Taking a look at the AKC's recent annual statistics is a good exercise for any obedience enthusiast. It may not lead anyone into euphoria about the future of our sport, but it will provide a sense of reality, and in some cases feelings of anxiety.
Noting that the AKC is forthcoming with their statistics they are to be congratulated for maintaining well-kept information. In reviewing the statistical publications one will notice that the results for any given year is always compared with the year occurring immediately prior. Reviewing longer spans of time one may observe that the numbers for a given year can change, but these differences appear insignificant. For example, if you compared the 2014 Number of Dogs Competing across the 2014 and 2015 statistical issues, the difference is only off by one. Given the thousands of records the AKC tracks, this is pretty amazing and they should receive a pat on the back for their accuracy.
Sadly reviewing the data on behalf of obedience puts me in the anxiety camp. One can readily see that the number of dogs competing continues to drop off at a considerable rate. The difference between the 2012 and 2013 competition years reveals a loss of 2,266 dogs in All Breed Obedience Trials. Specialty trials saw a loss of 247 dogs, and only Limited Breed Obedience Trials reported a gain of 44 dogs. On these three measures the loss of dogs competing was 2,513, countered by only 44 additional dogs in limited trials. The overall loss to the sport was 2,469!
Since one comparison doesn't necessarily constitute a trend, let's look at 2013 and 2014. Here one will observe that 3,471 fewer dogs competed in All Breed Obedience Trials, 105 fewer dogs competed in Limited Breed Obedience Trials, and 652 fewer dogs competed in Specialty Obedience Trials. This accounts for a total loss to the sport of 4,228. Close to twice the prior year's reported loss!
As hope springs eternal, one can review the 2014-2015 results which unfortunately, again, tells the same depressing story. In All Breed Obedience Trials there were 4,055 fewer dogs competing, 204 less dogs in Specialty Obedience Trials, and only 17 more competing in Limited Breed Obedience Trials. This accounts for 4,242 fewer dogs participating in obedience competition.
It has always been my belief that the AKC measures success through number of entries rather than the number of handlers. I can see how this makes sense since entires are one important avenue of income. Unfortunately looking at entries only tells part of the story. It would give a fuller picture to know how many actual handlers are participating in AKC obedience. But for now it is what it is, so we can look at entries to give us another perspective of our sport's well-being.
The AKC Statistical Publications break obedience entries into two parts, "Trials Held With Shows" and "Separate Trials". In reviewing this information I broke the aforementioned categories down into two additional parts. First I looked at the numbers based only on the Novice, Open, and Utility classes because overall, these are the foundation of our sport. Secondly I reviewed the numbers based on ALL reported obedience classes (such as the basic classes plus Beginner Novice, Graduate, Novice, Graduate Open, Versatility, etc.). This may offer some insight into whether the additional titling classes are having any significant impact on the health of obedience.
First looking at Trials Held With Shows, and considering only the basic classes (Novice, Open, and Utility) there were 1,027 fewer Novice entries in 2013 compared to 2012. In the same time frame there were 1,146 fewer Open entries, and 797 fewer Utility entries. Considering Separate Trials there were 625 fewer Novice, 51 fewer Open, and 79 more Utility entries. Combined all of these entries indicate 3,920 fewer Novice, Open, and Utility entries in 2013 obedience competition compared to 2012. If we look at all of the reported obedience classes combined, there were 3,920 fewer entries. Not a favorable outcome!
Again, first looking at Trials With Shows across the 2013-2014 competition years there were 862 fewer novice entries, 1,652 fewer open entries, and 1,261 fewer utility entries. Among trials held as separate events there were 237 fewer novice, 851 fewer open, and 315 fewer utility. Combine the basic obedience classes and we end up with 5,178 fewer entries! Scary! So did we fare any better when considering all of the obedience classes? Worse! Taking into account all obedience classes we were down 7,018 in 2014 compared to 2013. This picture appears dismal!
From 2014 through 2015 the story reads pretty much the same. In Trials Held With Shows there were 924 fewer Novice, 1,267 fewer Open, and 1,515 fewer Utility entries. That's down a total of 3,706 entries for Trials Held With Shows. Looking at Separate Trials there was a positive bump in Open entries with 631 more. Unfortunately the 694 Novice entry drop and the 207 Utility entry drop wiped out the Open gains. End result, a negative balance of 270 entires. So what's the score taking into account all obedience classes? Not good. Taking all obedience classes into account there were 4,985 fewer obedience entries in 2015 than 2014. A very sad state of affairs indeed!
Can’t remember all of the info above or find it confusing? Here’s a quick summary. Between 2012 and 2015 there were 10,939 fewer obedience dogs and 15,923 fewer obedience entires at AKC events.
One can look farther back into the history of AKC statistics and occasionally find instances where the popularity of obedience appears to improve. Unfortunately these growth spurts can be explained in terms that don’t suggest growth, expansion, development, advancement, or proliferation. For example, a few years back some of the entries appeared to grow but investigation revealed that the growth was only due to newly added optional classes and not an increase in exhibitors. This isn’t growth, it’s just masked reduction, decline, decrease, decay. Doc this dog appears to be very ill!
For those who would prefer to look at tabulations of the information above please review the tables included following this article. Better yet I strongly suggest that you point your web browser to http://www.akc.org/events/statistics/to peruse the AKC Event Statistics yourself. I’m always interested and open to your comments!