The Simon and Garfunkel song, “At the Zoo,” notes that “Orangutans are skeptical of changes in their cages.” That pretty much describes me and the dog game. I would just as soon that the dog game be as it was in the 1960s when I first started going to shows. However, even this anachronism will admit that many of the changes made to the game over the last 40 years have greatly benefited the fancy.

The biggest surprise to come out of the past week’s Westminster Kennel Club show was not the upsets in the show ring (although they were some real shockers), but the announcement by the WKC that next year’s event will be split between New York’s Piers 92/94 and Madison Square Garden. After years of enduring the crowded conditions at the Garden, I am willing to keep an open mind about the change in venue. After all, just being at Westminster is compensation for a whole lot of inconvenience.

One impending change that I have not yet embraced is the realignment of the current seven groups into eleven. I had been showing for almost 15 years when the Herding Group was established in 1983 – I still don’t understand how the ubiquitous “Police Dog,” the German Shepherd Dog, ended up in the Herding Group – and thought that made a lot of sense. From where I sit, there are three reasons to realign the groups: to maintain individual groups at a manageable size, to better focus on breed type, and to realign breeds more along the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) European model.

There are currently 28 Sporting breeds, 27 Hound breeds, 28 Working breeds, 29 Terrier breeds/varieties, 23 Toy breeds/varieties, 19 Non-Sporting breeds, and 25 Herding breeds. The proposed realignment would result in the Sporting Group being divided into 18 Pointing & 21 Setter breeds. For those of you who don’t need calculators, you will note that the realignment numbers include ten breeds not yet approved for conformation shows. It does not include, as rumored, the Standard Poodle or any other currently approved dog from another group. Hounds would be split into 21 Scent Hounds and 15 Sight Hounds. Again including nine new breeds, but no actual realignments.

The Working Group will set up a triad of 19 Utility breeds, 20 Molosser (mastiff type), & 24 Spitz (Nordic) breeds. How did we get to 63 breeds from the current 28? They added 22 new breeds and took seven breeds from the Non-Sporting Group and four from the Herding Group. Terriers would remain intact and add two new breeds. Toys are unchanged and the plundered Non-Sporting Group would be reduced to just 14 with the addition of three new breeds. Finally Herding would grow to 30 with the addition of nine new breeds.

If you look at the chart above, you will see that the discrepancy in size between groups would be increased, but the average size of the groups would be reduced from 26 to 22. A pretty good sleight of hand considering it assumes the addition of 53 breeds, a staggering 30 percent increase in the registry, but that’s a subject for another day. Overall, I would say that the proposed realignment scores a marginal improvement in maintaining groups of a manageable size.

I do think there is a marked improvement in grouping the dogs by breed characteristics. While Sporting Dogs have long been thought of as Pointers, Retrievers, Setters, & Spaniels, the other groups have thrown together an amazing variety of types and sizes. The Working Group breakdown is somewhat confusing (How is a Leonburger more of a mastiff type breed than the Newfoundland or St. Bernard?), but maintains more cohesiveness than currently. I do wonder how they decided to leave the Bulldog and the American Staffordshire Terrier in their respective groups, but decided to take the oriental Chow Chow & Chinese Shar-Pei and move them to the Spitz (Nordic) Group.

How close did they come to mimicking the FCI’s ten groups? FCI separates their 345 breeds into Sheepdogs & Cattle Dogs, Pinscher & Schnauzer, Terriers, Dachshunds, Spitz & Primitive types, Scenthounds and Related Breeds, Pointing Dogs, Retrievers, Companion and Toy Dogs, & Sighthounds. At first glance the proposed realignment seems quite similar until you get into the details, e.g. the Shar-Pei is grouped with the Pinschers & Schnauzers. As for a separate Group for Dachshunds, I think Dachshunds are a natural fit with the other “Earth Dogs”.

All of this is slated to happen just three short years from now. Be sure to let your AKC delegate know how you feel about the changes. And that’s today’s Back Story.