Pedigree Dogs Exposed: The Aftermath

by Leanne Thompson on August 20, 2008

For those that missed it, it certainly won’t be the last they hear of it. Last night’s BBC documentary about the Kennel Club and the health of pedigree dogs has kicked off a real debate in the UK.

The BBC Documentary: Pedigree Dogs Exposed

The documentary was the result of two year’s investigation by the BBC and talked about how the ‘ideal breed standards’ documented by the Kennel Club, and the competitive nature of breeders who compete in dog shows, such as Crufts, run by the Kennel Club, have resulted in in-bred, unhealthy pedigree dogs.

The BBC stated that the Kennel Club has, whether knowingly or not, encouraged a certain culture of ‘in-breeding’ by specifying physical attributes within its ‘ideal’ breed standards. These state what is supposedly good in a breed. In some breeds, they are not too bad, but one example from the documentary last night was highlighted, which showed how these specifications can ultimately result in poor health.

Many people are familiar with a pug. A trait considered desirable in a showdog pug is the tail, which should, according to the Kennel Club, curl over its back. If it curls into a double curl, then that is even better. As shown in the BBC, competitive breeders have inbred dogs to make this more pronounced. With an x-ray, the documentary showed that pugs with a good curl on the tail also have a curved spine, causing health issues.

Indeed, they showed a picture of how the pug was a hundred years ago and how it is now. The difference was astounding. They used to have a proper snout whereas now their face is so flat they bump into things and hurt their eyes very easily. This flat face also causes them breathing problems to the extent that some airlines won’t allow them on flights for their own safety.

None of these health problems can be good and I am certain that nobody could argue this to the contrary.

The Kennel Club’s Response

Today, the Kennel Club has published its response, and defence, to the documentary and they made some fair points.

The Kennel Club felt the BBC only criticised and left viewers under the false impression that all pedigree dogs are riddled with poor health, which is untrue. They also say that the BBC missed the opportunity to put forward constructive proposals. It was shocked by the imagery on the programme and accepts some of the points raised.

However, in their defence, the Kennel Club points out that it is not a legal body and hence can only work through persuasion and in conjunction with other bodies, such as the British Veterinary Association and The Animal Health Trust, breeders, and the general public. It states it is working with breeders and that 90 per cent of pedigree dogs live and long and healthy life.

It defends the dog shows, saying that dog show judges are instructed not to award to any dogs where features are prominent enough to jeopardise the dog’s quality of life and winning dogs should be fit and healthy. Their breed standards are adjusted regularly and aim to avoid any exaggerated features.

They say they have recently introduced several new initiatives to encourage this, including their Accredited Breeder scheme, developing health screening for dogs including eye tests and hip scoring and helping breeders and dog clubs ensure that all dogs are fit and healthy, and to tackle unnecessarily exaggerated features. They call this scheme ‘fit for function – fit for life’ and it is designed to ensure all dogs are able to see, walk and breathe freely.

The Kennel Club also reminded the public that they cannot make changes overnight and are working against a legacy of more than 100 years.

You can read the full response from the Kennel Club on their website.

What Can Be Done?

Personally, I have owned pedigree dogs most of my life. I have also bred them as pets, although I have never been too bothered about meeting a particular ‘standard’ nor have I entered any dogs in dog shows. I do know others who own Crufts Champions in a particular breed though, and so here is my own personal viewpoint on this matter.

The discussion now surely has to be what we can do about this.

Personally, I don’t believe the Kennel Club should be abandoned. Despite its faults, of which I agree there are some, it also does much to promote the welfare of dogs in this country, both pedigree and mongrel. It is the only official dog clue with a real influence and capable of representing dog owners in legislative matters and more.

Breed Standards

However, I seriously think they should re-visit all their dog breed standards. For example, their dog breed standard states that a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel should have a small head. With the history of Crufts-winning spaniels having a small head, breeders have inbred to get them as small as possible and now, they often suffer from neurological diseases because their heads are too small for their brains, meaning many suffer unimaginable pain from diseases such as syringomyelia. The programme interviewed the owner of one spaniel, a past winner of Crufts, with the disease. Surely a breed standard should say ‘the head should be between X and X’, rather than ‘small’, because that would stop breeders from trying to combine genetics to produce a head as small as possible.

It’s all very well the Kennel Club saying it does want to avoid exaggerated features but breeding and genetics takes a long time to adjust so maybe it’s taken a hundred years for them to be able to compare photographs and realise what their breed standards are gradually producing.

Health Screening

Secondly, they should bring in compulsory health screening before puppies can be registered with the Kennel Club – but keep the cost affordable. Since being diagnosed, the above-mentioned spaniel has reportedly still been used as a stud dog to sire 36 litters. I don’t call that a responsible breeder. The Kennel Club stated it was worried that breeders might ‘go underground’. I think that’s nonsense. I think they’re worried about losing business to the likes of the DLRC (Dog Lovers Registration Club), and yes, maybe they would to an extent, however, many breeders want to show their dogs and they can only do that if they are KC registered dogs. In addition, many pet owners still see a KC registered puppy as a sign of quality, although that may change anyway if something is not seen to be done quickly after this documentary, and so KC registered puppies generally fetch more money – another incentive to ensure puppies are health tested. If health screening is affordable, people will do it. Pedigree puppies are expensive anyway and people still pay the money because they want to know that they’re getting the breed they want, whether that’s because of the temperament, training or just for sentimental reasons.

Mongrels

So, should we all rush out and just buy mongrels in future?

Most people just want a pedigree pet because they want to know the sort of dog he’ll grow into. Mongrels are great in many ways. Due to the large gene pool, they’re generally more intelligent, but that does not stop them from having just as many health issues as a pedigree dog. In fact, you can get some rather unanticipated problems with a mongrel.

Firstly, you could take on a tiny pup to discover that his grandfather was a Great Dane and he grows much bigger than your lifestyle can cope with.

Other unknown throwbacks from his family tree can mean you can end up with temperament issue, stubbornness in training or health issues. Pedigree breeders do tend to know what is in their dog’s family tree.

And what would we do with the puppies? If we neutered them all, the dog population would drop substantially. However, who would buy mongrel puppies or take them on? If I had a gorgeous mongrel dog, from whom all I know would want a puppy, I would be hard pushed to find a suitable dog to mate her with. Puppies from a mongrel are never the same as either parent; there is just too much in the gene pool.

So what can the Kennel Club do? Is it possible to legislate in-breeding?

We should not forget that the documentary was designed to dramatise the situation and attract viewers. The programme even drew upon a dog genetics study from the Imperial College to underline its criticisms of dog breeding, and yet failed to acknowledge that this study was funded by the Kennel Club and is part of its commitment to dog health research.

The results of this study provide the Kennel Club with an important scientific platform to help it gain the support of breeders to tackle key health issues where they need to be tackled.

Public Support

The public are more discerning now when choosing a puppy than they used to be. Most already know to ensure that they can see the mother, and if possible both parents, when purchasing a pedigree puppy.

In a similar way, they need to learn how to spot a good breeder. I must criticise the Kennel Club’s Accredited Dog Breeder scheme here, because I don’t think it goes anywhere near far enough. To become an accredited dog breeder, they simply have to participate in the required health screening, which is few and far between. There is nothing to say what they have to do according to the results, so they can still breed from stock that fails the test. Dogs must be identified by microchip, tattoo or DNA profiling, and prospective owners have to be given an advice leaflet. It is still a work in progress, I appreciate that, but it doesn’t seem to have moved much since it started and few people are aware of the scheme.

Most dog breeders tend to provide a family tree with the new puppy, which would show if the dog parents are related in the last 3 to 5 generations, certainly whether mum and son have been bred together as one gentleman stated on the BBC documentary last night.

Potential owners should also check how many of the names on the family tree are in red. If the names are in red, they are names of dogs that were a champion at Kennel Club dog shows. If there are quite a few, then the breeder should possibly be quizzed a little more and the family tree checked carefully for inbreeding.

Crufts

There has been mention that the BBC will now be discussing the issue of broadcasting Crufts with the Kennel Club. After 42 years of broadcasting Crufts on the BBC, they say it will stop unless the Kennel Club does something about the dogs health. If they stop broadcasting it, someone else will, but if this is true, you have to admire them for standing their ground.

There are also rumours that the Queen, famed for her love of dogs, will end her association with the Kennel Club as well. Again, I think this is unlikely to happen as the Queen tends not to get involved but boy, will the Kennel Club be in trouble if that happens.

Will People Stop Buying Pedigree Puppies?

Personally, I imagine there were not too many pedigree puppies sold today, but in the long run I don’t think this BBC programme will stop people from buying them. Instead, I hope it raises awareness about health issues and that the Kennel Club will now work with dog breeders to encourage them to stop inbreeding. The only way to stop it is to change the dog shows that these people are trying to win. I certainly hope that the Kennel Club immediately re-assess what it deems to be good qualities in a dog and its breed standards.

Your Thoughts for Man’s Best Friend

As you can no doubt tell by the length of this article, the subject of dog breeding and dog health is not only one that raises the hackles (excuse the pun) of many members of the general public but a difficult and complicated issue. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

21 Comments »

  1. […] It certainly seems that the BBC documentary last night on the Kennel Club and the state of our pedigree dogs kicked off a bit of a debate across the UK.  This is just my little opinion on it – to see an honest, independent discussion of the programme, see Pedigree Dogs Exposed: The Aftermath. […]

    Pingback by BBC Kennel Club Programme | Barking Up The Wrong Tree — August 20, 2008 @ 5:44 pm

  2. […] a similar discussion to the BBC’s Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme last weekend, Clunes opened the programme talking about how we have meddled with the […]

    Pingback by Martin Clunes: A Man and his Dogs | Dream Dogs — August 25, 2008 @ 9:36 am

  3. […] I predicted last week, this episode turned down the same path as the BBC’s Pedigree Dogs: Exposed programme from last month. Pedigree dogs are bred in line with the Kennel Club standards, to what the KC say […]

    Pingback by Martin Clunes: A Man and His Dogs part 2 | Dream Dogs — September 1, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  4. […] Kennel Club may say otherwise (see their response to the BBC exposure documentary), however, it is their breed standards that breeders are trying to […]

    Pingback by RSPCA Joins Anti-Kennel Club Campaign | Dream Dogs — September 16, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

  5. […] it seems the BBC’s Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme has really started something now – and about time. The Dogs Trust, Britain’s largest dog […]

    Pingback by Dogs Trust Joins Anti-Kennel Club Campaign | Dream Dogs — September 17, 2008 @ 5:26 pm

  6. […] regular readers will know, it was not too many months ago that the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the follow up news that the BBC has dropped Crufts from its broadcasting schedule after 15 […]

    Pingback by Stud dog causes BBC controversy | Dream Dogs — February 5, 2009 @ 9:53 am

  7. […] £14 million viewers to its BBC showing, but that was before the BBC showed its pedigree exposé, Pedigree Dogs Exposed in August […]

    Pingback by Stud dog Phil unchanged by Kennel Club Crufts hype | Dream Dogs — March 4, 2009 @ 8:16 am

  8. […] all of the controversy sparked over the last year through the Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme, and subsequent media circus that followed, Crufts, the centrepiece in the dog […]

    Pingback by Crufts carries on without sponsorship | Dream Dogs — March 9, 2009 @ 9:06 am

  9. […] out of the event over claims that dog breeders weren’t doing what was best for the dogs in a BBC documentary. That has tempered Charmin’s excitement, nor that of his owner, Margery Good. It didn’t stop […]

    Pingback by Charmin wins Best in Show at Crufts | Dream Dogs — March 10, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

  10. […] it wasn’t the Kennel Club and its attitude towards stud dogs that was under the microscope in the Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme. BBC3 were looking at the problem of dangerous dogs in the UK, or rather the problem of […]

    Pingback by My Weapon is a Dog | Dream Dogs — May 24, 2009 @ 8:48 am

  11. i luv cavalier king charles spaniels

    Comment by elle — August 21, 2009 @ 5:31 pm

  12. I live in America. My mother used to breed Scottish Terriers, but stopped because she felt disgusted by how other breeders didn’t seem to care for the dogs, just how much money or prestige the owners could gain by having a “show dog.”

    I think you should have mentioned rescue dogs. Maybe in England it is different and when someone decides they want a dog they don’t have a thousand rescues and the pound in their face making them feel bad if they buy a $1000.00 dog; but here most people feel that buying pedigree puppies is a waste. Always rescue.

    I do not feel that it is important to know where your puppies or grown dogs came from. You care for it and love it, period. I personally went to the pet shop here and rescued a dog out of the blue and he’s great. He’s not perfect–what dog is? But I love him and I’m glad I rescued him.

    I think the problem is that people who go to buy a pedigree dog put too much importance on its lineage, etc. If people would let it go we could have dogs that are mixed and have stronger genes and immune systems because of it; not deformed monsters.

    Comment by Mae Nevarez — October 6, 2009 @ 2:29 am

  13. i think it’s disgusting how dog breeds have altered (for example, the german shepherd), and how some breeds are being given a bad name because of it – it is not their fault and we should all work together and endeavor to create healthy, happy creatures regardless of their pedigree. i think dog showing should be based purely upon the dogs skills, and not just because they have ‘good conformation’. i own a jackrussel/parsonsrussel terrier who has perfect conformation, and i would love to show him one day, but if this is the kind of industry i would put my boy into, i don’t want a part in it. change is needed now.

    Comment by bree — November 11, 2009 @ 4:01 am

  14. I live in America, as well, and as far as I am concerned, I think all the Pedigree Dog shows should be shut down until they get their acts together. When you think about it, that’s intentional animal cruelty, whether it be future, unpredictable but possible, and it’s kind of a “let’s see what happens and if the shit hits the fan, oh well” kind of situation they have summed up. The breeders themselves are trying to play a role that mankind should not touch – God (and I say this in the extreme because I am Buddhist and I usually don’t throw that word around).

    Really, show dog breeding is nothing but competitive, selfish, and only for one goal: to win. If they had true interest in their dogs, why don’t they just sit down and play with the poor sod? Why go through a great deal of money, hoo-ha, etc. that doesn’t benefit the dog but the owner’s possible ego? Most dogs, such as mine, could care less how they look. As soon as I let them out, they roll in dirt and eat garbage.

    Now, I know how they say, “Oh, but we know the possible temper, physical traits, health issues, etc. when we pure breed” – No. You don’t. I have a pure bred German Shepard and they’re suppose to be intelligent, hard working, etc. but mine comes off as silly, stupid, sleeps all day, I let him out and he watches the other dogs play. Vet says he’s fine- that it’s his personality. So, no, you really have no idea how your dog will be. They aren’t colors that, when mixed together, you get the color you’re expecting. They’re alive, breathing, living, with intelligent minds.

    I could go on and on about how wrong it is but it’s not worth it when there are idiots, who have no respect for the life of a dog, running dog shows. Makes me sad.

    Comment by Gritz — December 12, 2009 @ 12:08 am

  15. […] is now shown on More 4 since the BBC dropped the event last year amid the controversy over breeders. You clearly get More 4 your money […]

    Pingback by Streaker invades Crufts dog show | Dream Dogs Stud Dogs News — March 15, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

  16. Dlrc are a brilliant orgamization, kc are evil.

    Comment by Paul smith — March 27, 2011 @ 4:42 am

  17. Kc are coming to an end, theyre ignorance and pompous attitude towards dogs lives just for shows is disgraceful, i have two chihuahuas, my vet used to breed them and she said there the best shes ever seen, i tore the kc up, i hate them and registered them both withDLRC.move over kc, theres a new kid in town.DLRC are brilliant.

    Comment by Paul smith — March 27, 2011 @ 4:48 am

  18. I do agree with many of the publics views but i have my own view on the topic, i personally have owned a masstif X puppy, a patterdale terrier & a 3/4chihuahua X 1/4 yorkie. And now own a Jack Russell Terrier & Pug. All the pedigree dogs i saw at crufts when i went last march (2011) were completely healthy and the new, vets checks & the ‘Happy, Healthy Dogs sceme’ helps alot in making sure that if anything is wrong with the pedigree dogs or they havent had the recommended health tests, they arn’t allowed into the competition. Most pedigree dogs are bred by responsible owners and bothe the parents are health checked & its made sure that they’re not closely related (e.g. brother or sister/half-brother or half-sister) There is a way of breeding called line breeding where the cousins or grandfathers are bred with them, it doesnt pose any health risks and it’s much better than inbreeding. My pug has some linebreeding in her pedigree paper to ensure that the pups can be shown or breed from to make good quality and healthy show dogs or pet dogs
    & of course i love crossbreds just as much. i think anyone with a big home or even a flat should offer a dog a home even if its only one small one.
    I agree that the kennel club should change the standards to make the dog look like the older versions or not look so morphed like the showtype G.S.D/Alsasian where the back legs and half the size of the front ones, it looks so wrong, and for pugs, bulldog, shar pei & other wrinkled dogs, they should have less wrinkles. (my pug peg, as seen on my website (please visit it) has much less wrinkles than normal pugs, but they’ll always have the fold over the nose though :) x

    Comment by sophie underwood — October 18, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

  19. a breed that nos he or she has a dog in their breeding stock that has an illness that can kill should be shut down and also if they don’t have the right checks done should also be closed down.and as for putting a puppy down because it isn’t up to the breed standard is totally out of order my god would she have put her children down if they didn’t look like what she wanted.to see what some of the breed of dogs should look like really shocked me . yes the wrinkled sharpa does look so sweet and cuddly but all you have to do is see an adult one and then you realise they don’t stay like it .the poor pug that cant even sleep properly because if it lays down wil stop breathing is this wat we want frm our pets. its time i think for people to stand up to these small minded people who think that an animal should look totally different to wat it is .to me it is total cruelty.the kc and breeders clubs are the worst kind of animal abusers out there and any vet that covers up for them should be struck off

    Comment by michelle43 — February 29, 2012 @ 11:17 am

  20. Breeders of show quality dogs should be forced to follow standards of basic professional conduct. I had the unfortunate experience of paying over $8,000.00 to Ann Wildman for a quality dog puppy from Brock Silver Bangle of Wildax being show by her at prestigious shows. The sire is the well known Eastonite Diamond Geezer at Rowendale. My six month male has hip dysplasia and rotating patellas. Beside that he does not resemble a French Bulldog. 40 lbs. lanky and barks deeply. No recourse.

    Comment by Linda Hibbard — October 26, 2012 @ 9:28 pm

  21. Hi , Just a follow up to some comments above , we have just lost a young boxer to JKD as was discussed on the program , and today contacted the Dog Lovers registration Club to ask them to forward a request for assistance to the original breeder of our pup. The chap there was incredibly unhelpful to the extreme even when it was pointed out that the breeder may well wish to know of the issue. This to me proves the points of the program and I for one will work tirelessly to assist in these issues.

    Comment by Craig Rossiter — April 26, 2013 @ 8:50 pm

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