Crufts – breed perfection or form and function?

Spike's World

It’s that time of year again, Crufts, the world’s largest and probably the most controversial dog show.  It seems dog lovers fit into one of three distinct camps:

  • Those that love Crufts and the concept of judging a dog against its breed standard
  • Those that despise the concept of judging dogs based on appearance
  • Those that enjoy Crufts as a means of celebrating the joy of dogs but are uncomfortable with the current state of pedigree health and confirmation

While the current concern for the health of many breeds has been growing for some time, it was back in 2008 when the BBC show Pedigree Dogs Exposed, directed by Jemima Harrison was aired and gave a warts and all account of many of the horrendous health issues that have become all too commonplace in many breeds.  Of particular shock to many was the upsetting footage of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel suffering from the painful condition, syringomyelia; a condition in which the dog’s skull is in effect too small for its own brain.

I’m sure all parties agree that such horrendous genetic conditions are unacceptable and drastic work needs to be done to ensure dogs are health tested before being bred so ensure dogs with such conditions are never bred from. It was great to hear a DNA test has been developed to discover carriers of the gene that can cause Primary Open Angle Glaucoma in the  the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen. however, of equal concern are the current breed standards that the dog are judged against.

In a nutshell, a breed standard is a particular set of characteristics that a ‘perfect’ example of a breed should display.  Concern has been raised that many breeds have become of such an exaggerated form that breed ‘perfection’ has become dog ‘imperfection’.

The Kennel Club has since gone on record to say “In the absence of legislation, there is no obligation on breeders to take note of the Breed Standards which promote healthy dogs.”  This statement suggests that the kennel club sees its current breed standards to be ‘healthy’ therefore dogs that conform to these breed standards must also be ‘healthy’ in their eyes.

It would take many blog posts to analyse each breed, so the following is not designed to single out any one breed above another, but it was concerning to see the confirmation of this year’s winning German Shepherd.   This particular dog was deemed closest to the breed standard of the 145 entrants but sadly its gait was so loose and its back so loped that its hind legs appeared to wobble as it walked.

In my opinion, if this wobbly gait and sloped back is not only acceptable but sought after then the kennel club needs to seriously reconsider its own breed standards.

The video below shows the judging of the 2014 German Shepherds; it’s easy to see why they’ve gained the nickname ‘half dog, half frog’ from the unnatural way their hind legs articulate.

In comparison, this video shows a typical German shepherd used in the police force. Note it’s fluid gait, straighter back and much stronger hind legs.

From these two videos alone it’s clear in my mind which represents the more functional dog. This is where the current breed standards are failing our canine companions.  True form and function appear to be playing second fiddle to a set guide to breed perfection is that is no longer fit for purpose.

With the kennel club appearing to talk the talk but not making strides to rectify the problem, as is evident from the 2015 breed winner what is the future for Crufts?

For many, Crufts represents a celebration of all things dog with agility, heelwork to music and fly-ball among the myriad of amazing non-conformation events and competitions it hosts.  Such events highlight the amazing bond between human and dog. So should these events decouple themselves from the confirmation aspect of the show and become a true celebration based on talent, rather than looks?

As such a drastic change is very unlikely to happen any time soon, should Channel 4 cease its television coverage until Crufts becomes a true celebration of happy, handsome, yet above all, HEALTHY dogs?

It would seem the jury is still out on this question for many dog lovers, but with the disappointing lack of real strides in the improvement of many severely comprised breeds, I must sadly agree that the mainstream broadcast Crufts should be reconsidered.