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Welfare issues loom as hopefuls prepare for Crufts

Both four and two-legged Crufts hopefuls were today immersed in last-minute preparations for the controversial contest.

Dogs were given a sniff of the canine competition when they were taken into the famed Birmingham arena for some last-minute training ahead of the show's opening on Thursday.

Meanwhile puppies were put through their paces for the four-day event which will see health and welfare issues to the fore.

The show was mired in controversy when a BBC documentary in 2008 raised concerns over certain breeds of pedigree dog in the competition.

Puppy farming, status dogs and cross breeding will be examined by presenter Clare Balding with a vet on hand to answer questions when highlights from this year's event are screened on television.

Caroline Kisko, communications director of the Kennel Club, has defended the competition and its commitment to healthy dogs.

"We are very excited about this year's event and demonstrating to our visitors how important dogs are in our lives," she said.

"The Kennel Club's primary concern is the health and welfare of all dogs and it is through important and influential dog shows such as Crufts that we can safeguard the long-term health and welfare of pedigree dogs.

"Dog shows enable us to encourage and reward the breeding of happy, healthy dogs by making sure that these are the ones that go home with the prizes."

As well as the traditional Best in Show final, canine competitors will be pitted against each other in an agility championship and in the Friends for Life contest, where dogs are put forward for proving themselves to be "man's best friend".

Breeders will be able to access a "doggie dating website" to find the perfect match for their pedigree dog which is aimed at improving health and genetic diversity.

Visitors to the National Exhibition Centre will also be able to see more than 200 breeds on show and learn about Kennel Club accredited breeders, who take the required health tests for their breed.

The event will be broadcast on More4 this year after the BBC - which began screening Crufts in 1966 - announced it was dropping its coverage in December 2008.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed, broadcast in August that year, suggested certain dogs bred for shows were suffering a high degree of genetic illness.

The claims prompted the Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust to jointly fund an independent inquiry which made a number of recommendations to tackle inbreeding in pedigrees, puppy farming and other welfare issues for dogs.

The Kennel Club, which organises Crufts, has launched a new breed information centre on its website to help prospective owners find responsible breeders in their area and see which type of dog would best suit their lifestyle.