Why is Crufts Controversial?
Crufts dog show, the biggest in the canine calendar, is just around the corner (7th – 10th March 2024). Thousands of dog lovers will once again flock to witness the magnificent pomp and ceremony that celebrates the canine species. However, the show is not without its critics and controversies. Holidays4Dogs looks into the highs, and lows, of this spectacular dog show that attracts enthusiasts from all over the world.
Crufts dog show is hosted by the Kennel Club and is held annually in March at the NEC in Birmingham. It is the largest dog show of its kind and consistently attracts huge numbers of visitors from the UK and abroad. However, Crufts is often fiercely debated because of its reputation for fostering dubious judging and breeding practices.
‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’.
Disapproval towards the Kennel Club stemmed from a 2008 BBC documentary, ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed‘ The programme uncovered startling facts about the dog show world and its showing and breeding practices. Many individuals, experts and welfare organisations were outraged. The public perception fall-out from the programme has never fully gone away – even 15 years later.
Since the BBC documentary, there have been some improvements to the promotion of health in various dog breeds. However, many would argue this has not gone far enough to address deformities in many breeds of pedigree dogs. Bulldogs and pugs are two of the breeds most affected by artificial selection; creating exaggerations which impact severely on a dog’s health and lifespan. In addition, these extreme physical attributes serve no function, or purpose.
On top of this, in 2015, huge controversy raged over questionable dog handling practices. While showing a Scottish terrier, a U.S. competitor lifted his dog up by its tail. There was considerable outcry, because the practice is not allowed in the UK. Worse still, the dog won best in show and many people were angered by the judges decision.
It is no coincidence that the RSPCA have been absent from Crufts for the past few years, as protest to the treatment of show dogs and the promotion of irresponsible breeding.
Of course, our relationship with companion dogs provides meaningful relationships with other people. In other words, they provide a mechanism for us to access and become members of various groups to which we identify with.
However, a point worth mentioning, is that the breeding of dogs in the 19th Century began in a class system which reflected a class orientated society. Pets were, and still are, used as symbols of identity, position and fortune.
While most breeders would roll out the old maxim that their dogs are pets first and foremost – that is also a debatable point. The BBC documentary and bad handling practices weren’t the only controversies to strike Crufts. In 2020, two dog breeders and ex-judges of the show made news headlines with convictions for animal welfare offences.
One cannot blame all breeders, of course. There are many dedicated people who genuinely strive to nurture their chosen breed by acknowledging their history and function. However, the impact that pedigree dog breeding has on dog welfare is still very real.
The Kennel Club could be making more positive and proactive gestures towards the greater good of pedigree dog breeds. They could stick their heads above the parapet and promote the practice of out-crossing, for example. Their only passing acknowledgement to this practice was in the case of Fiona the Dalmatian.
The Dalmatian back-cross project.
Fiona is the descendant of an out cross to a pointer which happened more than 30 years ago in the U.S. as part of the Dalmatian Back Cross Project.
The inspiration for this radical move was to produce a Dalmatian that had a normal copy of the gene which codes for uric acid. All normal dalmatians have very high uric acid levels, which predisposes them to serious health problems, and in some cases death.
However, the politics of this practice – for some inexplicable reason – insulted even the breed clubs themselves, who fervently opposed the recognition of Fiona by the Kennel Club. Needless to say, when she was shown at Crufts in 2011, Fiona was never placed.
There are certain parts of the modern Crufts dog show that are truly heart-warming. Their ‘hero dog award’, for example, celebrates the bond between dog and human. In addition, it highlights important roles dogs play people’s lives. It is also good that nowadays mongrels can enter in their own show called ‘Scruffts’
That said, the pedigree dog breeding and showing scene still needs huge improvement, yet Crufts dog show still promotes aspects which may not be in the best interest of dogs. Some would question whether we should be breeding dogs at all, given the thousands of dogs needing homes every year.
If you are considering a pedigree dog, do plenty of research. Look up any genetic diseases they may be predisposed to, and seek out a responsible breeder.