Although I have seen many arguments and controversies over years of visiting Crufts, this year will stick in my mind for ever. The introduction of vet checks for the Best of Breed dogs for 15 high profile breeds was always going to be the taking point and the dogs that failed have created a whole new set of arguments. See end of this post for newest info and links. Link to vet statement and petition at end.
There have been criticisms of breeders and shapes and health of pedigree dogs even before the scandal of the show Pedigree Dogs Exposed. It seemed for years that there was little interest from the Kennel Club or breeders to improve the shapes of dogs which have become exaggerated over time. Health tests are available for many breeds yet have never been insisted on by the Kennel Club even though other European Kennel Clubs do. Don’t forget buyers drive this trade too. If buyers weren’t insisting on an unnatural look, there would be little point in breeding the dogs.
Crufts is bigger than the showing side. It is an opportunity for hundreds of small businesses to reach their target audience and can make or break some. Many families have just one or two dogs and the kids do grooming and junior handling, the adults do showing.
There are dozens of demos: police, agility, dancing, tricks and dozens of charities showcasing their work. Whatever you think of showing and
breeding, the chance for these organisations to reach a mass audience cannot be ignored.
So what was it all about this year? For the first time, dogs in 15 breeds chosen by a judge as the best of their breed on the day had to pass a vet check to continue. I spoke to a lot of people at Crufts, from breeders to the public, friends, fellow professionals, charities and celebrities. Interestingly, they almost all said the same thing. That this was long overdue but that the Kennel Club had got a vet to do their dirty work.
The breed standard is a document created by the Kennel Club and used as a template for each breed. It describes, shape, colour, tail carriage and more. This breed standard is what trained judges should be judging to. It does not say things like “eyelids should always enclose the eye and not droop” or “breathing should not require a constantly open mouth” but maybe it should?
The Bulldog clubs and breeders have taken the brunt of criticism in the last few years. Their breed standard has had several rewrites and a few breeders have been producing dogs with tails that hang (not corkscrew), less jowly faces and longer muzzles. this produces a cleaner, healthier dog. Yet these dogs have rarely been beating their heavy breathing counterparts. Why?
People, including breeders I spoke to claim that the judges mainly remain old fashioned and resistant to change. More importantly, the Kennel Club could be penalising these judges and stopping them from judging again. It doesn’t appear to have happened?
To be clear about who failed, the following best of breeds were failed by the vet on health: Bulldog, Pekingese, Clumber Spaniel, Mastiff, Neapolitan mastiff and Basset Hound. they appear to have been a mixture of breathing and eye issues. The Clumber owner bravely gave interviews and a copy of the vet fail report was released. The Clumber failed on bilateral ectropian and conjunctivitis. The Kennel Club have said they are not releasing the certificates.
see the interview with the owner here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ubTCBN_l1E
The rumour mill was in overdrive of course. I was told by reliable sources that the Bulldog breeders said the dog had been poked in the eye by the judge and that’s why it failed the check on eyes! I was also told that the judge of Pekingese had competed with his last year and his dog spent most of the show sitting on an ice pack. It is true that if you walk along the Pekingese sitting on benches a lot of them have fans on them and sit on cold packs. My source told me that the Peke breeders said their breed had a heavy coat and got carried a lot and that’s why they need this? Very odd as there are dozens of heavy coated breeds and they are not being carried when sitting on benching? This is of course all second hand at the moment.
This years vet checks have been conducted by an independent vet. They are health checks, they are not about the overall look of the breeds. The German Shepherd Dog that went best of breed for the second year running is a good example of what this means. This dog has completed a 20k endurance test, has clear haemophilia and excellent hips and elbows. He is healthy. A lot of people thought this dog would fail the vets as his movement behind is strange and looks like something is seriously wrong. I am a big fan of the breed but I do not like the movement of many GSD’s that are cow hocked, drag back feet and walk like ducks. This dog passed the health check as he is healthy, but I think his conformation is surely not what should be encouraged or rewarded? However this is not affecting his health so the vet passed him. I would rather dogs that were not even hip scored were the ones having the finger pointed at them.
This brings us back to the Kennel Club. Why hasn’t conformation been addressed? They talk a lot about encouraging breeders to do better, but when they don’t, and when judges don’t reward it, why haven’t they disciplined a single judge?
There is a lot more to be said about this, but I will wait and see whether the threatened boycotts and litigation will happen. More importantly, the next big show will be the measure of this. Will judges now choose healthier dogs? Will judges be penalised for not doing so? Kennel Club, all eyes are on you.
Edited 12th March to add:
If you want to read all the show news and see the vert certificate for the Clumber and the interviews, see it all on Dog World http://www.dogworld.co.uk/
As a personal note I do not think one breeder should hold all the ills of their breed on their shoulders alone. Many factors play their parts in this. I have friends who are KC Assured Breeders and fully support those breeders and clubs aiming to solve the problems. I think we need a Kennel Club but they need to be supported in their efforts to improve breeds and take action against those who won’t accept the new rules or breed only to improve and continue the welfare of their breed need the KC to act against them.
Do we need a Pedigree Dog Alliance to represent breeders, rescuers and owners? Petition HERE
2nd April UK Toydog Society Show, Pug Winners refuse to compete for Best of Breed and take vet check. Story HERE
16th March the vet has her say http://pedigreedogsexposed.blogspot.com/2012/03/crufts-vet-alison-skipper-has-her-say.html
13th March Bulldog Breed Council issues statement http://www.bulldogbreedcouncil.co.uk/