Dog showing and breeding - my thoughts
Ever since a Panorama programme called “Pedigree dogs exposed” was broadcast in, I think, 2008 the whole subject of dog breeding and showing has been the subject of widespread criticism. All breeders and exhibitors were lumped together and criticised by the RSPCA and other welfare organisations. The BBC stopped its annual coverage of Crufts shortly afterwards.
The breeding of dogs with exaggerated features such as those seen in brachycephalic breeds such as French Bulldogs can have an impact on their health and quality of life. Unfortunately , these breeds are often bred by commercial puppy farms with no health testing carried out and the promotion of unrecognised colours such as “blue“ or “lilac”. In an ideal world, every puppy purchaser would do enough research before buying a puppy and only buy from a reputable breeder.
Designer cross breeds
Another possible consequence of the Panorama programme is the rapid rise in popularity of cross breeds. A traditional cross breed derived from several or multiple breeds has always been a good choice in view of health. The “designer” cross breed, however, is no healthier than either of its constituent breeds. In the veterinary practice where I work I see a great many poodle crosses with skin conditions especially involving their ears and severe behaviour problems including aggression, separation anxiety and uncontrollable barking. Again, these breeds are a popular choice for the commercial breeder who is producing puppies for profit and in some cases takes scant regard of the suitability of the dog for the new owner’s circumstances.
Dog showing has been in existence for well over 100 years. As mentioned elsewhere on this website, my great grandfather was a ”terrier man” from the North East of England and comparing their stock against that of their rivals and against the breed‘s standard was the foundation of pedigree dog breeding. Always striving to improve their dogs both in conformation and often their working ability would have informed any decisions about breeding. Most caring breeders today only breed from health tested parents using any tests available to them. They select their breeding stock taking account of the correct temperament of their breed and choose animals with the physical attributes required to do the job for which the breed originally existed.
Showing a dog can play a part in this process. A well trained dog allows a judge (who is likely to be a complete stranger) to examine him closely. This involves the judge opening the dog’s mouth to view its “bite” and then to feel along its flanks and rib cage. Then the dog has to move correctly on a loose lead to show that it is sound. All of this happens in the presence of a number of other dogs and their handlers, sometimes in front of a large crowd and often in unfamiliar buildings like sports and equestrian centres. So, to be a successful show dog (or even just to take part) a dog needs to be in good condition and to have a pretty “bomb proof” temperament. A nervous dog who backs away from strangers will not be successful. More seriously, a dog who snaps at or bites a judge will be disqualified.
A breeder who shows his or her dogs will be, in all likelihood, selecting for soundness both physically and temperamentally. Failure to do this would be unlikely to further their show career much! Most breeders will only breed a litter to provide themselves with a new animal to continue their “line” and in doing so will make every effort to improve on what has gone before. Having chosen their puppy, the remainder of such litters might become available to a pet owner. Conscientious breeders are very careful to place the puppy in the correct home and will take great care to ensure this happens. In return, the puppy purchaser can be reassured that the litter has resulted from a great deal of research and care.
Visiting dog shows is a great way to find a breeder. During the corona virus pandemic, dog showing was suspended, but in normal times a dog show can be an enjoyable day out. Large championship shows take place all over the country and attract large numbers of dog exhibitors aswell as trade stands selling all manner of dog toys and food. Smaller shows are less formal and often breeders are more relaxed and happy to chat to a prospective new owner.
Ultimately, I feel very strongly that we need a good source of healthy and well adjusted pedigree dogs to satisfy the pet market. The more of these we have, the less successful the puppy farmers will be. Educating puppy purchasers to avoid such sources will ultimately result in their demise. While rescuing a dog from a charity can be a very worthwhile thing to do, it is not for everyone. So, we need dog shows and breeders to thrive and to be successful and to feel able to work with veterinary professionals. It is in all our interests to work together.