The German Shepherd Dog

Dogs in Canada and the CKC

DOGS IN CANADA AND THE CKC    A while back I received notice that Dogs in Canada magazine, after 122 years of publication, has folded production. It didn’t come as a great surprise; the magazine had focused on the Canadian pet market at the expense of breeders and member interests for quite some time, and the magazine industry is a notoriously bloody one. I illustrated for the magazine going back to the early 1980’s, when it was under the auspices of Elizabeth Dunn, the publisher and founder of the Dogs Annual. While under Dunn’s management, the monthly magazine was very modest and targeted squarely at breeders and members, and the Annual was marketed to the purebred dog owning public, the people who buy what breeders produce. This was a rational and financially viable strategy, but for reasons that escaped me even then the CKC elected to exercise its majority ownership of Apex Publishing and mount a hostile takeover. Since then the CKC has tried to run a publishing business, without much success it would seem. The CKC lost sight of its strategic direction, assuming it had one.
The financial crisis of the last few years was not the cause of CKC troubles. I have to admit that I haven’t been a member for quite a while. After watching the profound temperament and structural issues afflicting the GSD in the Canadian show ring over the last few decades, I realized I was wasting my membership fee on an organization that was not committed to protecting my breed. When I left, no one bothered to ask why. While the financial crunch was dramatic, the CKC has had money problems for some time.  I recall the idiotic decision to increase the membership fee to $75 back in the early 90’s in a bizarre attempt to increase revenues. I had just convinced several friends to join, but that quickly dissuaded them. Later, after a long fight to get back a dog I had bred that had fallen into abusive hands, I discovered the CKC had no process in place to aid the breeder who protects her animals, and get the registration changed. After a year of wrangling, I found myself wasting an entire day before a panel of nearly a dozen bored CKC reps defending why the dog’s papers should be signed over to me (the abuser would not sign them). I did get them, but what a waste of time and money! The attitude shown me and other breeders of my acquaintance was one of bureaucratic proprietorship, not efficient customer service.
The CKC wasn’t the only organization to suffer in the downturn to be sure, but good governance can certainly ameliorate the sting. It’s my understanding that the board discovered the CKC’s budget deficit at the AGM. I’ve sat on more than one non-profit board, and served as treasurer, and I made sure that complete financial statements were presented to the board each month. Annual statements are presented to the members (or shareholders) at the AGM. Every director is legally obligated to understand these statements – budget, balance sheet, income sheet and cash flow – and have a functional understanding of governance as well. Where a director has no experience with either, the organization should provide training, and insist the director demonstrate competence in the basics prior to joining the board. Directors that pass off their responsibilities to the executive are negligent.
In the panic that seemed to follow, I read the laundry lists of activities posted on some directors’ sites as ideas for strategic planning. That is not strategic planning. For an organization like the CKC, SP should be pretty straightforward. The CKC has the federally protected mandate to maintain the registry for purebred dogs. The corollaries to that are: the responsibility to safeguard the quality of purebred dogs, and to promote purebred dogs to the public.
The registry is of most value to breeders. Unless they plan to show the dog, most pet buyers don’t seem to care much about “the papers”. What the registry actually produces is lists of names, which is inefficient and not very useful. In the 21st century, registries should be searchable databases, with pictures and videos of dogs performing. has already done some of this, and it is users who have provided the content. It’s still just a list of names, but at least now there are pictures to go with them, and access to siblings and progeny. A really superior registry would include the capability to calculate inbreeding coefficients, display verified health clearances and show cause of death. Obviously, a service like this would cross registries, so the CKC, AKC and FCI would need to do some cooperating, but a move in this direction would start to provide some real value to breeders. If they don’t do it, the private sector probably will, and will derive the profit.
Protecting the quality of purebred dogs would seem an obvious thing to do. It should be no secret by now that simply awarding breeding animals on the basis of beauty, often in contradiction to the breed standard (see the extreme rear angulation of German shepherds), is not the best way to ensure quality, if by quality you mean health, structural soundness and stable temperament. For one thing, it encourages inbreeding (line-breeding is inbreeding) on animals based on their show record, not because they are good dogs. The result is that very good dogs who don’t happen to satisfy the fancy of show judges can be largely left out of the gene pool. Dog shows will probably never disappear, but registries could minimize their negative genetic impact by requiring champions to be certified for sound temperament and free of whatever genetic problems are most common to their breed. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask, that a champion actually be a good dog. The registry could also ban breedings that result in unacceptably high (to a population geneticist, not a breeder) inbreeding coefficients, and limit the breeding of animals whose progeny show unacceptably high rates of genetic diseases. Educating breeders and judges is good, but you have to back up your convictions by refusing to reward defective dogs.
A registry that could accomplish this would then have something to promote to the public. Ten years ago the Golden Retriever dominated print and television advertising. Now it has virtually disappeared, to be replaced by varieties of little cross-bred collie types, as well as border and English collies. Various television specials have featured the problems in purebred dogs, the risks of buying one and the nonsense that can go on in a show ring.  For purebred dogs and the registries, this is a PR disaster. The currency of registration has been devalued. The purebred dog is no longer seen as the pinnacle of canine quality, but is often viewed as an inbred, overbred bag of medical and temperament problems. This is called branding in the corporate world, and the brand of the purebred dog, and the registries that support it, has been tarnished. It’s no surprise that there has been a tsunami of designer breeds popping up, mostly crosses of other breeds. Crosses are viewed as healthier, more stable and having “hybrid vigor”. The average person see some German shepherd show dogs dragging their rear ends around the ring, and the unregistered Shiloh seems a better alternative. AKC and CKC registration is no longer the gold standard for quality in dogs, if they ever were. In the US, alternative registries have sprung up to accommodate these new “breeds”.
In Canada, all we have is the CKC, but monopoly shouldn’t be mistaken for dominance. The population is aging, and becoming more urban, which will have an effect on the popularity of large breeds. The cost of gas is making trekking about to shows and trials less attractive, and rigid, militaristic marching around the obedience ring is not the practical training most people need. Working trials are often managed by independent clubs not recognized by the CKC, even conferring non CKC titles and maintaining their own registries. There is less prestige in owning a purebred dog than there once was, and more concern over health costs, which have skyrocketed. More breeders who specialize in crosses (an accepted practise in horses) of different breeds are beginning to fill the demand for pets. If the CKC can’t focus on its core issues and turn them around, it may find its importance in the world of dogs in Canada to be alot less than it once was.

All content copy-righted Linda J Shaw 2000 - 2014.

Use of any material strictly prohibited without written permission of the author, Linda J Shaw.


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