Whether you think of purebred dogs as a relatively modern invention or as something as old as time itself depends on a couple of different things. For one, what do you mean by “purebred dogs”? There’s no question that distinct types of dogs were carefully bred for specific purposes thousands of years ago. It is an undisputed fact that these dogs were highly regarded and not allowed to inter-breed with other dogs — hence the term “pure-bred dogs.” But if you’re talking about what we today mean by specific breeds, thats a different matter. It was not until in Victorian England, with the beginning of the industrial age in the second half of the 1800s, that a sufficiently large number of people had enough free time on their hands to focus on the development and preservation of dogs that were not bred for utalitarian purposes but simply as pets. And what today’s breeders are doing is directly linked to what our forefathers in the dog fancy started more than 150 years ago.

Two of the most important inventions were kennel clubs and stud books. The former may at first have been mostly a social phenomenon, a place where gentlemen (no ladies in those days, please) could get together and discuss their favorite dogs in a congenial environment. (It is no accident that one place where dog shows first became popular were in the pubs and ale houses of London.) These gentlemen were very concerned with the breeding of their dogs: handwritten pedigrees were starting to circulate, but it also became obvious that some sort of official records were necessary. It didn’t hurt that a stud book for Thoroughbred race horses already existed, going back all the way to 1791, so the format was already established. The first volume of the Kennel Club Stud Book was published in 1874. It listed pedigree details for over 4,000 dogs, as well as results of all dog shows and field trials in Great Britain since 1859 and the rules for running shows and trials. A Kennel Club Stud Book has been published every year since then and provides a permanent record of results for all championship dog shows, field trials and other dog activities, such as obedience and agility.

In the U.S. the situation was more complicated, primarily because the first organized stud records were published several years before the birth of the American Kennel Club in 1884. One Arnold Burges, earlier editor of a magazine for sportsmen, published the first stud book for dogs in the U.S. eight years before that, in 1876. It was titled “The American Kennel and Sporting Field” and contained breeding details for 327 dogs, almost all of them Setters. Seventy-one were Irish Setters, there were 50 Gordon Setters, 55 English Setters, 64 “native Setters,” 44 “cross-bred Settters” (any combination of the above), 34 were Pointers, and nine were Spaniels: Clumbers, Cockers and Irish Water Spaniels. It was obviously field trial dogs that mattered to Burges, and the same applied to the dog shows that were included in his stud book. One of the shows in 1874 was hosted by the Illinois State Sportsmen’s Association of Chicago and catered only to the breeds mentioned above. Another show was held in Mineola, New York, the same year; it was held “under the rules of The Kennel Club (England)” and accepted entries only of Pointers, Irish Setters, Gordon Setters and “Setters of any breed.” The next year, a show in Detroit lasted a whole week — January 14-21 — and was specifically advertised as open to “dogs besides those devoted to field sports,” although Burges did not bother to report any awards for the “non-Sporting” breeds.

A New Kennel Club
A second edition of this stud book was published in 1882, but by then a new, rival organization, the National American Kennel Club, had been formed and published its own first stud book. The focus was still very much on the field trial breeds, but there were also reports from nine “bench shows” held from 1876 to 1878, including one from the first Westminster Kennel Club show, which was announced as having taken place on May 8-10, 1877. (Actually, the show was extended through May 11 due to public demand.) A second volume of the National American Kennel Club Stud Book was published in 1885, but the club soon dropped any pretense of interest in conformation shows and changed its name to The National Field Trial Club. Its president, Dr. Nicholas Rowe, must have had some interest even in breeds that were not used for field trials, however, because in 1886 he published, apparently on his own initiative, a third volume, now titled The American Kennel Stud Book, which in addition to the usual Setters and Spaniels also included a number of Hounds, a few Working breeds, some Terriers and a couple of Toy breeds.

Meanwhile, the American Kennel Club had been founded in 1884, and Dr. Rowe offered the first three volumes of his stud book to AKC — gratis. The AKC had assumed responsibility for bench shows, accepted Dr. Rowe’s gift and published its own first stud book the following year, in 1887. That is the reason that what is in reality the first edition of the AKC Stud Book is listed as Volume 4. An introduction credits the generous “advice and assistance” of Dr. Rowe, and records the following sentiment: “The American Kennel Club, recognizing the value to dog breeders and purchasers of a register of pedigrees, and believing that the plan of their organization will add a stamp of authority to their work, and an official characer not hitherto claimed by either of the several similar publications, have undertaken the task of compiling such a register, and pesent to their patrons the first volume of their work.” It is clear that the AKC then was just one of several fledgling organization attempting to rein in the burgeoning intrest in purebred dogs, but most of the AKC competitors didn’t last long.

Subscription to the quarterly AKC stud book in 1887 was two dollars per year, or 50 cents for each single part. The registration fee was 50 cents.

Breeds in the First AKC Stud Book
It is interesting to note which breeds are included in the first AKC stud book. Breeds were already separated into two “groups” (official group division at shows would come much later), Sporting and Non-Sporting. The former includes, of course, a preponderance of Setters (English, “Gordon or Black and Tan,” and Irish), Pointers, Spaniels (“Field and Cockers,” Clumbers, and Irish Water Spaniels), Retrievers without any closer definition (although “Chesapeake Bay Dogs” are listed separately), but also Beagles, Basset Hounds, Dachshunde (with the correct German plural), Fox Terriers, Deerhounds, and Greyhounds.

The Non-Sporting breeds include two that are still listed as such today: Bull Dogs (two words in those days) and Mexican Hairless (now Xoloitzcuintle), as well as Collies, Great Danes, Mastiffs, St. Bernards (Rough-Coated and Smooth Coated), Pugs, Italian Greyhounds, and five Terrier breeds, which obviously were not considered “Sporting” in the same way as the already mentioned Fox Terriers above: Bull Terriers, Bedlington Terriers, Irish Terriers, Skye Terriers and Yorkshire Terriers.

The list of AKC members included only thirteen clubs, two of which are active to this day: the American Fox Terrier Club (founded in 1884) and of course Westminster Kennel Club. The American Mastiff Club was the second breed parent club to join a few months later. All the member clubs — and their delegates — were based on the East Coast, as was most activity of note in the United States in those days. This would soon change, however: the following year both the Cleveland Bench Show Ass’n and Wisconsin Kennel Club were members, even the Pacific Kennel Club, which must have been located on the West Coast. If its delegate, one E. Smith, in fact attended the AKC delegates meetings, how long did it take him to traverse the continent by train in those days? A couple of early member clubs that I’d like to know more about are the National Poultry and Bench Association, and the Western Pennsylvania Poultry Society. Why would a couple of chicken clubs want to be members of the AKC? Your guess is as good as mine, but in those days dog shows were often held in conjunction with agricultural events, which may be part of the explanation. (I remember reading somewhere that the Western Connecticut Poultry, Pigeon and Pet Stock Association organized one of the first Best in Show competitions at any dog show in 1885. The winner was a white Bull Terrier named Count.)

Turning the pages in these early stud books it’s difficult not to stop and wonder. What were these dogs and their owners like? So much is similar to today, and yet it’s all so remote and in many respects so completely foreign. The AKC stud books carried advertising in those days, and bragging about show wins is obviously not a modern invention. A favorite phrase that keeps recurring is the claim that a certain dog was “never beaten under good judges,” something I wonder if anyone would get away with saying in an ad today. Several dogs — sometimes of the same breed — are advertised categorically as “the best in America,” or “Unbeaten in the Field, Unbeaten on the Bench.” Westminster Kennel Club advertised their own Pointers, Bang-Band and Naso of Kippen, at stud at $50 each (that compares to around $1,500 today), with “Puppies For Sale by the above Dogs” upon application to the kennel manager, James Morton, in Babylon, Long Island.

Many times “Champion and special”
Of particular interest was the St. Bernard, Duke of Leeds, whose stud book entry shows that he was exhibited at least 14 times in 1883-1886, winning “1st and special” or “champion and special for best St. Bernard” many times. (This was, of course, before a point system or regular Best of Breed competition had been introduced.) Duke was owned by the Hermitage kennels in Passaic, New Jersey, but had been imported from England and descended largely from the famous Schumacher kennel in Switzerland. This is demonstrated clearly in his six-generation pedigree, which occupies two whole pages in the book. Duke carried at least five lines to a dog named Champion Thor, whose Schumacher parents were closely inbred and go back to a “Dog at St. Bernard Hospice” and “Bitch at St. Bernard Hospice.” I wonder if modern breed historians can tell us if Duke has latter-day descendants, which of course would mean that today’s St. Bernards can claim direct ancestry — very, very far back — to the Swiss Alpine hospice that the breed is named for.

Here’s another remarkable entry. The Collie bitch Gyp, owned by the grandly named Sans Souci kennels, with dual residences in Philadelphia, Pa., and Greenville, S.C., had been imported from Australia — obviously via Great Britain, since she is listed as having won “27 prizes in England, Ireland and Australia.” Even more impressively, she won “[t]hree silver cups, also a wager of $2500 in driving a flock of 151 sheep a distance of 175 miles, unaided, and without losing a single sheep.” Forget about the huge sum of money involved (probably around $75,000 today) — could any herding dog ever have been expected to accomplish such a drive?

The Collie was obviously already a highly competitive breed in the late 1800s. The Sans Souci and the Kilmarnock kennels were the main rivals, each with a large show string of fashionable English imports. Probably Sans Souci’s champion male, Ben Nevis, several times the winner of “1st, special and silver cup” or “Champion and special” was the biggest winner, but Kilmarnock’s Dahlia could boast of “1st, Derby Class, and special for the best Collie” at Crystal Palace in her native England, no less, while the same owner’s other English bitch, Winnie, among a slew of 1st prizes helped take home a “special for the best kennel of collies” in Boston, New York and Philadelphia in 1885.

Spare a Thought for the Pug
It was not all big wins and silver trophies, though. Spare a thought for the Pug, Bradford Ruby, a silver fawn male with English Champion parents, owned by Walter D. Peck of the City View Kennels, of New Haven, Conn. He is listed as having been shown a total of 46 times, an amazing number for that time, placing 2nd and sometimes 3rd with great consistency in his first thirty or so shows in his native England — until he arrived on the North American show scene and miraculously started winning winning championships in New York, Toronto, Philadelphia, Newark, New Haven and Hartford. He was probably not the first, and certainly not the last, imported dog whose fortune changed drastically once he stepped on American soil.

Over the years the AKC stud book changed in both format and content. Advertising disappeared and then returned, sometimes even with photographs early in the 20th century. During one period the American stud book was obviously modelled on the English version, something that did not work well as the sport of breeding and showing dogs of ever more breeds became increasingly popular across the whole country. Soon it was no longer possible to include all registered dog, and eventually the AKC stud book became a tool primarily used by pedigree researchers, listing not show winners or registered puppies but the parentage of those stud dogs and brood bitches that had themselves produced registered offspring.

Today I’m sure most of us access pedigree websites on the Internet. The old stud books have a value as fascinating remnants of the past, however. I am very grateful to Kathy Corbett, who generously sent me a whole box of old AKC Stud Books that she says won’t fit in their library anymore. I hope to return to these treasure troves later. I also dipped into John T. Marvin’s very informative chapters about AKC in the early days in the source book (The American Kennel Club 1884-1984) that was published at the time of the AKC Centennial.