Crufts is the most renowned dog event in the world, and this year was the celebration of 125 years of the show. Since its establishment in 1891 by Charles Cruft, the show has undergone many changes, thus leading it to become so famous on an international scale. Whilst the showing of pedigree dogs is still an essential part of what makes Crufts so well known, there is so much more that goes on during the four day run that celebrates dogs as companions, heroes, workers and athletes as well. When Crufts began, 2400 dogs of 36 breeds competed and it was purely a dog show. Charles Cruft told journalists back in 1892, just one year after the show had started, that Crufts was the world’s biggest dog show. Although they went on to print it, the statement wasn’t true! However, a century later those words are now most definitely accurate.
So what makes Crufts so popular now? Well, 125 years on, the Kennel Club recognise 216 breeds and the event accommodates flyball, heelwork to music, agility, obedience, opportunities for young handlers, demonstrations and performances. With over 22,000 dogs entering the halls of the Birmingham NEC purely to compete for the ‘Best in Show’ title and a further 6000 involved in the other activities you can understand why a dog lover would want to get involved. People forget that the dog shows are not all serious, and many people visit Crufts to have a fun weekend surrounded by their favourite breeds. On top of all the activities and showing, there are also hundreds of trade stands offering show discounts for everything canine related you could imagine, my personal favourite being the dog poo wormery!
Charities such as Wood Green, Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and Manchester Dogs Home all attend Crufts and have stands that promote the work they do and the efforts they go to to rescue and rehome hundreds of dogs per year. These charities will help dogs regardless of their pedigree or mongrel genes and their presence is a friendly reminder to visitors that there are many thousands of dogs abandoned in the UK each year. Buying from a breeder is not the only way to become a loving dog owner. I spoke with Nicole Sheehan, who attended Crufts this year to demonstrate Cani-cross with seven year old Ice, her Samoyed x Husky, who is one of four dogs she runs with. She told me that she wanted to present to others the sport that had changed her life. She wanted to show people that pets don’t have to be perfect pedigree dogs and that people can take on rescue dogs and cross breeds without being frowned upon. She told me ‘All my dogs are rescued, and although they may not be perfect, I wouldn’t have it any other way.’
However, should you have your heart destined on a pedigree dog, then Crufts is the place to collect the information you need to choose a suitable breed that will integrate well into your lifestyle and environment. As a rescue dog advocate, I find this difficult to write as it feels as though I’m going against everything I stand for, but I can appreciate that adopting a rescue dog or a cross breed just isn’t something that everyone is comfortable with. I would always encourage someone to adopt rather than buy from a breeder, as there are 600 million stray dogs in the world, but I can respect that it is not something that everyone will want to pursue. In my eyes, if a dog is well looked after, purebred or mongrel, the owner is doing the right thing, but my personal preference will always be rescue dogs. However, Crufts gives people the chance to really do their research before committing to becoming the owner of a specific breed, especially by holding the Discover Dogs exhibit.
The Discover Dogs area of the event takes up the entire back of Hall 3, and exhibits breeds of all shapes and sizes for you to go and meet. They’re all happy to receive a cuddle and pose for a photograph, and their owners are bursting with information on the breed. Back in 1859, the only two breeds that truly existed and were able to participate in a conformation show were Pointers and Setters, and it was then that people realised that not all dogs had to serve a purpose, they could just be a really well bred specimen. And so dog showing took the world by storm and here we are today, 214 breeds later. Throughout the years of breeding and showing, the Kennel Club have come to recognise breed after breed and this helps to regulate the standards and breeding of pedigrees. When the KC recognises a breed, it means that they can trace back a successful lineage to see the ancestors beforehand, allowing them to give people a dog with reliable characteristics. As you can therefore imagine, this process of recognising a new breed can take generations. At least it means though that when someone comes to buy a dog, they can be reassured of the characteristics of the breed, allowing people to choose a dog that they know will be good match for their family.
However, as all things do, Crufts receives a lot of negative feedback each year. Last year there was the poisoning of Jagger, the prize winning Irish Setter, and this year there has been outrage regarding Tori, a German Shepherd who was awarded Best of Breed in her category. The public went mental, rightly so, and hundreds of complaints were made about the result of the judging. Immediately under fire were the Kennel Club, and then the show itself for showcasing ‘cruelty’ and bad breeding, and so they addressed it and spoke publicly about the issue expressing their concerns. I still personally feel that it was the fault of the judge, as the breed standard, which was updated in June 2015, clearly states that ‘judges should be at all times careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed’. In the Breed Watch system, the GSD is also listed as category 3 (high profile), meaning this breed has before been noted to have visible conditions that can cause pain or discomfort and this system is supposed to be of great importance to judges. It would appear that David Hall, the GSD judge, failed to refer to this and therefore selected a terribly deformed specimen to represent a majestic breed.
The Kennel Club are constantly under fire and I can understand why as a rescue dog advocate so I know how rescuers and cross breed adopters feel, but I still believe in this circumstance it was really the fault of the judge, not the KC, and not Crufts. I know the KC approved her to compete, and I know she was declared fit and healthy by the official vet, but it was the judge who brought this dog into the public eye as the BEST in her breed category. I think it should also be noted that I found an advert on page 124 of the Crufts show guide (see below) and the breeder behind the ad states that their dogs are bred with strong hindquarters. She makes explicit reference to this, emphasising that within the breeding world this is a factor of importance. David Hall went against everything that was seemingly in place to prevent this type of thing from happening.
Unfortunately (or you could look at is as fortunately, as it did raise awareness), it wasn’t just Tori that was noted for her appearance. 21 year old Abigail Tull also visited Crufts this year and felt she was unable to ‘fully enjoy the event, as behind the cute and fluffy exterior of many breeds, all I can see are deformities and health issues’. And she does have a point. Breeders are now so keen to exaggerate certain aspects of their dogs that their health is compromised. The RSPCA withdrew from any involvement in Crufts in 2009 in order to send the message that they were unhappy with the way in which pedigrees were being bred. In 2003, the Pekingese that won Best in Show reportedly had to sit on an ice pack when having his photo taken because he was susceptible to overheating as a result of his flattened face. It was brought to light that he had undergone surgery to correct this, but it was likely to be inherited by offspring. The dog fathered 18 litters…
Abi went on to say that years of inbreeding and idealistic aesthetics have led to so many of these problems. As an Animal Behaviour and Welfare student, she is very aware of the issues that these dogs are suffering with due to the intensity at which they are bred. Although the Breed Standards do tend to suggest that exaggerated features should not be what the judges should focus on as they can be detrimental to a dog’s health, it could easily be argued that this is being ignored.
Among a few of the breeds that have health implications due to over breeding are Boxers, Pugs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, Shar Peis and Bulldogs, so perhaps if judges were disciplined for choosing winners on aesthetics it would then ‘encourage breeders to produce more medically sound animals’.
Not wanting to end this article on a bad note, I can confirm that there were also thousands of healthy, happy dogs at Crufts. The event showcases and raises awareness of endangered breeds, accommodates exotic breeds, welcomes visitors from 45 countries across the world, teaches aspiring young handlers the correct way in which to show, and displays demonstrations of service dogs at work. Working dogs are particularly celebrated, and those that provide therapy to people, including dogs for the blind or deaf also attend Crufts to show the public just how important these dogs are to provide people with a fantastic quality of life. Taking this role of the dog into consideration, he would need to have certain, reliable characteristics that perhaps you could only be positive would be consistently displayed by a dog of a specific breed. Similarly to the spaniels and shepherds that are involved in police work. They are bred to serve a purpose, which was the original reason for the breeding of dogs in Victorian times. If this was still the reason behind breeding and aesthetics were not a consideration then I doubt we would have the heightened canine medical issues of today.
Nevertheless, with over 160,000 visitors per year, Crufts is definitely the biggest dog show in the world, and the diversity of the events going on within the show allow all different types of dogs, mongrel or purebred, to get involved and celebrate the way in which man’s best friend has enhanced the lives of so many people.