Friday 30 March 2012

Canine Alliance - new balls please...

The Canine Alliance - an alternative logo

Everyone's mantra should be: don't listen to what people say... watch what they do. 

I find it sorts the wheat from the chaff.

Last week, the newly formed Exhbitors' Canine Alliance was whinging about being misunderstood. That was because some of us out here reckoned that the fuss this sub-section of the show-world was making about the vet checks at Crufts was all about preserving a status quo that tolerated exaggerated dogs being exhibited at dogs shows, and had nothing to do (despite the claims) with truly wanting to promote health and welfare in showdogs.

And I thought, fair enough... Maybe I was a bit quick to diss them... maybe some good can come out of it. So, let's give them a chance.

So like everyone else, I have awaited eagerly for news of the outcome of the CA's meet with the KC on Wednesday.  So what happened?

First up, came news that there was to be a joint press release from the CA and the KC.  The CA seemed very pleased about that - hailing it as some kind of historic precedent (when in fact the KC frequently issues joint press releases with other organisations - such as the BVA for example).

But, yesterday, the promised press release failed to materialise, apparently because the two organisations couldn't agree on the wording.

Never mind. The CA instead released the four-page presentation that Mike Gadsby delivered at Wednesday's meeting. And, boy, does that make for depressing reading for those of us hoping that the CA might rise to the occasion.

Gadsby is being lauded for it elsewhere, but why waste so much time in a 90 minute meeting to reiterate gripes that the KC were already fully aware of - rather than use the time to thrash out some common ground and a proper way forward?

In amongst a few fair points, Gadsby makes some bizarre logic-deficit claims - one being that the breeders of the DQd Basset couldn't possibly have produced a dog with a problem because... they are ABS breeders.

Funny! (And not least because if there's anything most of us have in common it is the agreement that the ABS is next to useless because anyone can join it and be given lovely impressive certificates without proper checks - only 15 per cent of ABS breeders have ever been visited.)

In there too is the claim that the vets had not been instructed in the finer points of the highlighted breeds' standards (ie. that Basset Hounds and Clumbers are supposed to have a little ectropion - after all, how else can you achieve that desirable lozenge-shaped eye?).

But I have to say that the thing that I really took exception to was the repellent inference that the independent Crufts' vets Alison Skipper and Will Jeffels were "activists against our sport".  There is absolutely no evidence of this - and indeed a good deal of evidence to the contrary.

Really, they're going to have to do a LOT better than that if they want to be taken seriously by anybody outside the show world.

Finally, this afternoon, the joint press release arrived. And I'm sure the CA will try to put a brave face on it. But it's pretty much a fob-off. The KC has made it absolutely clear that it is not suspending the vet checks (which has prompted some on the Exhibitors Voice and Choice group to start calling for Chairman Steve Dean's resignation because, after all, he's a vet isn't he and so is probably half way to being an animal rights activist himself?).

The KC has of course also said it will listen to any proposals the Alliance would like to present (it would be rude not to), but if there was a real commitment on both sides to finding a compromise here, the wording would have been completely different.  As it is, the ball would appear to be in the CA's court to come up with something the KC might find acceptable.

The problem being, however, that at the moment, the CA's racket is full of holes.

UKC leads the way in the US with breed standard revisions

Well this is interesting.... The United Kennel Club (UKC) - the only serious rival to the American Kennel Club (AKC) in America - has taken the bull by the horns and revised six of its breed standards, with six more to be added next month. The reason? It is alarmed by "the paths of exaggeration that many breeds have taken" and feels a "moral duty" to do something to address the problem.

As opposed, that is, to sticking fingers in its ears and singing la-la-la in the hope that it can continue to breed dogs to standards that clearly - in some cases - encourages dogs that will suffer from health and welfare problems. Yep, I am referring to Dennis "NEVER!!" Sprung and the other diehards at the American Kennel Club.

I met UKC President Wayne Cavanaugh in the US at the Purebred Paradox conference last year, and was impressed by his contribution to the workshop that followed the conference. He clearly got that there was a problem in some breeds and seemed keen to be involved in helping to put things right.

There is much about the UKC that I like - including that it long ago accepted the registration of the LUA Dalmatians; that professional handlers are not allowed at its conformation shows; and that 60 per cent of its events are performance-related - not just the usual agility, obedience and field/hunting trials but other events that 'ordinary' dog owners can participate in, such as Dock Jumping and Terrier Racing.

I hear two main criticisms of the UKC. The first that it is a commercial registry and that it does not contribute to canine research in the way that the AKC does; the second that it sometimes talks a better game than it walks.  But it's doing well - with registrations on the rise (while the AKC's are dropping)
and it clearly appeals to many for being a lot less stuffy than the AKC - and increasingly, for representing  - as its tagline says - "real dogs for real people".

So far, the UKC has changed six breed standards, which come into effect on May 1st, 2012 - the Alaskan Klee Kai, Barbet, Basset Hound, the German Shepherd, Peke and Shar-pei.

Some highlights:

Old standard
General appearance:  A short-legged, long-bodied, well-balanced hound of considerable substance, Any good hound color is acceptable. The coat is short, close and smooth, and a certain amount of loose skin is desirable.

New standard
General appearance: A short-legged, long-bodied, well-balanced hound of considerable substance. Legs are short, but with enough length to afford proper movement at all times. Bone is heavy in relation to the size of the dog, but movement is not compromised and is not clumsy. Any good hound color is acceptable. The coat is short, close and smoth, and a certain amount of loose skin is desirable. There must be adequate clearance between the lowest part of the chest and ground to allow the dog to move freely over all types of terrain.

This is a working hound and therefore must be strong, active, and capable of great endurance in the field.

Working dogs are not to be penalized under any conditions for scars or vlemishes that are due to hunting injuries.

Serious fault: dewlap so exaggerated or excessive as to appear "sloppy", which would be a detriment in the field. Excessive wrinkles. Overweight.

The new standard does, however, still allow for the third eyelid being visible ("although not excessively") and it does also still specify a lozenge-shaped eye - which may be incompatible with the new disqualifying fault of "entropionism/ectropionism".


Old standard
...From the pasterns to the elbows, the forelegs are straight and strong with oval-shaped bones. The pasterns are strong and supple, sloping at about 25 degrees. 

New standard
...From the pasterns to the elbows, the forelegs are straight and strong with oval-shaped bones. The pasterns are strong and supple, sloping no more than 25 degrees.

Serious Faults: Pasterns slanted more than 25 degrees. Pasterns so long and weak that proper movement is compromised.

Old standard
....The croup is long and sloping.

New standard
...The croup is long and slightly sloping.

Serious Faults: Any measure of a roached back. Shelly appearance.

Old standard
 ...The rear pastern is short and strong. Powerful hindquarters are necessary to enable the effortless movement that is an essential feature of this breed.

New standard
...The rear pastern is short and strong, and should remain upright and functional. Powerful hindquarters are necessary to enable the effortless movement that is an essential feature of this breed. Rear pasterns should remain upright and functional.

Serious Faults: Over-angulated rear, with anything exaggerated beyond a mild slope. Rear pasterns so long and weak that proper movement is compromised.

Old standard 
Correct gait is an essential feature of the German Shepherd Dog. When trotting, it moves with a long, efficient stride that is driven by a powerful forward thrust from the hindquarters. The rear leg, moving forward, swings under the foreleg and touches down in front of the point where the forefoot left an imprint. The result of this “over-reaching” is that one rear leg passes outside its corresponding front leg and the other passes inside its corresponding front leg. This is a breed characteristic and should not be penalized as long as the body is straight in relationship to the direction of movement. As the rear leg moves backward, the body is propelled forward. The front and rear feet remain close to the ground throughout. When trotting, the back remains firm and level. As the speed of the trot increases, there is a tendency to single track. Correct movement must be evaluated from front and rear as well as the side. 

Serious Faults: Any fault that affects correct movement is a serious fault.

New standard
Absolute soundness of movement is paramount.

Correct gait is an essential feature of the German Shepherd Dog. When trotting, it moves with a long, effortless, efficient stride that is driven by a powerful forward thrust from the hindquarters. The rear leg, moving forward, swings under the foreleg and touches down in front of the point where the forefoot left an imprint. The result is that one rear leg passes outside its corresponding front leg and the other passes inside its corresponding front leg. This is a breed characteristic and should not be penalized as long as the body is straight in relationship to the direction of movement. As the rear leg moves backward, the body is propelled forward. The front and rear feet remain close to the ground throughout. When trotting, the back remains firm and level with no superfluous vertical movement. Hocks should be strong and straight, turning neither in nor out as the dog moves. There should be no visible “wobble” to the hock. Neither front nor rear pasterns should strike the ground; this is an unacceptable exaggeration and an indication of incorrect movement. As the speed of the trot increases, there is a tendency to single track. Correct movement and soundness must be evaluated from front and rear as well as the side.

Serious Faults: Any fault that affects correct movement.

Quite a few changes here, including the addition of:

Absolute soundness and proper muscle tone is a must. Excessive coat is unnecessary. Head properties should remain free of exaggeration so as to not compromise breathing and/or obstruct normal vision.


It should be free of respiratory distress caused from excessive face/nose wrinkles or insufficient nostrils and able to move freely and soundly. In proportion it is slightly longer than tall.

Old standard
MUZZLE - Short and wide, with a firm underjaw. There is a wrinkle, either continuous or broken, that extends from the cheeks to the bridge of the nose in an inverted ‘V’. The wrinkle should not obscure either the eyes or the nose. The black lips meet evenly and fully cover the teeth.

Serious Faults: Heavy wrinkles that hang over the nose. Teeth or tongue showing when the mouth is closed.

New standard
MUZZLE - Must be evident and allow for comfortable breathing. Proportionately short, in comparison to the size of the dog, and wide, with a firm underjaw. There is a wrinkle, preferably broken, that extends from the cheeks to the bridge of the nose in an inverted ‘V’, without being excessive or affecting the dog’s breathing. The wrinkle should not obscure either the eyes or the nose. The black lips meet evenly and fully cover the teeth.

Eliminating Faults: Heavy wrinkles that affect breathing and/or obstruct normal vision. Muzzle so short as to affect breathing.

The breed standard changes are not perfect, by any means:

 Inexplicably, the new GSD standard adds as a disqualification: "nose not predominantly black".   (Could someone in GSDs enlighten me to whether this is anything more than a cosmetic issue?)

The new Shar-pei standard has added "excessive wrinkling on the head in adults" as an eliminating fault, but the standard still calls for small, deepset eyes and "extremely small" ears - both of which can cause problems. (The UK breed standard, in comparison, while still demanding very small ears, asks for medium-sized eyes, and while the UKC standard refers to a "hippopotamus"  muzzle,  the KC breed standard asks only that the muzzle is "slightly" padded.

And, actually, if the UKC really wanted to lead the way, it would encourage the breeding of the traditional, and almost wrinkle-free "bonemouth" Shar-pei rather than the Westernised "meatmouth" with its excessive wrinkling.

But it's a start... and a smart PR move by Wayne Cavanaugh - but not just that; for I did truly get the impression that the UKC President feels strongly on this issue. Most of all, of course, it surely puts a lot of pressure on the head-in-the-sand AKC to follow suit... ?

The press release that announced the UKC changes appears to be offline at the moment, so here it is in full.
The United Kennel Club, Inc., is first and foremost a worldwide registry of purebred dogs, but we feel our moral duty to the canine world goes beyond maintaining data. We are alarmed by the paths of exaggeration that many breeds have taken, all of which directly affect the health, function and performance of those breeds. It is an elemental fact that these breed changes have developed unchecked as a result of fads and fancies, as well as a lack of accountability on the part of breeders, owners and judges.
UKC feels something must be done to address this problem, and we are willing to do our part, hoping the canine world will follow suit. Toward that end, we have decided to revise all of our breed standards to reflect that goal. Breed standards are viewed as a blueprint to which dogs are to be bred. UKC believes that breed standards are more than that, and we will be including directives to breeders, judges and owners.
All of our breed standards will now include the following introductory statement: “The goals and purposes of this breed standard include: to furnish guidelines for breeders who wish to maintain the quality of their breed and to improve it; to advance this breed to a state of similarity throughout the world; and to act as a guide for judges. Breeders and judges have the responsibility to avoid any conditions or exaggerations that are detrimental to the health, welfare and soundness of this breed, and must take the responsibility to see that these are not perpetuated. Any departure from the following should be considered a fault, and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog and on the dog’s ability to perform its traditional work.”
In addition, each breed standard will be updated to include problems specific to that breed in order to clarify the direction to be taken when they are encountered.
All of these breed standard revisions reflect the foundation of the “UKC Total Dog” philosophy. The exponential growth in “UKC Total Dog” events is living proof that dogs can have the health, temperament and conformation to be excellent representatives of their breed. We understand that breed standards are left to subjective interpretation and are not a panacea on their own; however, combined with UKC Total Dog events and our UKC Judges Education program, they are a natural extension and essential continuation of our commitment to the future of purebred dogs.
The United Kennel Club, Inc., is very serious about this project and encourages all dog breeders, judges and owners to follow suit. As each standard is updated, it will be posted on the UKC website,, with its effective date.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Good Dogues

Cheer up - it's good news!

Some excellent news from the Dogue de Bordeaux Club of Great Britain... It is not up on their website yet, but yesterday the Club announced on its Facebook page that it was initiating both a health survey and a new health-testing scheme for the breed.

The Dogue de Bordeaux club of Great Britain are constantly looking at ways to improve the health of the Dogue de Bordeaux for the betterment of the breed for future generations. 
We feel that health testing is the way forward and will endeavour to do everything within our power to ensure members are well informed about health issues and the progress made. 
With this in mind, we are pleased to announce a new scheme which we will be launching at the Limit Show in May 2012. 
The scheme we hope will promote responsible ownership and provide an information portal for the all to use. 
The Dogue de Bordeaux Club of GB will be holding regular seminars to help inform all of the current health issues within the breed and possible ways to eradicate them.
The Health Testing Scheme

The scheme will be made up of 3 tiers (a further tier will be added after a health survey is carried out) and a certificate of recognition will be awarded according to the health tests that the owner wishes to carry out.  
We will have all dogs that have participated listed on the clubs website in their respective group.

BRONZE AWARD 6+ months
The dog must be micro chipped
Have a full vet/health check (forms will be provided by the club)

SILVER AWARD 12 + months
The dog must be micro chipped and DNA profiled
Have a full vet check (forms will be provided by the club)
BVA Hip Score and BVA Elbow Score
GOLD AWARD 12+ months
The dog must be micro chipped and DNA profiled
Have a full vet check (forms will be provided by the club)
BVA Hip Score below 25
BVA Elbow Score 2 and below
Clear BVA Eye Test
BVA Heart Test
 This is a great start. Excellent!

The crux of the matter

There was a really telling moment at the inaugural meeting of the Canine Alliance two weeks ago - as revealed in Dog World's  excellent filmed coverage of the event.

A couple of others have mentioned it too so here it is. It's the moment when Heather Storton of Dereheath Bassets stood up and told the meeting that the vet that failed her dog at Crufts said to her: "I am judging this dog as a dog, not a Basset Hound".  As you'll hear, there is laughter. 

And when Mrs Storton says that she doesn't think that any any Basset that had gone into that room would have passed the test, the crowd claps supportively.
"The breed standard that is in place for Bassets...I cannot produce the animal they want me to take into that veterinary room," insists Mrs Storton. " I cannot produce a lozenge-shaped eye that will get through that exam."

Have a watch:

I've pulled it out because I think it illustrates the crux of the matter.

Heather Storton makes it plain that she is breeding Bassets first, and dogs second and this reflects how many show breeders feel. However, most people outside of the show world would see her dogs as dogs first, and Bassets second. 

Just before this bit of the meeting the Canine Alliance's Andrew Brace had told how he had tried to persuade the KC that the judge should be present for the vet checks so that they could explain the finer points of the breed to the vet should there be a query. So presumably:

Vet: this dog has ectropion...
Judge: oh no, they're supposed to be like that
Vet: but it's a problem.. it means the eye doesn't function properly
Judge: no, no... it's a breed feature. It wouldn't be a Basset Hound without it.

The whole mood of the meeting is that it isn't the dogs that should change - it's the vet's view of them that is wrong. Whereas "out here" it's perfectly obvious that it's the breed standard and the dogs that need to change.

There's an extract from a letter in this week's Dog World saying much the same. Headlined:  "Weep for the Basset's future", the correspondent writes:

"The fact is, the Basset is not a normal dog. On the contrary it is a unique and very special hound. It was bred originally to be used as a slow moving flushing hound and the fact it has loose skin was for a purpose - to enable it to go into dense undergrowth without ripping the skin. 
"Given the loose skin, it is inevitable that a degree of haw can be expected to be seen in the eyes. And as such, this is a breed feature. I do acknowledge that excess are to be discouraged.... but for the vet to state that she looked at the breed as a 'normal dog' suggests to me a huge amount of ignorance on the part of somebody charged with such an important job."

The breeders will admit that, yep, the exposed haw does sometimes cause problems but it's manageable and not a big deal for the dogs. For me, the Basset is being asked to give up his rights to a normal functioning eye for a totally arbitrary breed standard - a choice I am not sure it would make itself.

We are back, again, to "where do we draw the line". I don't have the answer but know that the discussion needs to be had.And had again and again and again until we find some concensus that allows us to keep and treasure our dog breeds without compromising their health and welfare.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

"A bit too much haw..."

When I blogged two weeks ago re the Basset Hound Ch Buzzed Lightyear at Dereheath being disqualified at Crufts, it created a lively discussion in the comments - with a couple of contributions from a top American Basset breeder "outraged" by what had happened.

In the main, US Bassets are much less exaggerated than many of the dogs in the UK showring, so I googled to see what this breeder's Bassets were like and found she currently had a litter of pups on the ground with, well, frankly the worst eyes I had ever seen.  I posted a link. In my heart, I hoped the breeder would admit that the eyes were bad and say it was something she was worried about and trying to breed away from , but no. Her response was: "...the litter you have commented upon has probably the least chance of developing glaucoma of any dogs in the US due to a great deal of research, careful breeding and a lot of money spent. Frankly, if you give me a choice between eliminating glaucoma and a bit too much haw showing...well the answer should be clear to anyone I think. I've NEVER known of a Basset going blind from ectropia and/or a lot of haw but I could name way too many who have gone blind from glaucoma."

As several people commented, it should not be a case of either/or.   Anyway, the breeder has now taken her website down and I've had a few people wanting to see the pictures write in to say the link is no longer working.  Suspecting that the site might become unavailable in the wake of the criticism, I cached the pix at the time, so for those who want to know what we were talking about, here they are.

It makes me incredibly sad to see these pictures. Have we really lost our way so much that anyone can really think this is all right?


Saturday 24 March 2012

Able Mabel

Meet Mabel... snapped recently by someone who sent me pictures of her as an example of an athletic young Bulldog. 

For comparison, here's a top UK show bulldog.
 And a closer look at those profiles..



Now when I first saw the pix of Mabel I assumed she was a cross, but it turns out she is KC-registered and was bred by a KC Accredited Breeder.

So which do you prefer? While you're making up your mind, here are some more pix of young Mabel (about a year old now) romping in the park... Yes, a warm day and she isn't panting.

Crufts vets - on the record

Alison Skipper and Will Jeffels, the two small animal practice vets who volunteered to do the inaugural independent vet checks at Crufts 2012, have written a joint letter published this week in the Veterinary Record. They write:

"As colleagues may be aware, Crufts 2012 saw a groundbreaking initiative in the world of pedigree dogs: the launch of the veterinary examination of 15 high-profile breeds before confirmation of their ‘Best of Breed’ awards. Under this scheme, championship show winners belonging to these breeds must be examined by an independent vet before their awards are confirmed and they can proceed to further competition. We are the two vets who were chosen to carry out these checks for the first time.

"As a profession, vets are quick to criticise the world of pedigree dogs in general, and the Kennel Club (KC) in particular, for breeding practices and attitudes that are felt to compromise welfare. This new KC initiative is enormously controversial, and we should be equally ready to support those at the KC who have been brave enough to push through this innovation, against great opposition from many very influential figures in the dog world. As both chairman of the KC and a vet, Steve Dean is uniquely placed to have spearheaded this change of culture, and we should be proud to assist him and the other KC members who have been courageous enough to take this step. In particular, we feel that the new process will gain far more credibility with the breeders if it is implemented by as many different vets as possible.

"Henceforth, vets will be asked to carry out these checks on the high-profile breed winners at all championship shows. The process is quite clear: the KC health team has produced an excellent illustrated booklet, which concisely states the areas of concern for each breed. We are not meant to judge the dog as a specimen of its breed, but merely to evaluate it to establish whether any visible aspect of its conformation or soundness has led to health problems that compromise its welfare. This examination is quite straightforward for any experienced general practitioner, and we both found that our decisions were quite clear-cut, for various reasons, in every dog that we examined on this occasion.
It would, however, be advisable if any vet who is likely to be undertaking these veterinary checks in the future to contact the KC to discuss the criteria for these inspections. Some conflict and confusion has arisen with regard to some failed dogs having clear eye certificates, which has been clarified by the statement made by Ian Mason the chief panellist for the BVA/KC/ISDS eye scheme.

"While the KC gave us great support, no attempt whatsoever was made to influence our decisions in any way: we could have passed or failed each and every one of the 15 dogs quite freely. We think that the scheme is already beginning to show its worth, in that we both examined (and passed) some healthy, moderate specimens of controversial breeds, which had obviously been chosen by the judges with due consideration of health issues. If, over the forthcoming months, other vets (and judges) make similar decisions, we think there is real hope that attitudes will change within the dog show world to promote the selection of less extreme conformation, with consequent enormous benefits to the welfare of the dogs concerned.

"The fact that the KC gave two ordinary general practitioners the authority to overrule the decisions of internationally famous judges at the world’s biggest dog show, and trusted us to make impartial decisions about the dogs we examined, is a great mark of confidence in the integrity and ethics of our profession. We should not let them down. We very much hope that many other vets will support the KC by volunteering to carry out these checks at a championship show. We are both very happy to talk to any colleague who might be interested in doing so."
Alison Skipper, Surrey Will Jeffels, Staffordshire

Epilepsy breakthrough in Belgian Shepherd Dogs

© Ulrik Fallström

Prof Hannes Lohi's research team at the University of Helsinki has already identified the first epilepsy gene for a late-onset symptomatic epilepsy in Miniature Wirehired Dachshunds (known as Lafora's) and last year, as reported here last July, found a gene associated with a transient idiopathic epilepsy in Lagotto Romagnolos.

Now, in a paper published yesterday in PLoS ONE, the team reveals that it may be close to finding a gene for idiopathic epilepsy in Belgian Shepherd Dogs, a condition that affects up on one in 5 of the breed.

Specifically, the Finnish researchers (working in collaboration with Danish, Swedish and American researchers in an EU-funded project ) have identified a small region on chromosone 37 which, if homozygous (ie if a dog inherits two identical copies of it - one from each parent) increases the chance of epilepsy seven-fold.

It's good news for Belgian Shepherd Dogs... and also good news for other dog breeds as it's thought that the discovery could help in the research of epilepsy in other breeds, too. The prevalence of epilepsy in purebred dogs is estimated to range from 0.5% to 1%. However, in some breeds there is a strong suspicion of an underlying genetic factor as there is an accumulation of epileptic individuals within families with an incidence as high as 20%. 

There is more work to be done before a DNA test is available, but given the team's previous record this is hopefully just a question of time.

Thursday 22 March 2012

"For the benefit of pedigree dogs"

Last week, in an interview with DogWorld, judge Andrew Brace claimed the new Canine Alliance represented the "grass roots of dogdom"

Well not really, obviously. The new Alliance actually represents the grass roots of dogshowdom.

Last week, this is what Mr Brace had to say:

"The way in which 15 breeds were targeted and humilated at Crufts is unacceptable... We are not against health-testing; far from it. We are for health testing but on a level playing field. We want every single dog that goes to a KC licensed show to be fit and healthy and we want that fact established before it goes in the ring, not after it's won a CC or BOB. 

"Our wish is to have a KC that fosters the interests of the breeders, exhibitors and judges who support it. We are their customers. This is not about the demise of the KC; not about trying to set up some alternative organisation... what we want is a Kennel Club that cares for us."
The language, as others have already noted, is telling.  That first sentence, for instance,  tells us that the "breeds" to people like Andrew Brace are not the dogs themselves but their breeders. Because, of course, the DQd Peke, Bulldog, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Clumber and Basset Hound can feel no humiliation. (Otherwise, surely, Poodles would have voted en masse by now to boycott the show-ring on the grounds that the grooming makes them look embarrassingly ridiculous.)

And what's with the level playing field idea? Sounds OK superficially but the 15 highlighted breeds have, after all, been highlighted for good reasons and it made sense to start with them. 

And, oops, Mr Brace forgot to mention the dog in the second paragraph. 

Now I'm all for dogs having to prove their health before they enter the show-ring but I believe the notion of vet-checking all dogs given the numbers at UK shows is impractical and therefore a red herring. What's more, can you imagine the uproar, anyway, should vets DQ some top dog de jour that's just arrived after a 300 mile journey to compete?

But, today,  I am greatly heartened. Because here's the statement following the first meeting of Canine Alliance' steering committee last night:

"The Canine Alliance was formed to represent everyone involved with pedigree dogs, and to negotiate when necessary with any related organisations in the interest of all breeds. Its aims are to protect and support the well-being of pedigree dogs, to uphold the ethics of responsible dog breeding, to encourage health checking of all dogs and to allow the exhibition of pedigree dogs without bias or discrimination.... It pledges to be fair and totally transparent, always working to the benefit of pedigree dogs.

At last! An organisation that I can sign up to! After all,  I'm involved with pedigree dogs and I can sign up to most of those aims. I also protect and support the well-being of pedigree dogs; I am happy to uphold the ethics of responsible dog breeding and to encourage health checking of all dogs. And if I can't quite sign up to the last one, it's only because I don't think that vet-checks for breeds known to have specific problems as a result of their conformation is being biased or discriminatory. I  think it's being fair and commensurate (even if the finer detail of the principle of independent scrutiny is not yet quite right).

So what shall we do first, CA?

• Limits on popular sires and inbreeding?
• KC registrations dependent on taking and actually passing breed specific tests?
• Health reps educated in rudimentary genetics?
• Proper breed health surveys?
• Ban dog shows in their current form (I mean, didn't you say you were working to the benefit of pedigree dogs?)

It's so exciting, isn't it? Together, we can achieve so much!

The Canine Alliance now has its own, open Facebook page.  Enjoy...

Incidentally, is it just me that thinks that the paw on the CA logo looks like it's slamming shut the lid of a coffin?

Tuesday 20 March 2012

KC stands firm on vet checks

KC Chairman Steve Dean has responded to the furore surrounding the vet checks at Crufts - saying he feels sorry for those exhibitors who were disqualified. But he defends the principle of veterinary scrutiny and states that the checks will continue "for the foreseeable future."

Professor Dean also hints that breed standards may need to be re-written by asking: "...can we continue to accept ‘some haw showing’ or descriptors in breed standards that suggest triangular shaped eyes? These are all divergent from the normal eyelid that dogs need to maintain good ocular health."

In a statement released this afternoon to Dog World (see it in full here) , Prof Dean congratulates the nine breeds that passed the vet checks but argues that the vet checks are necessary to ensure that dogs with clinical problems resulting from exaggerated conformation issues are not rewarded. 
"...the fact that nine breeds passed the checks and that in the main, the concerns highlighted in those that failed were not linked to problems relating to lameness, skin disorders or respiratory distress, must be a reason for congratulation.  It is recognised that even the breeds that failed have made huge strides forward in recent years and this progress needs to continue particularly in relation to externally visible eye disease.

Prof Dean explains that the breeds came to be highlighted following the 1995 European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals which "listed some 30 breeds detailing deleterious conditions which, it claimed, if not addressed could warrant action to prevent further breeding. The KC considered the list and reduced it to 14 breeds in line with available evidence in the UK. The Chinese Crested was added later because of concerns that cosmetic shaving or hair removal was causing skin damage."

Actually, this isn't quite right - 1995 was when specific mention was added of specific breeds of particular concern but the European Conventon itself dates from 1987 (and in fact has been signed and ratified by 22 countries - but not the UK due in part to obbying by the KC).

And while it was, indeed, the UK Government's interest in the Convention  that in 2002  triggered the KC into founding their Breed Health and Welfare Strategy Group (now called the Dog Health Group), there were only 10 breeds on the KC list until March 2008. 

Those 10 breeds were the Bloodhound, Bulldog, Clumber Spaniel, Chow Chow, Dogue de Bordeaux, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Pekingese, St Bernard and Shar pei. The German Shepherd and Basset Hound were added in March 2008; the pug after it was highlighted in Pedigree Dogs Exposed and the Crestie a little later after I, and others, highlighted the problems associated with the wholescale denuding of dogs (using razors and depilatory cremes) that were not "true" hairless in order to win in the show-ring.

Prof Dean points out that part of the rationale for the vet checks was that ringside observers appointed by the KC to monitor judges consistently score dogs lower  in terms of health and welfare than do judges, and that a system of voluntary veterinary referral - introduced three years ago - had not worked as well as hoped.

In response to accusations that singling out 15 breeds is unfair and discriminatory, Prof Dean explains:
"In short the risk to health is greater for the 15 listed breeds but breeds can be added to the list if a case is made that health and welfare is significantly compromised by exaggerated conformation."

 Other points made by Professor Dean include:

• that the presence of ectropion or entropion on its own was not sufficient reason for disqualification - there had to be accompanying pathology - either curent inflammation or evidence of chronic damage.

• it was agreed in advance that a pen torch could be used if the light in the examination room was insufficient. In the event, one was used only on the first day, after which lighting was improved in the examination room.  

• no other diagnostic tools were used and it has been agreed that, in future, lighting will be sufficient to negate the need for a pen torch.

Challenging reports that BOB winners were rushed away from the ring and had to travel some distance to be examined, Prof Dean insists:

•  an examination area was provided in each of the four halls at Crufts to minimise the distance any BOB need travel

•  stewards were instructed to wait for the BOB to complete their post judging celebrations before acompanying dog and handler to the veterinary check area.

Prof Dean also defends the appointment of independent vets, pointing out that it was done to avoid any charges of partisanship, and he praises the two vets that did the checks:

"Both are general practitioners with background experience of either veterinary duties at championship dog shows or with some historical experience of breeding and showing dogs. They are reasonable, sensible, experienced vets and I have every confidence that they followed their brief accurately and that their conclusions were valid."

In conclusion,  Professor Dean says:

"It is very regrettable that we need to use a veterinary check before the BOB award can be confirmed at championship level and I feel very sorry for those whose dogs failed the check. However, it is important to realise that 15 high-profile breeds do have conformational exaggerations that have led to avoidable conditions causing pain or discomfort and this has to be unacceptable to all of us.
"Much work has been done by the breeds to move away from these exaggerations and in a remarkably short time. As the KC, we have to provide the right framework to ensure dogs win at shows because they are typical of their breed and have good health. The veterinary check is just part of that framework and if breeders, exhibitors and judges play a full part, then the veterinary check should be a simple confirmatory procedure that could be dispensed with within a decade. However, we must recognise that some breeds will struggle with the veterinary check for some time to come. 

Dog health campaigners will be delighted that the KC is standing firm - although disappointed to hear that there are no plans to demand health certificates or health test results covering inherited disease as a condition of entry at dog shows.

So there it is. A bit of a face-palm moment for the newly formed Canine Alliance which is demanding the immediate suspension of the vet checks - and, indeed, I see their leader Andrew Brace tonight is calling for the CC winners in Chinese Cresteds, Pekes and Pugs to "put principles before prizes" and refuse to challenge for Best of Breed at the next big champ show - UK Toy Dog at Staffordshire County Showground on March 31st.

Now that I can't wait to see.

The Canine Alliane's Facebook site - and connected satellite sites - are in the meantime proving a much better spectator sport than watching dogs trot round a show-ring, with whole threads being censored, people being banned and accusations and counter-accusations threatening to de-rail the whole shebang before it gets off the ground.

See for yourself here.

Monday 19 March 2012

PDE2 hits Canada

Pedigree Dogs Re-Exposed (as they're calling the sequel to PDE in Canada) airs as part of the Passionate Eye documentary series in Canada next week.

Monday, March 26, 2012 10:00 PM ET/PT on CBC News Network
Sunday April 1 at 8 pm ET on CBC News Network

Here's the trail....


Sunday 18 March 2012

Breeds in danger of extinction in the UK

The English Setter - on the road to nowhere?

Soon after Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the Kennel Club announced a five-year commitment to fund a new Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) in Newmarket - its mission to continue developing new DNA tests, to develop new breeding tools/strategies and to assess genetic diversity in KC breeds.

Overall, the partnership  has been fruitful.  Much-heralded Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) to help Cavalier breeders breed away from syringomyelia and mitral valve disease may have failed to appear (and would seem to be moth-balled due to lack of breeder support) but EBVs for hip and elbow dysplasia are on the way.

Mate Select, another product of the partnership, has been a success and will get better - a boon to owners, breeders (and to television producers checking breeder claims re inbreeding).

So what about the promised assessment of genetic diversity and, in particular, a commitment to look at the effective population sizes of individual breeds (essentially a measure of genetic diversity)?

Last August, the Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the AHT  published what it called its "mid-term report" marking the half-way point in the five-year partnership between the KC and the AHT and here's what it said:

Population structures and inbreeding 
Inbreeding is one of the risk factors for inherited disease in purebred dogs. It is important to understand how the population structure of breeds may be contributing to an increased rate of inbreeding. Analysis of the population structure and rate of inbreeding for all 211 Kennel Club recognised breeds is currently underway.
Kennel Club pedigree records are being used to calculate the rate of inbreeding for each breed over the last 30 years. The rates show how fast inbreeding is accumulating in a breed and indicates the effective population size. This gives a measure of how many individuals are contributing genetically to the population and is a measure of the size of the gene pool in any UK breed.
The analysis also examines how much close inbreeding there is in the breed, and produces other descriptive statistics such as how many dogs are used for breeding and their average number of offspring.
So far we have analysed 38 breeds and published results for the following:
Bearded Collie, Bloodhound, Great Dane, Irish Red and White Setter, Miniature Bull Terrier, Otterhound and Tibetan Terrier.
Generally, our results show that most breeds have an effective population size below the recommended minimum to maintain a sustainably low rate of inbreeding. In many cases there is evidence that inbreeding rates could be much lower, if appropriate breeding strategies were adopted.
Such strategies might include reducing the degree of line breeding used, managing the use of popular sires to reduce their future impact on inbreeding, and using more individuals as sires and dams.

Now the paragraph I have bolded above was an exciting one for me. And that's because, in 2008, Imperial College London, using Kennel Club data, published a paper (Calboli et al) that examined the population structure of 10 KC breeds.  In particular, it assessed the individual breeds' effective population size.  Bearing in mind that anything lower than 100 is considered critical by conservationists and anything under 50 as being a one-way ticket to extinction, here is what Imperial found:

Akita Inu - 45
Boxer - 45
Bulldog - 48
Chow Chow - 50
Rough Collie - 33
Golden Retriever - 67
Greyhound - 17
German Shepherd - 76
Labrador - 114
English Springer Spaniel - 72

When I first saw this data, I was horrified, believing it had to be an enormous wake-up call for everyone in dog-breeding. In fact, its publication (in May 2008) changed the course of the first Pedigree Dogs Exposed. And yet despite the Kennel Club being co-authors and the findings known to the them for months before PDE,  there was no mention of it anywhere by the Kennel Club - and certainly no obvious action had been taken to address the paper's concerns.

In fact, Pedigree Dogs Exposed commisisoned the Imperial researchers to look at a further three breeds for us - the Flatcoated Retriever, Pug and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the figures for them were:

Flatcoat - 52
Pug -  38
CKCS - 68

A big worry.

So the announcement last August that the KC Genetics Centre had studied a further 38 breeds and published the results for eight of them was of real interest. I called the AHT to ask for a copy of the published findings - to be told that the results were going to be published on the KC website in a couple of weeks' time.

Nothing appeared. I left it for a while but when, by December, there was still no sign of the findings, I contacted Caroline Kisko at the Kennel Club who replied: ".... unfortunately these are not yet available.  There are some 48 breeds in hand at present and many of these will be going on the KC web site soon but I can’t be certain exactly when."

I chased a couple more times before we finished Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Three Years On with no success.  I presumed it was because the findings were dreadful and that the KC didn't want us highlighting them in the film.

Three days before the film, I got a call from a writer for the Sunday Times telling me he'd got an exclusive from the Kennel Club regarding these figures, asking for my input and for contacts in  various breeds. I gave him both - in exchange for the data. And here's what I wrote to him in an email:
I have battled - and failed - since last September to get the genetic diversity data that you have managed to get. That's when the KC released a report which indicated that the data had been published. 
To put it into some kind of perspective, what this data reveals is that these five breeds are more criticially endangered genetically than the Giant Panda.

If I'd known these figures even a week ago, I would have scrambled to get them in Pedigree Dogs Exposed - Three Years on because they could not be worse news for dogs.

In effect, 140 years of Kennel Club breeding has brought these breeds - and others - to their knees. The data should be an enormous wake-up call that something must be done before it is too late. We do have a precious resource in our pedigree dogs but we are frittering them away from being wedded to the idea that the more pure dogs are, the better. We know this isn't true, and that trapping dogs within ever-decreasing gene pools is destroying them.

The frustrating thing is that it doesn't have to be that way. We now have the knowledge to do it differently.

The story appeared in the Sunday Times two days later. It wasn't much more than a re-hash of the KC announcement that was officially released on the same day and it contained no mention of the role that KC breeding practices have played in reducing some breeds to genetic ghosts of their former selves.  It was way too late for us to include the new findings in the film - which aired the next day.

So the KC has finally released some of the data, but not all of it. And as the announcement seems to have got lost in the general melee around the film and then Crufts, I am returning to it now.

As suspected, it does make grim reading. (NB: the figures relate to the UK population of these breeds only).

There are five breeds with effective population sizes under 30. They are:

Irish Red and White Setter  - 28
English Setter  - 27
Manchester Terrier  - 20
Lancashire Heeler - 25
Otterhound - 29

The KC has also released the figures for five breeds they have found so far with effective population sizes over 100:

Saluki - 107
Newfoundland - 181
American Cocker Spaniel 189
Standard Poodle - 377
Bernese Mountain Dog - 762.

I confess that I am totally thrown by the effective population size found for the BMD - it seems impossibly high and so does the Standard Poodle's given the Wycliffe bottleneck. I will ask the AHT for some input.

And where are the others? The mid-term report mentioned Bearded Collie, Bloodhound, Great Dane, Miniature Bull Terrier and Tibetan Terrier. And what about the other 30 or so breeds they say they've looked at?  Hopefully they'll be be forthcoming soon.

Meanwhile, the KC says it will be talking to the breed clubs of the most compromised breeds about outcrossing.  In fact, the Irish Kennel Club has already endorsed an outcross programme between the IRWS and the working Red Setter

How will this go down with the breed clubs? I was heartened to see Judith Ashworth,  the health rep for the Otterhound Club say: “This new research, in addition to the World Health Survey of the entire breed, which we carried out with the Kennel Club and the Animal Health Trust in 2009, is crucial in helping us to develop breeding strategies that will protect the health of the breed that we love.

 “Outcrossing is certainly one option that we are very keen to look at, because we do need to increase the number of dogs that are contributing genetically to the very small population of dogs within our breed. We look forward to working with the Kennel Club and the Animal Health Trust to find solutions that will protect our breed in the future.”

I imagine there will be more resistance from others. But to hear the KC talk so proactively about outcrossing as one means of increasing genetic diveristy is encouraging. Let's hope the talk is followed by some action. And let's hope it doesn't trigger yet more accusations that the Kennel Club has been infiltrated by animal rights activists.

The picture at the top of this post, by the way, is of a young field-bred English Setter from Ireland that my rescue rehomed last year. She is called Orla and she is beautiful. She is spayed now but it's a reminder that there is a potential genetic resource outside of the confines of the Kennel Club without necessarily having to outcross to a different breed.

Saturday 17 March 2012

"Far too precious to take out for walks"

Now I know there are plenty of showdogs that have more than a passing acquaintance with the great outdoors, but the 2012 Crufts winning Lhasa Apso Elizabeth isn't one of them, according to a piece in today's Daily Mail, something that writer Julia Lawrence queries:

.... when you look her, you can’t help pondering, with a tinge of sadness, that this is a dog that has never chased a squirrel, scratched a flea or sniffed a lamp post in her life.
Would it, I ask her devoted owner, be totally out of the question for Elizabeth to rough it a little, now and then?
‘She’s far too precious to take out for walks,’ explains Margaret, a 59-year-old retired social worker. ‘That’s not to say she is kept indoors all the time — she has to be kept fit and healthy. She can run around in the back garden for exercise.’

But even the garden has been specially crafted to suit Elizabeth’s status. The vegetable patch and flowers have long gone, replaced instead by paving stones which can be kept scrubbed, bleached and hygienic at all times.
‘She can be walked on grass in the summer, when it is dry and short, but we couldn’t risk twigs and mud getting into her coat. In the house, she sleeps in a special dog crate in the kitchen, where she’s put if ever we are out or busy.
‘We couldn’t have her roaming about freely, in case she had an accident and hurt herself. If she broke a leg falling off a table, or accidentally swallowed something, she’d never show again.
But don't worry. Apparently Elizabeth doesn't want to go for walks.

Read more here.

Friday 16 March 2012

Get a grip

There are time when I feel like I've fallen into some strange parallel universe and today is one of them.

Six dogs fail a health check at Crufts and were not awarded Best of Breed as a result. More breeds pass than fail the vet check but no matter, the show world goes into meltdown.

Everyone knew the vet checks were happening and most approved of them in principle. Sure, maybe they haven't got them quite right yet but instead of this triggering some sensible discussion about how to improve them, there is uproar.

Five thousand people join a new Facebook site demanding retribution. Over 300 turn up at a meeting; new dog-something is formed; a reporter of the evening's proceedings describes the way in which the vet-checks were conducted "quite sickening and an utter disgrace" because...wait for of the vets used a pen torch to look at the dogs' eyes.

Another (or perhaps the same) vet is accused of being rude to the owner and refusing to allow the Peke a drink of water after they had "rushed" from the ring to the examination room.

Now how likely - really - is that given how much scrutiny these poor vets were under?

On the other side of the Atlantic, too, there is hysteria. Just look at this blog:

"This is a very, very slippery slope and as dog fanciers, we’re standing at the edge of it. I keep thinking of Martin Niemoller’s quote which I’ve shortened and paraphrased to save space: When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent because I wasn’t a communist. When they came for the trade unionists, I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews,I remained silent because I wasn’t a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out. Now substitute a breed in any of those sentences above: When they came for the American Staffordshire Terrier, I didn’t say anything because I didn’t own an Am Staff. When they came for the Peke, I didn’t say anything because I didn’t own a Peke. You see where this is going."

Come off it.

Even the president of the American Kennel Club, Dennis Sprung, has joined in the fray:

"... the AKC will NEVER allow any such practice to occur. Our Parent Clubs own their respective standard and we support them 100 percent. Furthermore a Judges' decision is final and we respect that as well. The situation is a very disappointing one here from the point of view of breeders, exhibitors and judges and fanciers from around the world. In summary while our PCs have a right to be upset and concerned I will never allow this wrongful practice in America. Never!!! Dennis"
That will be the AKC that has leeched over 70 per cent of its registrations in recent years, yes?

It's been brewing since Pedigree Dogs Exposed, of course - the rising tide of resentment that outsiders have dared turn their attention to dog showing and found that not all is well. And this week it boiled over into a protest that is just not going to wash with anyone outside of the dog world (and I hope with not that many within it).

And here's the nub of it. There are healthy pedigree dogs and there are sick ones. There are good breeders and bad breeders. But it's the self-serving, intellectually-wanting system that is sick to the core.

It's evident in the denial; in this bonkers over-reaction; in the loopy legal threats I have to endure every day because I dare post photos of dogs who are not right;  in the intimidation of those in their breeds who try to challenge the status quo; in the face-judging and the who-you-know backhanders;  in the shoving under the carpet diseases that are killing dogs, and in the baying for the blood of anyone who dares stand up and say things could be better.

Here is the resume of the meeting on the new Facebook site. Elsewhere on the site, they're already bitching about the name of the new organisation and its strapline.  And just look who they have advising them on the legal front - the solicitor who acted for serial killer Fred West and was subsequently suspended for a year for professional misconduct.

Way to go.

Crufts vet Alison Skipper has her say

Alison Skipper is one of the two independent vets appointed by the KC to conduct the vet checks on the Best of Breed winners of the 15 highlighted breeds at Crufts.

She and Will Jeffels are, variously, being accused of being either useless or animal rights activitists intent on bringing down pedigree dogs.  Of course the truth is rather less exciting.  It turns out that Alison Skipper is an experienced general practice vet with a life-long interest in pedigree dogs. We also know that Will Jeffels was the show vet at the UK Toy Champ Show last year.

I can't imagine what the last few days have been like for both of them.

Here Alison Skipper has her say.

"One of the few positive things about being one of the two independent vets at the centre of this controversy is that I am, at least, independent. What I am about to write is my own opinion, and nobody has told me what to say, or even asked me to say it. Most of the other big players in this story have a vested interest of some kind: they are important people in the Kennel Club, or the British Veterinary Association (BVA), and so can’t speak completely freely, or they are well known people within the dog world, such as important judges or exhibitors.

 "Will Jeffels and I are not any of these things: we trained as vets because we like animals and wanted to work with them, and we volunteered to be the first vets implementing the new show checks because we supported the initiative and decided – rashly, perhaps – to get involved. I haven’t even seen Will for 20 years or so – we didn’t meet during Crufts – but we are united in our willingness to stand behind the reforms.   I grew up on the fringes of the dog show world. My mother took out our family affix in 1952, and was a regular breeder during the 1950s. I’ve been coming to Crufts since it was at Olympia, with the clickety- clackity old wooden escalators up from the tube station. I’ve been a small animal vet for 22 years, and have had pedigree dogs of my own throughout this time.

"I used to be very active in Australian Cattle Dogs, and was one of the driving forces behind an international effort in 1996 to source samples to develop a DNA test for PRA in the ACD; this was rewarded by the development of a gene specific test by OptiGen in 2004.

"I wrote the veterinary column for Our Dogs for over five years. I am currently (unless they kick me out over this) a member of four breed specific canine societies. At the moment, I have four dogs of smaller breeds. Over my time in dogs, I’ve done a bit of showing, including at Crufts, I’ve bred three litters (with one DIY caesarian!), and I’ve done club level agility for several years. I work in a small animal practice with lots of dog breeder clients, including some successful show kennels, and a large proportion of working dogs. However, I have never shown dogs seriously, and the one time I judged a match at a fun day, I realised that judging was not for me. What I am, I hope, is an ordinary vet with a strong interest in, and love for, the pedigree dog, a good degree of clinical competence, and enough personal integrity to do what I think is right.    I know how the dog world works, but I know very few of the main players within it, and these, I think, are the reasons why the KC and BVA appointed me as one of these first two vets.

"To go from a quiet life one week to being at the centre of such an emotive controversy the next is not easy, or fun. Why did I agree to do it? It wasn’t for the money; we didn’t get paid. The KC gave me food for the weekend, a bed for the night, and the chance to watch the groups on the days I was at Crufts, which was all very nice but I could have stayed at home and watched it on TV, and saved myself a lot of trouble. I’m not stupid: I knew it would be extremely controversial, and that I would probably have to make decisions that would be very unpopular. And it wasn’t without personal risk; if I were found guilty of false certification I could be struck off the veterinary register and lose my livelihood. That’s a pretty strong incentive to be accurate when carrying out a clinical examination.

"I agreed to do this because I thought it would help to improve the health and welfare of pedigree dogs. Personally, I see nothing wrong in the ethical production of pedigree dogs, except perhaps for the argument that there aren’t enough good homes out there for the dogs there are already. A healthy, happy pedigree dog obviously has as good a quality of life as a healthy, happy mongrel. However, nobody is compelled to breed pedigree dogs. It’s something we all choose to do.    And it seems to me that, if we are choosing to bring new dogs into the world, it’s only right that we should do what we can to produce dogs who are not physically prevented from having a good quality of life.

"As has often been stated, there are two problems with this that are undeniably more of an issue with purebred dogs than with cross breeds: the various genetic issues that afflict different breeds, and the issues of health and welfare that relate directly to exaggerated conformation. For some years, ethical breeders have made huge progress in improving welfare through the various schemes for monitoring inherited disease.  This is hugely important, and has clearly helped to improve lives for thousands of dogs; breeders should be proud of what they’ve achieved in this area.

"But inherited disease is only one side of the coin, and until recently, the other side of the coin, the problems caused by extreme conformation, has been rather overlooked within the dog fancy.    The two sides are quite separate; a breed can have very moderate conformation and be plagued by serious inherited disease issues, such as the Cavalier, or it can be relatively healthy in terms of invisible problems and yet have clear issues with some aspect of its body structure.

"This high-profile breed scheme is a hugely important step towards reducing the problems associated with extreme conformation. Nobody ever said, "Oh good, I’ve produced a puppy which is going to suffer pain as a result of the body shape I chose!”, but it’s all too easy to overlook chronic low-level discomfort, and I think it’s undeniable that some breeds are associated with issues of this kind. Dogs that have always had exposed, irritated inner eyelids aren’t going to scream with pain or stop eating because their eyes hurt; they don’t know any differently, but surely the same dog would have a better quality of life if its eyelids fitted better to the eyeballs. It must be better to be a Pug who can chase its friends in the park than to be a Pug that struggles to walk along a path. Surely these things are not in dispute, or they shouldn’t be.

"The brief that Will Jeffels and I were given by the KC was very clear: we were not meant to assess conformation in the same way as a judge would, and we were not meant to penalise a dog because of any aspect of its shape or structure, unless we felt that attribute had led to a problem with its health or welfare. So we couldn’t reject a dog just because it had a short face or lots of skin folds, for example, or because we didn’t like the way it moved; only if it had trouble breathing, or a skin infection, or was lame, as a result of its structure.

"We were chosen to do this, rather than specialist vets, because Steve Dean thought it would be unfair for judges to be over- ruled by, for example, specialist ophthalmologists, because they might notice things that no judge could be expected to see.  He thought that experienced general practitioners would know what’s normal and what isn’t – we earn our livings doing it – and would be able to see obvious problems that a judge could also see.

"The KC told us exactly what they wanted us to do, and then left us to go and do it.    They did not try to influence our decisions in any way. We could have passed – or failed – any or all of the 15 dogs quite freely. It is sad that some dogs failed, but I think it shows that there is a need for this scheme: if we had been assessing a group of Borzois or Cairns or Dalmatians I don’t think any would have failed.   Obviously, I am bound by professional confidentiality and cannot comment on any of the dogs I examined. The owners are not so bound and I would be happy for any of the owners of the dogs I examined to make public the form I signed, in its entirety. I wrote several comments on most of them, and many of the comments I wrote were positive, even on dogs I failed. I have enormous sympathy for the owners of the dogs that were failed. It must have been disappointing, embarrassing and humiliating, and it gave me no pleasure at all to do it.

"There are several general points from the examination process, however, which I think are worth emphasising. Firstly, there are many possible reasons for failure. Some of them may be temporary: lameness, for example, may have gone by the next day, but one fundamental rule of veterinary certification is that you can only attest to what you see before you at that moment; you cannot speculate on what the animal might have looked like five minutes earlier or five minutes later. Also, as with judging, there may be problems that are found on close examination of a dog that would not be visible from the ringside.  Secondly, it’s obvious from the photographs on the Internet that some of the BOB winners which failed were indeed of more moderate conformation than some other dogs within that breed. It must have been particularly galling for those owners to fail. However, we weren’t being asked to judge whether a particular dog was better than the breed average; we only examined the winner, and if the winner still had a problem that affected its welfare on that day, our task was to say so.

"If it displayed the least extreme conformation in its breed, then the judge had done the best job they could from the stock available, whatever the end result; and if the winner showed far more moderate conformation than would have been the case a few years ago, then that is still to be praised, even if there was still a problem.

"One thing that I am angry about is that the media coverage is focused so exclusively on the dogs who unfortunately failed. I wish there were more attention on the dogs that were passed. Nine dogs were judged the best of their breed, passed as free from issues that were affecting their health and welfare, and went on to compete in their groups, with several being shortlisted by the group judges. Those breeds should be enormously proud of what they have achieved, because in many cases the winners were indeed of far less exaggerated conformation than they would have been a few years ago, which is a great cause for celebration.

"Those breeders have done wonders. For example, even Jemima Harrison has written positively about the winning Bloodhound on her blog, which is remarkable. I was really glad to see ‘my’ Bloodhound in the big ring, moving soundly and with eyes free from discomfort. That’s what it should all be about.

"It’s natural that emotions should be running high; change is often difficult. And it’s inevitable that there will be teething problems in a new and unprecedented process. Everyone who was involved in this endeavour will have learnt from it, and certainly there are some aspects of it that can be improved.

"Will Jeffels and I strongly feel that the initiative is worthwhile, and we are continuing to support the KC in its efforts to promote healthier conformation. Dog showing is a sport, a hobby. The world would still spin on its axis if there were no dog shows. If we choose to spend our leisure time, or in some cases our careers, in the world of dog showing, we should remember that we wouldn’t be able to do it without the dogs, and the least we can do in return is to choose healthy body shapes for them to live their lives within.”  

Thursday 15 March 2012

Pekes 1964 and Crufts 1934

A couple of gems from British Pathe...


"At the home of Mrs Phipps-Hornby, her five pedigree Pekingese dogs are put into traps, then race around an enclosed track in her garden, greyhound style. Several people watch and cheer them on as they jump over lots of little grassy hedges. Commentator says the guests come here "before watching the real thing at Goodwood race week".

So here's the challenge: anyone got any modern-day Pekes that could do this?


(Crufts 1934)

Check out the Golden Retriever (extraordinary how they've changed in the UK, although I think this dog will be recognisable to many in the US) and as for the Bull Terriers... How on earth can they think that the head on today's dog is an improvement?

The Bulldog? Probably not an example of a dog from yesteryear to hold up as a template today's breeders should be be aiming for...

The eye specialists - their view on ectropion + entropion

Ectropion... not something you'd wish on your best friend

This morning I asked the BVA for some input from opthalmic experts regarding ectropion/entropion given the widespread confusion regarding its potential for discomfort and worse in the canine eye.

Here is the response:

Ian Mason, Chief Panellist of the BVA/KC/ISDS Eye Scheme said:

"When ectropion is present the eyelids, blink reflex and tear film are unable to properly shield and lubricate the eye. The lower conjunctival sac is exposed to air, dust, debris and bacteria resulting in inflammation of the conjunctiva. In some cases corneal changes may also occur. Entropion may further complicate the condition. Published data as to the incidence of ectropion in various breeds are not available, although it would seem apparent that it is highly prevalent in some breeds."

Following Pedigree Dogs Exposed in 2008, the Kennel Club’s Breed Standards and Conformation Group (now a subgroup of the KC’s Dog Health Group) met with the high profile breed representatives to discuss a number of issues relating to conformation, health and welfare. Professor Sheila Crispin, BVA/KC/ISDS eye panellist (and Chief Panellist at the time), provided some detailed information on health issues relating to the eye, which included the following comments on eyelid anatomy:

"Poor eyelid anatomy, which is a largely a consequence of the anatomy of the head and the excessive amounts of skin. The majority of dogs with this type of head shape have a degree of conformational eyelid deformity.

"The conformational deformities of the eyelids and poor support at the lateral canthus (the outer corner of the eye) can produce a combination of entropion (eyelid turning in) and ectropion (eyelid turning out). The deformities result in a so-called 'diamond eye' with a characteristic kink in the central portion of the upper and lower eyelids and, most commonly, upper lid entropion and lower lid ectropion.

  • Because of the poor eyelid anatomy, the dog cannot blink effectively, so that there is inadequate distribution of the tear film and a tendency to develop corneal complications (exposure keratopathy and desiccation). Excessive evaporative tear film loss can exacerbate the situation.
  • The poor eyelid conformation also means that tear drainage may be compromised as the upper and lower puncta (drainage holes) are malpositioned. This may result in tear overflow (epiphora) and unsightly tear staining.          
  • The entropion is a possible source of corneal damage and pain because of direct mechanical abrasion of the cornea from eyelashes and skin hairs.The ectropion results in chronic conjunctival exposure and drying - chronic conjunctivitis and a greater likelihood of infection result.

"It is important to recognise that such poor eyelid conformation is a source of pain and chronic low grade misery for affected dogs. The surgical correction of such defects can be expensive - and time consuming, as more than one operation may be needed."

"Typhoid Mary" and the "anti-purebred anti-Christ"

That's me, apparently, as described on the Exhibitors' Voice + Choice Facebook site which meets tonight in Birmingham to discuss "where to go from here".

I see it's also noted that I would be on the new group if I was a good journalist.

So that's that cleared up then.  ;-)

It's a new group with no coherence of thought yet, and I can only guess which way it will go, but in the mix is:

  • bullying the KC into dropping vet checks like they did with coat-testing last year (what Dog World's Kevin Colwill memorably called The Ellnet Revolution)
  • setting up an alternative showing scene in the UK under FCI rules
  • working with the KC to find a fairer way of encouraging better health

I've been putting some thought into the last point (which is clearly the most sensible), and here - for what it's worth - is what I think.
  • the principle of independent/impartial health checks is a good one and should not be abandoned
  • it is impractical to vet-check every dog that is entered at UK dog shows given the sheer number of them, especially at Crufts.
  • as I've already blogged, it is very dispiriting to those breeds that have made some progress, to be DQ'd after they've won BOB.
About a year ago in response to criticism (quite often justified, I'll admit) that I pick fault but never come up with practical suggestions,  I wrote Ten Steps to Help Save the Pedigree Dog.  This was my suggestion re dog shows:

Ways must be found to reward health in the show-ring, rather than just the appearance of it.  I would like to see a change to a points system where dogs arrive in the show-ring with a certain number of points already earned for meeting specific health criteria – such as long-lived parents/grand-parents, working qualifcations,  taken/passed health tests and so on.  This is easy enough to do in the electronic age in which we live. 
There needs to be new functional tests introduced for non-working breeds, too – eg evidence that a bulldog is capable of covering a certain distance at a certain pace. None of the tests need to be mandatory and it doesn’t have to be that a dog that arrives in the ring with no points couldn’t win.  But show breeders will often go to considerable lengths to give their dog the best possible chance of winning and if being provably healthier is a way, it should become a strong incentive.
 I also made this suggestion:
The KC has introduced breed health plans since Pedigree Dogs Exposed, but they’re nothing like enough. What we need are comprehensive Breed Conservation Plans (BCPs) for every breed. They need to include baseline measurements of genetic diversity for every breed,  tailored guidance regarding popular sires and a coherent plan of action drawn up with the help of geneticists, epidemiologists and breeders.  
The BCPs also need to set targets and incorporate ways of measuring progress.
A matter of some urgency is the genetic management of newly-registered breeds. This is currently often done in a very ad hoc way by breeders without sufficient knowledge – with a lot of inbreeding and the rapid spread of new diseases an inevitable result.  There is then often a mad rush to try and get a DNA test.  But the real answer lies in breeding the right way in the first place.
Above, I'm referring mainly to genetic diversity rather than exaggerations. But there is no reason why targets/pledges cannot be put put in place regarding eyelid conformation, skin folds, leg-length in relation to body length, muzzle length, and so on.

It is unrealistic to expect instant change and this needs to be acknowledged. At the same time, the fact that change cannot happen overnight is no excuse to just let things go on as they are in some breeds.

So the solution, surely, is to set proper targets - agreed in advance with the KC, breed club and vets - that by a certain date, certain health critera need to have been tackled and rectified? This should ensure progress without knocking the stuffing out of breeders who are doing the best.

Until such time, I think it is reasonable that some leeway is given -  that if in addition to a general bill of health say five breed-specific criteria were part of a vet-check that the dog must have met, for instance, four out of the five. I also think the vet's findings should be released. The secrecy surrounding the ones done at Crufts 2012 has not been helpful.

Constructive comments/discussion/suggestions really welcome on this one.