Tagged: german shepherd dog

Boycott Crufts? You’d have to be barking mad

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.

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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.

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Our view of the agility course in the main arena

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.

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‘Eric’

‘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.

What’s in a name?

“This name is not often bestowed seriously but rather in jest. Perfect for the dog who leads burglars to the family silver and runs from the neighbourhood cat”.

The above description, taken from a ‘Choosing Dog Names’ book, is for the name ‘Killer’. The recent tragedy involving a pit bull type of this name demonstrates that there are dog owners out there incapable of understanding that the name is best used ironically. Far from running, ‘Killer’ had reportedly attacked the neighbourhood cat in 2012. Full details of the incident, in which 11 month old Ava-Jayne Corless died as a result of her injuries inflicted by the dog, are as yet unknown, however it appears that the dog was one of at least two kept at the property and had also previously intimidated neighbours. Clearly the dog should not have been housed with small children, let alone allowed to enter a room with a baby on its own. It is another case of how the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 does not protect the public, since when an attack does happen it is too late – both for the child and the dog – while hundreds of dogs with wonderful temperaments are needlessly euthanised.

Back to the name itself. Whilst ‘Killer’ would be an amusing name for a Chihuahua, the larger the dog is the more important it becomes to choose a name without any negative connotations. Bully breeds are already viewed with enough (usually unfounded) suspicion without a tough nickname added to the mix. Of course, owners of dogs such as Killer already know this, which is exactly why they give such a title to their dog. ‘Killer’ was probably never intended to be a family pet and was instead made into an aggressive status dog. But how much influence does a dog’s name really have on its behaviour?

An experiment devised by Professor Stanley Coren aimed to answer this question. 291 university students were given a brief description of a dog, along with its name, and were shown a short video clip of various scenes involving a German Shepherd barking and jumping up at a person before being pushed away. The students were then asked to select adjectives from a list which best described the dog’s behaviour from what they had seen; both positive and negative attributes were listed. The important part of the experiment, of which the students were unaware, was that the name of the dog within the descriptions differed. Half of the group had been informed that the dog’s name was tough sounding, such as Killer, Ripper, Butcher or even Assassin, while the other half thought that the dog’s name was a popular pet name such as Buddy or Lucky. Interestingly, the results showed that the students who were under the impression that the dog had a violent name were three times more likely to view the dog as aggressive than the students who had received a positive sounding name on their description. The students were also asked to describe the video clip in their own words, and descriptions from the group with tough names went along the lines of “The dog saw a man and didn’t like him. The dog barked at him and tried to jump on him to make him go away, but the man pushed him off before he could be bitten”. In contrast, the positive name group thought that the dog was barking to greet the man and that the jumping up was playful rather than intimidating.

If a name can have such an impact on our perception of a dog, then reactions to the dog will also be influenced by it. If the students in the experiment were interacting with the German Shepherd rather than watching a video, it is likely that their actions would correspond with their words; those who thought ‘Assassin’ was about to bite their arm off would probably run a mile. The way that people react to dogs plays a significant role in their behaviour since dogs communicate mostly via body language. ‘Assassin’ may be the friendliest dog in the world, yet when faced with a terrified, screaming student with waving arms he could become stressed and may bark or even lunge if he felt threatened and unable to escape. Or, if the student did indeed run away, the dog may have given chase, reinforcing the student’s view that the dog was dangerous.

The name that you choose for your dog not only reflects yourself but also creates an impression of your dog, which could result in harmless behaviours being misinterpreted– potentially leading to behavioural issues around people.

By the way, this is my new puppy. His name? Dave.

See Dr Coren’s original article on the name experiment here.