Simon Parsons wrote last week about the new American Kennel Club initiative, ‘Bred With H.E.A.R.T.’ and it is a scheme that is well worth a second look.

I think it is probable that our KC was first off the mark with its Accredited – later to become Assured – Breeder Scheme, giving a modicum of respectability to those that signed up to it. Other kennel clubs have followed suit, with varying requirements from their members. One such was the American ‘Breeder of Merit’ programme. This differs from the ABS in that it does expect members to have had some success in the show ring or in other canine activities, and maybe is actually nearer to the expectations of many of those who joined the ABS, only to be disillusioned by the activities of some of their fellow members. The new AKC initiative, while it doesn’t require a member to have achieved success in competition, does require all members to complete AKC approved continuing breeder education courses every year.

Educational courses

This is something I have long been in favour of – it is a requirement in most other walks of life, and whether we are breeding simply for money, ie commercially, or to have a puppy to show ourselves next year, surely we should be aiming to carry out our activities in a professional manner. The AKC has made available a series of free online education courses, via a dedicated canine education website. Having worked through each course, breeders can take a test and earn a certificate of completion. Alternatively they can keep their membership of the scheme up-to-date by attendance at any other appropriate AKC approved seminar or education day.

A scheme such as this would be relatively simple to introduce for members of the ABS. In fact I discussed the idea with Shaun Nield at Crufts. Sadly, I see that Shaun, who was like a breath of fresh air to the ABS, has now left the KC, but maybe some of his enthusiasm will have rubbed off on the rest of the team. A requirement for some sort of continuing professional education for all members of the ABS would not be onerous for the ethical breeder who is almost certainly already committed to attending the occasional seminar, but might prove more of a challenge to the purely commercial outfit.

Both of the AKC programmes, ‘Breeder of Merit’ and ‘Bred With H.E.A.R.T.’ also expect breeders to comply with all relevant health schemes for each of their breeds. Health recording is a sphere in which the Americans are way ahead of us. CHIC (Canine Health Information Center) is a centralised health database that can be freely accessed. Every dog whose test results are entered in the database and made publicly available is granted a CHIC number, and many breeders proudly display such numbers on websites and pedigrees, ensuring that others are made aware of their commitment to health testing. Some breeds, of course, do not have specific health test requirements, but the AKC suggests that in these cases the individual breeder consults with their own vet to draw up an appropriate scheme of health testing, such as eye and heart tests.

Although the two overlap at many points, it does seem as though they are aimed at slightly different groups of breeders, although there is nothing to prevent anyone from applying to join both schemes. Simon suggested that something similar might be more appropriate here, rather than the one size fits all of the present ABS, which tries so hard to be all inclusive and thereby alienates many of those that it desperately wants, in fact needs, to keep on board if it is to maintain any sort of credibility.

Many of us who joined the ABS, often somewhat reluctantly as it was felt by many that the initial scheme was a means of providing respectability to puppy farmers, were under the impression that being an Assured Breeder meant that we had been given a virtual stamp of approval by the KC; that we were a cut above the rest in terms not only of our standards of husbandry and record keeping but, more importantly to us, also recognised for the quality of the puppies we bred. It very soon became apparent that this wasn’t the case.

Regaining credibility

While there are still those who remain members of the scheme because they believe in its ideals and feel that walking away does not solve anything, if the ABS is to regain any credibility among the majority of the breeders of quality dogs, the very real hurt that many feel about being lumped in with those whose puppies bear very little resemblance to a breed Standard, must be addressed. As things stand at present there are many within the scheme that are feeling increasingly defensive about their membership, and equally many non-members that are resentful of the KC’s oft-repeated claim that the only way to be certain of obtaining a good puppy is to go to an Assured Breeder.

The idea of a ‘Breeder of Merit’ programme has much to recommend it. Yes, it would pander to the elite, but is that such a bad thing? Since championships aren’t as easy to obtain in the UK as they are in America, perhaps the requirement for titles on a minimum of four dogs would have to be adjusted for this country. However if ShCM, JW or stud book numbers were taken into consideration it would be something to really be proud of – not so far out of reach as to be unattainable for the majority, but requiring effort for most. Indeed the thought of being awarded the title of ‘Breeder of Merit’ might even have the side effect of encouraging show entries.

The AKC programme is relatively simple. Apart from the aforementioned performance achievements, the breeder must have been active for at least five years, to be a member of an AKC club, to carry out appropriate health testing and to agree to register all their litters with the AKC. The ‘Bred With H.E.A.R.T’ programme has a slightly different emphasis as there is a requirement to comply with AKC, federal, state and local requirements regarding licensing and welfare conditions as well as the need to update knowledge through breeder education seminars.

There can be no doubt that the ABS in its current form is not working. New memberships have dried up to almost a trickle, and many of those who were members have simply failed to renew their membership. There is a constant demand for well-bred puppies to live as pets, and this demand cannot be met with surplus pups from show breeders. Therefore it is surely right that the KC should lead the way in setting standards for those that breed for this market. At the same time it is appropriate to recognise those that have contributed to the maintenance of their chosen breeds through consistently breeding to a high standard. The two need not be mutually exclusive, but as has been proved throughout the lifetime of the ABS, trying to lump the two together in one scheme just doesn’t work. Maybe the time has now come to develop the ABS into two separate, yet equally regarded schemes.