Last week, Dr Ian Dunbar, the world-famous veterinarian, animal behaviourist and author of multiple dog behaviour and training publications, voluntarily sent himself to Coventry – more specifically, Stoneleigh Park’s Kennel Club Building – for his stint of seminars made available to dog owners and professionals alike. Ian, who founded the Association of Pet Dog Trainers back in the 1990s, is no stranger to public speaking, hosting nearly 1500 seminars and workshops over the past 40 years. His final seminar of the week, titled ‘Behaviour Programs for Dog Professionals’, focused on five key areas which Ian believes are in urgent need of a shake up with regards to improving the lives of dogs: breeders; veterinarians; pet store retailers; rescue centres and trainers.
From the outset, Ian emphasised that it is dog breeders and rescue centres which require the most attention. One of his ‘top 12 tips for prospective puppy owners’ is to know how to select an ‘above average’ breeder. But what does this actually mean from a Dunbar perspective? In short, it means a breeder which will produce the ideal companion puppy. According to Ian, the puppy should be taught basic manners and actually be housetrained by the time it is ready to leave the breeder. More importantly, however, is that the puppy is socialised, right from the very beginning of its life. While alarm bells will most likely be triggered amongst prospective puppy buyers at the first sign of ill health within the litter, Ian says that the most important aspect, that is, the dog’s temperament and what the breeder has (or hasn’t) done in order to influence it, is often overlooked. The “early approach, later avoidance” tactic of addressing puppy socialisation (even during the neonatal period in the form of handling by various strangers) is, according to Ian, likely to reduce the likelihood of problems in later life. Indeed, as he points out, every dog surrendered to a shelter due to behavioural issues started out as a tiny puppy. If there’s no vibrant behaviour programme in place, Ian states that buyers should walk away and find an alternative breeder.
When it comes to rescue centres, Ian is adamant that it is simply not sufficient to confine a dog to a kennel and not do anything to make it more adoptable. The concept of ‘Open Paw’, co-founded by Ian and Kelly Dunbar in 2000, was explained during the seminar. Open Paw consists of an in-house training programme made possible through the help of volunteers, and lots of them; Ian’s ideal rescue centre contains more people than dogs. With Open Paw, the shelter environment is transformed from endless rows of kennels containing bored and frustrated dogs to one which is a lively, happy place regularly holding social events and spending plenty of time with individual dogs, working on their basic training and keeping them stimulated. Even ‘Level 1’ of the programme, which consists of throwing treats into the kennel (classical conditioning), can make a dog more desirable to potential owners by teaching them to sit quietly, make eye contact and generally look cute. The frequent follow ups following adoption, also performed by volunteers, are equally important for improving the chances of the dog securing a permanent home.
Open Paw makes sense, which begs the question of why, almost eighteen years on from its inception, Ian is still having to stand in front of a crowded Kennel Club Building and explain the programme to a room full of dog lovers. Is the image of hundreds of volunteers flocking to assist their nearest shelter a complete fantasy? Well, if my local rescue kennels is anything to go by, not at all; there is actually a waiting list to become a voluntary dog walker at Birmingham Dogs Home. There are thousands of Animal Care, Animal Management and Animal-related degree students up and down the country who would relish the opportunity to gain their mandatory work experience hours quite literally playing with dogs in order to prepare them for life outside the four walls of the kennel block. The National Animal Welfare Trust (NAWT) was the first rescue organisation to implement the programme on UK shores, with excellent results – four out of the six dogs chosen for the programme were reserved within one week. The staff noticed a considerable change in the dogs’ behaviour, with the kennel block becoming a much quieter and calmer environment. The programme is now being used for both dogs and cats within NAWT’s centres. However, the Trust note that Open Paw is a costly project with its requirements for specialised training rooms and equipment. Perhaps Open Paw is itself in need of a few alterations in order to make the programme accessible to smaller rescue centres who simply do not have the money to spare.
In addition to training, another unique feature of Open Paw is the method of feeding for shelter dogs within the programme. All meals are served in Kongs in order to provide further mental stimulation and prevent boredom; during the talk Ian noted that the use of Kongs also helps to reprogram the dog’s brain by providing a reward for calm behaviour as the dog quietly lies down to work for their food. Indeed, the power of the mighty Kong received much praise throughout the seminar, as reflected in the mad rush to the dog toy stall at the back of the room at the beginning of each break (guilty as charged!).
The final part of Ian’s shake up plan is his approach to owner education. From pet stores providing correct information about the puppy products they are selling (can you imagine receiving thorough guidance about the appropriate way to crate train?), to veterinary practices sending free eBooks to their clients, Ian says that the time has come to ditch the waffle and instead present new puppy owners with solid advice. He even provides the information himself, which can be accessed free of charge at the Dog Star Daily website and distributed by any organisation, including dog trainers, using their own logo and contact details. When it comes to improving the lives of our dogs, education is certainly the way to go, and it makes sense for the distributors of educational materials to be those who we see on a regular basis and those we trust most with our pets. In the age of the internet, there should be no excuse for ignorance when it comes to basic dog training and socialisation, and so many problems can be easily prevented just by getting it right with your puppy from the start. Ian firmly believes that organisations should be doing more in the way of distributing canine information amongst their clients, both in person and via email subscription lists, as owners cannot be blamed for being ‘irresponsible’ if they simply weren’t given the correct information in the first place.
And in order to start tackling the issue of problem dogs, this is certainly an idea which should be welcomed with open paws.
The four day seminar was held at the Kennel Club Building in Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, and was organised by Dog and Bone. For more information on any similar upcoming events, please refer to the seminar section of their website.
Four year old rescue dog Cooper was seized as a ‘Pit Bull type’ last year and held in police kennels for almost two months. Here his owner Rachael talks to Bark! about the impact that the ordeal had on the family and explains how Cooper is now adjusting to life as an exempted dog.
Tell us about how you met Cooper.
“Cooper came into our lives quite unexpectedly! My husband, Mike, had recently retired from the armed forces following 23 years of service, which meant that he would be at home more often before starting his new career. One day, Mike called in at our veterinary practice to drop off a form for our elderly Westie while I was at work. When he arrived, everybody in the surgery was talking about a puppy that a man had just brought in off the street. The vet nurse asked Mike if he was interested in adopting a puppy and introduced him to a very skinny and poorly Cooper. Mike took a photograph of him and immediately dashed over to my work to show me. Did I want him? Of course I did! Later on we headed to the surgery together and Cooper was placed in my arms. It really was love at first sight. Sadly, the vet nurse broke the news that he had tested positive for parvovirus. With no owner to claim him, Cooper’s future looked bleak. As we talked about his chances of pulling through, I stared at the puppy on the table who could barely hold his head up and knew that we couldn’t just leave him in this state. We agreed to fund two days treatment and then we would re-evaluate the situation.
Although we had no idea if the puppy was going to make it, we dared to buy a collar and name tag, and told our two children, who were 16 and 22, that we may be having a new addition to the family. We anxiously phoned the surgery at regular intervals to check on his progress. After a few days, the vets decided that he was fit enough to come home with us, as long as we obeyed strict hygiene practices. At first he was very reluctant to eat or drink, but with the help of our two (somewhat unimpressed) terriers, he slowly learnt how to be a dog and began to settle into family life.”
What was life like with Cooper before he was seized?
“Cooper was a complete love bug. He loved nothing more than to cuddle up with us – we think he firmly believed that he was a small terrier as he would constantly attempt to sit on my knee. He adored everyone. He enjoyed puppy class, and even tried agility, which he took to like he did everything else in life – at 110 miles an hour! He seemed to want to know where we were at all times and was nowhere near as independent as our two terriers – he just wanted to be near us, which made him happy. As time went by he grew in confidence, and he loved the beach and swimming in the sea. He was generally just a fun puppy to be around and possibly the most loving dog we had ever owned. He had to have an operation to remove his tail to prevent infection, due to being diagnosed with ‘happy tail syndrome’, which basically meant that he was so happy that his continuous tail wagging frequently resulted in him making his tail bleed (leaving our house looking like a crime scene!). He quickly recovered from the operation and carried on with his usual lust for life.”
When did you first realise that there may be an issue with Cooper’s breed?
“On a number of occasions, people stopped us and asked about Cooper, and sometimes people would stare. In all fairness, he was stunning with his amber eyes and red nose, so we naively thought nothing of it. When he was about 12 months old, our daughter was offered a substantial amount of money for Cooper when she was out walking him. We brushed off any concerns and weren’t aware that there may be an ‘issue’ with Cooper until he was seized.”
Can you talk us through what happened when Cooper was taken from you?
“We had just returned home from a week at the coast where Cooper had done his usual thing of running at breakneck speed over the sands. Upon our return, his stomach had been a little unsettled (he occasionally suffered from an upset stomach due to his poor start in life), so Mike left the dog door open for him to let himself out. Unfortunately, Cooper escaped from the garden and was picked up by a member of the public and handed into the dog warden, who contacted the police. Cooper was visually identified as ‘type’ and taken to police kennels. I received a phone call from Mike who explained what had happened. We were both utterly devastated. We phoned the police and asked if we could take his bed, toys, and food, as we were concerned that a change of diet would be detrimental to his health. We were told that we couldn’t see him and they couldn’t tell us where he was. They said that if the food they gave him upset his stomach they would try something else.
I cried myself to sleep. I felt completely useless and had no idea what to do or who to speak to – we didn’t know anyone who had been through this before. Mike phoned a solicitor who gave us advice over the phone and stated that in their belief we weren’t a ‘high risk’ seizure and were unlikely to need legal representation, but they would willingly represent us should we need them.”
For how long was Cooper kept in kennels? Did you have any updates regarding his welfare?
“Cooper was seized on the 31st May and returned home to us on the 12th July. We phoned the police dog unit daily for updates, and initially our hopes were raised that Cooper would be considered to come home via the Interim Exemption Scheme [‘doggy bail’]. However, we were then told that they didn’t have the scheme in our area and probably never would.
I can’t begin to explain how we felt while Cooper was being held. I was beside myself with worry and needed to know that he was okay. He is a family pet who had never spent a night away from us, and I feared that he wouldn’t cope in kennels and would think that we didn’t want him anymore. The Dog Legislation Officer (DLO) assessed Cooper and came out to see us on the 13th June. He said that Cooper was fine and that he thought he was a good dog. After advising us to raise a few fence panels in the garden and taking photographs of his living area, the DLO was satisfied and said that he could see no reason why Cooper shouldn’t come home. Although this was a great relief, the toll on the family was immense, and we continued to have sleepless nights as the worry hung over us that we may be given a destruction order. My greatest fear was that Cooper would die alone. I couldn’t get away from the fact that we had saved his life once, only for him to potentially be killed for looking a certain way. The whole thing made no sense.”
Thank goodness that Cooper was able to return home. Can you give us a brief overview of the exemption process?
“When we finally got the court date, it couldn’t come quickly enough. The morning of 8th July, after a tense and sleepless night, we headed out for our first ever trip to court. The DLO met us outside and we chatted about Cooper and dogs in general. The moment in court came and went in the blink of an eye, and we were given a contingent destruction order, which meant that Cooper was going to be registered as an exempted Pit Bull type. We sent all the paperwork to DEFRA that day along with our fee, and headed out to celebrate with the family. As Cooper had already been castrated and microchipped prior to seizure, and we’d made the arrangements to have the third party liability insurance in place, we didn’t have to wait long for him to be released. We asked what size muzzle Cooper was being trained with and purchased a few of them. Once we knew for certain that Cooper was coming home, we put a post on social media to explain what had happened, and we received a lot of positive messages of support from our friends.
Cooper came home four days later.”
Has Cooper’s behaviour changed since he was seized?
“When he first came home, Cooper was very quiet. He was hoarse when he barked and he was smelly and scurfy. His paws were pink and inflamed. We took him to the vets and he was given some medication as his glands were up in his neck, possibly from continuous crying and barking when he was caged. He was also given some foot scrub to reduce the inflammation which seemed to be an allergic response, and we were advised that once he was back on his own diet it should resolve quickly.
Initially, Cooper only left his bed for food and walks. He looked sad and shut down. He accepted our contact but wasn’t as loving and cuddly as he was prior to being seized. My mum described him as “dead behind the eyes”. We wondered if he would ever return to being the Cooper we all knew and loved, or whether the experience had changed him for life. Gradually, he adjusted to being at home and became cuddly Cooper again, but he was a shadow of his former self in other ways. He developed separation anxiety and would bark, cry, howl and eat objects, including our leather sofa and anything else in his way, if we left him alone even for the shortest periods of time. His stomach issues increased significantly and he was diagnosed with colitis, which we were told is triggered by stress. On a few occasions he had some flare ups where he would pass pure blood. Our previously relaxed and balanced dog was now very anxious. He became reactive on the lead towards other dogs and also became nervous of strange noises.”
What adjustments have you had to make to help Cooper settle back into family life?
“We sent Cooper for training in a residential facility to help with his reactivity and anxiety. He returned to us obedient and slightly better, but was still reactive towards other dogs. Over time his anxiety increased significantly. I joined the ‘Reactive Dogs UK’ group and started following the care protocol which helped me to understand Cooper’s behaviour and which stimuli caused stress for him. I walked him in quieter places in order to start building up his confidence and reduce the triggers that he encountered. We then found a behaviourist who had a sensory environment and made an appointment to visit. Cooper now goes there on a regular basis. Upon their advice, we put Cooper back on a harness and use a lead which allows him to make choices for himself. This has increased his confidence as he isn’t forced to encounter anything he doesn’t want to, and we have found that his reactivity has decreased and he appears to be enjoying his walks again.
To help him further, we have changed Cooper’s food; we now feed him on a raw diet and he has no processed food or treats. This seems to have resolved his stomach issues completely and he has had no colitis flare ups at all since swapping his diet. We have also had a zoopharmacognosy session which allowed Cooper to self-select herbs and natural products that he may be deficient of. I was dubious at first but was amazed to find that everything he liked was used for the treatment of digestive conditions or for stress related issues. After the first session he slept for six hours straight! When we leave him on his own now, we leave some of the scents around the house which help him to relax. This may all seem a little crazy but we have chosen to rescue Cooper twice, and we owe it to him to do all we can to get him back on track.”
Have you noticed any negative reactions towards Cooper since he was ‘typed’ as a Pit Bull?
“Since one of the conditions of exemption is that Cooper must wear a muzzle at all times in a public place, there have been occasions where people have assumed that he is dangerous due to his muzzle. We have had people make comments and even pick their dogs up as we walk by, all because of how Cooper looks with his new unwanted accessory. Of course, these sort of reactions meant that he was getting less interaction with other dogs which initially increased his reactivity. We became reluctant to walk him and really took all the negative comments to heart.”
What advice would you give to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation with their own dog?
“For anyone else facing the same situation, my advice would be to remain calm and focused. Prepare a court pack of your own, including information from your vet, records of any training classes you have attended and witness testimonies from your dog trainer regarding both yourself and your dog’s character. Be aware that there are people with lots of opinions on social media, and everyone’s experiences are different, so don’t read them thinking that your’s will necessarily follow the same pattern as this isn’t always the case. Try to get some solid advice from those who really know or have experienced the process.
Be prepared for the fact that people may not view you or your dog in the same way, and hold your head high. Don’t be surprised if your dog has changed – after talking to others it is more common than you think – just make sure that you support your dog to help them settle again. Most importantly, follow the court order to keep your dog safe. It brought it home to me when someone pointed out that having a contingent destruction order means that Cooper will not be destroyed only if we abide by the court conditions at all times.
The most important thing that I have realised is that Cooper is still Cooper – just because he meets the measurements and was deemed to be type, he’s still the same loving dog he was prior to being seized. He just needed a little time to adapt.”
Bark! would like to offer a big thank you to Rachael and her family for telling Cooper’s story.
To help put an end to breed specific legislation in the UK, please support Born Innocent, a registered non-profit campaign group focused on enacting changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Further details can be found on the website and Facebook page.
To provide support for owners who have had their dog seized, please take a look at the fundraising page for Born Innocent’s sister group, ‘Putting Breed Specific Legislation to Sleep UK’. 100% of the money raised through auctions, raffles and ‘End BSL’ merchandise goes directly to help the dogs. Thank you.
A year has now passed since the death of Francis, a stray Pit Bull type dog who had found his way to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Francis, by all accounts, was a friendly dog. Indeed, the Home itself released photographs of him, including one with a member of staff affectionately kissing his head, and also published an online video featuring Francis in order to bring the plight of all Pit Bull type dogs to the attention of the public. And it worked. According to newspaper reports, over 30,000 people signed a petition in the hope of giving Francis a reprieve. But there was no hope. On the 28th July 2016, Battersea announced that, in line with the current law, he had been euthanised. Francis, of course, was not the first victim, and definitely wasn’t the last. Within their statement, Battersea confirmed that 91 dogs within their care that were deemed by police to be of illegal ‘types’ were put down in 2015 alone. And those are the figures for just one rescue organisation.
August 12th will mark 26 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act was enforced in Britain, another sad milestone in the history of breed specific legislation. Despite tremendous evidence to show that targeting individual breeds of dog in this manner does not improve public safety, along with pressure from animal charities, welfare organisations, campaign groups and simply concerned dog lovers (including over 70k signatures on the RSPCA’s #EndBSL petition), DEFRA have recently refused to engage in a review of the law, as put forward by the Law Commission.
Quite frankly, the notion that a country which prides itself on its equality and intolerance of discrimination can continue to uphold such a disgusting piece of legislation is nothing short of absurd. Throw our supposed ‘nation of dog lovers’ tagline into the mix and it becomes almost laughable. Dogs throughout the UK are being put to sleep simply because they look a certain way. There is nothing to justify this. Recent research has confirmed that there were no differences found between legislated and non-legislated breeds in terms of the medical treatment required following a bite from an individual dog. Yes, the ‘locking jaw’ phenomenon is a myth – Pit Bull types are undoubtedly powerful, but so are hundreds of other legal dogs found in homes up and down the country. This particular study, published in Ireland, also found that the very nature of breed specific legislation is problematic in terms of the influence it has over our perceptions of dogs since it generates a ‘false sense of security’; labelling certain types of dog as inherently dangerous means that they are likely to be perceived very differently to legal breeds, when in reality any dog has the capability to cause harm. Indeed, research has demonstrated that hospital admissions for dog attacks are actually on the increase – not exactly the desired result of the Dangerous Dogs Act when it was enacted in 1991.
For those who still believe that breed specific legislation is necessary, due to the ‘hooded youth with Pit Bull’ image, consider the fact that these types of dog actually became considerably more attractive as a status symbol once they became illegal, and there are now more so-called Pit Bulls on the streets than ever before. It is also worth noting that for the most part it is innocent family pets who fall victim to the law in its current format, with owners left distraught as their dog is taken away. Born Innocent confirms that women in their thirties and forties are those who frequently ask for help following the seizure of their pet. It is not just those who fit the ‘criminal’ stereotype who find themselves on the wrong side of the law, simply because they own a dog whose body measurements classify them as a ‘Pit Bull’.
Francis was just one of thousands. This is happening on a daily basis. There are currently hundreds of seized dogs confined to a kennel, awaiting their fate. And yet, for the most part, nothing is done about it. Except for the dedicated campaigners who are on the frontline, battling to save the lives of these dogs, everyone else remains relatively quiet. Where are the people who generated a Twitter frenzy when Theresa May announced her plan to bring fox hunting back? Where are those who to this day still reference the death of a gorilla (#RIPHarambe)? Why do we always hear about the welfare implications of the badger cull on the news but not about the well-being of the family pets who have been dragged away from their homes? Although there have been some high-profile cases, such as Francis, Stella, and Lennox to name a few, it seems that any public hype surrounding the appalling nature of the Dangerous Dogs Act quietly fades away along with the last breath of the dog in question. Is this because, as a nation, we are all secretly turning a blind eye to the horrors of breed specific legislation? To the heartbroken owners who realise too late that they’ve just signed their pet’s death warrant? To the rescue centres forced to euthanise healthy dogs which would make perfect family pets? To the kennel assistants who cry at night over dogs they are forbidden to touch? To the dogs themselves, locked in a cramped kennel, lonely and distressed? Or the condemned dog lying on the vet’s table, giving one last pathetic attempt at a tail wag, oblivious to the fact that she’s just been given a lethal injection?
It’s time we stopped looking the other way.
Write to your MP. Write to DEFRA. If you can, attend an anti-BSL rally. Support the owners of seized dogs by making a donation. But most importantly, spread the word about our flawed Dangerous Dogs Act. Let’s get this barbaric piece of legislation consigned to history.
In just under 2 weeks’ time, the halls of the NEC Birmingham will echo with the sound of barking as almost 22,000 dogs compete in obedience and agility championships and battle for the title of Best in Show. Crufts has been a major event in the canine enthusiast’s calendar for 126 years, and although it rarely passes without some form of Kennel Club controversy, those four days towards the beginning of March are always a great excuse to talk non-stop about all things dog (although when do us dog lovers ever need an excuse?)
Whether you’re thinking about visiting the world’s biggest dog show for the first time or already have your tickets sorted and are looking for a few tips on how to make the most out of your day, here is a selection of ideas based on my past experiences of being a visitor to the show. Enjoy Crufts!
It’s not all about the judging! Watching a line-up of dogs being carefully inspected by a judge may be the first thing that springs to mind when someone mentions a dog show, but there is so much more to Crufts than the rings. Five halls of the NEC are transformed into doggy shopping heaven, with hundreds of trade stands selling everything from grooming equipment to KONGs, clothing for both dogs and humans, dog beds and collars and everything in between. There will also be the opportunity to support charities such as Birmingham Dogs Home and Guide Dogs. Fans of canine cartoons will be excited to hear that Rupert Fawcett (‘Off the Leash’) will have his own trade stand (Hall 5, stand 23) and will be available to sign books between 11am and 3pm on every day of the show. Don’t forget to nab as many free dog food samples as possible! When the exhaustion sets in from plodding round the enormous halls, there is the Main Arena (otherwise known as the Genting Arena) with a programme packed full of dog sports and displays for you to enjoy while you take a break. If you fancy something more ‘hands on’ there is the Discover Dogs area where you can talk to the owners of over 200 different breeds, pick up some information leaflets and of course have a bit of a cuddle with some friendly pooches. Discover Dogs is always a hit and can become quite crowded, particularly around the popular breeds, but it’s a great opportunity to get some advice from the people who really know their dogs.
Plan your day carefully – you don’t want to miss any great displays or competitions. Timetables for the Main Arena, Good Citizen Dog Scheme Ring and Young Kennel Club Ring are all available on the official Crufts website now, so head on over there and plan your other activities around anything that you want to catch (printing off your own timetable is also a cheaper alternative to buying a programme on the day). My personal favourite is flyball – the atmosphere of the finals is incredible! The display from the dog unit at West Midlands Police is another highlight, and the team return year after year to give a demonstration of their amazing canine crime fighters. You don’t need an extra ticket to watch the group judging at the end of each day (apart from Best in Show on Sunday), so if you’re still around in the evening be sure to head to the Main Arena to see which breed wins the title of best in group.
‘Human food’ at Crufts is quite expensive, so you may want to take a packed lunch (although I can thoroughly recommend the hot pork baps on sale!). Don’t expect to easily find a comfortable and dog-free place to sit down as seats within the food area are limited – be prepared to sit on the floor or take your food into the arena with you. There are food outlets such as Subway within the NEC, but if you fancy something a little more classy there are various restaurants at the nearby Resorts World complex. Talking of expense, don’t forget that Crufts offers a discount off the entry price for students so make sure that you take your student ID with you!
Be respectful of any dogs that you encounter. Be mindful that they may be tired, and the show dogs on their benches are likely to be enjoying a well-earned rest. Talk to owners before you make a beeline for their dogs. You might come across flustered entrants rushing through the halls – they might be hurrying to their class or to get their dogs back to their benches so try not to obstruct them. As already mentioned, Discover Dogs is the best opportunity for photo opportunities and cuddles, with all of those dogs just waiting to be fussed over!
Crufts is very child friendly, with free admission for children under 12. Check out the Young Kennel Club (YKC), open to dog lovers between the ages of 6 and 24. The group has its own dedicated ring in Hall 3, where you can watch top young handlers compete. The ‘Safe and Sound’ display held in the Good Citizen Dog Scheme Ring is also a great way of teaching children how to interact safely with dogs. Finally, no Crufts visit would be complete without attempting to win a giant dog! There is usually a stand within the halls where you can either buy a toy dog or try to find a winning ticket and take one home for a couple of pounds. Speaking from experience, carrying a (remarkably realistic) giant Great Dane on your back around five halls is not much fun, so it’s probably best to leave that bit until nearer the end of the day…
If you’re a champion for Staffies then be sure to catch the East Anglian Staffordshire Bull Terrier Display Team – their agility antics take place this year in the Main Arena on Thursday morning. It’s always great fun and very rewarding to watch these dogs and their passionate owners laugh in the face of stereotypes as they have an absolute blast, hurtling around the agility course at top speed. Paul O’ Grady joined the display as a special guest a few years back – who knows whether another celebrity will put in an appearance this time? Either way, it’s a fantastic endorsement for the breed and is not to be missed.
Best in Show requires a separate ticket to general entry, so unless you are lucky enough to have one of these, you won’t be able to gain access to the arena on Sunday after 3:30pm, when the Working and Pastoral groups will be judged before the stage is set for the crowning of Best in Show. Not to worry – you will be able to watch Best in Show live on television. The coverage starts at 6pm on Channel 4. The rest of Crufts is also televised on both Channel 4 and More4. For full TV schedules please click here.
If you’re unable to visit Crufts this time, don’t forget that you can catch the events from the Main Arena live in your living room! The livestream will run throughout the four days and can be accessed via the official Crufts website and YouTube channel. This is also handy if you want to watch something which takes place on a different day to the one you attend. All of the events are then usually loaded separately onto YouTube.
Crufts takes place between the 9th and 12th March at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. For official information, please visit the Crufts website.
It is a sad fact that children under five are the demographic group most likely to be on the receiving end of a dog bite. Perhaps even sadder – and certainly more frustrating – is that such attacks are often caused by a family member’s pet rather than a strange dog. But how can such incidents be prevented? How can parents spot the warning signs and teach their offspring the correct manner in which to behave around dogs? The brand new title from ethical animal publishers Hubble & Hattie, Babies, Kids and Dogs, attempts to address these concerns and offers practical advice regarding dog behaviour and training with an emphasis on ensuring that the family pet remains exactly that – an animal to be respected, loved and enjoyed by all members of the family, young and old.
Authors Melissa Fallon and Vickie Davenport both have degrees in animal behaviour and a wealth of experience in dog training, alongside being parents themselves. With a foreword from Steve Mann, the founder of the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers (IMDT), the book immediately promises to be a useful tool for all dog owners, with or without young children. In less than 100 pages, the authors manage to cram in a heap of information, including everything from the potential causes of dog bites and how to spot stress signals, to a breakdown of training exercises to work on prior to the arrival of a baby.
The layout of the book is arranged so that the majority of text is broken up by a variety of full colour photographs, making for easy reading. In the case of the explanation of training exercises, the images complement the text nicely by offering an insight into how the tasks should be performed. Subheadings, such as ‘Potential problem behaviours/scenarios’ and ‘Respecting your dog’s food/resources’, are organised into five chapters – Assessing your dog, Preparation, Introducing the new family member, Toddler training and Raising children around dogs. One small criticism is that the first chapter contains quite a wide scope of information which deviates from its description of ‘Assessing your dog’ – perhaps the majority of this chapter would have been better suited to an extension of the introduction – and the page which details how to manage a reactive dog on the lead would have been better suited to the ‘Building confidence’ section instead. Despite this, the assessment chart itself offers an excellent starting point for identifying any areas which may trigger behavioural problems by incorporating a traffic light system to mark how well the dog appears to cope with stimuli, such as the presence of children and baby-related items. Tasks such as on-lead walking and the ability to give up toys are also included in the chart, which is further organised into ‘The Six Essentials’:
- Build confidence
- Walks/ exercise
- Flexible routine/energy
- Avoiding temper tantrums
- To chew or not to chew
- Establish boundaries
An interesting part of the book is the inclusion of ‘Charlie and Champ’ illustrations by artist Natasha Thompson, designed to encourage discussion about safe dog interaction with your child (see example ‘How do we know Champ is unhappy?’ below). Most notably is the image of ‘Charlie’ hugging the dog – the so-called cute photographs widely seen across the internet of toddlers climbing on uncomfortable dogs recreated in cartoon form. While preventing children from teasing the family pet or pulling their tail is (hopefully) obvious, unfortunately many dog owners are oblivious when it comes to recognising the signs of stress or attempts at avoidance behaviour, making the more subtle body language that ‘Champ’ demonstrates a vital lesson for parents too.
Overall, Babies, Kids and Dogs offers an excellent insight into dog behaviour in relation to life with children. Its accessible format, with a successful balance between theory and practical training advice, makes the book a valuable resource which should be on the bookshelves of all parents and dog owners. It would not be unrealistic to say that this publication has the capability to educate the public and therefore have an impact on the reduction of instances of dog bites on children.
‘Babies, Kids and Dogs’ (Hubble & Hattie, September 2016) can be purchased directly from the publishers here.
I recently wrote a piece for anti Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) campaign group Born Innocent about the flawed Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 which can be viewed here.
Today marks 25 years since the Dangerous Dogs Act came into force, introducing breed specific legislation to the UK for the first time. Since August 1991, thousands of dogs have been seized and often euthanised under ‘Section 1’ of the Act which prohibits four types of dog, originally chosen due to their size and fighting heritage. The most common of the types, the Pit Bull Terrier, is a much maligned and misunderstood breed. As a result of Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act, dogs which share the characteristics of a ‘Pit Bull’ can not be rehomed, even if they have passed temperament tests conducted by qualified dog behaviourists. Those who already own a dog which is deemed to be ‘of type’ have to attend court in order to have their dog exempted by law, a lengthy process which often goes on for months, during which time their pet is held in secure kennels – an unfamiliar environment, often without daily exercise. Some of these dogs never return home.
Yet despite all of this, dog attacks are still on the rise in the UK. The Dangerous Dogs Act is a failed piece of legislation which has caused untold misery to so many dog owners and those who have the task of enforcing the law and dealing with its effects. Following the recent reports into the failings of breed specific legislation from both Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and the RSPCA, I caught up with Born Innocent, a campaign group working for a full reform of the Dangerous Dogs Act. The group’s work and anti-breed specific legislation message has recently been openly supported by TV dog trainer Victoria Stilwell. Here’s what they had to say…
Hi, Born Innocent! Can you tell us about your organisation and who is involved?
We are a non-profit campaigning group seeking to introduce a scientific-based, breed neutral strategic approach to dog legislation, with a focus on preventative measures. Born Innocent is formed of a committee of six professionals, all with wide experience in dog rescue, animal welfare, campaigning and political lobbying. Our Chair, Ms Frannie Santos-Mawdsley, is a senior international marketer, with a 20 year career in data and insight analysis. Our Advisory Committee is led by Shakira Miles, CEVA’s Veterinary Nurse of the Year 2016, and is counselled by veterinary professionals, trained behaviourists and scholars. Alongside Ms Miles we have Marie Yates, a writer and social entrepreneur who loves dogs. Marie is the co-founder and director of Canine Perspective CIC, a social enterprise using force-free dog training to make a positive change to the lives of humans and rescue dogs. We are also fortunate to have Professor John Cooper QC as our patron.
What was the inspiration behind your logo, ‘Purple Patch’?
We wanted our identity to feel professional while at the same time being welcoming and inclusive. The inspiration for Purple Patch has three elements:
- Purple is a colour associated with responsibility: we promote responsible dog ownership.
- ‘Patch’: Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is a patchy piece of legislation that we can no longer ignore.
- The figure of a dog reaching out for assistance with his paw. Hopefully this speaks for itself!
These three elements combined, in the design of the logo, are the embodiment of Purple Patch.
Which areas of the Dangerous Dogs Act will Born Innocent be focusing on?
Our vision is the introduction of breed neutral legislation in the UK, with a supportive framework that fosters education, responsible ownership and bite prevention backed by scientific research. Hence, our focus is on a reform of the full current legislation.
Many animal welfare charities and other organisations such as the Kennel Club have previously spoken out against breed specific legislation. Why do you think that we have not yet seen any proposals to remove BSL from the Dangerous Dogs Act, despite evidence that it does not have any effect on the reduction of dog bite cases?
Whilst many leading organisations such as the Kennel Club have spoken against BSL, this is not their single area of focus. There has long been a misconception amongst the public (including politicians) of what breed specific legislation is, what it does and what it does not do! Often, the language used by the media and government is surrounded in jargon and folklore. On top of that, many organisations have focused on separate pieces of legislation and evidence, while still dealing with the ‘now’ (e.g. supporting owners or stray dogs).
What we are doing at Born Innocent that is different is bringing scientific, legal, financial, human, animal and societal considerations together in order to look at the full picture of how legislation affects our society.
Lately there has been a lot of publicity surrounding the Dangerous Dogs Act, following the seizure of Hank in Northern Ireland. Do you think that this has raised awareness of breed specific legislation amongst the general public?
Hopefully it is starting to make a difference. However, while we are still seeing certain breeds demonised by the press, we need to ensure that education and changing the dialogue around dog bite prevention remains at the centre of public debate.
If someone has had their dog seized as a suspected Section 1 ‘type’, what support is available for them?
There are support groups that can be found on social media, especially Facebook. It would be unfair to name one over another, but excellent daily case support is available. We often get messages and emails, and we will direct individuals to the most appropriate support for them, since Born Innocent focuses on campaigning. Most importantly is that the owner’s basic rights as a UK citizen are understood. You do not have to agree that you are guilty (because owning a suspected breed banned under Section 1 is a crime), nor to sign your dog over to the police to be euthanised. We believe that having an independent, court verified assessor who has had no previous links with the police is essential for impartial advice on whether the dog fits ‘type’ or not. Finally, there are many excellent solicitors who specialise in canine and animal law. Our legal advisors are Parry, Welch & Lacy who successfully handle complicated cases and, like us, believe in questioning type first and foremost before approaching the exemption route.
What would Born Innocent like to see as a replacement for the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 in its current form?
We would like to see a breed neutral legislation that focuses on the owners’ responsibility rather than a dog’s guilt. The last 25 years have taught us that focusing on breeds does not diminish bites. Looking at successful communities around the world, the positive results are in those where education comes first, supported by animal neutering and health programmes, together with increasing fines which are livelihood proportionate. Moreover, the police and Government are currently not focusing enough resources on a serious matter which is often linked to breed specific legislation – dog fighting. We would like to see the label “dog bred for fighting” removed from legislation, because the guilt is then placed on the dog. The case of the dogs saved from Mike Vick’s fighting ring in the US clearly demonstrates that even dogs previously involved in fighting can be rehabilitated. Hence, we need a piece of legislation that focuses on education, prevention and punishing people who are guilty, such as irresponsible and cruel handlers.
How does Born Innocent intend to lobby for change?
We conduct both empirical and desk research in various areas affected by the law, such as animal welfare, human rights, bite prevention, legal execution and husbandry and better ownership education, amongst others. We use our data-based findings in lobbying Parliament and the House of Lords, together with its subsidiary groups and legal advisors.
What’s the best way for supporters to get involved with your campaigns?
Our current key campaign is to lobby the Law Society on the review that they are conducting of unfair and discriminatory laws, by 31/10/16. We want them to advise the Government to scrap the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, as it is, according to many lawyers and barristers, “one of the worst pieces of law in the UK”.
We also encourage everyone to write to their own MP and to DEFRA. We have tips on letter writing which can be viewed on our website.
We update all of our social media daily. Visit our website at www.borninnocent.co.uk
Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/borninnocentdda/
Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @borninnocentdda
Four years after the controversial euthanasia of family pet Lennox, Belfast City Council are once again in the breed specific legislation spotlight following the seizure of two year old crossbreed Hank. Hank was allegedly removed from his home by a total of four dog wardens and eight police officers on July 14th, according to owner Leonard Collins. Collins created the petition ‘Save Hank’ on change.org, which has reached over 100,000 signatures worldwide. A Facebook page of the same name has also received a great deal of support, with almost 50,000 likes.
Hank’s owners appeared on ITV’s This Morning programme earlier today, alongside behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford. Despite Eamonn Holmes’ irrelevant dog faeces tangent, and comments made by Ruth Langsford about Staffordshire Bull Terrier crosses potentially having “pit bull traits”, the plight of Hank was successfully brought to the attention of the public. Issues were also raised about the treatment and welfare of seized dogs. Collins stated that despite Belfast City Council describing Hank as “aggressive”, they have promised to release him “straight away” if it is deemed that he is not of Pit Bull type. If this is true, there is clearly a difference in opinion over Hanks’ temperament, since his owners describe him as an affectionate family pet. However, since it is also alleged that Hank has not been exercised since last Thursday, together with him being in a strange kennel environment, it is possible that the dog has indeed shown signs of aggression. This alone shows how ludicrous the law is, since a reprieve for a dog deemed to be of Pit Bull type exhibiting “aggressive behaviour” would be extremely unlikely. It also demonstrates how it is impossible to receive an accurate picture of the dog’s normal behaviour in such circumstances.
Holmes’ concerns about the temperament of Bella, the exempted dog sat on the sofa with Dr Mugford, demonstrated how the addition of a muzzle makes an otherwise friendly dog appear to be dangerous (Dr Mugford noted that he actually believes Bella to be a Labrador cross Hungarian Vizsla). Despite the uncertainty about Bull Breed types from the presenters, the response on Twitter by those using the hashtag #DeathRowDog was overwhelmingly in Hanks’ favour, with many expressing disgust at the idea that a dog can be taken away and put to sleep without any history of attacks. But sadly, public support will have no impact on the council’s decision regarding Hank’s fate. The petition to save Lennox in 2012 gained over 200,000 signatures and support from TV trainer Victoria Stilwell, yet the outcome for the dog remained the same. Worryingly, today the Belfast Telegraph have reported that ex police dog handler Peter Tallack has been appointed to assess Hank – the same expert who assessed Lennox.
Belfast City Council stated that they received abuse following the euthanasia of Lennox. Hank’s owners have been keen to emphasise that they realise that the staff involved in the seizure of their dog are simply doing their jobs, and see the situation as “the perfect opportunity to challenge breed specific legislation”. Their crowd funding campaign, which originally aimed to raise £5000 for Hanks’ legal fees, has now raised over £13,000. Following the destruction of Lennox, Victoria Stilwell wrote on her blog, “We must learn from this and make Lennox and his family’s struggle a rallying cry for change”. Sadly, for those outside of anti-BSL circles, Lennox soon faded from memory, rather like how the story of Cecil the Lion or Harambe the Gorilla captured everyone’s hearts… for a while. Despite the efforts of campaigners, there was no major public rallying cry for Pit Bull types. And yet these are not wild animals caught up in human ignorance. These are pets which share our homes and hearts. Dogs which have been targeted in the UK since the 90s. This is outdated legislation which has no place in our society and does not prevent dog attacks. How many more high profile cases like those of Lennox and Hank will we need before the rally cry really begins?
Dogs are man’s best friend. It’s about time that our legislation reflected this.
Please visit the ‘Save Hank’ Facebook page for updates.
The failures of the Dangerous Dogs Act were highlighted by British rap artist ‘Professor Green’ in his latest documentary produced for BBC Three, with assistance from organisations such as Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
From the start of the programme, the rapper was keen to emphasise that records of dog bites are currently at an all time high, despite the presence of breed specific legislation introduced in the early nineties. Himself an owner of an Aylestone Old Tyme English Bulldog called Arthur, Green noted that Bully breed owners are often tarred with the same brush and are used to being judged by other members of the public. Despite Arthur’s impressive size, it’s clear that he poses no threat – and the affection between the two of them is also obvious.
Viewers were introduced to ‘Reece’, who is involved in the breeding and sale of illegal Pit Bull types despite receiving a ban from owning dogs. The notion that countless litters are being produced by individuals with an ownership ban is stomach-churning and makes the criminalisation of genuine family pet owners all the more frustrating. One such owner is Louisa, who has to attend court in order to save her dog Charlie from euthanasia. Charlie had never bitten anyone, yet was unlucky enough to match a significant number of characteristics in order to be deemed ‘type’. As Green points out, even a matter of millimetres can make the difference between life or death for innocent dogs. Fortunately for Charlie, the courts granted exemption. Yet Charlie is just one of 5000 dogs seized in the last three years across the country, costing taxpayers millions.
It is estimated that there are currently as many Pit Bull types in the UK as there were at the time of the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act. The programme claims that breed specific legislation has only increased the popularity of Pit Bull types amongst those who take pleasure in knowing that their dog is an illegal breed. In addition to this, by focusing on specific types as opposed to the welfare and treatment of dogs, the Dangerous Dogs Act does nothing to prevent attacks from legal breeds, such as those which fatally mauled Jade Anderson in 2013. The documentary features a short interview with Jade’s parents, who express anger at the fact that the owner of the dogs, which were underfed and rarely walked, did not receive a custodial sentence. The couple state that they do not believe that any particular breed of dog should be banned in the UK.
Towards the end of the programme, Green comes to the conclusion that the decision to ban the Pit Bull type was not only due to the high profile dog attack cases circulating throughout the media in 1991, but was also linked to the associations that the breed has with the “underclass”. Green believes that the ‘devil dog’ label and the widespread stereotype of criminal owners is an attempt to make the seizure of Pit Bull types appear justifiable, and does little to encourage any feelings of compassion towards either dog or owner. It is said that initial plans for Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act (breed specific legislation) included breeds such as the German Shepherd. In this sense, with the strong link between German Shepherds and the police, perhaps it is no wonder that it was the Pit Bull type that was banned instead.
“We thought that someone would come to their senses at some point” – Shaun Opperman, Director of Veterinary Services at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, on the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991
In addition to the documentary, a short video was also made available on YouTube, entitled ‘Dogs on Death Row’. In the clip, Green visits the main Battersea site, where last year 91 Pit Bull types were destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act (dogs deemed to be of illegal type can not be rehomed). A dog suspected to be of Pit Bull type is brought in to the centre during filming. The dog, named Caramel by the staff, is clearly a friendly and well mannered dog, despite being found on the streets. It is a tense moment when the measurements taken by the Dog Legislation Officer are announced – seeing this lovely dog being put to sleep would be heartbreaking – yet thankfully this time it is a happy outcome. Green also talks to Shaun Opperman, the head vet at Battersea, who has no choice other than to put down healthy dogs if they match a significant number of Pit Bull type characteristics. Opperman expresses his disdain for the Dangerous Dogs Act and says that it is “nonsensical” to euthanise dogs of sound temperament, adding that when the law originally came into effect he did not believe that it would still be here, 25 years on.
The reintroduction of dog licences is one suggestion put forward in the documentary as an alternative to breed specific legislation, with stricter penalties for those who own larger breeds. However, Green believes that no politician will “put their neck on the line” to challenge the Pit Bull ban, since they would potentially face a huge backlash should an attack happen following their decriminalisation. Yet it has already been established that there has not been a reduction in Pit Bull numbers since 1991. The ‘wrong’ type of owner who would potentially create a ‘dangerous dog’ is not waiting for the Pit Bull type to be made legal – they already have one. Surely those in favour of focusing on four particular breeds of dog, three of which hardly ever seen in the UK, should be the ones to face any sort of backlash when a child is attacked by a ‘legal’ breed.
Breed specific legislation is not preventing dog bites. Everyone can see this, from the British Veterinary Association and the Kennel Club to victims of dog attacks and now even Professor Green.
So why can’t our Government?
‘Professor Green: Dangerous Dogs’ is available now on BBC Three.
A book containing the innermost thoughts of a poo-rolling, Kindle-eating, fish-hiding, seafaring rescue Lurcher may not exactly be at the top of your ‘must read’ list. But it should be.
Worzel, or ‘Worzel Wooface’ to give him his full title, was adopted from Hounds First Sighthound Rescue by author Catherine Pickles. After starting a Facebook page to provide updates on his progress, Catherine soon found that Worzel – and his unique ‘voice’ – was a hit, and ‘The Quite Very Actual Adventures of Worzel Wooface’ was born: the book Catherine says she never meant to write, about the dog she never meant to have.
The book is 140 pages long and is presented in a diary-entry style, starting from the day that Worzel first arrived. Worzel’s hilarious narrative, often echoing the exasperated expressions from the ‘hoomans’ around him, consists entirely of his own take on English (“I is covered in mud and fox poo, HAND cow poo, and I is being quite actual cross with hanyone who finks they is going to change this state of affairs”). Far from causing difficulties in ‘actual understandings’ of the book, this somewhat peculiar writing style provides many of the laugh out loud moments – such as Worzel referring to ‘being tense’ as “tents” and my personal favourite “in The Nile” for ‘in denial’. He also thinks that the computer is named “Uff”, from the noise Worzel’s ‘dad’ makes when he sits down to play computer games and says “Uff, I’m knackered”.
There is a variety of other canine pals featured in the book, including foster dog Pandora, a Wolfhound cross Bullmastiff who is so huge even at four months old that she earned the nickname ‘Pandora the Fridge’. The fiery personalities of the family cats ensure that there is never a dull moment for Worzel, or indeed for Worzel’s mum who sometimes has to deal with “Distressed Mouses in Hawkward Circumstances” and a certain incident involving a dead squirrel and the kettle. But Worzel is undoubtedly the star of the show. The various vet trips which he has to endure are both amusing and painfully familiar for anyone who has ever had to struggle with an anxious dog on the examination table. When given some ear drops, he comments that “Sally-the-Vet did give the rest of the bottle to Mum, so I fink Mum must have gunk in her ears as well”. Worzel’s antics at home are just as hysterical, from leaving his rather too realistic-looking toy rat in the bathroom to burying half-eaten pieces of mackerel in his bed.
Yet hidden amongst all the giggles is the serious side of the story. Worzel is a rescue dog and is not without issues, taking 11 months to be able to play with Catherine, and refusing to engage in ‘normal’ dog behaviour such as eating food that has been dropped on the floor – something which the family think he was punished for doing in the past. In this sense, the book is a tribute to other rescue animals who may have not necessarily had the best start in life, but are now living life to the full thanks to the patience and efforts of their new families.
I for one think that Worzel truly is a “luffly boykin”, and can’t wait to read his next book.
‘The Quite Very Actual Adventures of Worzel Wooface’ (Hubble & Hattie, March 2016) can be purchased here.
You can follow his latest adventures at Worzel’s Facebook page or on Twitter @Worzel_Wooface
Crufts, the world’s biggest dog show, celebrated its 125th anniversary this year. Sadly, as usual the event didn’t pass without controversy, as The Kennel Club once again came under fire for allowing a “deformed” German Shepherd Dog to advance to best of breed. Viewers who witnessed the television footage of the dog in the main arena on Saturday night expressed shock and disbelief at the sight of the visibly distressed animal, and since the dog barely managed a trot around the ring, the majority of the footage was abruptly cut short (the ‘full’ version of the clip can be seen here). But German Shepherds with extreme sloping backs winning at Crufts is nothing new – search on YouTube for any year of pastoral group judging (like this one from 2012, German Shepherd at 21:25 minutes, or this one from 2015, with a more obvious sloping back at 20:01) and you will see how the ‘frog-legged’ German Shepherds never fail to appear.
Compare the two photographs below. The dog on the left is Ramacon Swashbuckler, Crufts Best in Show for 1971. On the right is Cruaghaire Catoria, the dog at the centre of this year’s controversy. Although the 1971 champ’s back isn’t straight, particularly in comparison to most ‘working line’ dogs, it is clearly a different animal to the show line German Shepherd of today.
However, the Crufts team on Channel 4 were quick to address the issue during the following night’s programme. Perhaps in previous years it would have been easier to sweep the negative press under the carpet, but thanks to advances in social media, it seemed like everyone was talking about the German Shepherd, making it impossible to ignore. But the ‘discussion’ on live TV still left us wondering how on Earth the dog managed to achieve the title of best of breed. And talking about one individual dog is not going to change anything, either – there is a much bigger picture here, for it seems that there is major conflict between the views of show judges and the majority of the public as to what constitutes a healthy example of a German Shepherd Dog. Take a look at the breed standard, which emphasises that the dog should be “fit for function” and able to perform “traditional work” – even the tiny illustration of a German Shepherd in the top right corner looks nothing remotely like Catoria. And so arguing over whether one individual animal should be present in the competition is futile when it appears that judges are actively working against the breed standard, and this is clearly something which has been happening for many years. Drastic steps now need to be taken, otherwise the best of breed German Shepherd for next year’s show could well be a Catoria clone – or worse.
From all this, it may seem like I am one of the many people who refuse to visit Crufts over ‘cruelty’ fears. Not so! I adore Crufts. In fact, I jokingly refer to it as the highlight of my year (ok, maybe I’m not even joking). For three days of the show I was glued to the livestream from the main arena, hooked on the various stages of agility and flyball competitions. Since Crufts is local to us, being held in Birmingham since 1991, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to attend the show for almost as long as I can remember, and this year was no exception. Friday was an action-packed day as me and my dog-loving friend exhausted all five halls of the NEC, chowed down on what has now become the ‘traditional’ Crufts pork bap and met lots of breeds at Discover Dogs. As always, though, the arena programme was the highlight and we welcomed the opportunity to rest our aching feet and watch some of the best agility dogs from around the world compete, including the wonderful Ashleigh and Pudsey.
My genuine affection for Crufts is probably one of the reasons why I feel so disappointed that such an odd-looking German Shepherd was presented as the best example of its breed. With such obvious disregard for animal welfare, is it any wonder that the BBC dropped its television coverage of the event back in 2009? It is perhaps also the reason why the RSPCA’s #dogsbeingdogs made my hackles rise. The idea behind the hashtag was for people to share photos of their pets in their natural environment as a ‘true’ celebration of dogs. When I saw the hashtag I couldn’t help but think that I’d seen plenty of examples of ‘dogs being dogs’ at Crufts – from the amazing West Midlands Police Dog Unit display, to the unbridled excitement of the flyball teams, the unmistakable bond between assistance dog and disabled owner, the talent and training abilities shown during heelwork to music routines… The list goes on. The trade stands also provide a great opportunity for canine charities to promote their work, something which the RSPCA now miss out on since withdrawing their support from the show.
During our day at Crufts I didn’t see one dog that looked mistreated. Tired, yes, but abused? Definitely not. And yet there are clearly issues with pedigree dogs and the standards by which they are judged. This is where we have to be careful with the use of the term ‘cruel’. For while the public branded Catoria’s breeder cruel for producing such a deformed looking dog, the general idea of creating a dog like Eric the Pekingese – an animal which, in its ‘show coat’, is about as far removed from the natural wolf-like state as you could possibly get – was seen as some sort of joke. It seems very hypocritical to complain about the state of the German Shepherd while sharing pictures of Eric photoshopped on to Donald Trump’s head.
‘Cruel’ should be a term reserved for dog fighters or people who abandon their pets at the side of the road (or worse still, move house and leave them to starve to death). It seems wrong to refer to such an amazing and enjoyable event as cruel, with no evidence of malnourished or abused dogs. There are undoubtedly many flaws when it comes to The Kennel Club and its breed standards, but there are also positive sides to the organisation too, as pointed out by ‘Supervet’ Noel Fitzpatrick on the show. In my view, the heart of Crufts is a celebration of dogs. There has to be other ways of putting pressure on the Kennel Club to change its ways; boycotting the whole event for fear of ‘supporting cruelty’ really would be barking mad.