What You Need to Know About AKC Crossovers

On July 1, 2013, the American Kennel Club (AKC), in what they call a "crossover," allowed two additional retriever breeds to participate in spaniel hunting tests. Which breeds? The Labrador and golden!

AKC previously allowed other retriever breeds to run in spaniel tests, starting with the Irish water spaniel on March 1, 2011, followed by flat-coats and curly-coats on Jan. 1, 2012. Nevertheless, this addition, especially of the Lab, will have a greater numerical impact on spaniel hunting tests than all the other "crossovers" within the AKC hunting test programs combined.

Why? Because the Lab has been America's most popular breed since 1990. And the golden has been in the top 10 for years. Both breeds have big numbers! Most retrievers spend almost as much time in the uplands as they do in duck blinds, so large numbers of these breeds already do spaniel-like work (quartering, flushing, and retrieving in the uplands). Thus, the admission of these two breeds to spaniel tests can and probably will bring about a deluge of new entries in such competitions.

Wisely, AKC has made provisions to prevent overflowing numbers of retriever entries from keeping spaniels out of their own tests. The club sponsoring an AKC hunting test can specify on the entry form the maximum number of entries to be accepted, and give priority to spaniel breeds before accepting any entries from retriever breeds.

Of course, these crossover retrievers can continue running in retriever hunting tests, too. So now they can run in two hunting test formats, as can all crossover breeds within the AKC Sporting Group. More on these other breeds later.

To better understand these crossovers, you should first know how AKC segregates breeds into "Groups," and then "Classifications" within Groups.

Club Classifications 

AKC has divided its recognized breeds into the following seven Groups, based on breed function: Sporting (breeds that hunt feathers); Hound (breeds that hunt fur); Herding (breeds that herd farm animals); Working (breeds that do specific jobs like water rescue, guarding and police work); Terrier (breeds that hunt burrowing animals); Toy (small lap dogs); Non-Sporting (all other breeds).

AKC has divided the Sporting Group into three "Classifications" based on the differing hunting styles: pointing breeds; retrievers; and (flushing) spaniels.

In the Beginning 

In 1985 AKC initiated a non-competitive hunting test program for retrievers. In 1986, they started a similar program for pointing breeds. In '87, they added one for spaniels. Each format has three graduated levels of testing — Junior, Senior, and Master — each requiring work appropriate for breeds of the specific Classification (pointing breeds, retrievers and spaniels).

Each level of each format offers an after-the-name title for dogs that "qualify" (do the require work satisfactorily) a certain number of times. For each format, the Junior (lowest) level offers the title "Junior Hunter" (JH); the Senior Level offers "Senior Hunter" (SH); and the Master (highest) level offers "Master Hunter (MH)."

All three programs have been highly successful, primarily because they are non-competitive. The judges evaluate each dog's work solely against a written standard, not against the work of other entered dogs. If a dog's performance meets the standard, he succeeds, regardless of how well or how poorly the other dogs do. After a dog succeeds the required number of times in a given level, he receives the title for that level.

Originally, only Sporting Breeds of the appropriate Classification were eligible to run in each hunting test format: AKC pointing breeds in pointing breed tests; AKC retrievers in retriever tests; AKC spaniels in spaniel tests.

What's the Problem?

As every GUN DOG reader knows, most of our dogs are far more versatile than their AKC Classifications suggest. Many pointing dogs not only point upland birds, but also retrieve waterfowl. Many retrievers not only retrieve in water and on land, but also hunt upland birds, as flushers or pointers. Many spaniels not only quarter, flush and retrieve upland birds, but also retrieve waterfowl.

Then, too, some breeds outside of the Sporting Group can do the work of the sporting breeds. For example, in this country, the standard poodle is classed in the Non-Sporting Group, whereas in other countries they are considered retrievers within the Sporting Group.

Not surprisingly, owners of the more versatile breeds, whether within or outside of the Sporting Group, have found AKC's eligibility rules for hunting tests far too confining.

Working Poodle?

Many hunters began wondering why their canine hunting buddies couldn't run in hunting tests designed for other Classifications, even for other Groups. Wondering soon gave way to discussing and asking. Finally, in the late 1980s or early '90s, Dr. Grace Blair, a heart surgeon in California, started asking the right people at AKC — and things began to happen. And she didn't even own a dog of the Sporting Group!

She owned a standard poodle! I saw her poodle work back in the late '80s, and he was one hell of a fine working retriever, on land and in water. A canine Marine!

Dr. Blair began coordinating a plan between AKC and the Poodle Club of America (PCA) that would lead eventually to AKC approval for standard poodles to run in retriever hunting tests. In the execution of this plan, PCA (with AKC's guidance) first initiated a (retrieving) Working Certificate (WC) program within PCA; next they conducted a few WC tests with AKC reps present.

Seeing how successful poodles were in these tests, AKC allowed standard poodles to begin running in AKC retriever hunting tests in 1996. Thus, the first crossover was between two AKC Groups, not between two Classifications within the Sporting Breed Group, as one might have expected. And poodles have been doing very well ever since, thank you!

Also surprisingly, the second crossover was again between Groups, this time between Airedales of the Terrier Group and spaniel hunting tests. That happened in 2007 and has also been very successful.

Double the Class  

On March 1, 2011, AKC allowed Irish water spaniels (IWS), a breed classified as a retriever, to crossover into spaniel hunting tests. This, the first crossover within the Sporting Group, occurred fully 15 years after the first crossover between AKC Groups! Mirabile dictu! (Rough translation: Go figure!)

This created a slight title problem. IWSs could now earn two JH, two SH, and two MH titles. So how could a person tell whether an IWS had earned his titles as a retriever or as a spaniel? AKC solved that problem by adding the word "Upland" to the title of any IWS that had titled in spaniel tests. Thus JH became JHU, and so forth.

Next came a crossover from spaniel to retriever tests. On April 1, 2011, AKC allowed the American water spaniel (AWS), classified as a spaniel, to run in retriever tests, to the great delight of many dedicated AWS fans, for they had been seeking "dual classification" (as both a spaniel and a retriever) for decades and refused to accept either single classification — until AKC offered to allow them to run in both hunting test formats.

After that concession, AWS accepted classification as a spaniel. The titles they win in spaniel tests are JH, SH and MH, whereas the titles they win in retriever tests are JHR, SHR and MHR, the R standing for "retriever."

The Dam Burst! 

Later in 2011, AKC began allowing all sorts of crossovers within the Sporting Group. During that year, some pointing and spaniel breeds were admitted into retriever tests and some retriever breeds were admitted into spaniel tests.

Of course, not all retrievers can crossover to spaniel tests yet. Similarly, not all spaniels can crossover to retriever tests. But with those highly artificial flood gates crumbling, can the rest be far behind?

One Peculiarity 

Have you noticed no spaniel or retriever breed can crossover into pointing breed hunting tests? For the most part, that makes sense. But the "most part" excludes the "pointing Lab."

Concerning this, I make no prediction! Anyone who would — either for or against it­ — invokes immediate martyrdom from those who see it differently.

Being a very prudent man (i.e., dedicated coward), I'll say nothing more on this subject.

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