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Bark to the future: it's Crufts again

Canine enthusiasts will argue to the bone what length of time it was in dog years. In human terms, however, it was 120 years ago that Crufts was first held.

The annual event, which is the largest dog show in the world, has changed greatly since 2,437 pooches were entered for the first competition. It takes its name from Charles Cruft, who first instigated the competition in Victorian London, having started his career selling "dog cakes".

Now held at Birmingham's NEC, the show originally took place at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington, north London in 1891 and featured 36 breeds. This year there are 28,000 hopefuls, coming from a spread of around 200 breeds and making their way to the UK from 37 countries.

Crossbreeds and mongrels are included as well, something the Kennel Club was at pains to point out last year after the controversy that dogged the 2009 show. The BBC pulled out of covering Crufts that year after a documentary alleged that it awarded top prizes to unhealthy and inbred animals.

From next year, Best of Breed winners will need to be checked by a vet before receiving their prizes. Having battled hard to rejuvenate its reputation by emphasising the importance it places on dogs being happy and healthy, however, Crufts remains popular with many dog lovers – more than 140,000 visit the show every year.

It has come through many previous setbacks in its history. It was cancelled during both world wars and, having been re-established by the Kennel Club in 1948, was threatened once more in 1952 when King George VI died shortly before it was due to take place.

In the end, that show did take place after all, but it was then cancelled in 1954 due to a strike by electricity workers.

The attraction of the first Crufts was simply to admire the dogs for their appearance and character. Now it includes many diverse displays, judging animals not only in speed and agility but in skills such as heelwork to music and obedience. Guide dogs for the blind and the deaf are also given the chance to enjoy the spotlight. The big award remains Best in Show, however, won last year by a Hungarian Vizsla named Yogi.

The show opens this Thursday and will run until Sunday.