Bo Bengtson is in Birmingham, England where he asks some questions of Ronnie Irving, former Chairman of the Kennel Club and the man behind the controversial “Health Test” concept.

Nothing has caused such an explosive reaction among active dog people as the introduction at Crufts last year of health tests, which the winners of certain breeds had to pass at the show prior to being allowed to compete in the Group. Even people who felt that the initiative was well intentioned, and introduced in a genuine effort to improve purebred dogs, felt it was the wrong time and the wrong place to risk humiliating winners at this great dog show in such a public manner.

The dog press, in particular, was strong in its outright condemnation of the process. This includes Best In Show Daily, which received a record number of comments on last year’s story — almost all of them negative. We felt, in all fairness, that this year’s Crufts would allow us a good opportunity to present “the other side,” and I am grateful to the Kennel Club’s ex-chairman, Ronnie Irving, for talking to me and answering a number of questions. I promised to keep my own opinions out of it… so this is his view.

Ronnie Irving wants to emphasize the following: “What I am giving here are mostly my own personal opinions. I can answer for what happened and for decisions taken while I was still Chairman of the KC up until May 2011. But since then, having retired from the Committee, my knowledge of the current thinking of the KC General Committee is simply what I gather from its formal statements and press releases. I have added, at Appendix 1, the latest statements of the KC on the subject – made in December 2012.”

Former Kennel Club Chairman Ronnie Irving with one of his Border Terriers.

Bo Bengtson: Please outline the idea behind the introduction of the Health Tests at Crufts last year. Had any similar thing ever taken place at other shows?

Ronnie Irving: The health tests were introduced in an attempt to focus the minds of judges, breeders and exhibitors of the 14 breeds concerned even more clearly on avoiding certain physical exaggerations which could “adversely affect the health or welfare of the dog concerned.” It needs to be understood that these vet tests are just one aspect of a whole range of moves which have been introduced over several years to focus the attention of everyone in the U.K. dog fancy on health matters. The Kennel Club is keen to show that the hobby of dog showing can be used as a lever for change for the positive benefit of purebred dogs. The other measures introduced include:

  • • Establishment of a Kennel Club Dog Health Group in 2002;
  • • Appointment of health co-ordinators for all 200 plus recognised breeds;
  • • Regulation amendments to require attention to be paid to any physical issues that could adversely affect the dog;
  • • Requirement for judges of high profile breeds to submit health reports after each judging assignment;
  • • Spot check monitoring of judges’ performance in the fourteen high profile breeds;
  • • Meetings with the breed clubs concerned to discuss health issues and the steps that need to be taken to eliminate over exaggerated features;
  • • Holding of joint KC/breed club seminars on the major issues.

The view was that some judges were not paying sufficient attention to these issues and that some further proactive monitoring should take place to ensure the effectiveness of all of the moves.

Something that Americans should perhaps be reminded of is that in the U.K. about 80 percent of judges are breed specialists and on occasion such judges do sometimes pay too much attention to certain breed features at the expense of soundness of conformation. This can, at times, result in the acceptance of over-exaggeration. I am well aware that in the U.S.A. the vast majority of judges are multi-breed judges, not specialists.

Veterinary examinations had been carried out at shows previously — particularly at Crufts. This had taken place, for example, if one of the KC’s judge observers believed a dog was being rewarded which was in any way suffering from a condition that could adversely affect its health or welfare. Such dogs could be, and were, referred to the show veterinary surgeon. As it happens, I think only one of the dogs which were reported to and examined by the veterinary surgeon was asked to withdraw. The problem with this system, which still exists for all breeds and could easily be used for issues such as lameness, is that the judge observers cannot, without it becoming obtrusive, get close enough to the dogs to really make their assessment as effective as necessary.

BB: What was the reason they were introduced at this particular time? Why at Crufts? If the idea was to attract as much attention as possible at such a high profile event, do you feel that this in any way backfired?

RI: The reason that Crufts was chosen for the initiation of routine veterinary testing of the 14 Best of Breed winners was because the then-KC General Committee felt it was only right that the KC’s own show should be the place where the whole procedure was started. It was felt that it would have been unfair to ask other show organisers to be the first testing ground for the procedure. With hindsight, that was probably an unwise decision, but it was a decision taken with the best of intentions. (What is it they say: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!”)

BB: Was the reaction more negative than expected?

RI: My own view was that the reaction both at and immediately after Crufts last year was totally over the top and out of all proportion. Emotions were stirred up and near hysteria ensued. Anyone reading some reports of the show would have gained the impression that the world as we know it was about to come to an end. The proof of this over-reaction is that despite all the threats of legal action at the time, as far as I know not one single legal case was brought. After the first few shows following Crufts, at which some exhibitors refused to submit their dogs to the vet tests, the matter has settled down into a fairly routine pattern. This year at Crufts 2013, despite all of the predictions to the contrary last year and forecasts of boycotts, etc., the 14 high profile breeds involved have attracted a total entry of 1,503 dogs as compared to 1,585 last year. That small fall of 82 dogs is about the same in percentage terms as the overall drop in total Crufts entries this year to just over 20,500 qualified dogs entered. It is also wise to keep this whole thing in perspective by remembering that the high profile breeds constitute only about seven percent of the total Crufts entry.

BB: How have you responded to the inevitable criticism? Do you feel the media has been largely fair in its treatment of the subject?

RI: As far as the media’s treatment of the issue is concerned, in my view some parts of the canine media treated the issue very fairly and very well, other parts treated it unfairly and badly. As far as the UK national media were concerned, the move met with almost universal approval.

As to the question, “How have you responded to the inevitable criticism?” it has not been for me to respond, since I am no longer a spokesman for the KC. (See Appendix 1 for recent KC comments.)

BB: How were the breeds included in the Health Tests selected? Is there a possibility that some of them will be taken off the list, and is there a risk that others will be added? How is this determined?

RI: The breeds selected had been the subject of many years of special attention going back a long time. In 2002 a group, now the KC Dog Health Group but then called the KC Breed Health and Welfare Strategy Group, was set up. The Council of Europe had, in 1987, agreed [with] what is called “The European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals”(ECPPA). In fact, it was Article 10 of that convention which eventually led the British Government, and most of the other governments of the countries that make up the European Union, to introduce anti tail docking legislation, despite major opposition from kennel clubs and dog breeders from nearly all of the countries concerned.

In 1995, a review of the original 1987 convention was carried out and an additional section was published which was far more draconian than the original wording of the ECPPA itself. As well as confirming and reinforcing the convention’s position on docking, the revisions also turned to the subject of the selection of dogs for breeding. They agreed to “encourage breeding associations to reconsider breed standards in order, if appropriate, to amend those which can cause welfare problems to select animals taking into account not only aesthetic criteria but behavioural characteristics and (working) ‘abilities’ to ensure, by information and education of breeders and judges, that breed standards are interpreted in such a way as to counteract the development of extreme characteristics that can cause welfare problems.”

It went on to say that governments should “consider, if these measures are not sufficient, prohibiting the breeding and phasing out of exhibiting and selling certain types or breeds with ‘harmful defects.’” The additional section of the convention went on to list various conditions in more than 40 breeds of purebred dog, including, of course, the Bulldog, the Pekingese, the Pug, the Basset Hound, the Bloodhound, the Shar Pei, the St. Bernard and the Chow Chow. Some of the other breeds listed were Airedale Terriers, Dandie Dinmont Terriers, English Cocker Spaniels, all varieties of Dachshunds, Boxers, Newfoundlands — and so the list goes on, with a total of over 40 breeds.

The conditions that the convention concentrated on were as follows: eyes with a disposition to entropion or ectropion; large protruding eyes; skin diseases; long ears; lameness; breathing difficulties; and loose skin and skin folds.

It became increasingly clear to me that, for the Kennel Club, an “ostrich-like” burying of its head in the sand was not a sensible approach to adopt towards this issue. That is why, when I became KC Chairman in 2002, we set up the group that is now known as the KC Dog Health Group, and we set about conducting a thorough study of all breeds. That study resulted in the KC removing from the European convention’s list most of those breeds that appeared to have been included on little or no scientific evidence.

However, on the basis of health surveys and other scientific evidence, we left in the Bulldog, the Chow Chow, the Shar Pei, the Pekingese, the Pug, the Basset Hound, the Bloodhound and St. Bernard, and added the Neapolitan Mastiff, the Mastiff, the Dogue de Bordeaux, the German Shepherd Dog, the French Bulldog and the Clumber Spaniel. The supporters of some of these breeds themselves, recognising the potentially fatal dangers that the convention brought with it, actually asked to be included in the work that then ensued. (Actually a 15th breed was added to the list at the last minute – the Chinese Crested – to prevent the breed being shaved – and then it was removed from the list when the message got through to exhibitors.)

Therefore, for a period of about 10 years the Kennel Club Health Group had been holding regular meetings with the breeds concerned, stressing the need for improvement and agreeing on means to that end. In addition, there is no doubt that most of the breeds involved in these meetings have grasped the nettle very firmly and enthusiastically tackled the problems that they accept do in fact exist. Most of the people and clubs involved are now working very constructively with the Kennel Club to address the issues.

I think there is a strong possibility that some of the breeds will, sooner or later, be removed from the list, especially if they continue to have a clean bill of health at the veterinary inspections and have good reports coming in from the judges and judge monitors. But I also think that the way forward will be for there to be various levels of surveillance. The KC already has something called “Breed Watch,” which indicates emerging exaggeration issues. I think that it might be sensible for this to be extended so that breeds which come off the high profile list remain under some surveillance within Breed Watch. In addition, Breed Watch and an extended degree of judges’ reports on the breeds on that list could be used to decide if any of the “emerging” problems are becoming serious enough for new breeds to be added to the high profile group. But that’s for the future, and my influence over that aspect is now zero.

BB: How were the veterinarians who performed the examinations selected? How many were there?

RI: It was decided for Crufts to bring in two “independent” veterinary surgeons – to indicate an indisputable level of independence. The two vets chosen were selected by the KC Chairman and the President of the British Veterinary Association. At this stage I had ceased to be involved, but I think it’s true to say that when this aspect of the plan for Crufts was announced, a number of people immediately felt that the normal Crufts Veterinary Team should have been left to carry out the testing. (They will do so this year.) Many people thought that the regular team members were accustomed to dog shows and the breeds involved, and knew the issues. They maintained that “a vet is a vet is a vet” and that any practising veterinary surgeon must have enough professional integrity to act independently in any case. As it turned out, one of the vets chosen had already acted as a show vet for the UK Toydog Society and has done so subsequently quite successfully. The other has bred dogs and had exhibited them in the past.

BB: Where were the examinations performed? Roughly how detailed were they, and was the owner/handler permitted to be present?

RI: I think that the examinations were carried out in specially constructed areas within the halls – but I don’t have any details of that. At subsequent shows the inspection was done in whatever part of the show the vet was based. One of the persons accompanying the exhibitors at Crufts was someone who is normally very polite and helpful, and was chosen for that reason. Some of the subsequent reports, however, painted him as some kind of ogre!

BB: What specifically were the veterinarians instructed to look for, and did this vary from breed to breed? How exactly were they told to define a “healthy” dog that would pass vs. one that was not healthy and could not pass?

RI: The veterinary surgeons were asked to make only a veterinary visual observation to establish whether the dog’s health and welfare was compromised. They were told that it was not intended in any way for the veterinary surgeon to act as a show judge of conformation or breed specific characteristics. The veterinary surgeon was told not to make a diagnosis and not to evaluate the dogs for conformational characteristics which were of an aesthetic nature only. They were told to consider only issues capable of affecting health or welfare.

They were also advised, “For example, a dog should not fail the examination because it has a short muzzle,unless there is associated difficulty with respiration; a dog should not fail the examination because it has a roached back, unless there is associated lameness or ataxia.” The instructions also said: “The veterinary surgeon is not expected to use any diagnostic aids; this is an external, visual examination only. It is the responsibility of the show organisers to arrange satisfactory ambient lighting, so that there is no need for supplementary lighting to be used when carrying out the examination.” (A short film showing what happens during a veterinary health check at General and Group Championship dog shows has been released by the Kennel Club.)

The following main clinical signs were flagged as things to look for:

  • • Externally visible eye disease (current or healed), ocular pain or visual impairment;
  • • Lameness;
  • • Dermatological disorders such as inflammation or evidence or previous infection;
  • • Respiratory effects or noise, if associated with distress (at rest or with light exercise).

The examination was to be an objective assessment to check for visible signs of pain or discomfort resulting from exaggerated conformation. The veterinary surgeons also had their attention drawn to the main areas of concerns in the 14 breeds involved. (See Appendix 2 for the detailed list of what the vets were told to look for in general terms.)

BB: Had exhibitors been informed that tests would be performed on BOB winners?

RI: Exhibitors had been warned well in advance that this procedure was to take place. And the Crufts schedule (premium list) last year prominently listed the various “high profile” breeds and said, “The Kennel Club is committed to the health and welfare of dogs and to ensuring that healthy dogs are being exhibited and given awards at shows. The Best of Breed award relevant to a high profile breed cannot be confirmed until the dog has passed an examination by the Show’s official Veterinary Surgeon. If the dog fails to pass the examination it is ineligible to compete in the relevant group.”

Part II of Bo’s interview with Mr. Irving will appear on Best In Show Daily tomorrow. —Editor



Following are the most recent quotes from what the Kennel Club said about the vet testing issue in December 2012. They appeared in a Kennel Club press release, which also gave the statistics of the number of dogs tested, etc., as mentioned in our interview.

Kennel Club Chairman Steve Dean said: “We are very aware of how difficult the introduction has been for many of the breeds, where breeders and exhibitors have seen it as a spotlight being shone unfairly on a small number of breeds. However, I think that these statistics show without doubt that the results have been overwhelmingly positive. We are all aware of the media scrutiny that pedigree dogs and their breeders are under today and it is incumbent on all of us involved to do whatever we can to ensure good health in the dogs that go on public display in the show ring, and even more importantly, that this reflects the health of those that breeders place in companion homes.

“Over this initial period the co-operation from the high profile breeds, alongside the evolving consistency of the checks and the continuing programme of educational events, has all contributed to a regime in which all parties can have confidence. It is clear to see that we can be very proud of our pedigree dogs and of the breeders who put so much into ensuring the long term health and welfare of their chosen breeds.

“The active involvement of the HPB health co-ordinators and the exhibitors has been vital to the success so far. We know that it has taken great courage for exhibitors to put themselves and their dogs on the line, some of them on many occasions. The results prove again and again that their dogs are fit for function.

“For me another important element has been to see the vets involved becoming aware of how healthy the dogs are that are coming through for the examinations and how this is challenging some views of the general health and wellbeing of ‘show dogs’ as opposed to the ‘pets’ they usually meet.

“The programme will not stand still; it should and will continue to evolve and develop to meet the needs of pedigree dogs. The Dog Health Group is closely monitoring the scheme to see how best to take it forward and there will be changes as time goes on. As part of that monitoring process we have welcomed all feedback from those in the high profile breeds and from other breeds as well, and this is all currently being assessed by the Vet Check Review Group.”

“The Kennel Club also underlines that the high profile breeds list is not static. Summer 2012 saw one breed [the Chinese Crested, which had been added for reasons of presentation] removed from the list and the Dog Health Group will continue to monitor breeds across all the groups to ensure that the list remains a relevant and useful tool in working on long term breed health.”


The following instructions appear on the Kennel Club’s website:



In January 2011, the Kennel Club announced that all dogs of the 15 high profile breeds which win Best of Breed at Crufts 2012, and at General and Group Championship Shows after that, will need to pass a health check by the show veterinary surgeon before their Best of Breed awards are confirmed and before they are allowed to continue to compete in the Group at the show.

Definition of a High Profile Breed

A breed from time to time designated by the General Committee as requiring particular monitoring by reason of visible condition(s) which may cause health or welfare concerns. The list of designated High Profile Breeds is kept under regular review and is published from time to time in the Kennel Gazette.

Why have veterinary checks?

The decision to implement health checks was taken by the General Committee on the advice of the Kennel Club’s Dog Health Group, in order to ensure that the fifteen high profile breeds enter the group competition free from signs of discomfort or suffering associated with exaggerated conformation.

This move, along with the other health measures that we have put in place, will help the Kennel Club to ensure that the show ring continues to be a positive influence for change in the world of dogs. The objective of this process is to ensure that improvement in canine health is rewarded in the show ring and to protect the reputation of the sport of dog showing.

The health check will be a veterinary visual observation and opinion on the findings at the time of examination, for the purpose of establishing whether the dog’s health and welfare is compromised, rendering it ineligible to compete in the group competition on the day. It is not intended in any way for the veterinary surgeon to act as a show judge of conformation and breed specific characteristics. The veterinary surgeon is not expected to make a diagnosis, but on occasion this may be an inevitable consequence of the health check.

Veterinary Examination A Championship Show veterinary surgeon is not expected to evaluate the dogs for conformational characteristics which are of an aesthetic nature only, and therefore extreme conformation that is not associated with a clinical symptom capable of affecting health or welfare does not form a basis for preventing a dog from entering the group competition. For example, a dog should not fail the examination because it has a short muzzle, unless there is associated difficulty with respiration; a dog should not fail the examination because it has a roached back, unless there is associated lameness or ataxia. If desired, the veterinary surgeon may comment on features of this nature, which are not considered grounds for disqualification, in the “Additional Comments” section of the paperwork.

It is quite possible that a particular dog might pass the veterinary check on one occasion and fail on another, as the clinical signs that are evaluated may vary over time.

The veterinary surgeon is not expected to use any diagnostic aids; this is an external, visual examination only. It is the responsibility of the show organisers to arrange satisfactory ambient lighting, so that there is no need for supplementary lighting to be used when carrying out the examination.

Veterinary surgeons are asked to look for the following clinical signs in four main areas:

  • • Externally visible eye disease (current or healed), ocular pain or visual impairment;
  • • Lameness;
  • • Dermatological disorders such as inflammation or evidence or previous infection;
  • • Respiratory effects or noise, if associated with distress (at rest or with light exercise).

The above categories are common areas associated with perceived exaggeration in the high profile breeds. The examination is an objective assessment to check for visible signs of pain or discomfort resulting from exaggerated conformation. The examination should take account of evidence of past serious conditions leading to scarring or signs of chronic inflammation (e.g. corneal pigmentation or damage, or skin scarring or baldness), where this is related to conformational exaggeration.

Eye Disease

The veterinary surgeon is expected to take note of any readily apparent eye problems. Examples of these would include: inflammation of the white of the eye, scarring or pigmentation indicating previous conformation-related damage to the cornea (the transparent front of the eyeball), evidence of surgery to the eyelid, distichiasis (extra eyelashes rubbing on the eyeball), ocular discharge, epiphora (significant overflow of tears) or where the dog is blinking excessively or the eyelids appear to be half closed or tightly closed (blepharospasm). Signs of this nature will be helpful in establishing if any eyelid problem is causing the dog pain or discomfort.

In particular, the veterinary surgeon is asked to look for:

  • • Entropion – where part or all of an eyelid is turned inwards and rubs on the eyeball, and the abnormality is sufficiently severe to cause signs of discomfort. The veterinary surgeon may need to move the eyelids to confirm the presence of entropion;
  • • Ectropion – where part or all of a lower eyelid is turned outwards or gapes away from the eyeball, and the abnormality is sufficiently severe to be associated with significant reddening, swelling or thickening of the conjunctivae (the delicate membranes which surround the eyeball and cover the inner surface of the eyelids), or other signs of discomfort. This should be visible without need to manipulate the eyelids;
  • • Signs of inflammation;
  • • Damage to the cornea (including ulceration, scarring or pigmentation
  • associated with conformational exaggeration);
  • • Evidence of visual impairment;
  • • Signs of pain or discomfort;
  • • Abnormal shape of the eyelids sufficiently severe that the lids do not meet normally when the eye is closed.


Soundness is assessed by evaluating the presence or absence of lameness. It is not necessary for the veterinary surgeon to make a full examination of the joints, as no diagnosis is required.

  • • Any lameness will lead to failure to pass the examination.
  • • Includes ataxia (lack of co-ordination of muscle movements); for example, difficulty in controlling the co-ordination of the hind legs when moving. If necessary, the veterinary surgeon may ask the owner to move the dog in a small circle or may assess its response when its feet are manipulated, in order to establish whether a dog is showing ataxia.

Dermatological Signs

Skin folds and tightly curled tails are assessed by looking for associated inflammation or infection of the skin in the depth of the folds, or scarring from previous infection. Inflammation, scarring or hairlessness associated with:

  • • Skin folds or facial wrinkles. Slight reddening or hair thinning of the skin within the crevice of a skin fold is acceptable. The veterinary surgeon is asked to look for evidence of a current clinical problem, such as a moist discharge, moderate to severe reddening of the skin, ulceration or signs of pyoderma (skin infection) within the skin folds, or evidence of previous clinical problems within the folds, such as scarring, thickening of the skin, or significant hair loss;
  • • A tightly curled tail, when associated with other clinical signs;
  • • Eyelid tacking or other cosmetic surgery: evidence of previous
  • cosmetic surgery will lead to failure to pass the examination;
  • • Inflammation or infection associated with long, heavy ears. Slight reddening of the pinna (ear flap) or ear canal is acceptable, as is the presence of a slight waxy discharge; however, any visible purulent discharge (pus), crusting, swelling or thickening of the tissues of the ear canal, or severe reddening of these tissues, will lead to failure to pass the examination.

Respiratory distress

Breathing is assessed by observing respiratory rate; ease of breathing in and out, tolerance to moderate exercise and the presence of noisy breathing. A slight noise associated with respiration may be noted by the veterinary surgeon, but should not be grounds for failure of the examination unless associated with signs of respiratory difficulty or heat stress during the veterinary check.

  • • Difficulty breathing;
  • • Lack of exercise tolerance. The veterinary surgeon should evaluate the dog’s ability to tolerate movement at a steady trot over a reasonable distance, comparable to the level of exercise expected in the breed ring. The intention is not to exercise the dog until it is tired, but to check that its ability to tolerate
  • exercise is sufficient to ensure its welfare under normal conditions;
  • • Colour of mucous membranes (especially ‘blueness’ of the tongue and membranes in the mouth);
  • • Excessive respiratory noise, especially if associated with distress.


We anticipate that the process will be carried out as follows:

  • • Best of Breed Selected – Award card handed out, but once judging is completed it should be collected back and retained by either a show official or the show secretary;
  • • Designated official to accompany exhibitor in their own time to the Veterinary Surgeon;
  • • Exhibit passes check – Show Official gives Exhibitor the signed award card, and a copy of the completed Vet check form and permitted to enter the group competition. Society to send a copy of the Vet check form to the Kennel Club with its show returns;
  • • Exhibit fails check – Show Official gives exhibitor a copy of the Vet check form, and confirms his/her dog is ineligible to enter the group competition. Society to send the BOB award card and a copy of the Vet check form to the Kennel Club with its show returns.