Fat, dirty and clumsy - and that's just the dogs

Standards at Cruft's, the show for Britain's top dogs, are under fire, report David Hancock and Rosa Prince
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The Independent Online
JUDGES of Cruft's, the annual canine beauty pageant, have criticised the show for including overweight, dirty and ungainly dogs.

The competition comes around again next month, amid concern that the level of judging at the qualifying stages - as well as the entrants - is poor.

Doubts about the quality of dogs have been whispered for some 20 years, but the problem has been brought into focus in a working-party report on shows organised by the Kennel Club, which runs Cruft's.

Last year's judges were not happy with standards. One said: "I was amazed at the vast amount of overweight Border Collies ... many were in need of baths, some coats were oily and dirty." Another complained of Basset hounds that "paddled and waddled" because they were so overweight. The gait of many Soft-Coated Wheaten terriers and Border Terriers "left much to be desired", according to two judges. Afghan hounds also came in for criticism from a judge who said: "It is a distressing fact that what you find is numerous exhibits moving with bent front legs."

The judges who send dogs to Cruft's were not spared. One judge in the Afghan hound category complained: "Your entry is, in theory, made up of the leading winners in our breed, who have all qualified beforehand. These faults are more the faults of the qualifying judges, but what it does show is that they have no basic conception of what true movement is."

Other allegations include claims that many dog show judges are chosen by their friends, who undergo no training for the task and have no qualifications.

In response to growing discord, the Kennel Club commissioned a report to review current practices for the training and approval of judges. The working party's long and detailed findings included the conclusion that the judges' level of competence left a great deal to be desired.

Kennel Club spokesman Brian Leonard said the club "expected judges to bring forward such issues so that valid criticism can be acted upon". But he defended the quality of judges at events leading up to Cruft's: "Any judge who presides at a championship show has to submit their CV to us and has to be supported by the breeders association in question. No judge is perfect and no dog is perfect. But just seven breeds out of the 166 at Cruft's last year have been criticised."

However, many breeding clubs have already acted independently. The British Rottweiler Association provides its own training and tests its own judges. The American Kennel Club runs advanced training courses for its top judges.

The behaviour of judges, breeders and exhibitors in the world of dog shows has also aroused dark allegations of deliberate damage and death threats to rival competitors' dogs. In one case, a Saluki breeder allegedly left her dog briefly unattended at a recent show and returned to find its ear feathering had been hacked with scissors. In other cases, two Samoyed dogs were allegedly poisoned and further death threats were made to scare off rival exhibitors.

There have been other unsavoury incidents. A top Poodle breeder was convicted in Aberdeen Sheriff's Court for cruelty to 20 Poodles left locked in his house without food or water while he was staying 150 miles away. Dog-show judge Jennifer Bosson was jailed for four months by Chelmsford magistrates a year ago after being found guilty of appalling cruelty to her own dogs.

The Kennel Club's own external affairs officer, a Chihuahua breeder, was fined at Swindon County Court in July last year for selling a dog "not fit for purpose". The breeder has remained in his key Kennel Club appointment. The club declined to comment on the matter.

The Kennel Club rejects claims of malicious behaviour at shows. "We have 29 dog shows a year involving 10,000 dogs and the number of such allegations is very low," said Mr Leonard.