the explosive detection dog and some of these new programs that have been coming along. So he’s a familiar guest to our listeners. So I’m kind of interested Mark to hear your topic today because you know it was lots of doom and gloom and the American Kennel Club and purebred dogs for a lot of years when we were seeing our registration numbers decline. And now you are bringing me some information that I don’t know very many people have heard and that is that they are back on the upswing.

MD: You’re exactly right. For just about 20 years about two decades AKC saw declines in registration of individual dogs and AKC litters. And a related decline in the number of people breeding dogs. And you know we had lots of discussion over the years about the drivers and there are definitely legislative and cultural issues going on there, but we have seen over the last four years an increase each year in the number of dogs registered. So we’ve got four years and we’re going into our fifth year of increases in dog registrations. Litter registrations, we’ve got three years in a row now under our belt of year on year increases. And now the end of 2017 was our second year in a row where the number of people being involved in breeding dogs through AKC is on the increase. So those are all really good indicators for the health of the registry overall and the health of AKC. And it says something about the role that AKC Breeders are playing in getting dogs into American homes which is really important to all of us to be there for people who love dogs.

LR: Right. Those actually are really good news numbers Mark. That’s the best I’ve heard on this in quite some time. So talk to us a little bit in terms of is every breed going up, only some breeds are going up. What are you seeing sort of as general trends.

MD: There are about 30 breeds that are showing really strong growth. And there are pretty large group of breeds, 50 or 60 breeds, that are fairly stable. And then there are some breeds seeing declines. And some of those breeds are breeds that were fairly small and total numbers or total weight of the registry even eight or ten years ago. Some of them are new breeds to AKC that have come on in the last eight or ten years. But even though they were small relative to say Labrador retrievers, which make up about 15 percent of the total dogs registered, but when you look at these lower entry breeds, the physical number of dogs the actual number of dogs, forgetting about everything else, is in sharp decline. So when you’re talking about numbers going from the hundreds to the dozens and there are some breeds we can talk about in particular that have gone down. What’s interesting if you think about the registry, two years in a row overall AKC grew about 7 percent each year. We actually grew almost 8 percent between 2015 and 2016. And then we grew a little bit less between 2016 and 2017. If you compare those two years we grew right at 7 percent. So there are definitely breeds that pull that number up. Labrador retrievers German Shepherds Frenchies. There’s that whole top 10 list, which I can’t reveal the top 10 today. AKC reveals their top 10 in March. There’s a big PR blitz they do around the top dogs. But probably everyone listening to this probably know which breeds are most popular based on prior years.

But the middle of the pack breeds are pretty much with the average of the AKC. But then you’ve got the bottom 60 breeds that are all in decline or showing a significant reduction especially if you go back to 2008. And one thing I want to say here Laura just before you go any further. I said this when I met with the delegates parent club committee in December. And it’s not my responsibility and my scope to tell a parent club or the people who are responsible for stewarding a breed what they should care about. I’m not a geneticist I’m not a vet. Obviously I’m not breeding those breeds. But I think it is my job to give them the information they need to understand what’s going on. You know I’ve had great talks with the Dandie Dinmont folks and Dandies are a breed we can talk about specifically where the delegate for the Dandie Dinmonts has spent a lot of time thinking about how to grow or increase the number of people breeding the breed and getting involved in the breed and their actual numbers and try to increase the diversity of their breed. But it isn’t my job to tell her to do that. It’s my job when she or he comes to me and says we want data, I need to supply it. So I just want to say that up front that I’m not going to tell anybody what they need to do with their breed. I think the parent clubs, the exhibitors, the judges, the breeders and the people who love their breed there’s some effort that stewardship is how the future’s going to be determined but whatever help they need I want to be there for them.

LR: And that’s I think a great segue Mark into our listeners will be familiar we just recently had the podcast with Joellen Gregory talking about the Otterhound reproductive bank. And I know you were pretty actively involved in cutting through the historical resistance to something like this from the American Kennel Club saying, no let’s do this. So I’d love to hear your spin on that because I think it is so incredibly important for those breeds who are looking for something like that.

MD: Otterhounds are a great example of a breed that came to AKC even before this discussion most recently about numbers and the impact of limited registration. The Otterhounds go back about three years. They started asking for help to find a way to set up a semen bank that could actually be controlled by an entity, you know, not a person but by a not for profit or legal entity that the club would set up. And the key was those dogs had to be able to be involved in litters. Even though the semen was owned by an entity and not an individual person. Actually in almost every situation in AKC registration, we’re dealing with individual people who register dogs, not corporations or legal entities, a group of people. So Dr Gregory spent much time asking for help and it kind of fell on me to find a way to make it happen. AKC board said, find a way to do this. So we came up with a pretty simple procedure that we think keeps the parent clubs empowered. So it has to start with a parent club and a parent club has to reaffirm this every year. So the way it works is if a parent club says we want to set up a semen bank that can be donated to by individuals that have genetic material that they feel would be useful for other breeders in the breed. The AKC is not real prescriptive and exactly how they set up this entity because we didn’t want to dictate exactly how to do this. But basically the parent club gets this thing set up and then sends a letter to the AKC board informing the board that they’ve established this and would like to have registration rights. The board then asked staff to prepare a document for the club to fill out and the document basically says this is the name of the entity. They state the name of who is in charge of the entity and we have whoever is going to sign whichever human being is going to sign the registration papers. It’s called a signatory. We have their signatory and the current parent club president has to sign that form authorizing that annually. So every year, we would have to get a new form. And that way if there’s any sort of issues with the club and the semen bank entity not being an agreement, say two or three years down the road, the parent club can always withdraw its approval of that entity. In which case we would no longer be able to process any litters or dog registrations that resulted from those breedings of that semen. So it’s a pretty simple process. And it’s very empowering of the parent clubs where they can keep control of something. Because there was a fear that they’d set this thing up and then things change in clubs, different people come and go and suddenly there’s some sort of schism between the semen Bank and the club. And we’ve pretty much eliminated that from happening.

LR: Well to take another turn on this, we were talking earlier. You’re seeing great improvement in overall numbers. And we then want to know why. What has changed? Is it, and you talked, there are more individual people registering litters. Do you think some of this is coming from the Breeder of Merit, the 100 percent registration that is required of our Breeders of Merit? Or where do you see this coming from?

MD: I think Breeder of Merit is a great place to start when we think about this. Because when breeder of merit was launched, I think seven years ago, it was right after I started with AKC. David Roberts and Maribeth O’Neil got that done. And Maribeth still oversees the program. But when they launched the program, the group of breeders that were targeted for breeder of merit, meaning people that are very active in that fancy, have produced a number of champions and are members of clubs. That their overall historical rate of registration was about 50 percent. And keep in mind, the overall for all of AKC is around 40 percent. Meaning if you had a litter of 10 puppies and only four of those 10 puppies typically become registered with AKC. And the other six and up and pet homes and for whatever reason the pet owners often, since they’re not going to breed, not going to show, declined to register the dog. So that’s kind of a historical problem with AKC. Breeder of Merits, though, since the program started, they went from that 50 percent number up to close to 80 percent. I believe the last time we looked at it we were in the high 70s with breeders of merit, which is really tremendous. That group of breeders accounts for about 12 percent of our total breeders are actually breeders of merit. Meaning the litters we bred last year, about 12 percent of those litters came from breeders of merit. So when we get that high registration rate on that, it really does drive the overall.

LR: That’s a very interesting number. I had not heard the breeder of merit number. That’s actually very very good.

MD: Breeders of Merit are, as far as a percentage of our total registry if you will, if we look at the people that can be breeders of merit or active breeders of merit. A good 12 to 15 percent annually of the puppies we produce are produced by those breeders. And then there’s another seven or eight percent of people who are in the fancy, they just haven’t gotten enough Campions or they aren’t currently a member of a club, so we can’t even think of them as a potential breeder of merit yet but they may be on track to becoming a breeder of merit. So overall about 23 to 25 percent of our puppies are produced by people that are either breeders of merit or on track to being a breeder of merit. Which is a good number. I think historically it’s probably a pretty strong number if you go back. It’s harder to tell when we go way back in time because the data was imported and managed a little bit differently if you go back 15 or 20 years ago. But what I’m told by people that have been around the dog world that long is that the percentage of pet breeders you know non-fancier breeders was significantly higher if you go back 20 years ago when our numbers were super high.

LR: Right and I think that’s probably a pretty accurate assessment. So what other things are you seeing? What are the movers on the numbers. There’s pressure coming from somewhere to have more purebred dogs, more purebred dogs bred, more purebred dogs registered. So what other indicators are you looking at?

MD: There’s one thing that a lot of people don’t think about. And I did touch on this with the delegates at the parent club committee in December. But you’ve got to think about the overall demand for dogs. Which has been growing for a number of years. Dog ownership rates have been picking up very gradually. But population continues to grow. So as population grows, even with a flat percentage of ownership, the demand for more dogs is increasing. And the American Pet Products Association did a survey that they shared with the pet industry last year that said that there were about 90 million dogs in the United States in 2016. If you think that there’s 90 million dogs. If the rate of ownership is not in decline which it is not. It is flat to increasing. That means that there’s 90 million dogs and people are interested in keeping dogs. Their interest is not declining. Then we know dogs eventually will pass away. You can use different numbers. I think I’ve been using 11 years as an average lifespan. But if you say that every year 1 11th of existing dogs will need to be replaced. That’s about 9 percent of the total. So nine percent of 90 million is just over eight million dogs annually. That would be the demand for dogs in the United States. Well AKC Breeders produced one point three million last year. So when you think about the total demand for dogs, we are really still only providing a pretty low amount of the total. And the other interesting fact, we have NAIA has done a great job with their shelter studies. And Patti Strand and the entire group has published some great information. But there was another very recent study done by Mississippi State that basically looked at all the shelters in the country. They did a scientific survey and they came up with the number just north of 3 million. I think it was three point two million dogs that are available for adoption. So if you say there’s one point three million AKC dogs and let’s just assume that Mississippi state’s numbers right. Maybe we’ll bump it up the wall but at three point eight million. Right. So now we’ve got about five million dogs. There’s still a lot of dogs that need to come from somewhere. And of course there’s UKC litters and purebreds that are not AKC registerable. But there is still a lot of room for growth for AKC Breeders and responsible breeders that are willing to do what we expect breeders to do to breed AKC dogs. So I think we have a great opportunity if we can find ways to grow responsibly and to do the right thing for dogs and for the people who love them.

LR: And I think you and I talked actually a little bit in Orlando and I think one of the things that is the most interesting to me of all of this with these low number breeds going back to that. A lot of times they are low numbers because they don’t have homes for them. So it becomes this chicken and the egg thing. Like you build the demand for Otterhounds or Dandie Dinmonts. You have to be able to supply the demand from well-bred AKC registered puppies. So that, to me, is such a difficult balancing act and the fulcrum on that. What are your thoughts on that.

MD: One of the delegates asked that at the parent club committee, asked if AKC could help market breed, to make a breed more in demand. And you hit the nail on the head. There are things that can be done to inspire demand or to drive demand. But you still come back to the basic math of how many people are breeding AKC Dandie Dinmonts or Sky terriers or Harriers or Otterhounds, versus how many are in demand. And how does the parent club and the current breeders who are passionate about that breed how do they responsibly bring in new people and mentor new people. I think that’s where the conversation really has to go within the parent clubs. How do they mentor new people to get involved in the breed and what can the AKC, the larger AKC, do either in conformation shows or other activities that we can do to help make that happen or on the registry side. What can AKC do to create the right incentives. Simply marketing isn’t the answer. And I think what I said in response to that question I said the worst thing we could do is go out and make a hard to find breed more popular. Because I know exactly where that ends up. If everybody is walking into the pet store looking for Skye terrier and they can’t find one then the pet store is going to make some phone calls and somebody is going to get the idea they should go and acquire one. And if we simply try to market our way to success for particular breeds we can create a real problem. Because if we drive demand for a hard to find breed someone is going to go try to fulfill that demand. Unfortunately, it might not be the parent club breeders and might not be people that are showing dogs and people that are most concerned about the proper stewardship of that less common breed or even rare breed. So I would hate to see a time come where we have a very rare breed and we do things to make the interest in the breed go up but the club isn’t ready and the breeders aren’t there. The Breeders haven’t been mentored, the next generation of breeders haven’t been created in that breed. So it has to be a partnership between the American Kennel Club and the people really responsible for stewarding their breed to find the right path and my role, just to remind your and everybody listening, as far as a registry is concerned, is to find ways to share data, to help empower them. And then like we talked about earlier with the Otterhound to find changes in policies and procedures that stay within the spirit of AKC rules and regulations that will empower parent clubs to steward their breeds in a way that they think will be impactful.

LR: And I think there’s so much meat here, Mark, in terms of what we can talk about for our preservation breeders. Start brainstorming in your parent clubs, in your national clubs, even in your local clubs. Talking about how can we create the, for lack of a better term infrastructure, to support improving genetically diverse numbers within these endangered breeds and then be able to bring in the homes that are going to be excited to own one of these special dogs.

MD: One of the keys is solid data, right? So if you’re listening to this podcast and you’re wondering how the Belgian Sheepdogs are doing because you’re a Belgian sheepdog breeder and you hadn’t really heard the numbers are up or down and diversity is improving or declining. Every delegate and every parent club president, delegate and recording secretary received some data and they were told they can share the data however they see fit. So if you’re a member of a parent club you may be seeing it published soon in one of your newsletters. But you can also contact the president of the club or your delegate and see if they could share with you the numbers so you can see compared to the overall AKC, how does your breed look in terms of the percentage of dogs being produced that go on to participate in conformation. The percentage of dogs being produced that go on to become breeders and then those numbers increasing or decreasing. You already have small breeds and someone like Dr Jerry Bell may have already given a lecture to your parent club about the importance of diversity. And then you look at what’s happening with the decline in the number of dogs actually being shown in conformation and an even smaller number are actually being bred that you can see the concern that some people have could be valid in your breed.

LR: Do we have corresponding information on event entries? Are event entries up? Conformation, performance events any of those. Do we have that kind of information also?

MD: In the numbers that we share with each club, we included what was happening with both dogs and bitches in conformation, so the actual number of dogs and bitches in conformation. And then the total of course added together and the percent of dogs in conformation. So that percentage across the board is basically saying, of the dogs we produce, how many went on to compete. And then we got the same numbers of bitches bred, dogs bred and the total bred and the percent bred of those dogs that were born.

So if we look at German Wirehaired Pointers. In 2008, there were 314 litters produced and those litters produced 23 0 0 puppies, which is a really nice number that’s like seven point four puppies per litter. Of those puppies about 50 percent were registered which is a nice number. About half of them were registered and only 42 were registered with limited registration which is also a pretty good number that’s less than 4 percent of the dogs were registered with limited. And if we go a little further we can see, of those 2300 dogs that were registered in 2008, five percent went on to compete in conformation and 10 per cent went on to breed. Now we skip forward to 2014 because if we go too far we’ll run into other reasons why dogs are not breeding or competing. But the overall numbers down a little bit were down from 314 litterers down to 267 so there is a decline there but I can tell you by 2016 that number came back up to 330 so wirehairs are following the overall trend of declining through about 2013 and then starting to increase thereafter. And if we scroll down we can see of the dogs that were registered as puppies in 2014, 6 percent have gone on to compete at this point. So actually that’s a little bit higher than the rate in 2008 and seven percent have now bred.

Now I don’t know Laura, that’s your breed. I don’t know how long fanciers typically wait in wirehairs to breed, but that’s not much of a drop from 10 percent to 7 percent and there may be some dogs that just or bitches and have a great point.

LR: For sure, dogs I would expect that will continue on from there.

MD: When we look at your breed the German Wirehaired Pointer that it seems to be following the overall AKC trends. And from a participating in confirmation and participating in breeding seems to be relatively stable compared to some other breeds.

LR: Yeah that was what I expected. So I was just curious I figured they’d be a good bellwether. So again and I’ll give you the opportunity to opt out here so say so if you want to but again are we able to identify across AKC, numbers of entries in all competitive events. Is that not a number that we’ve been tracking.

MD: You know I don’t have any in front of me Laura. It would be a great talk with Doug about what’s going on with conformation and agility. You know roughly I can tell you agility grew tremendously over a 15 year period. It Started to flatten out more recently so we’re not getting the same kind of year on year growth and agility. And conformation entries also have been up and down over the last few years. I think that there’s concern that we do need to find a way to continue to grow conformation. So I’m not directly involved in overseeing events but obviously I work closely with Doug and his team. And all of us are concerned about increasing the number of people involved in the sport and that means breeding and showing. And we know that historically only a sliver of AKC Breeders participated in conformation at a high level. And right now like I said, earlier it’s in the 20 percent range. But it is important that people continue to matriculate into that. And if I could go back to a question you asked me really early on and I think I answered half of it didn’t finish. You said, What other trends are we seeing in the type of breeder. So, what we saw last year was that we saw a lot of growth in the number of people breeding that are not currently considered either commercial, by any definition meaning they only bred one litter with AKC. They’re very low volume. Maybe one or two litters tops. But they’re not currently on track to be a breeder of merit so they either have not finished dogs or they are not competing in conformation to any large extent. Now half of those breeders are very new. They’re either new as in last year was the first time they showed up on our radar. Or they’re new because they’ve shown up once or twice in the last two or three years. The real key is to bring those people in. To bring them along and the way we do that is through education. You know we have canine college we have 12 breeder courses up in Canine College. And then the work that local clubs can do to basically throw a wide net and encourage people in the community to come to dog shows and to participate in something you know anything so that they start to get an idea of who their local clubs are and who the AKC is and what we can do to help them develop this passion develop this thing that they did maybe as a hobby or something they did without perhaps as much thought as we would all like. But they did it. Let’s figure out a way to bring them in and have them be more involved and more influenced by the breed mentors by club mentors and by whatever means AKC proper can do through education and development.

LR: Absolutely. OK well Mark thank you so very very much for bringing us this information. I think this is really important for people to hear because as sort of human beings we tend to focus on our cup half empty and serve our cup half full. So thank you very much for bringing out and putting into the light some positive information here.

MD: Thank you for the opportunity. It’s been a great pleasure.

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