My Thoughts on Crufts
I hadn’t planned on writing anything about Crufts. Last year, I featured live streams of the shows on every day, but this year I decided against it. Why? Because I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about Crufts and the Kennel Club, and I thought it would be hypocritical of me to give them a spot on the blog.
Every year, without fail, there is a controversy that surrounds Crufts. Last year, the winning dog’s handler lifted it up by its tail and neck, and another dog was poisoned. This year, the winner of the pastoral group turned out to be owned by the judge’s sister. However, the most notable controversy of Crufts 2016 surrounded the German Shepherd that won best of breed.
The German Shepherd Dog sparked outrage from viewers due to its seemingly deformed appearance – the back was sloped, the legs were somewhat splayed in a frog like position, and the movement of the dog was erratic and appeared to be uncomfortable. While the dog was undoubtedly bred to be an extreme shape, it was clearly also distressed from the atmosphere at Crufts, which I believe further exaggerated the look of the dog.
I didn’t see the clips and images of the German Shepherd until the day after it was aired on TV; my social media timelines were flooded with outrage that a dog that look so warped should get so far in a competition like Crufts.
Channel 4 and The Kennel Club addressed the issue the following day, with presenter Clare Balding noting that the dog looked ‘lame’ while The Kennel Club admitted that the dog’s condition was worrying. It seems everyone is ready to blame someone else – the viewers blame The Kennel Club, the Kennel Club blames the judges, the owner blamed social media and the press for causing a scene.
There is so much on the internet and in the media about this dog, that I am loathe to bring it up again. However, since the dog won best of breed I have had countless emails and messages asking me for my opinion on Crufts as a whole. So, that’s what I am addressing today, seeing as it has been so requested.
I am going to be honest, this is not an easy post for me to write. I have mixed feelings about Crufts, and as the owner of a Kennel Club approved, pedigree dog, I don’t want to be hypocritical. I have also attended Discover Dogs, which is put on by The Kennel Club, twice. Last year they even gave me tickets to attend. However, there is one major point that I take issue with, which I am going to go into.
First off, let’s talk about Crufts and show dogs in general. I am not involved with show dogs, so I say this from an outsider’s point of view. The idea the Crufts is cruel to the dogs is not one that I agree with. Most dogs that are shown absolutely love it. They see it as their jobs, and dogs love to work. They adore the attention and the ritual, they know what is expected of them and they are happy to play their part. You can see it in their body language, their movement and their facial expressions.
Of course, there are some dogs that don’t love the limelight, and it’s horrible to see a dog who is frightened or anxious in the show ring. It does happen, of course it does. However, they are in the minority and often they are lacking in experience and still learning the ropes.
Crufts, in and of itself, is not something I object to. It is a much deeper and more important topic that I have a problem with, and that is breed standard… we’ll get to that soon.
The Kennel Club
The Kennel Club is an important and necessary organisation. It educates the public about safe and correct procedures to follow when choosing a breed and picking a puppy, as well as providing guidance and support for breeders. Its primary objective is to promote the health and welfare of dogs, through responsible pet ownership and breeding.
However, where the Kennel Club has failed in the past is with the breed standards it has set for breeders that want to show their dogs to follow. Over the years, many breed characteristics have become more and more exaggerated, to the point that some breeds show conditions which cause the dog discomfort, even pain.
In recent years, The Kennel Club has put an emphasis on improving the look of these breeds to make healthier, happier dogs. In 2009 Breed Watch was set up as an early warning system to identify breeds which show points of concern. Every breed is classed as either category one – no points of concern, category two – points of concern, or category 3 – ‘some dogs have visible conditions or exaggerations that can cause pain or discomfort’.
The Breed Watch Scheme is a good step in the right direction for The Kennel Club, but unless it is being utilised in the right way, to stop the breeding of unfit dogs and change breed selection so that all dogs are category one, then it is failing. The chief reason for Breed Watch’s existence is “to enable anyone involved in the world of dogs, but in particular dog show Judges, to find out about any breed specific conformational issues which may lead to health problems”.
German Shepherds are in category 3, making the fact that the deformed looking dog that won best of breed even more of a shock. The regulations put in place by the Kennel Club’s Breed Watch Scheme were simply ignored, not just by one judge but by all the judges and vets that let the dog get that far in the competition.
This is where my concern with Crufts and The Kennel Club lies. They have a great responsibility to the dogs of this country to impose breed standards which aren’t designed to create the ideal looking show dog, but are instead created to promote healthy dogs that are happy and pain free, able to move well and breathe properly. These are the dogs I’d like to see winning at Crufts, and it’s up to the Kennel Club to work with responsible breeders to help us get to that point.