The need for Australian Terrier Sustainability


  • March 25, 2019
  • by Vicki McKee, ATCA Breed Sustainability Chair

From the March issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe.

2008 is considered a pivotal year with the AKC registration statistics for purebred dogs. A noticeable contraction in litters and registrations across the AKC purebred dog industry was documented in 2008. It is believed that this contraction coincided with the recession which was at least partially a root cause. Since then some breeds have fully recovered, some partially recovered, and yet others have been in steady decline since 2008. Australian terriers have declined in dog registration, litter numbers, and number of puppies since 2008. A 52% decline in registration numbers, a 34% decline in the number of litters, and a 36% decline in the number of puppies.

Some people may believe that AKC registration is too time consuming and do not register their dogs, which has led to the decline, others may believe that there is no problem because Australian Terriers are not for everybody. Still others point to limited registrations as a problem inherited from the 1980s.

I personally get this question a lot, do you really believe our beloved Australian Terriers could face extinction like the double horned rhino? My answer is maybe, yeah more than a chance. I, along with the ATCA (Australian Terrier Club of America) want to understand the why and work to change the course before it’s too late. If the trend continues, by 2028 we would be down to 52 dogs registered a year, 21 litters a year, and 101 puppies. The situation maybe too late by then. We want to try to make a difference because to me and the rest of the Aussie community as a whole, a world without healthy Australian Terriers is just simply not an option.

What is breed sustainability and why is it needed to preserve the Australian Terrier?

Sustainability has many definitions in modern society. It is often used when discussing the science around global warming or the fight to persevere endangered species. Sustainable fisheries often refer to catch limits or season limitations. AKC refers to sustainability simply as any activities which would preserve, protect and 
promote the breed.

In 2018 The Australian Terrier Club of America formed a sustainability committee. Our mission is simple: to work to secure a sustainable future for the Australian Terrier.

We do not believe that the decline of popularity of the Australian Terrier is a US specific issue. While more research needs to be gathered, initial data received globally indicates that Australian Terriers are being born in low numbers around the world. It’s not just a US problem. One of the goals of the ATCA sustainability committee is to quantify the global situation.

We are happy to report that today’s Australian Terrier is genetically diverse. During the 2018 education day at the ATCA National Convention, Jerold S. Bell, DVM from Tufts University gave a wonderful seminar on the genetic diversity of the Australian Terrier. The full lecture is available on Youtube. Dr. Bell discussed the importance of genetic diversity, gene diversity, and the importance of maintaining healthy breeding lines and not losing these lines. 
He reported that the Australian Terrier has a diverse gene pool. Indeed, the AT has a better 10 generation inbreeding coefficient than breeds with genetic diversity concerns (such as popular 
sire syndrome).

With the decreasing numbers of litters and also the retirement of many long time quality lines, the Australian Terrier is more susceptible to long term health concerns. Breeding decisions today can affect the breed both positively or negatively in the future. Every breeding decision that is made matters at these low numbers. Health, genetic diversity, maintaining successful lines after breeder retirement, selection decisions on litters all matter to the future of the Australian Terrier.

These dogs were originally bred as a working dog in the bush of Australia that was also a companion. Traits that abound in the breed today. The Australian Terrier is a loyal companion that loves to be a couch potato with you after the work of the day is complete. They are fun and devoted family pets. While I understand they are not the right dog for everyone, those that own or are owned by the little dog called an Aussie have the attitude that they will never have anything but an Australian Terrier ever again. They take control of your life and you can’t not help but be a minion to their every whim.

Of the 193 recognized AKC canine breeds, the Australian Terrier ranks 136. The top 10 AKC dog breeds actually account for 50% of the AKC registrations. Together, the rarest 50 AKC breeds made up just 1.2% of the registered AKC dogs. (Stanely Coren, PHD Psychology today 2013.) If we were requesting entry in 2019 into the AKC would we meet the criteria?

Does the public know about ATs? Some breeds fall out of favor as the purpose of their breeding diminishes in need. But this isn’t the case for the AT. The companionship of a terrier is still a cherished trait today. What is the reason this lovable, companion terrier with a brave heart has such low breeding numbers? What can be done 
about it?

Other parent clubs facing similar or worse statistics have also formed sustainability committees. Both the Scottish Terrier and the Otterhound clubs have well established committees. The Otterhound club, with significantly low breed numbers has founded a club and AKC endorsed semen bank.

Long term the ATCA sustainability committee will focus on Australian Terrier breed awareness, quality line conservation, promoting sustainable breeding and health check practices, encouraging new membership to the ATCA and also mentoring 
new breeders.

The sustainability committee is also focused on getting people that love the breed talking about improving the future outlook. We are focused on developing data on global Australian Terrier population, to understand just how endangered the species is. Australian Terrier breeders and clubs around the world have been contacted to help in this endeavor. This is NOT an issue in just the USA, this is a global concern!

We will be involved in spreading awareness about the breed to the canine public, through publications, social media and more meet the breed type avenues. We need to encourage people to join us in securing the future of Australian Terriers.

If you are interested to learn more about the committee, our purpose and interests, please feel free to reach out and contact the ATCA sustainability committee at 
atca.sustainability@gmail.com. 

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