Posts Tagged ‘Crufts’

Scottish terriers by the tail

Crufts always brings about controversies, but this year, I truly do dream of the days when best of breed bulldogs and Clumber spaniels failed mandatory health checks and dog fancy had a collective meltdown all across the worldwide web.

This year, the big controversies have largely been outside the general interests of this blog. There are reports that an Irish setter was poisoned at Crufts, but this is such a serious accusation that I will leave it alone. We don’t know all the facts. If we were dealing with a dog poisoner, then we’re dealing with a vile person.

And I’m not really interested in talking about truly vile people. Individual malevolence is certainly worthy of scorn, but I’m a structuralist. I’m much more interested in the collective evils that plague society, and in this case, I’m interested in the collective problems with the dog fancy.

Crufts didn’t give us much of that this year, but at the Best in Show judging and presentation, two things happened that got large numbers of people riled.

The one I thought would be more consequential was when a PETA activist stormed the floor with a sign that read “Mutts Against Crufts.” If this had been Westminster, I’m pretty sure we would all still be talking about him. I am not a big fan of PETA, and I’m not sure that this publicity stunt really put the purebred dog reform movement in a good light.

But PETA is not interested in having a rational discussion. It is interested in the theater.

Now, the reason I say that this PETA demonstration would have stolen show if this had been Westminster is because it was overshadowed by another scandal.

This scandal never would have raised the slightest bit of attention in the North American dog show world. That’s because this second scandal involved a handling practice that is so common in North American dog shows that most people don’t even notice it.

When terriers are judged in North America, most of the smaller breeds of terrier are lifted up with one hand on the tail and one hand just beneath the jawline.  Supposedly, it is a way of testing to see if the terriers still have their sturdy tails. If a terrier gets in a bad place, it could be useful to be able to grab it by the tail and pull it safety.

You see this everywhere in North American dog shows. I don’t think it’s he worst way to handle a dog like this, but I don’t think the dogs particularly like it. I’m not someone who is prone to picking up dogs in this fashion, so I honestly don’t what the science is behind the welfare issues involved. I am officially agnostic on the issue.

The dog that won Best in Show was a Scottish terrier. This is one of the smaller terrier breeds that is generally lifted up in this fashion at American shows.  The handler of this winning terrier, Rebecca Cross, is an American, and I’m sure she’s done the tail lift scores of times in the show ring.

And no one said thing.

But when she did it at Crufts–in front of all those cameras– uproar quickly ensued!

100,000 people signed an online petition to have the terrier stripped of her win.

This, of course, created outrage among the show set. The claim pretty much goes that lifting them by the tail gives the judge an idea if the terrier has a sturdy enough tail. If this terrier happened to be deep in the ground battling with a whole clan of badgers and the only thing that the owner had to grab was its tail,  then that sturdy tail would be a life saver.

The problem with that claim is that Scottish terriers are actually working earth dogs.

In Scotland, terriers were used more to bolt the badger and the otter than their English counterparts. Both the badger and the otter are now protected species. The rural Scottish culture that created these terriers doesn’t even exist.  The Scottish countryside was once full of crofters.  In the eighteen and nineteenth centuries, the Clearances depopulated the land in much of rural Scotland. The crofters were driven off the land in favor of sheep, grouse moors, and deer stalking grounds.

The working man’s terriers became show dogs, and the general prick-eared terrier from Scotland became the West Highland white, the cairn, the Skye, the Paisley, and the Aberdeen. The Aberdeen type is the basis behind the breed we call the Scottish terrier.

Now, terriers are still widely used in the United Kingdom, even though “terrier work” is quite controversial over there. There are still plenty of working red fells, Patterdales, Lakelands, borders, Plummers, and Jack Russells. There are even working strains of Bedlington terrier, which is a breed that North Americans think is only for the show ring .

But there are no working strains of Scottish terrier. You will not find them anywhere. A lot of Scottish terriers still have the temperament needed for this sort of activity. George W. Bush had a Scottish terrier that loved to dig out armadillos, but no one can honestly say that there is a great demand for an armadillo dog.

And a nine-banded armadillo is nothing like a European badger or otter.

So if no one is really breeding a working Scottish terrier, the entire ritual of picking it up by the tail is just playing make believe.

At the most charitable, it is a hypothetical abstraction. It’s not a real adaptation on a real working dog.

This year’s big controversy, which I’m calling “Tailgate,” is more revealing about the culture of the dog show than it is about welfare concerns.

My guess is that the Kennel Club will make a very strong stand against picking up terriers by the tail at its shows.

And that will be it.

Meanwhile, Scottish terriers will continue to have very high rates of cancer and von Willebrand disease. They will continue to suffer from their own peculiar disorder called “Scottie cramps,” and they will continue to have an average lifespan of about 10 years.

Which, for a terrier, is pretty pathetic.

And it is a shame. This breed does occasionally have a reputation for being a bit surly, but a lot of these dogs are real characters, very sharp and responsive and clever creatures.

They are known for the deep loyalty to their people, and it is a real shame that people have allowed this breed to go so far downhill.

They have come a long way from the badger setts and otter holts, but now they must be looked at more realistically.

Playing pretend about the sturdy tails isn’t helping the discussion at all.

All of this rancorous debate over the ethics of terrier-lifting isn’t going to amount to much.

It’s just going to continue on. One camp will say that it is causing the terriers too much pain and stress, while the other is pretending they are evaluating real working dogs.

There is no real room for a discussion about the issues raised by closed registries and popular sires in this debate, and as this debate rages, much time and energy is being wasted.

Such is the tragic condition of the dog world in 2015.

Side-tracked by Tailgate.



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Recumbent Clumber spaniel. Note the excess skin covering the eyes. NB: This is not the dog that got scratched from Crufts today. Please read this caption before commenting.

Another casualty of the new Kennel Club rules requiring a mandatory health check for certain high profile breeds is the Clumber spaniel. From the KC’s press release:

No dog representing the Clumber Spaniel breed will compete in Friday evening’s Best in Group competition at Crufts after it failed the new veterinary check that has been introduced to the show.

The Best of Breed award was not given to Clumber Spaniel, Chervood Snowsun, following its veterinary check, which was carried out by an independent veterinary surgeon. This means that it will not be allowed to continue into the Gundog Best in Group competition.

The Kennel Club has introduced veterinary checks for the Best of Breed winners at all Kennel Club licensed General and Group Championship Dog Shows from Crufts 2012 onwards, in 15 designated high profile breeds. This measure was introduced to ensure that Best of Breed awards are not given to any dogs that show visible signs of problems due to conditions that affect their health or welfare.

Jemima Harrison has some pics of the dog on her blog. Can we guess why she was scratched?

Jemima thinks it’s ectropion, and I have to say that’s probably the best bet.

This dog had several health clearance and has some gun dog qualifications.

My guess is that she is working on her Show Gundog Working Certificate, which she must have in order to be considered a full champion in the Kennel Club’s system.

See related posts:

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Well, the 2012 Crufts Dog Show is on in Birmingham, England.

And things are a bit different in the UK dog show circuit.

This year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show awarded a Pekingese named Palacegarden Malachy Best in Show.

As I noted at the time of the win, this was a win for qualzucht-– “torture breeding”– and will do nothing more than fuel the flames of the animal rights extremist lobby.Continued denial of this dog’s obvious conformation issues and then celebration of his victory at this show are nothing more than accelerants to that fire, which is burning hotter and hotter every year.

Palacegarden is the an Pekingese kennel that is operated in Northumberland in the far north of England. It is owned by Jim and Jean Smith.

And they have done reasonably well on the UK show circuit. I don’t believe this particular site is up to date, for there is no mention of Malachy,  a grandson of their dogs Palacegareden Sullivan and Palacegarden Donovan, in their “brags” section.

But the Smiths are his breeders. He was born in the UK, but he is being campaigned in the United States.

They are also breeders of Palacegarden Bianca, and she is being campaigned in the UK. She was also shown at Crufts this year, where she was expected to do quite well.

She would have won Best of Breed at Crufts.

But then something happened:

She failed a health test.

As a result of the pressures coming from Jemima Harrison’s Pedigree Dogs Exposed documentary, the Kennel Club (of the United Kingdom) decided to implement health checks for all Best of Breed winners in 15 breeds at all of its General and Group Championship shows this year. These health checks are given by independent veterinarians, and if they say the dog isn’t a healthy example, it is dismissed.

The KC won’t list the reason why both the bulldog and Peke were denied BOB’s this year, but both breeds are severely brachycephalic and are well-known sufferers of brachycephalic airway syndrome, which interferes with a dog’s ability to fully respirate and cool itself. This condition is directly connected to breeding for the very short muzzle in both of these breeds, but this short muzzle is seen as ideal in the both breeds’ official breed standards.

Because they can’t have a BOB, the Peke and bulldog cannot compete for the group or Best in Show, and the point is to force breeders and judges within these breeds to produce and put up healthier animals.

With the Peke and bulldog, they will probably either have to change the standards or their interpretation of the standards.

And their fanciers will complain.

Tough, I say.

I seriously doubt that Malachy could have passed the test either, seeing as they were both bred by the same breeders and to the same standard. He may have, but his lumbering gait and hard panting, clearly showed to me that he wasn’t a good example of what a dog should be. Of course, we won’t know for sure.

However, because the Kennel Club has been forced implement health inspections for dogs in certain breeds before they can become BOB, dogs with welfare issues associated with their conformation cannot advance.

In the American Kennel Club, no such requirement exists at conformation shows.

And this is why we see dogs like Malachy winning major shows– and everyone oos and ahs over him.

In the United Kingdom, this is no longer acceptable.

And I think we should thank Jemima Harrison and her production company for putting the pressure on the Kennel Club to implement these reforms. Pedigree Dogs Exposed really opened the eyes of so many people, and it dragged the somewhat recalcitrant British dog fancy into making some modest changes for the health and welfare of purebred dogs.

But in America, where PDE has had very little exposure, people still think it’s okay.

The dog and its breeders get lauded.

And the dogs continue to suffer from their partially blocked airways.

PDE specifically targeted the pekingese for its extreme conformation, detailing how Pekingese named Danny actually won BIS at Crufts in 2003.  The rumor mill suggested that this dog had had a facelife. When Jemima Harrison’s team tracked down the real story, it turned out that he had not had a facelift, but instead, he had undergone a procedure to pare back some of his soft palate, which was obstructing his trachea. Dogs with extremely short muzzles have mouths and throats like normal dogs, but they don’t have enough space for all the things that go in there. It is possible for the soft palate to become very scrunched up in the back, which restricts the airways. Facelifts for show dogs are illegal under Kennel Club rules, but soft palate surgery is not.

Perhaps most infamously, Danny had to be placed upon an icepack to cool himself just before the awards ceremony at Crufts.

I was waiting for Malachy to be placed on an icepack. I think he needed it that night, but my guess is his handlers were smart enough not to do that while the cameras were running.

So here we can see a real world example of how Pedigree Dogs Exposed has changed the conversation.

In America, an extremely brachycephalic Peke wins Best in Show at the American Kennel Club’s most prestigious show, but in the UK, a Peke from the same kennel is dismissed because she doesn’t pass a health inspection.

It’s a real shame that PDE never received the exposure that it deserved in the United States.

But that’s to be expected.

This is the land of Citizens United, plastic surgery, and Hollywood. Glitz, glamour, and fakery of all sorts comprise much of the national zeitgeist.

But if things start to change for the better in the UK, it might start to trickle in over here.

Let’s hope it does.

See related posts:

And Chris has a post up at BorderWars on this same subject.


Update:  It turns out that Crufts did allow another bulldog to be shown in the Utility group, so a member of the breed can be judged in group following this dismissal.  Still wonderful news!

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