If you’ve ever wondered who makes decisions about how our sport and our kennel club are run, the AKC delegate body is, technically speaking, the answer. Almost 5,000 American Kennel Club-affiliated clubs offer conformation, obedience, agility, hunting or other performance events, but just over 500 of those are AKC member clubs. Each member club is represented by a delegate, and the AKC Board of Directors is elected solely from the delegate body.

Although most fanciers don’t give much thought to the AKC delegates today, more than a century ago when the American Kennel Club was formed, the majority of people who were active in the sport belonged to a club. The position of delegate was created so that the views and opinions of everyone involved in the dog sport could be heard and considered. The delegate was, and in theory should still be, the central figure in how the AKC operates.

Of course, the AKC president and chief executive officer, along with other executives and staff, are responsible for the everyday management of the American Kennel Club. However, AKC is described as a “club of clubs,” and, by order of its charter, executives and staff manage the organization as instructed by the board of directors and delegate body.

Section 1 of the “Charter and Bylaws of the American Kennel Club,” first adopted in 1909, requires the following of clubs wishing to become members: “All Clubs or Associations which have held at least three Dog Shows, Obedience Trials or Field Trials in consecutive years under rules of the AKC and all Specialty Clubs which have been or shall be formed for the improvement of any breed of purebred dogs shall be eligible to become members of the AKC.” Section 3 further states that no club shall be considered as an AKC member club unless it was formed for “the holding of annual dog shows, annual obedience trials or annual field trials, or that said Club or Association was formed for the protection or benefit of purebred dogs.”

Once a club becomes a member, it then selects its representative, or delegate. To serve as a delegate, one must be in good standing with AKC, and the fancy at large has an opportunity to provide feedback on potential delegates before they are seated. The name of the person selected to become a delegate is published in the online AKC Gazette, and anyone who objects to that person’s appointment may write to the board of directors to state his or her objection.

Restrictions limit who can become a delegate, based on AKC’s occupational eligibility criteria. Those who cannot serve as delegates based on their line of work include professional handlers and trainers; a commercial breeder or broker of dogs for resale; employees of dog food companies; anyone who, through involvement with a canine publication, solicits or accepts advertising; dog show superintendents and their employees; and judges who accept a fee for their services beyond expenses. Anyone who has any interest in an organization that competes with AKC is also barred from serving as a delegate.

Candidates for the role of delegate are generally expected to have been involved in some aspect of AKC activities for at least 10 years, and should be willing to serve at least five years as a delegate. But the most important requirement for effective representatives is that they are willing and able to: invest a considerable amount of time, not to mention expense, in the position; be actively engaged with other fanciers, both talking and listening in regard to important topics facing AKC and the sport of dogs; and travel to the quarterly delegate meetings.

Clubs that have seated AKC delegates include all-breed clubs, from the small Abilene Kennel Club in Texas to the Westminster KC; individual breed parent clubs; obedience clubs; field trial and retriever clubs; single group clubs, such as the Toy Dog Breeders Association of Southern California; and a few additional single breed clubs. In addition to the meetings where they come together with the board of directors and AKC executives and staff, delegates communicate information via the quarterly delegates’ newsletter, Perspectives.


The most basic interpretation of the delegates’ job is that they consult with members of their clubs and then represent their opinions in deciding how AKC should be run. In theory the delegate should also bring information back from meetings and share that information not only with club members, but also with the dog show world at large.

Last week several members were elected to the AKC Board of Directors. Candidates for those positions were nominated from among current delegates, and the entire delegate body voted once the nominations were set. (This year several nominees were also put forth from the floor, by a petition submitted by delegates not on the nominating committee.)

Anytime a change is proposed to any rule related to dog shows and field trials, the delegates must vote to approve it. For instance, before the new grand champion title was offered in 2010, the AKC delegates voted to approve the program. Another recent example: at the September 2011 delegates meeting, they voted to amend Chapter 3, Section 17 of the “Rules Applying to Dog Shows – Dog Show Classifications” and other related rules so that, beginning on July 3, 2012, a Reserve Best in Show will be established. At the spring delegate meeting last week, members voted down the proposed Group realignment, which has been in the discussion and planning stages for several years.

Not all decisions made at AKC require approval by the delegate body. For example, when the AKC Gazette changed from a print magazine to online-only availability, only the board of directors approved that change.

The delegate body also votes on rule changes that pertain to Coonhound, field trial, hunting, earthdog, herding and lure-coursing clubs. A recent meeting saw a vote to change the requirements to achieve a grand champion title in Beagle field trials.

Delegates must also approve any changes to the AKC bylaws. For example, at the June 2011 meeting, delegates were asked to vote on a proposed amendment to Article VII, Section 1 of the bylaws. If passed, that amendment would have made an AKC Board member who had served two consecutive terms ineligible for reelection for the length of one full term of four years. In order for the change to go into effect, two-thirds of the delegates had to vote for the change. However, the vote was 100 votes for and 144 votes against, so the amendment did not pass.

The broad range of topics discussed at the quarterly delegate meetings is astounding, as you can see from reading through the minutes of any given meeting. Minutes of board meetings from 1999 through the present (although recent reports indicate they are not complete minutes) are available by clicking here.

Naturally it would be impossible for so many individuals to confer on such a wide range of subjects without breaking into committees, so delegates serve one-, two- and three-year terms on committees with the following: All-Breed; By-Laws; Canine Health: Delegate Advocacy and Advancement; Dog Show Rules; Field Trial and Hunting Test Events; Herding, Earthdog and Coursing Events; Obedience, Tracking and Agility; Parent Clubs; and Perspectives Editorial Staff. A coordinating committee helps oversee all of the others.

In future installments, we’ll look at exactly what these committees do and who serves on them, and we’ll get to know some of the AKC delegates better as well. Becoming better informed about who the AKC delegates are and exactly what they do is akin to learning about what your U.S. government representatives are doing. As the old saying goes: if you don’t make yourself aware of what’s going on, you don’t have a lot of right to complain. The more you know, the more able you are to offer your ideas and input about how our sport operates.

For a complete directory of AKC member clubs and their delegates, visit the AKC site.