Crufts, one of the most prestigious dog shows in the world, has taken a huge hit after the 2008 BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed“ uncovered numerous health problems affecting pedigree show dogs, and the reluctance of breeders to change standards.
Most troubling is that the dogs have been both accepted and promoted as the breed standard. In an attempt to save future dogs and reduce the number of sick ones entering Crufts, The Kennel Club, which runs the prestigious dog show, announced that starting in 2012, at least 15 high-profile dogs will need to be given a clean bill of health from the show’s official veterinarian.
Teaching the Old Dog a New Trick
The new ruling will affect the top 15 high-profile breeds. According to crufts.org/uk, “The Kennel Club has announced that all dogs of the 15 high-profile breeds which win Best of Breed at Crufts 2012, and at General and Group Championship Shows after that, will need to be given a clean bill of health by the show veterinary surgeon before their Best of Breed awards are confirmed and before they are allowed to continue to compete at the show. This requirement is designed to improve canine health and protect the sport of dog showing.”
The new ruling is meant to both protect the dogs, and keep a few bad apples from bringing down the whole sport of breeding and showing pedigree dogs. “This action will not only protect the reputation of the majority of dog showing people who put the health and welfare of their dogs first and foremost,” said Kennel Club Secretary Caroline Kisko. “It will also continue to encourage improvement within the high profile breeds themselves, ensuring that the healthiest are justly held up as an example for others to follow.”
Too Little, Too Late
The backlash from “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” has had serious implications for Crufts and The Kennel Club. Major, long-term sponsors have pulled out, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Pedigree and the BBC. Pedigree, a major sponsor, had sponsored for 44 years. The BBC, which televised the dog show for 40 years, pulled out because The Kennel Club refused to stop the high-profile breeds from competing. There is no indication that the BBC will air the 2011 show.
There’s More to Me than Just My Looks
The 15 breeds affected by the new ruling include: the Basset Hound, Bloodhound, Bulldog, Chow Chow, Clumber Spaniel, Dogue de Bordeaux, French Bulldog, German Shepherd dog, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Pekinese, Pug, Shar-pei, St. Bernard and Chinese Crested. More breeds could be added to this list should further health issues be uncovered.
These breeds have suffered greatly because of inbreeding. Prior to the new ruling, it was acceptable for mother-son, father-daughter and grandfather-granddaughter breeds to be show dogs. Crufts will no longer permit first-degree relative mating.
Nonetheless, these pedigree dogs are sick. In a recent Guardian article, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” Director Jemima Harrison writes, “All (dogs) suffer to a greater or lesser extent from inherent design faults – short legs, long backs, flat faces, small or droopy eyes, too much angulation, too much wrinkling and, in the case of the Chinese Crested, too much Immac (a hair-removal product) being plastered over their little bodies (the breed is supposed to be hairless but often isn’t, so the breeders cheat).”
“Pedigree Dogs Exposed” hit a touchy place with Crufts judges and breeders alike. The documentary brought to light a very disturbing, relatively unknown side of breeding, which is culling puppies that do not meet breed standards. Culling is a practice by which breeders euthanize puppies who, despite being otherwise healthy, do not meet breed standards, in an effort to remove “undesirable” traits from the breed.
This is particularly common of Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies. After a K9 Magazine article took aim at the practice, The Kennel Club asked the Rhodesian Ridgeback Club of Great Britain (RRCGB) to reconsider the practice. RRCGB changed its code of ethics to specify that no healthy puppy can be culled, even if it does not meet breed standards.
Unfortunately, the message of the documentary has not reached everyone. Some judges refuse to acknowledge that the dogs or bitches they pick for best in show are sick. “Sadly though, a few judges in some breeds simply can’t or won’t accept the need to eliminate from top awards, dogs which are visibly unhealthy,” said Kennel Club Chairman Ronnie Irving. “Neither we who show dogs, nor the Kennel Club which must protect our hobby, can reasonably allow that state of affairs to continue. I hope also that monitoring the results of this exercise may even, in time, enable us to drop from the ‘high profile’ list some of those breeds which prove to have a clean bill of health.”
To the untrained eye, any dog with pedigree in its breed profile is assumed to be healthy – in fact, it’s the dog by which all other dogs are judged. As such, it’s disheartening to know that some of the most popular pedigree dogs are also some of the sickest. Thanks to the new ruling, the pedigree dog of the future will have to have more than just good looks; they will have to have a clean bill of health as well.