Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Thanks a (five) million!

The PDE blog has this week just tipped over five million views.

I started it in November 2010 with the following message:

I should have got this blog up and running when Pedigree Dogs Exposed was first broadcast in August 2008. Guess I hoped there wouldn't be a need... And anyway, I fully expected to have moved on to pastures new by now...  
It is now more than two years since PDE. I could never have guessed that the film's subject would have turned into such an ongoing passion. But passion it is, along with running Black Retriever X Rescue and living with my own dogs - trying not to count but there appears to be at least seven of 'em at the moment, plus two fosters. 
Inherited disorders and welfare issues related to conformation affect millions of dogs all over the world and much of the problem is due to an antiquated breeding paradigm promoted by a kennel club system founded in England and exported to more than 100 countries. The price is paid by the dogs who suffer unnecessarily and by their owners seduced by a certain look unaware of the welfare cost that often comes with it.
Almost six years and 600 posts on, the blog is more popular than ever - with well over a million hits this year already (due in no small part to the fuss over the German Shepherd at Crufts this year. The post showing the footage that the KC had edited out of the Channel 4 broadcast is now the most popular post of all time, including garnering 250,000 page views in a single day. (Links to all the most popular posts are in the sidebar on the right).

The blog is still most popular in the UK, followed by the US, Canada, Germany and Finland.

As I hope most people realise, the blog is a labour of love. I am not paid to write it and continue to refuse any offers to "monetise" it. 

I write it because I hope and believe it is effective in drawing attention to specific issues and in galvanising those who are in a position to effect change.

Thanks to PDE (the films and this blog) there is a great deal more awareness of the problems and a large community of researchers, welfare bodies and vets focusing on them - absolutely key to drive through reforms.

Today, we have a Kennel Club that acknowledges that inbreeding is an issue and has given breeders tools to tackle it - something that was unthinkable before Pedigree Dogs Exposed when first-degree relative matings were considered acceptable and there was zero awareness that breeding profligately from one top-winning sire might be a bad thing to do.

Today, we have a Kennel Club that is much more aware of phenotypic excess and has taken steps to address them (and quite big steps recently in respect of the German Shepherd).

But we still don't have a Kennel Club that acts without outside pressure. Oh how I long for the day when the KC issues a release saying it is taking action on a particular breed because an internal review has revealed a specific problem. I know there are people at the Kennel Club who would like to be more proactive, but sadly they are often thwarted by those at the top, where the batten-down-the-hatches mode prevails.  

I had a good laugh this morning at a BBC report highlighting vets' concerns about flat-faced (brachycephalic breeds).  It contained this gem:

Sean Wensley, President of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) said: "Prospective owners need to consider that these dogs can suffer from a range of health problems, from eye ulcers to severe breathing difficulties." 
"We strongly encourage people to choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed instead." 
The BVA’s warning has been backed by the PDSA, Royal Veterinary College, RSPCA and the Kennel Club.

Almost blogged it with the title: "KC urges puppy buyers to avoid Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs; choose a healthier breed or a crossbreed instead".

Of course it's just bad wording by the journalist who doesn't realise that the Kennel Club would never tell people to avoid a breed - or buy a crossbreed - on health grounds.

I hope the KC will find it too embarrassing to demand a change.

In fact, the BBC piece does go on to include this frustratingly-predictable (and somewhat garbled) deflection from Caroline Kisko:

Caroline Kisko, the Kennel Club secretary, said: "The breed standards were set many years ago. If you look back through history there are some dire things that went on, and undoubtedly we would accept all responsibility for that." 
"But I would say that in the here-and-now, after all of the changes to the standards that were made in 2009, we would expect dogs to be far healthier if they are winning prizes at dogs shows."

Mrs Kisko said the problems with brachycephalic dogs were being perpetuated in the main by disreputable puppy farms. 
She said: "If we continue to allow dogs to be brought in from central and eastern Europe where there is no concern for how these dogs are bred, it is inevitable that pet owners will end up with dogs they can't deal with." 
"These are breeds which aren't hugely suited to pet homes. If you want a pet that will run around and chase a ball and so on, don't go out and buy any short-faced breed based on what celebrities are walking around with under their arm."
And this is why I continue to give up time I don't really have to write the PDE blog. General journalists simply don't have the time or the interest to dig beyond the deflection and easy reassurances uttered by the Kennel Club.

• It is, of course, in the show-ring that you will find the very flattest of faces. In fact, show dogs' faces are flatter now than they ever have been as a direct result of show-ring selection and the pursuit of prize-winning rosettes.  It is important to not be in any doubt about that.

• The KC continues to resist the introduction of minimum muzzle lengths into their standards.

• The standards still include demands that are counter to good health.

And then there's the small matter that all the recent surveys looking in detail at the health cost of having a flat face have been of of KC-registered dogs.  These studies agree that at least half of all Pugs, Frenchies and Bulldogs struggle to breathe (and some have put it a great deal higher than that). Remember, too, that this is looking at just one consequence of being brachycephalic. There are many others, including eye, oral, dental, mating and whelping issues.

Bottom line... Kennel Club-registered dogs are still being bred and shown under the auspices of the Kennel Club in a way that perpetuates suffering for many breeds - and which, unless things change, will lead to their extinction.

At the end of the day, that's what this blog is about.


  1. Good for you. You have had an impact and forced changes far quicker than they would have been even looked at otherwise.

  2. At least the UK KC is doing something, still massive denial here in the US AKC world!

  3. I USED to love these dogs... but I was new to the dog world. I subscribed here, and read lots of books. After many years of reading, looking and learning... I have finally gotten my first dog. It is a Jack-chi. It is more Jack. Of the litter he had the biggest snout. :-) Lots of room to breathe. He is super smart but trainable. The breeder was calm, well organized. We took our other animal there as well, to "meet and greet" (our big Norwegian Forest Cat). It hurts me that the purebreds can't breathe, can't walk, can't reproduce. I would love to give you a picture of our pup. We're really enjoying him. We hope he lives a long life. N.

  4. Thanks for all you've done and continue to do for dogs. You totally made me rethink my "world view" when it comes to purebreds and dog showing, which I've been involved with (conformation and sports) for 39 years so far. One thing you mentioned here that I was resistant to at first was that KC breeders--NOT puppy mills--are responsible for exaggerated phenotypes. In fact, nature abhors dogs that are so unlike pariah dogs, and it takes a dedicated show breeder to really push in that face and make those dewlaps longer. Puppy millers don't have the time, knowledge, energy or access to stock that would let them create the exaggerated monstrosities now seen in the KC and AKC show rings.

    Anyway, keep up the great work!

  5. Atta girl Jemima!

  6. I'm curious, why just black retrievers?

    Is it just long haired black retrievers, like Flatties? Many people rescue their favorite breed, or breed typical dogs.

    Why not golden or yellow retrievers too?

    1. I had Flatcoats and got involved with a Flattie rescue that also took the occasional lookalike from Ireland. Eventually developed into a standalone rescue for the crosses (loads of them in Ireland, often unwanted - just another black long haired mutt). The golden are well catered for already rescue-wise - but we do take the occasional goldie x and we've rehomed quite a few yellow labs and crosses. And Setters, Setter crosses and the occasional 'handsome-other' of various breeds. You can see for yourself here:

    2. Today's Telegraph has an article on page 9 called "Stop buying Bulldogs and pugs if you care about pets' welfare, warns vet chief". All grist to the mill...

  7. Yah Im thrilled by many things PDE has achieved for dogs but particularly now for those brachycephalic breeds with the Vet Petition Jemima instigated getting main stream media coverage like this.

    Keep on kicking!

  8. Jemima,

    If you ever decide that you want to start up a dog club, my opinion would be to NOT try to be everything to everyone.

    Just as no one person can rescue every dog, so, in this fractured world of conflicting interests, I'd say "stick with a set of ethics and morals, and limit which types of dogs you want to deal with."

    Don't try to register dogs from breeders whose life and hobby is built around showing dogs That niche is being filled already.

    Focus on breeding dogs to be good pets, healthy pets.

    Since events are probably necessary for the health and emotional stability of any breed, choose events that weed out dogs from breeding, if they are unfit physically, emotionally, mentally, or socially.

    Many events can be useful in these modern times. Obedience, tracking, scent matching, and many events aimed at producing dogs to help the handicapped owner, like cart pulling, fetching, guiding, and good conduct.

    1. I would add bomb sniffing to a list of needed modern uses for dogs.

      Bomb sniffing events need not have a real bomb, teaching dogs to sniff and find different scents, and then breeding those dogs who are good at it, will yeild good results.

      English Springer Spaniels weren't bred to sniff bombs, they were bred to hunt birds, but the breed does well on other scents like bomb sniffing.

      If there were enough sniffer dogs, many places would want their doorman, or security people to have a sniffer dog.

      And dogs to find trapped people after an earthquake or bombing would be useful too. This lends itself well to semi amateurs, because countries can't afford to keep a dozen search & rescue dogs on hand, considering that they might need them for one week then not again for 20 years.

      And it is fun to teach & learn for both the dog and handler.

      Another point would be to NOT make the events to be a competition, unless liability laws require it to be so, if that is the case, use qualifying runs and titles, so that less than the very best, one top dog, can happily win a qualifying title, then decide if they wish to go into competition, or to collect more titles.

      More simply said, make events like levels or years in school. The dog is given a pass (or fail) score for level 1 obedience, the goes on to level 2 obedience, etc. After level 6 obedience the dog has qualified and can either enter obedience competition, with ranked scores and winners, or the dog can be entered into level 1 of any, or multiple, trades/professions, like bomb sniffer, tracker, sheepdog, carting, guiding, etc.

      The idea being to keep the same dog, not to toss away dogs who aren't the top dog. Top dog awards, like best of breed, cause breeders to flock to that one and only winner - a situation that has been proven not to end well. Also it's more fun for all to have pass/fail titles, with best of the best competition on the side.

      There are many ways dogs can be trained to help the handicapped, and if we make gene pools for dogs good at these tasks (like guide dog organizations have bred special gene pools of dogs good at guiding the blind), then we can be of better help to our communities, both now, and if a war with many injured veterans should ever arise.

      I favor the idea of breeding dogs by profession, not breed. If a boxer dog can herd sheep and win sheep trials, then good for him. If some Border Collies just can't learn to do more than run at the sheep, then they are less of a sheepdog than the boxer dog who can do the work.

      I believe that a pedigree should show what work the dog has shown he can do, not what his grandparents looked like. That being said, most dogs that point birds well are from a long line of ancestors who pointed birds well, were bred together, and are, therefore of a pointing breed. Ditto for many other events.

      But what of modern uses for dogs? Most breeds were bred for hunting of one type or another. Some for sheep, guard dogs, or hauling.

      But there is no breed specialising in bomb sniffing, helping the deaf, or helping find people in rubble.

      These dogs are currently recognised by their profession, their achievements in learning and performing a useful task.

      I think it would be nice, and fun, to bring together dogs who are well behaved in public areas, like shows, and who are good at these useful tasks that we need more trained dogs than what we currently have. We also need a group, a gene pool, of dogs who are most easily trained for modern canine professions. Dogs might not be super intelligent, but their almost magical sniffing ability coupled with their desire to please, makes them, once again, needed by our side, working with us.

    2. Well, bomb sniffing does not suit the history of every breed.

      For example, livestock guardians are not intended to be trainable or scent orientated.

      And IPO breeds already do tracking along with protection and obedience so there is no need there either.

      Border collies are supposed to herd, not spend the time using their nose to hunt for prey.

      Spaniels are great at it, however they are scent orientated dogs. I do not want other breeds to be bred with this trait. Spaniels are great, but I am extremely happy that most other breeds are not as scent loving as spaniels are.

      Sighthounds are SIGHT hounds, they use their sight to hunt prey, not their nose.

      Really, there should be a sport for each breed. I see nothing wrong with barnhunt for terriers, herding for herding breeds, working trials for gundog breeds (no shooting), lure coursing for sighthounds, IPO for breeds that excel there, etc.

      I think the needs for the modern dog are really for what people want to do. Breeds are the breeds they are because of their history.
      If you make the ability to be a hearing dog a criteria, then what would a really active breed like a Malinois become? Sure, a hearing dog can be active, but the breeds most used are breeds such as labs and other retrievers.

      There is no need in those professions to have anything that is so active.
      And I don't want a world where all dogs end up with the same energy levels, trainability, etc.
      Breeds are unique, and its perfectly valid to do the dogs purpose with them.

      Making it competitive helps encourage breeders to breed the best dogs they can for that purpose.

    3. Mantrailing is far more useful than bomb sniffing and doesn't need to be breed specific. Why limit breeds rather than broaden horizens. Expand capabilities not narrow them down to specialize them.

    4. Anonymous 14:24

      A dog is not his history, or pedigree. Clearly, not every dog has an ability to demonstrate his history.

      But no reason why that dog can't be good at some thing else, and gain recognition for that. Maybe even demonstrating new ways to make use of other traits in achieving that purpose.

      Why should we keep on reducing a dogs ability to respond to other purpose that some historical purpose? And how do you know if theres any improvement in ability for that historic purpose anyway, if its restricted to a specific breed, training methods and judged only by that 'standard' of entry?

    5. Quite right my JRTs are sniffer dogs, sight hounds, boer baiters, protection, wrestling, ratters, agility (and how) and best of all adorable hot water bottles and foot warmer lap dogs, a win win!

      In fact I cant think of anything they're not, except friendly to strangers and suitable for the blind. They're something of specialists in the former. No exceptions, particularly not the 88year old Ahma Hakka woman who picks herbs in the ditches. She goes out of her way to rile them with her slow lumbering movement and hat choices which from any distance seem to make her look more buffalo than human.

      Yes dogs should be game! Up for anything and everything. At least display some semblance of being alive. Many show dog have had the spark snuffed by breeding that concentrates on nothing but phenotype. One of those handy bits of research done by BioMedCentral proves it if there was ever even a doubt.

    6. @Anonymous 03:01

      Because a dog breed is the way it is because of its past purpose.

      Its shape and appearance dictated by what works best. Its temperament is based on its work. Its trainability and instincts tempered by what is needed from it.

      Lets say you have a border collie, and instead decided to breed it for something such as, I don't know, a sighthound. A bit of an extreme situation.
      However, there is no doubting the structure would change, the trainability would change, the temperament would change, etc.
      It may now be "useful" to whomever wants a sighthound, but its not the same dog.

      Breeds can excel in multiple areas. German shepherds bred for IPO, that doesn't have to be the only thing they are capable of. They are capable of so much more.

      Breeding for herding is what gives breeds the trainability and desire to work with humans to accomplish a task.

      River P's JRT can fulfill so many different roles, its impressive. But thats not because their dog was bred specifically to do each role in mind.
      Of course, they were bred to have many roles on the farm, but agility was likely not one.

      The breeding for work is what gave the dogs its ability to fulfill so many roles.

      Of course, a hunting Labrador would not make a good dog for the blind. But there is a need for a guide dog, so they took the labrador and made their own lines with a higher success rate.

      Nothing wrong with there being dogs which do the original purpose and a new purpose.
      But trying to squish every dog into something YOU consider useful is just arrogant.

      If you want your own border collie who can do some niche job they are currently unsuitable for, BREED YOUR OWN.

    7. And why did they chose a Labrador that wasn't bred for the job to start with? What you say we shouldn't be doing is just what happened-taking a breed bred for one task and giving it a new one, breeding for a new purpose.

      Because there were labs that could do that job well.
      I don't think any one would suggest you try to fit a round peg in a square hole.But why restrict the qualities you will accept in a breed?
      We concentrate on 'predictablity' of breeds and wonder why buyers don't understand that a dog is still an individual and they need to ask breeders their goals and priorities.

      As you said, dogs are capable of so much more, so why restrict how they can demonstrate that?

    8. Yes most definitely a JRT was bred for "agility" I dont think there exists a more agile breed except perhaps for a little, light lithe, game pitbul. They weren't bred for obedience necessarily but S.K.Y apparently used one for competitive agility.

      If you really want a proper sight hound in a JRT you need half a whippet, it shuts them up immediately. They also make the most unbelievably lovely small house dogs without the whippets problems. At the end of the day the dog remains a JRT. Tweaking where and when necessary is how this breed type remained so genetically sound. While the Congo has its specialists in Basenji type dogs elsewhere in Africa sight JRT crosses these days make extraordinarily courageous sight hunters for small game in dense riverine forest. They're silent and do not scatter prey, remaining visible being mostly white and completely and utterly fearless. A pack of these will happily flush a lion.

      Labradors were chosen to use for the blind because they excel at it. Retrievers generally do as they are obedient, soft mouthed and intelligent. Selecting those that particularly excel at it you create a line of working dogs. Problems can arise as they have with cancer in working lines to closely bred in the UK........

  9. Hi (not)Anonymous, 14:24,

    Yes, all that you said about breeds/groups of dogs is true enough, perhaps so much so that I assumed that it need not be said.

    No need to preach to the choir.

    All of that is what I put into a "How things are now", file in my brain. Since then my mental inbox on dogs is just for "How the world of dogs could be improved".

    For my opinion on how the traditional breeds should be grouped, and therefore managed, read:

    Although I admit to there often being hazy grey areas, not clear demarcation lines in a few breeds. As well as a few anomalies in some groupings of breeds, like Great Danes which could easily fit into 3 different pools, as well as other breeds, like many toy sized breeds, which can't really fit in any slot. But even the Sorting Hat had to think about where to put Harry Potter.

    True, many of the breeds already have a set use, an event, and a place in a club. But what good has it done them?

    Are today's Bloodhounds the sleuths they once were? Or would Watson and Holmes have to lead the bloodhound to the criminal?

    There is obvious room for improvement.

    Much of my focus is for events that can be done in cities and towns. There are many useful things city living dogs could help at which would be fun both for the handler/trainer and the dog.

    Dogs don't really like to sit around the house all day. Most dogs would love to get out every weekend, to go do events with their person, and would enjoy the fair-like atmosphere of people and dogs at fun contests.

    "Making it competitive" has already been proven to be harmful to canine genetics, the future of the breeds, as well as being diversive among people. Just look at the split between people on this site and some show breeders of Pugs.

    I think that earning degrees, and working your dog up to more advanced degrees is best, especially working your dogs up the ladder in multiple types of events. Dogs that are good at different tasks are more trainable than a dog who is excellent at one task, as that can be due more to instinct than trainability.

    Agreed, for many traditional uses for dogs, you want a canine specialist with instincts for that one task.

    But most breeds of dogs specialize in hunting, or a few specialize in sheep, cattle, guarding, or draft. These are rural activities.

    But what about closer to home? No group seems to cater to the largest groups of people. We need events that average people can train their dog to do during a walk around their own neighborhood, and practice near where they live.

    A new club needs to fill an empty niche, not compete with an existing club.

  10. About competition... I've done dog sports in the USA since 1977, and in the UK from 1999-2001 (though heavily involved those two years). Americans here are utterly horrified when I explain the "win out" system of UK obedience... In the USA, every breed can successfully compete in obedience. You just need to get 170/200 points three times, then you move up to the next level and do the same.

    By contrary, in the UK, you started at something like "pre-beginners) and had to win out of 30-60 dogs a couple of times. Then you move up to a class with other dogs that have done that... and you have to win out of THAT class a couple of times. And it keeps going for about 6 levels or so (as I recall) until you win out of the C class a few times. And then you get the one and only UK obedience title. I was in a very competitive club, and many people spent 20+ years competing and had never gotten a title. I didn't compete in agility in the UK, but I believe that had a similar win-out system at that time.

    A very sad aspect of this win out system in obedience was all the extremely abusive training I saw there, at a time when every American competitor I knew used positive reinforcement methods. (Pet training facilities in the UK then were using positive methods, but the competition obedience clubs definitely were not).

    And the second sad aspect was that nobody seemed to be competing with the breed they actually loved. I visited some club members in their homes, and found that their competition dogs--ALL Border Collies--lived outdoors in tiny little kennels with no toys or stimulation... this was supposed to make them focus and work hard to please the owner during the 1 hr a day they were let out to train. Meanwhile, the owners all had the REAL breed they loved living indoors with them, as untrained pets. These were Jack Russells, Poodles, Labrador Retrievers, etc. They were considered impossible for obedience, as they would not "win out" against 30+ Border Collies, so they weren't trained to do a single thing.

    As a side effect of the UK's win-out system, there are no "working lines" dogs of most breeds in the UK. Dogs are either Border Collies... or they are conformation-only dogs. By contrast, American dogs of EVERY breed do obedience and agility and achieve advanced titles. So we have long-established lines of "obedience Irish Setters" or "agility Dachshunds," etc.

    Before moving to the UK, my Jack Russell had been competing in advanced level obedience in the U.S. with average scores of 194/200. He was also a successful Working Trials dog in the UK, possibly the first small dog to pass a Working Trials test. I arrived at our first UK obedience ring ready for our turn. The judge actually said angrily to my face that I needed to put my "pet" away and go get my competition dog! This would never happen in the U.S., where the Papillon or Basset Hound entering the ring may well be the top obedience dog in the region, working with spectacular precision.

    I really, really hope the UK gives up their win-out system so all dogs of all breeds can demonstrate their abilities in a system similar to a human education system. We don't just give out ONE B.Sc. each year to the best student at Oxford, right? Why should only the #1 dog ever get to advance? Showing that you can complete every exercise AND get 170/200 pts (85%) should be enough to show that a dog is capable of performing at that level, IMO.

    1. S.K.Y
      There are working line dogs in the UK. There are working Dachshunds for hunting and working Irish setters for shooting.

      I think the system should still be win out. Looking at american obedience, they are really low standard compared to what has been achieved in the UK.
      But, I agree that a Free For All does eliminate so many breeds.
      Perhaps the system should be that there are competitions for each breed. So labs will compete against other labs. That will allow for more people to go for the breed they like, and encourage people to go for interesting breeds as there is less competition.

      Same with agility. Although in small and medium you get a lot of variety, large agility is 90% border collies.

      However, the problem is, neither of these past times have enough people interested.

      However, if I look at my agility classes, we have so much variety in breeds. Why? Because these people enjoy agility, they just don't want to compete. Why is it wrong for someone to not compete if they don't want it to be competitive?

      Another interesting situation could be to have both. One system where its a win out system, and the other where it is more about the individual.

      And as for obedience being negative punishment based, what? In IPO, they do have corrections and some negative punishment, but the dogs are not border collies.

      In obedience, everything I know is purely positive. I honestly don't know what you are talking about there tbh. Abuse would get a dog to shut down. If you are talking prong collars and e-collars, then that is a bit different and there is a certain way and technique to use them and they are and news in the wrong hands, but abuse does not get an obedience dog.
      I am really wondering where the experience comes from here and what time? Obedience is known to be the most positive training out there.
      Agility too, it is so positive, you can't even say "no" and letting your dog even realize it has done something wrong is frowned upon. Some people have a "jackpot" system in agility so the dog always gets a reward even if they do wrong.

      There are a lot of working lines in the UK. And they actually work. An agility dachshund is not a working dachshund, its an agility dachshund. A working dachshund is for actual work the breed is supposed to do, aka hunting.

      We have working lines for any breed that still does its job. A sports line is not a working line.

  11. Thank you S.K.Y., I didn't know the two systems were so different.

    Even the American system could be improved to make more attractive and satisfying to pet owners.

    The UK event sounds to me like it was started without thinking about the effects it would have on the people and dogs who joined the sport.

    That was how things were in the past, people weren't taught to think about the social and personal impact of events.

    Perhaps The Club could start up a second obedience series that is more user friendly? Maybe call it something like "pet obedience"?

    1. "Perhaps The Club could start up a second obedience series that is more user friendly? Maybe call it something like "pet obedience"?"

      Thats called Rally-o, or Canine Good Citizenship.

  12. I think if you want 'Dogs' in general to thrive as a species, you want as many people as possible free to experience the benefits of ownership. And that should include social benefits in some form or another.
    Fine to have serious competition, but I don't think it should ever be exclusive to any single breeds or types.
    Just keep the more advanced competition/events to those that have demonstrated a level of competence needed.

    You don't 'grow' a pursuit by reducing the ability to take part. You just end up with fewer people competent to take part at all.
    That includes any aspect of owning dogs. The more we restrict ownership, breeding, competition, social or sporting events for dogs, The more the level of competence will decrease.

    How else are people to learn competence than by sharing experience, and the values that bring the best out comes?

  13. Somebody mentioned that there aren't enough competitors in obedience or agility in the UK but also supported the win out system. I think the win out system is exactly why the UK doesn't have enough competitors.

    In the U.S., we've lost many obedience competitors to agility in the past 20 years, but agility is thriving. I've been in agility competitions that had the limit of 330 dogs, with 500 on the waiting list. These are just local competitions a couple of hours outside Chicago.

    I really don't see any point to having an obedience competition where just one dog is successful, and every single other dog goes home with nothing. For example, in American obedience, the top scoring dog might well have a 199.5/200. But 10-40% of dogs (depending on level) can pass every exercise and get at least 170/200 points. The top dog gets a special "High In Trial" ribbon, but the 10-40% of dogs that pass the test get a qualifier towards the 3 they need for a title.

    I have quite high scoring dogs and have won High In Trials. However, I would have quit obedience 35 years ago if I was in a win out system where I only get "positively reinforced" for my training ability by getting a title every 20 years or so... despite daily training and monthly competitions. I just do not think 99.999% of humans are wired to keep doing something where you can train a dog and compete with it at extremely precise levels for a decade without getting a single win (since only the "best dog" counts)... much less the single title (CC).

    As I mentioned, the American system is like a university degree, where you study and work, but if you pass your courses, you will get a degree. No university on earth would attract students if they only gave out one degree for every few thousand students, and only the "best" student was ever allowed to move up to the second year of university and eventually graduate. As it is, obedience titles in America take about a year of training per title. There are three levels here, so you might typically earn a CD on a dog at age 2, CDX at age 3 and UD at age 4-5.

    You can keep competing for consistent passes and get a UDX title... or keep competing for high scores and get an OTCH title. That's what the die-hards do for the rest of their dogs' careers. I generally get the 3 titles and then focus on agility, tracking, sheep herding, etc.

    Also, I do NOT like the idea of having breeds compete together. With over 300 breeds, who would the Leonbergers or Finnish Spitz dogs compete against? Anyway, I know English Springer Spaniels, Goldens, Irish Setters and Papillons that can beat the pants off any Border Collies. They don't need to sit at the childrens' table, thank you very much. ;-)

    1. Agility in the UK, all the shows I have been to have a ton of competitors. The UK is also much smaller, so there are more shows in one area. 330 dogs? Easily surpassed in the UK. I've been to competitions here where there are easily over 100 competitors in just one grade at one height. Mostly grade 3, medium, i think?

      The american system for agility supports going to more shows and earning points to titles.
      In that regard, I could have the slowest dog with no drive that just about makes it within course time and could still gain plenty of titles.
      I don't need to try hard to do that! I don't need to better myself. I just spend more money and turn up.

      Why should someone aim to do their best and run all out, with a lot at stake, when you can go slowly and just get round the course safely?
      No reason to try hard, no reason to raise drive, you can get titles even if you don't.

      The agility in the UK also has a points progression system where clear rounds get you points, so you can go up both ways, but it makes much more sense to get a border collie and hope you get a clear round and get to the next grade.

      I don't run border collies myself, I don't like the breed.

      If titles are how you measure success, then that seems silly. The titles we get in agility are based on hard work. The get Agility warrent titles (based on points), and Agility Champion. The latter is extremely hard to get.
      Even dogs competing at world championship level are often not agility champions.

      They are not handed out like pieces of candy at Halloween.

      The reason why I said competing between members of the same breed would be interesting as it will encourage people to get a rare breed, or see a reason to get something other than a border collie.

      I don't mean all competitions, but it would be interesting to see some very high level competitions which did what the AKC does and let the top 5 dogs from each breed enter.

      In fact, just ABC classes alone are a brilliant idea IMO, but no one sees the value in these classes.

  14. I have had 3 fast Border Collies, and my Papillon leaves them all in the dust. There are about 500-1,000 Papillons that do agility in the U.S., and they are one of the top three breeds for speed, along with BCs and Shelties. And mine was #5 fastest Pap in the U.S. last year. (You guys probably never see Paps in the UK or Europe because your lowest jump height is about twice as tall as a Pap. In America, Paps are agility powerhouses).

    That said, I'm also 51 years old and had a knee replacement due to arthritis from years of agility. I do think the average ages for sports are quite different in the U.S. vs. other countries, and it affects which agility system is used. In the U.S., where we have no government-mandated vacation days from work, and even the lucky people get 10 days of vacation a year, most of us cannot take up an expensive and time consuming sports like dog training until retirement. The vast majority of agility competitors here are women between about 45-75 years old, and average is probably around 60. I'd guess about half have knee braces or some other issues. We're primarily dog fanatics (often by way of competitive obedience), and would not consider ourselves to be "athletes," only our dogs.

    By contrast, I've noticed that European and UK exhibitors trend much younger. I get the feeling that most European competitors come from a sports background and consider both themselves and the dogs to be athletes.

    Also, I believe the U.S. has something like 1,000 agility competitions a year, and that's just for AKC. (We have about 7 different organizations that hold agility trials, and around 50,000 dogs actively competing). Because there are a LOT fewer competitions in Europe and the UK, young people can afford to compete at all the available competitions. And people of all ages in Europe have a gazillion times more vacation than Americans do. So young people in prime athletic shape without much money but with a lot of vacation time... have caused the sport there to take the form of "only the fastest person with the fastest dog wins."

    The American system instead rewards consistency, particularly dogs that can qualify in both runs on a given day, over and over, often 90+ days of competition each year. There's still a minimum course time, but it's pretty generous. On the other hand, we have obstacles that also test the dog's patience (the table--something many European dogs would bomb), and rules where dogs cannot make a single error in order to qualify. Dogs in the UK and Europe can knock bars, miss contacts, spin or hesitate half a second before an obstacle and still place or win. In the U.S., any of these things are an instant disqualifications, and you won't even get a qualifier toward a title, much less a placement. And I agree that slowish but careful dogs get agility championships in the U.S. as long as the owner has the money to keep competing... but there are also ratings systems (the PowerScore, for example) where we also know which dogs are the blazing fast ones.

    Anyway, agility on either side of the pond are basically tailored for the people competing: slowish old American women who don't have time to compete until nearly retirement age, but who frequently compete 90+ days a year (dogs are rewarded for consistency), or young European sprinters with dogs that only have to "go for broke" 5-10 times a year (dogs are rewarded for speed).

    1. "By contrast, I've noticed that European and UK exhibitors trend much younger. I get the feeling that most European competitors come from a sports background and consider both themselves and the dogs to be athletes. "

      Then you are not going to the average show lol. At the shows I go to, no one is competitive, in fact, quite the opposite.

      Almost everyone goes in expecting to get eliminated.

      In fact, take this as a written experience from someone living in america:

      No one goes in expecting to win everything.

      "Dogs in the UK and Europe can knock bars, miss contacts, spin or hesitate half a second before an obstacle and still place or win."

      Only if every single other competitor gets a fault to and not a single clear?

      "Anyway, agility on either side of the pond are basically tailored for the people competing: slowish old American women who don't have time to compete until nearly retirement age, but who frequently compete 90+ days a year (dogs are rewarded for consistency), or young European sprinters with dogs that only have to "go for broke" 5-10 times a year (dogs are rewarded for speed)."

      Well, my agility instructor who made it to crufts, and competes at the highest grade very competitively, she is over 50, not super fast.
      I see a huge variety of ages, from young to old to wheelchair. So much variety, its chill.

      People compete not to get titles really, and don't go to a show expecting to win. Everyone I know competes for fun. At least at the lower grades, there is little pressure at all.

      The idea is, you go in, have fun. Its very relaxed.

      I don't know where you get your experiences from, but I live in this country, I compete constantly in this country, and I think the system in this country is perfectly fine!

    2. The best dog on the day wins that is how it should be. There are less competitions because there are less people and dogs in UK. That works in our favour but it wasn't set up specifically. Yes knocking off a bar results in a time penalty rather than a DQ - this is how showjumping works so I assume that's where the idea came from. Refusing or skipping an obstacle gets a DQ I believe? same as showjumping.
      in a country with less competitors surely you can see it makes more sense to do time penalties than instant DQ, or you could end up with all competitors disqualified in the smaller competitions (in UK agility most will get at least 1 penalty and only a few will have clear rounds).
      Border collies are around third or fourth most common dog in the rural parts of the UK so it makes sense you'd see more of them in agility competitions than other breeds (papillon are very rare in UK and their owners tend to live in flats in the city where most people are uninterested in dog sports).
      The American system works better for America and the UK system works better for UK. I think it might be worth lowering the UK jump height for the small and toy breeds though so they can compete more effectively... definitely something to suggest to the officials.

    3. "in a country with less competitors surely you can see it makes more sense to do time penalties than instant DQ"

      Its not time penelties. Even if you were the fastest on the day, and there was another dog which barely got within course time, no matter how much faster you were than that dog, the other dog will place higher than you.

      5 faults means its impossible to win if anyone goes clear, regardless of time.

      Like I said, in the uk, I can count the non-border collies on two hands. They are not the 3-4th most common breed in agility, you never see anything else. 90% or more are border collies, whether you live in London or in the middle of nowhere.

      Papillons are not seen in the UK as the jumps are just too high for them and they are not common in the first place. Nothing to do with cities and country.

      Agility in the UK, 100%, is based on the breed most likely to win.
      Labs are the most common breed in the UK, really popular, but they do not take up 90% of the dogs competing no matter where you live. I see 2-3 in the shows I go to.

      Although there are plenty of shows with 1000-2000 competitors.

      I would love to see 5 jump heights. One for dogs 30cm and below, and another for dogs 56/58cm and above.
      There are a lot of people requesting the system to be changed.

    4. Perhaps there could be an award for the top male and the top female OF EACH BREED in both agility, obedience, and tracking?

      Of course, there would have to be some minimal requirement to win for each breed, otherwise some breeds with just one dog entered could be terrible but still be best of his breed in that event.

      It could be a start to getting more people into events.

  15. Thanks SKY, for that insightful compare & contrast of the two different systems, few people can knowledgeably comment internationally on both.

    I guess it highlights that the dog & handler are a team, they both have to be able to join in the sport.

  16. Great work Jemima, and a proud achievement.
    Please never stop doing what you're doing.

  17. Great blog, great documentary, a great many very valuable, very necessary, very pertinent discussions that have reverberated across dogdom with consequences both good and bad. There is no doubt that PDE has had a major impact on thought, discussion, even KC policy. Well done on the many years hard work involved, and all the stress and drama weathered in the process. However it is factually incorrect to state the following: "before Pedigree Dogs Exposed when first-degree relative matings were considered acceptable and there was zero awareness that breeding profligately from one top-winning sire might be a bad thing to do." There have always been breeders who shirked from any kind of in- or even line-breeding, even if merely from the projection of human moral values to dogs ("uncle to niece? that's gross! my Fifi would never go for that!"), or for health concerns (hybrid vigour isn't a post-PDE concept) or out of a preference to breed focusing on phenotype and not bloodline. First-degree matings were always relatively rare, cautioned as something that ought to be done by the experienced, and invariably to be followed by an outcross or distant line-breeding. I'm not denying the existence of the dodgy, the penny-pinching, the thoughtless who bred anything to anything (including first degree relatives) because it was easiest or cheapest to do so. Or, of course, those who thought it was the easiest way to reproduce the look of a big winner etc. But for every one of those there would have been many who would have given it careful thought, only done it under recommendation, for specific purposes in mind that were of a beneficial bent (ie, preserving or fixing a specific bloodline, colour, etc). Likewise there was always a very strong disdain for those who rushed out to breed wily-nilly to the big champion indiscriminate of whether it was the "right" match for their bitch. Those people existed, as did those who travelled up and down the country, or imported dogs from abroad, or imported semen from abroad, frittering away hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of pounds to make sure they got the very best combinations to put together. I think it's crucial to the PDE discussion not to tar everyone with the same brush and act as if all pedigree dog breeders are evil, hapless, soul-less demons who never gave a second thought to the health and well-being (and in this I include the genetic diversity) of the dogs they were breeding. In fact there are, and have been, many who would go to great lengths to dig up, preserve and improve bloodlines AND to introduce new blood and make it available to others. Don't know if its the size of the country or what but British breeders and new blood can make for quite the frenzy.

    1. Yea sure, in your dreams. I agree about first degree matings, they might as well have been, though.

      Certainly there is no real cause for complacency at all. Not in as far as how most KC's are still judging dogs and going about condoning bad breeding practises.

  18. Dogs need noses and trachea that allows oxygen. How can psycho breeders think a squashed nose is attractive or desirable?