Mixed Breeds for Mixed Reactions

By: Jessica Freni

Photos By: Karen Hansen

In a decision that can only be accurately described as contentious and divisive, the AKC Board of Directors at its January meeting approved a pilot program opening the doors to mixed breed dogs in Junior Showmanship. This program, modeled after similar 4-H programs, is set to go into action as of July 1st, 2021. Previously, mixed breed (“All- American” dogs) were only eligible for AKC performance and companion events. National Purebred Dog Day’s Facebook account poised the question, “Is this a great idea that will encourage more kids into the sport, or is it another ‘drip’ in the drip drip drip of eroding the fancy , where many kids have learned about different breeds, how to show them, and what it takes to breed them responsibly?”

Strong, passionate feelings flooded social media following the announcement. A petition urging AKC to reverse the decision, preserving all aspects of conformation for the mission of purebred dogs, by Wednesday morning (1/27/21) had garnered nearly 4,000 signatures. Detractors of the program expressed concern that this was contradictory to what should be a purebred preservation focus of conformation, even at Junior level, that the emphasis should be on fostering love and stewardship for breeds in Juniors onward. Questions were posed as to how could two Junior exhibitors be judged fairly when one breed was exhibited to breed standards of presentation, grooming and conditioning whereas the other had no standard. Others pointed to the competitive nature of Juniors and worried in fact this would discourage new exhibitors whose dogs were not as competitive as their purebred counterparts resulting in disappointed kids walking away entirely. Would this be the foot in the door to “doodles” exhibited by Juniors at prestigious events like WKC? Suggestions were made that a better solution, within the purebred mission, would have been to obviously eliminate or amend the ownership requirements and couple it with a match program pairing Juniors to mentors in their breeds willing to provide dogs for Junior Showmanship.

Proponents embraced the idea citing a need for new blood and optimism that Juniors would start with the family mixed breed and stay for having fell in love with a purebred. Supporters of the concept pointing to obstacles to acquiring a purebred, for some families felt this program would be an equalizer and give Juniors an opportunity to learn the ropes and hone their skills with whatever dog their family might already have. Those familiar with the existing 4-H program noted it was as simple as the Junior choosing the breed their dog most resembled and thus judging was as simple as that and really no obstacle to lack of breed standard. A lot of comments seemed confident that the Juniors taking advantage of this new program would fall in love with the sport, converting them to purebred enthusiasts in the future, whereas they otherwise would not.

It seems unlikely at this point, that the program will not proceed as slated for July. Time will tell if the concerns and objections were legitimate or if, hopefully, as supporters of the initiative claim, this will introduce a whole new population to Junior Showmanship who do in fact convert to purebred dogs. It will be interesting to see how many take advantage of this program, and where those who do end up by the time they graduate from Junior Showmanship in the future.  Will this concept stay limited to Junior Showmanship or is it part of a bigger picture of AKC diluting the purebred focus that was/is its foundation principles?