It pains me to say it, because I love dogs and I love Claire Balding even more, but I couldn’t help feeling on Sunday night that Crufts, the largest dog pageant in the world, may be in its sunset years, as fitting for the modern world as a Miss Birmingham contest, or a competition to find Britain’s cutest child.

The incursion by animal rights activists during the judging of Best in Show wasn’t exactly a mass protest, but the handful of protesters, one of whom made it into the judging arena itself with a banner that read “boycott breeders”, definitely made their point.

And the fact that the Kennel Club, under whose auspices Crufts is organised, had already been forced to defend the breeding standards of one of the seven Best in Show contenders – a French bulldog called Elton – will have given many of us pause to reflect on the wider ethics of dog shows.

Elton won his group – Utility dogs – on Saturday to go through to Best in Show, and although the French bulldog is, like the closely-related pug, a hugely popular breed, there has been widespread concern in recent years that over-breeding has caused them serious health problems.

The desire for flatter faces and huge eyes in these breeds has led to respiratory and associated health problems, and the elevation of Elton at Crufts brought this issue to the fore.

An RSPCA spokesperson said: “We are so disappointed that a French bulldog with a short muzzle and pinched nostrils was awarded Best in Breed at Crufts yesterday. We should not be celebrating these traits which can cause suffering.”

The Kennel Club issued a statement in response, saying that Elton had passed all the required health tests before being allowed to compete, but his presence at the climax of the competition had raised, for many of us, the twin uncomfortable issues of dog breeding and dog showing before the protesters had even arrived at the arena.

For the millions who watch Crufts on Channel 4, we allow ourselves to engage with the show merely as a celebration of dog-kind. The agility races, the stories of hero dogs, and of course, there’s Ms Balding talking to a Westie as if it were a co-presenter. Nevertheless, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that grading dogs almost exclusively on their looks is… well, outdated. Moreover, it encourages the breeding of dogs to conform to aesthetic standards which, in some cases, may have a deleterious effect on their well-being.

We love dogs for what they are, not just for what they look like. My own dog, Leonard (named by the readers of this newspaper) is absolutely breed standard for a dachshund, not because of his appearance (fabulous though that is) but because he’s single-minded to the point of cussedness, he’s highly protective and he’s got a highly developed sense of humour. These are the sort of things that almost all of us judge our dogs on.

So if Crufts is going to exist in the decades to come, it probably needs to be a more rounded competition. I know the dogs are examined for conformation, and have to do a tour of the parade ring to make sure they move well, but that’s only half of the story. What are they like on the sofa? Do they bark at the front door bell? Are they good with a ball? Do they talk to you to let you know it’s supper time? (Lenny is excellent at all three, by the way.)

There needs to be a way in which their nature and personality can also be taken into account in the judging process, which will take the accent away from the over-breeding for looks alone. Rather like when Miss World contestants had to be interviewed about their hobbies and ambitions.

And there you have the problem. Crufts is as anachronistic as Miss World. And just for the record and in case it gets to that point, Lenny wants to travel the world, helping dogs less fortunate than himself.

QOSHE - I’ve reached peak Crufts – dogs should not be judged on looks alone - Simon Kelner
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I’ve reached peak Crufts – dogs should not be judged on looks alone

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11.03.2024

It pains me to say it, because I love dogs and I love Claire Balding even more, but I couldn’t help feeling on Sunday night that Crufts, the largest dog pageant in the world, may be in its sunset years, as fitting for the modern world as a Miss Birmingham contest, or a competition to find Britain’s cutest child.

The incursion by animal rights activists during the judging of Best in Show wasn’t exactly a mass protest, but the handful of protesters, one of whom made it into the judging arena itself with a banner that read “boycott breeders”, definitely made their point.

And the fact that the Kennel Club, under whose auspices Crufts is organised, had already been forced to defend the breeding standards of one of the seven Best in Show contenders – a French bulldog called Elton – will have given many of us pause to reflect on the wider ethics of dog shows.

Elton won his group – Utility dogs – on Saturday to go through to Best in Show, and........

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