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Terrier Group: Laurie Zembrzuski and Gaby Gilbeau, LAMZ Bedlington Terriers.

What’s better than owning a top-winning show dog?

Simple: Breeding one.

In theory, anyone can purchase a canine competitor: All you need is a checking account with enough zeroes in it. But it’s far more challenging to produce quality purebred dogs that are consistently sound, well tempered and typey — that is to say, that looks like the breed they belong to.

That’s why each year at its flagship show, the  AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando, Florida, the American Kennel Club recognizes its most outstanding breeders. On Sunday, December 15, seven breeders — one for each of the groups — will be honored in the main ring, with one of them going on to earn the coveted Breeder of the Year award.

Regardless of who garners that breeders’ equivalent of Best in Show, breeding purebred dogs is its own reward. All the tedious work that goes into producing a whelping box full of bouncy, bright-eyed pups — poring over pedigrees, traveling to evaluate potential stud dogs, pulling an all-nighter as puppies finally make their much-anticipated arrival — eventually fades away. What’s left? The legacy of an identifiable family of dogs, sound in mind and body, whose beauty — inside and out — make you draw a quick breath, whether they are posing in the backyard or the middle of a show ring.

You can’t buy that at any price.

Cocker Spaniel puppies
Sporting Group: Silverhall Cocker Spaniels.

The 2018 AKC Breeders of the Year are:

Sporting Group: Wilson and Bonnie Pike, Silverhall Cocker Spaniels.
Lifetime members of the American Spaniel Club and inductees into its Hall of Fame, the Pikes have bred 250 champions since marrying in 1983. Proving that just like good marriages, good breeding programs get better with time, they bred 2017’s number-one Sporting dog, Gr.Ch. Silverhall Strike Force, who was also Best in Show at last year’s AKC National Championship. Bonnie has served multiple terms on the ASC’s board of directors and as its breeders’ education chair, while overseas the couple has sent top winners to Russia, Asia, Europe, and Australia.

Hound Group: Robert Urban, Foxfire Black, and Tan Coonhounds.
An avid sportsman who grew up hunting with Beagles and Foxhounds, Robert Urban has been one of the nation’s most visible coonhound fanciers, chairing the American Black and Tan Coonhound Club’s national specialties, holding multiple offices, writing the AKC Gazette breed column and educating aspiring judges. His dogs are equally high profile, winning national specialties and Bests in Show — a brag-worthy feat for any breed, never mind one that so rarely turns up in the show ring.

Rottweiler and handler
Working Group: Gamegard Rottweilers

Working Group: Victoria Weaver and Pamela Marsh, Gamegard Rottweilers.
After arriving here from Great Britain in 1980, Victoria Weaver began her successful breeding program, breeding close to 90 bench champions, with her dogs earning almost 40 obedience and performance titles to date, as well as Best in Show and national-specialty wins. A long-time member of the American Rottweiler Club who has also served on its board, Victoria began co-breeding with Pamela Marsh in 1997.

Terrier Group: Laurie Zembrzuski and Gaby Gilbeau, LAMZ Bedlington Terriers.
The Bedlington is a bit of a fooler — a sweet-looking creature with the appearance of a lamb but the no-nonsense drive of a terrier. There’s nothing to mislead you, however, about the success of this mother-daughter team, whose dogs have earned more than 140 titles and designations in conformation and performance events, as well as more than 40 Terrier Group 1s — all owner-handled. Just as important as their champions and national-specialty winners are the many newcomers they have mentored, ensuring their rare breed stays in good hands.

Miniature Pinscher and handlers
Toy Group: Ruffian Miniature Pinschers

Toy Group: Larry and Penny Dewey, Ruffian Miniature Pinschers.
Min Pins are a plucky toy breed with a lot of heart, and, fittingly, the Deweys have been just as intently engaged in their four decades in the breed. Larry, who is also a judge, has served as president of the Miniature Pinscher Club of America and managed its Health and Research Fund. Penny is the club’s longtime judges’ education chair and was the president of the Miniature Pinscher Club of Greater Houston. Their dogs have equally impressive resumes, winning national specialties and Bests in Show.

Non-Sporting Group: Robert and Linda Love Banghart, Rebelrun Chow Chows.
Your kindergarten teacher was right: It’s nice to share. Actively involved with Chow Chows since 1976, Robert and Linda Love Banghart get great satisfaction from seeing newcomers to the breed compete — and win — with dogs they’ve bred. Breeding three or fewer litters a year, the Bangharts have produced more than 80 conformation champions, including Best in Show and Best in Specialty Show winners.

German Shepherd Dog and child
Herding Group: Kenlyn/Marquis German Shepherd Dogs

Herding Group: Kent Boyles and Liz Oster, Kenlyn/Marquis German Shepherd Dogs.
If you watched the AKC/Eukanuba show in 2015 or the Westminster Kennel Club show in 2017, then you’ve seen Kent and Liz’s handiwork — the mesmerizing German Shepherd bitch named Rumor who took top honors at both shows. With more than 60 years of combined experience in the breed — Liz’s parents bred, showed and trained Shepherds since the late 1950s, and Kent acquired his first as a teenager — this duo has bred more than 100 champions and completed more than 400 titles on their dogs.