The Uncertain Future of Dog Shows
Criticism of prestigious breed shows such as Crufts and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is hardly new. For the past several years, these and such shows have found themselves increasingly under fire for encouraging breed standards that, in some cases, contribute to serious health problems. Again spurring the controversy is the recent poisoning of Jagger, the Irish Setter shown at this year’s Crufts in Birmingham. Although a toxicology report recently revealed the prized animal was not, in fact, poisoned at the dog show but rather shortly after returning to Belgium, the shadow of suspicion and general negative publicity has again raised questions of breeders’ ethics.
Selective breeding over the past several decades has dramatically changed the appearance of breeds, sometimes to the detriment of their health. Not only this, some consider selective breeding to be “the racism of the animal world.” This is because despite the fact that many dogs were first bred to enhance their working abilities, they are now bred primarily to achieve a certain appearance. Generally, today’s “work” dogs are no longer as capable as those of previous generations. Following the release of the documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, BBC stopped airing the Crufts show. As a response, Britain’s Kennel Club is reviewing breed standards.
While there is an indisputably negative side to dog breeding, some breeds are renowned for cultivating great characteristics like loyalty and intelligence through selective breeding. For instance, the standard Poodle and Border Collie are exceptionally intelligent and trainable. Designer dogs like Labradoodles, are thought to have the loyalty of Labradors while being hypoallergenic like poodles. With favorable results like this, should there be a double standard in the breeding world? I say yes.
It is my opinion that breeding is acceptable under two conditions: 1) that the characteristics being bred into animals do not contribute to health problems or shorter life expectancy and 2) that the breeding is a highly regulated, small scale operation (no puppy mills). Fortunately, consumers have the control to ensure that these conditions are met. The first step is by choosing a pet bred for behavior rather than aesthetics. The second is by supporting responsible breeders. Such breeders will allow clients to view their home or facility to ensure that the dogs are receiving the care and attention they deserve. Local pet shops may offer the same privilege.
This shift is already happening. Animal rights advocates are more active than ever, swaying public opinion through documentaries and information campaigns that are casting a negative light on traditional dog shows. Despite this, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and others still attract millions of viewers, so it does not seem that they are going anywhere in the near future. Hopefully a review of breed standards will ensure that they continue with greater consideration of the animals’ quality of life.