This Ugly Truth Behind the UK's Biggest Beauty Pageant for Dogs

If the Kennel Club changed the breed standards to put the welfare of the dogs first and only awarded prizes to those breeding healthy dogs, the lives of thousands if not millions of dogs could be improved.
Compassionate Eye Foundation/David Leahy via Getty Images

Underneath all the hairspray and pastel skirt suits, the cracks at Crufts are starting to show.

It's been a year that has been dogged with even more controversy than normal. With an alleged beating of a dog in the car park, stage invasions and various incidents of dogs being handled like toys including the Best in Show whose handler was awarded the top prize despite poor Knopa being picked up by her tail and throat. Over 100,000 people have signed petitions calling for the handler to be stripped of her prize, a request denied by the Kennel Club because it would be 'unfair on the dog'. I'm serious.

As part of my job, I was unfortunate enough to have to watch all nine hours worth of Crufts coverage. Don't me wrong, I am a dog lover and enjoy such shows as 'Dogs their Secret Lives', but there's something about Crufts and what it does to dogs that makes me extremely uncomfortable and at points, angry.

Not the nice bits of course, the heartwarming stories about dogs who help their humans lead a normal life or the ones leaping about enjoying agility. But the parts where dogs are paraded around and examined by an inspector on the look out for the 'perfect' dog that make me uncomfortable. Not unlike child beauty pageants in the US - where kids are dressed up like little dolls and made to preen and perform.

Despite this, the audience were quite persistently reminded that far from being a beauty contest for dogs, this was about 'function over form'.

Images from Crufts 2015 and indeed every other year however, tell a very different story. Dogs being held down and vigorously brushed, dogs in curlers, wearing makeup (like this Boxer dog - his face has been chalked up) and even having their whiskers cut and shaved off. While Crufts may appear to many be a slightly eccentric, but overall harmless, dog show - the ugliest scandal remains hidden underneath its glossy veneer.

In order to win dog shows, dogs are bred to achieve a certain 'desirable' look according to the the Kennel Club's 'breed standards' which set out what an 'ideal' example of that breed should look like. It's these standards which the dogs at Crufts are judged against.

However, some physical features have become so extreme over the years that they can cause many dogs chronic discomfort, pain and suffering throughout their lives and can even lead to their premature or painful deaths.

To name just a few examples of how the breeding of dogs with their looks ranked far ahead of their health and well being has damaged our dogs, there's the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It's shocking that up to 70% of Cavaliers suffer with a painful and often debilitating condition 'syringomyelia', this is because they've been bred in such a way that their head is often too small to accommodate their brain.

To take another example, dogs like pugs, bulldogs and pekingese have been bred with their faces so squashed back it means their nostrils and airways are extremely narrow. Many have difficulty breathing as compared to dogs with longer snouts and less exaggerated features and there is increasing incidents of these types of dogs having surgery to widen their airways just so they can breathe properly. If a dog need surgery to simply help them breathe, surely it's time to go back to the source and ask the question, why are we putting dogs in this position in the first place?

The problem is, there's little to no incentive for those at the top of their 'game' to improve the situation as each year Crufts merrily rewards those still breeding dogs with exaggerated physical features which can cause them pain, with trophies and rosettes.

If the Kennel Club changed the breed standards to put the welfare of the dogs first and only awarded prizes to those breeding healthy dogs, the lives of thousands if not millions of dogs could be improved. For an organisation which claims to be 'the UK's largest organisation dedicated to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs' you'd think this would be top priority, but despite calls for over seven years from the British Veterinary Association, RSPCA, Dogs Trust and even a select committee of MPs, very little has changed.

When you consider the scale of individual suffering of so many dogs over a prolonged period, the health and welfare issues plaguing our pedigree dogs represents an animal welfare scandal on a massive scale and Crufts 'the UK's biggest celebration of dogs' serves to sweep this issue even further under the carpet.

A true 'celebration of dogs' (whiskers and all) would drop this obsession with 'beauty', and focus on what's important: dog health, happiness and welfare. That's what most dog owners care about and if we are truly a nation of dog lovers, this is what should come first.

(All images RSPCA)

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