Being a veterinary surgeon, I’m a very big dog lover. Despite this, over the years, I’ve avoided Crufts.
I vividly remember when the BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” was released in 2008, my third-year of vet school. This documentary brought to light issues facing several pedigree dog breeds. It was also a precursor to the BBC no longer showing Crufts.
2008 was the last time that I properly watched Crufts. I have caught certain moments over the more recent years on Channel 4 but I definitely haven’t watched much of the show and have turned over when watching the showing classes.
For many years I have believed Crufts should not take place as I don’t agree with showing dogs. I have also struggled to understood why other veterinary professionals go. This year, however, with trepidation, I booked tickets and went yesterday, Saturday 10th March 2018. I decided to go because I didn’t want to judge something I hadn’t personally seen. Though, having said that, I still have strong beliefs that breed showing and ring craft are poor practices for animal welfare and therefore decided, for the most part, to avoid these parts of the show.
Throughout the rest of this blog I discuss my experiences of Crufts and how I felt.
I want to state that my comments are not based upon issues with any single individual but more upon the show, activities surround it and commonplace practices.
On entering Crufts, the first thing I came across was a hall filled with trade stands. There were five halls in total. These sold everything you could want, not only for both show and dogs, and occasional cat items. Most large animal-related charities were also represented, especially those related to dogs, alongside displays of the many veterinary and animal health products.
My plan was to talk to many of the representatives at these trade stands; get an understanding of their products and services and discuss potential collaborations. Sadly, it was too busy to have an in-depth business-related conversation with anyone, so I decided to contact people at a later date.
I’m aware this doesn’t affect dog welfare whatsoever. I note that many of these stalls had reduced prices due to it being a show which is quite common in these sorts of occasions. This is really good value for anyone wanting to buy anything.
From looking around, I can safely say my prior belief that you could buy anything for dogs at Crufts is true. Therefore, if anyone wants to buy many items for their dogs at a reasonable price, I recommend Crufts for the trade stands.
Hall three housed Discover Dogs.
On arrival, the ring contained a woman discussing Bloodhounds, along with two bloodhounds and their handlers. The surroundings were very loud and the speakers were unclear leaving me struggling to hear what was said. I was horrified to notice that one of the Bloodhounds in the ring was obviously lame on one forelimb. No one else seemed to have noticed or, potentially worse, cared.
I moved on to the Discover Dogs breed stands. All of these stands contained pens approximately 1.5 x 3m in size.
The was occupied by three Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are large dogs and, therefore, need more space than something such as the Yorkshire terrier. I noticed many of the stands for large dogs had no more space than those for small. However, the pens appeared to be a standard regardless of the breed.
This was disappointing.
The area for Rhodesian ridgebacks had three dogs in one pen. One of these dogs was obviously stressed, standing with it’s ears back and head down in the far corner where no one could get. It obviously was unhappy and there it was potentially busier around the trade stands.
Many of the dogs on display at Discover Dogs were for hours on end, sometimes for several days. None of the stands I saw had areas for dogs to get away from the crowds.
I believe each pen should have a dedicated area big enough for a dog to safely and comfortably enter to get away from the crowds. This should be covered on both the top and sides to give the dog(s) privacy and any dog in this space should be left alone.
In many cases owners or handlers constantly interfered with their dogs. A Great Dane laid on his very comfortable large mattress appeared to not want to be on show. When I approached, the owner decided I wanted to stroke her dog; she kept telling the dog to get up, encouraging it to walk to me. The owner did this for a couple of minutes until the dog, appearing to have little choice, followed through with this.
I had a similar experience with the Dobermanns. These were lively and interesting in their surroundings but the owner was making sure they jump up so their paws were resting on the top of the pen. He especially instructed this when I was there.
The owner also held his sandwich straight in the faces of the Dobermanns. I appreciate he needs to eat but I believe this should have been done away from the dogs, at least outside of their pen given their little space. They were obviously tempted by this sandwich. A woman at that stand was also obviously taunting a dog with her sandwich.
There were other stands that were empty or the dogs were left to their own devices but these were in the minority.
Just after lunchtime, we headed to the arena.
This was an approximate 45-minute wait which people unhappy. The exhibitors and dogs entrance was shared with that for the wheelchair users. This became very crowded with the dogs having to walk through a narrow path with people on either side and often got stuck amongst crowds.
Crowded spaces are stressful for dogs who cannot speak up for themselves and may accidentally get bumped into or even stood on.
Personally, I feel a dedicated lane should have been provided for the dogs and handlers to walk along to achieve paramount canine welfare and comfort. As Crufts has been going since 1891 and at its current location since 1991, arrangements should have been made to ensure dogs entering the arena area were given space.
I watched two international agility classes.
All the dogs competing in these classes were very fit with owners who obviously cared for their welfare.
Whilst the vast majority of owners made a fuss of the dogs once I completed the course, I sadly noticed a few occasions where owners appeared to just take all the glory themselves, raising their hands to the audience and clapping whilst ignoring their dogs. I understand that doing well in an event at Crufts is huge, however, your dog should definitely be acknowledged.
The vast majority of owners were, however, incredibly interested in praising their dogs.
I am glad to report I saw no punishment whatsoever for refusals, falling poles, or wrong lines.
These dogs are what I think of as “fit for purpose”, something Crufts kept quoting. I don’t, however, believe all dogs there “fit for purpose” though; for example, the previously mentioned lame Bloodhound.
I watched a couple of classes of flyball one including youth teams.
Whilst the older competitors acted very calmly around their dogs, I noted young competitors were often winding their dogs up beforehand. I realise increases the dog’s adrenaline and therefore their speed, however, this can cause behavioural issues in other situations as well as anxiety.
I noticed the new designs of the boards of flyball. No longer do the balls fly out as was the case a few years ago. But now, dogs picked balls out of holes within these boards.
This reduces the chance of injury and strain on the dogs joints and therefore leading to dogs being fitter for longer. Both dogs and competitors appeared to enjoy the event and, in the whole, I have no issues with Flyball whatsoever.
West Midlands Police Display
The best event I saw was the display by the West Midlands police.
Though this was heavily scripted, the dogs were acting as they would in a training session.
There was a lot of mention of the positive reinforcement methods used during the training along with a lack of punishment. I’m hoping many of the dog owners watching this took note of that.
Despite being working dogs, these police dogs were obviously having fun and the display incorporated a lot of play.
All the dogs looked at the peak of health and, very relaxed in the surroundings despite the spotlights.
This display was very the exciting yet informative showing many of the skills these dogs and handlers have which they use on a daily basis. The scope of these dogs is very wide-spread and all the duties were well explained.
Good display West Midlands Police!
Heelwork to music
Displays of Heelwork to Music and not only a crowd favourite but show a very high level of skill and obedience with very athletic and lively dogs.
I’m going to admit, it isn’t my favourite of disciplines. I personally just find it a bit bizarre. However, I can understand why people would like it.
When I saw was not the competition but was a display done by the winner of the international competition. The dog was very enthusiastic and often worked at the distance. Due to this distance between handler and dog, there was no way the dog was forced to do many of the exercises so always had the choice to run away if desired. This demonstrated the skill of the owner and enthusiasm of the dog. However, I wonder how many hours of training goes into this and whether this is too much for the dog.
I am unable to pass judgement on this without knowing each individual case and speaking to the owners.
International Junior Handling Final
I was less impressed by the International Junior Handling Final. As mentioned previously, I am not fan of ring craft. I stayed to watch this as the person I was with want to watch it. I also wanted to see what occurred and was looking forward to Scruffts, timetabled for after this event.
When I heard these were the best junior handlers representing each country I had high standards for them to meet.
These handlers were given three unknown dogs throughout the day. I only saw them with their final one.
Handlers didn’t exhibit their own dogs and only had half an hour to get used to the dogs before showing them. This is a good way of examining handling skills as it doesn’t demonstrate any training in place and looks at how these handlers can deal with an unknown dog.
I saw a lot of use of treats. At first, I believed this to be positive. They were using them as lures to get the dogs looking in the right direction and following commands. I noted many of the handlers, however, appeared to be taunting their dogs.
In a lot of cases, whatever these dogs did they didn’t receive a treat.
[Edited] I saw some handlers whose methods of training I didn’t necessarily agree with. The methods used included what I believed to be excessive holding back of treats. I noticed this appeared to wind up some dogs which then, due to what I believe as to be frustration in the dog, caused the dog to jump up at the handler. This behaviour is not something I believe to be bad behaviour of that dog, in fact, I believe all of the dogs in the ring had really good behaviour. Another handler also appeared from the view I had to place her hand around the muzzle of the dog and turn their head when going around a corner when presenting the dog for the judge.
I feel these skills should be looked upon, more so across the whole of showing rather than just individual cases, or even just the juniors.
Alongside this, I recognise these handlers are still growing and developing and therefore will be learning from each dog they come across. Getting used to and presenting a dog for showing is a very difficult take especially given the stress of the situation and the short time period. [End of edited portion]
The winner of the class was obviously very proud. He plans to become a professional handler. He was very proud to win and became incredibly emotional at his success. However, I noticed how on the lap of honour the leads on none of the dogs were slackened. I realise not slackening the lead is probably standard with showing and the same was true of all the dogs. Personally, though, I feel at the end a class when celebrating a win, giving your dog space to and enjoy your surroundings as much as possible would be worthwhile. Laps of honour in the agility as well as in show jumping are done with slackened reins/ leads.
I also noticed several competitors wanted to not only become veterinary surgeons alongside professional handlers and I’m wondering whether the two careers are compatible. With many breeds having an array of health issues wouldn’t being a vet and handling these, often overbred, animals be conflicting.
Finally, a display of how dogs and their owners normally interact. Real bonds were clearly visible.
Not only were these crossbreeds and therefore not overbred, the dogs and owners were much more relaxed.
All the dogs were given plenty of space when they wanted but also fussed and given reassurance throughout.
All of these were walked on a slack lead with natural postures and all the owners seemed to be truly enjoying the experience which would have contributed to how relaxed the dogs were.
The inclusion of the class for crossbreed dogs in Crufts is an excellent start. A lot of people don’t realise just how rewarding these dogs are and not only pedigree dogs are worth investing in.
Given these dogs are not trained in ring craft, they were often much calmer than the actual show dogs. This tells you something about the handling style which I believe some show dog owners need to take on board. Do dogs really need to be stood in often of unnatural position just to enhance breed standards? Also maybe the handlers should relax a bit and they may achieve better results.
Well done to all competitors in this class, you did great!
You should be proud of both yourselves and your dogs. You clearly show demonstrate what dog ownership means to the majority of the general public.
I want to end this by discussing my thoughts whilst walking around. Though only dogs within the show or exhibitions, and assistance dogs, were permitted within the grounds, I saw several examples of becoming aggressive.
At points, I was seriously worried there was going to be fights. On such occasions, nothing was done to redirect these behaviours. Dogs being show dogs doesn’t necessarily mean they are well trained. Not only that but it was a very busy and stressful environment so many will act out of character towards each other. I, therefore, wondered whether it was in the dog’s best interests to be at the show when not being exhibited.
Many dogs were sat in small stalls with very little space waiting to be exhibited. These are on show much of the time and therefore have no space to themselves or the ability to walk around.
In my opinion, this is unfair for the dogs.
They had nowhere to go for a rest, are constantly surrounded by crowds looking at them and are unable to exhibit normal behaviour or move around freely.
Exhibiting normal behaviour and having space are key factors to the Animal Welfare Act (2006) (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/45/contents). I wonder whether some areas of Crufts potentially go against the Animal Welfare Act (2006) or whether the relatively short time period precludes this.
Breeding of extreme features is currently a huge problem even though the kennel club advised judges to not pick dogs with these features the best of breed this year many were still present.
Many features of pedigree dogs impact upon their welfare. This causes issues the dogs not only during the show, but in the long-term.
Some of these conditions affect the breathing. I didn’t visit the Pug stand at Discover dogs however, I saw several pugs walking around show. These weren’t assistance dogs so I presume they were, in the most part, show dogs.
At one point I was outside in a noisy area. Two pugs walked past approximately 20m from me. their Even from that distance I could clearly hear the on furthest from me breathing really clearly and they were only walking. They sounded to be wheezing and snorting, signs of potential Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS), a syndrome in brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds impacting upon their breathing.
There is currently a British Veterinary Association campaign, #BreedToBreathe, for this syndrome. #BreedToBreath aims to raise awareness of BOAS, mainly affecting Pugs, English Bulldogs, and French Bulldogs, amongst others. A recent study showed 77.6% of show Pugs are affected by BOAS.
I did not see any of the judging for these dogs, though, as said, I saw several examples of extreme features throughout this display.
Something also bothered me with show dogs being transported in metal cages. I believe transporting dogs in such a way will be stressful for the dog.
All show dogs should be fit enough to walk and therefore, I believe this should not be done.
If your dog is unable to walk the distance is needed are they really fit enough to be shown?
I understand the need to keep them clean however with areas indoors for them to toilet, getting wet outside is not a factor, getting rid of the need for these sorts of cages.
Walking dogs gives plenty of exercise which then allows them to calm down and therefore would’ve reduce the stress on such an occasion. However, as stated before, I do feel that more needs to be done to separate the crowds from the dogs to ensure that the dogs are not walked over or bumped into.
Work needs to be done by the organisers to ensure the dogs can freely and safely without stress or risk of injury.
Many aspects of Crufts were good but it was very busy and some aspects are far from what I’d like.
The key elements of the show I’ve disagreed with for many years are the ring craft and breed showing elements. I did avoid these to limited amounts which is why I’ve said less regarding this.
I felt the displays for the West Midlands Police alongside the Agility, Flyball and Scruffts were very good overall. However as stated, I had issues with both Discover dogs and the junior handler events.
Will I go again?
To be honest, I am unsure. I don’t know if I want to give the organisers my money once more. However, I feel spending the day mainly around the trade stands may be worthwhile and informative as I could talk to a lot of the businesses to see what they offer and learn quite a bit.
Whilst it was a good day it was infuriating in equal measures.
I feel the most important thing should be the welfare of the dogs and, as it currently stands, I’m not sure this show abides by all aspects of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This is very worrying and more needs to be done by both the Kennel Club and Crufts to ensure improved welfare not only with the breeds and altering of the breed standards, but throughout the four days of the show including maximum time periods when dogs should be displayed at Discover dogs.