Five years ago, David Hicks and Naomi Fujinaka decided they wanted a livelier and more affectionate dog than their stoic mastiff. Their research led them to the 2-foot, 60-pound Berger Picard (pronounced bare-ZHAY pee-CARR). They were so infatuated they began breeding them on a small scale. In the past few months, however, Hicks and Fujinaka have experienced a surge of unsolicited attention. “The amount of views on our Facebook went through the roof,” Hicks says. “Do you have puppies? Do you have puppies? Do you have puppies?”
The surge of interest came after the Berger Picard was recognized by the American Kennel Club, the nonprofit governing the world of purebred dogs in the U.S. To gain official recognition from the AKC, a breed must have an active national club and a gene pool large enough for safe breeding (about 100 dogs). Admission to the registry, which has accrued 189 breeds since 1884, is not only a seal of legitimacy but also brings the breed wider attention. “People are educated about them, so you get these rarer breeds being added to families,” says AKC Vice President Gina DiNardo.
The recognition process has ripple effects outside the breeding community, as well. Also recognized this year was the smaller Lagotto Romagnolo, best known for its ability to sniff out truffles growing underground. Alana McGee runs the Truffle Dog Co., which teaches animals and owners how to hunt the precious mushrooms. “A few years ago, there were only a couple hundred Lagottos in the U.S. Now it’s easily in the thousands,” McGee says. Her business has doubled—if not tripled, she says—since she started it in 2013.
It used to take a few years for demand to peak. The Havanese was admitted to the AKC in 1996. In 2003 the New York Times included one in a story on “Hot Dogs,” and breeders were flooded. “Every litter was sold to New York City [residents] for two years,” remembers Kathy McCort, a longtime Havanese breeder in Florida. One Manhattan pet shop offered her a guaranteed $1,500 for each puppy she could produce. (Not trusting it, she declined.) Almost two decades later, the Havanese is the 25th-most popular breed in the country.
Rising demand entices unscrupulous producers, who take shortcuts like breeding dogs with health problems, diluting the doggy gene pool. Fearing for the dogs’ health, members of the national Lagotto chapter were hesitant to even apply to the AKC, McGee says. Hicks has also greeted newfound interest in his beloved breed with caution: “I’m more inclined to scare somebody away from the Picard when they come to me,” he says.