The “world’s biggest dog show” opens in Birmingham, England, today, March 7, 2013, and this year 20,566 dogs make up 23,164 conformation entries.
More than 2,000 dogs from overseas are entered at Crufts this year, the highest foreign entry ever. A total of 2,131 dogs from 41 different countries will take part at the show, including dogs from Hong Kong, India, Indonesia and Malaysia, none of which have previously been represented.
In January of 2011, the Kennel Club in England announced that at Crufts 2012, and at general and Group championship shows afterward, Best of Breed winners in 15 “high profile” breeds would have to pass a veterinary examination and “be given a clean bill of health” by the show’s veterinary surgeons before they would be allowed to continue on to Group competition. The breeds affected were Basset Hounds, Bloodhounds, Bulldogs, Chinese Cresteds, Chows, Clumber Spaniels, Dogues de Bordeaux, French Bulldogs, German Shepherds, Mastiffs, Neapolitan Mastiffs, Pekingese, Pugs, Saint Bernards and Shar-Pei. The Chinese Crested was subsequently removed from the list. The Kennel Club determined that all of the other high profile breeds have physical and/or temperament issues that require monitoring.
The Kennel Club maintains a section on its website called Breed Watch, where one can select each of the high profile breeds and find information about the areas of concern for those breeds. There are in fact breeds in addition to those labeled high profile for which “particular points of concern” are listed.
For instance, among others, Afghan Hounds, Bearded Collies, Bedlington Terriers and Gordon Setters all have points of concern, and although the website says that these features are “derived from health surveys, a meeting of Kennel Club Group judges, feedback from judges at shows and consultation with individual breed clubs/councils,” not all of these points are related to health. The concerns listed for Bearded Collies, as one example, are “excessively long coats” and “legs too short in proportion to length of body.” “Excessively long coats” is also listed for Keeshonden, and under Gordon Setters one finds “Excessively thick woolly” coats needing attention. With the high profile breeds, however, at least one of the listed concerns is related to the health or well-being of dogs, many related to eye problems, skin conditions, breathing issues and temperaments.
At Crufts in March 2012, six dogs were not allowed to move on to Group competition after their veterinary exams: the Basset Hound, Bulldog, Clumber Spaniel, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff and Pekingese. The Kennel Club, not surprisingly and rightly so, emphasized the nine breeds that did pass their exams rather than those that didn’t. Naturally, however, owners and breeders focused on the fact that those particular breeds were forced to undergo examinations to compete, and some were then disqualified.
Before the show was even over, an uproar began against the Kennel Club, and indeed a formal group was almost immediately formed by fanciers in the U.K. called the Canine Alliance to address concerns about the new system and to attempt to work with the Kennel Club to find a way to genuinely assess the health status of purebred dogs. The Canine Alliance now has members worldwide.
The question on many minds is whether the introduction of veterinary checks for the 14 breeds, and the fact that six failed to pass last year, affected the entry this year. What is perhaps most surprising is that, as Billy Wheeler reported in a recent installment of “The Back Story,” entries overall are down only slightly from last year at Crufts. The 2012 entry, at 23,469, was just three percent higher than this year. In some of the high profile breeds the entry figures have actually risen, despite the fact that many fanciers in those breeds threatened to boycott Crufts and other U.K. championship shows.
The entries in French Bulldogs, German Shepherds and Pekingese are all rather significantly higher than they were last year. The Pekingese entry went down 20 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, and this year has increased 18 percent, so perhaps, with all due respect to whoever judged them last year, Peke exhibitors had other reasons for not entering in 2012. Likewise the German Shepherd entry declined 16 percent from 2011 to 2012, and this year is back up 13 percent.
The entry numbers in the other high profile breeds are all over the map, as you can see by the chart above. The Dogue de Bordeaux entry rose 20 percent last year, but dropped 25 percent this year. The Shar-Pei entry declined much more from 2011 to 2012 than from last year to this.
Looking specifically at the breeds that did not make it to the Group last year, the Basset Hound entry appears to be on a steady sort of wave up, and then down. The entries from 2009 through 2012 were 141, 153, 167, 122 and 88. Bulldogs remain fairly steady. Pekes, as mentioned, are up 18 percent. The Clumber Spaniel entry dropped by nine dogs. The Mastiff entry dropped 22 percent, with 17 fewer dogs entered, and the Neapolitan Mastiff took the biggest plunge of all with 41 percent, or 14, fewer dogs entered this year than last, and 50 percent fewer than in 2011.
I don’t know for certain, of course, but I suspect that these differences are due to factors other than the veterinary checks. In any case, I think it’s clear that the veterinary checks were not the sole influence on this year’s entries. Do the entry figures in the high profile breeds reflect in any way the registration figures for the past five years?
The fact is that registrations in some breeds in the U.K. have increased over the past 10 years, while others have declined, as they no doubt have worldwide. Bulldog registrations in the U.K. steadily increased from 2,270 in 2003 to 3,522 in 2006 and on up to 4,746 in 2010. On the other hand, Bloodhound figures, according to Kennel Club figures, have declined steadily, from 126 in 2004 to 100 in 2007, back up 14 in 2008, but then down to 50 in 2012.
You can see that Basset and Bloodhound registrations, like their Crufts entries, have declined by similar rates. But there isn’t much similarity in the rise or fall of entry and registration figures for Chows, German Shepherds, Pekes, Pugs, Saint Bernards or Shar-Pei.
As an aside, one of the most interesting observations is that the three breeds among the high profile ones whose registration figures have increased in the U.K. over the past five years are all brachycephalic breeds, and all on the smaller side. Frenchie registrations have positively exploded, Pugs have increased more than 60 percent, and Bulldog registrations, while more modest, are still up. On the other hand, Bulldog and Pug entries at Crufts have decreased slightly, and although Frenchie entries are up, they’re not nearly in proportion to the increase in registrations in the breed.
My guess is that the majority of fanciers in the high profile breeds have decided to enter what is the most important show of the year in the U.K., veterinary checks be damned. The clubs for these breeds are reportedly working in cooperation with the Kennel Club to assure that their dogs are as healthy as possible, which I think proves what we’ve known all along: no one is more interested than breeders themselves in creating healthy, happy, purebred dogs that will live long and fruitful lives.
Here’s to a successful Crufts. Best In Show Daily’s Bo Bengtson will be at the show, and we’ll bring you reports each day on what’s happening and who is winning in Birmingham.