Every year, thousands of pups and people descend on the bustling market town of Solihull, England, to watch or compete in Crufts Dog Show. Crufts 2021 was due to take place last week, from July 15 to July 18. Unfortunately, the show was canceled due to coronavirus. But there's some good news — Crufts should be back with a bark in 2022! Not sure what the buzz is about? We've sniffed out 5 fun (and not-so-fun) facts about this sensational show.
American pet parents who aren't up to scratch on their international dog show knowledge might think Westminster is the one dog show to rule them all. But Crufts is actually the largest dog show in the world. In 2020, nearly 20,000 dogs from all across the globe competed for a variety of titles. Meanwhile, Westminster welcomed just shy of 3,000 dogs competing for Best in Show.
Conformation shows, also called breed shows, judge purebred dogs on their ability to meet their breed's standard. In the case of Crufts, breed standards are set by The Kennel Club, based in the UK. At Westminster, dogs must meet breed standards set by the American Kennel Club (AKC). But Crufts isn't just a conformation show. Competitors can also test their mettle in thrilling sports like agility, flyball, and even freestyle dancing!
Conformation dog shows are all about the purebred pups, something that's caused a lot of controversy in recent years. (But more on that later.) Scruffts gives the mutts and mixed breeds a chance to shine — no pedigrees allowed!
Crossbreeds can compete for an array of titles, like Most Handsome Crossbreed and Child's Best Friend. Competitors for Most Handsome Crossbreed are judged on their character, health, and temperament instead of a breed standard. Meanwhile, dogs competing in the Child's Best Friend category are handled by children aged between 6 and 16 years. Adorable!
Scruffts competitors can go tail to tail for the top spot at qualifying events, called heats, throughout the UK. The winners of each heat are eligible to compete in the final, held at Crufts each year. The entry fee to compete in a heat is just £2 ($2.73 at the time of writing). Every cent of this nominal fee goes to The Kennel Club Charitable Trust.
Each year, Crufts hosts a special event honoring working dogs. Previously called the Friends for Life event, the Dog Hero Award ceremony allows dog lovers to watch spectacular performances from police dogs, military dogs, and medical detection dogs. To give you an idea of what these special shows involve, we've dug up a few heartwarming stories from recent nominees!
In 2018, a West Midlands police officer named Louise McMullen and her K9 partner in fighting crime, Wolfie, were tailing suspected bank robbers when they crashed into a tree. Officer McMullen rescued her four-legged partner from the burning police vehicle. Not only did she brave the blaze, but she did so while suffering from neck damage, a broken jaw, and a fractured eye socket! In 2020, the pair took the stage at Crufts, where Wolfie demonstrated his speed and caught up with a "suspect" in seconds.
In 2020, a pair of medical detection dogs, Flo and Nimbus, stole the (dog) show. Flo is trained to detect prostate bladder cancer, while Nimbus can alert his handler to a fainting episode before it occurs. In an interview with Channel 4, Flo's trainer, Dr. Claire Guest, revealed that the cancer-sniffing canine warned her of breast cancer before she experienced symptoms:
"She was working alongside me, jumped up at me one day, kept staring at me in the face, bumping into me, and warned me of an early stage of grade breast cancer."
Dr. Guest is the founder of Medical Detection Dogs, a UK charity that trains dogs to detect diseases and pioneers research in this field. Last year, the charity received a £500,000 grant from the UK government to discover if dogs can sniff out COVID-19 in humans. The specialist team of 6 dogs has a 94% success rate in detecting COVID-19 in people with no symptoms present!
Now for the not-so-fun fact about Crufts (and conformation shows in general). Throughout history, breeders have used inhumane techniques — like inbreeding and narrowing the gene pool — to maintain the breed standards set by kennel clubs around the world.
Crufts came under fire in 2009 after the BBC aired a documentary series titled Pedigree Dogs: Exposed. The documentary found that The Kennel Club promoted bad health in canine competitors by allowing dogs with breed-related diseases and deformities to compete. The Kennel Club was also criticized for upholding breed standards and judging practices that permitted these harmful breeding techniques.
Shortly afterward, major sponsors like the Dogs Trust and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) revoked their sponsorship of Crufts. The BBC dropped Crufts from its coverage schedule after more than 40 years.
After undergoing an independent review by the RSPCA in 2009, The Kennel Club revised its breed standards and judging practices and implemented a new health plan.
The Kennel Club also created a Breed Watch scheme, a resource to help judges ensure the health of canine competitors. The scheme includes veterinary checks of Crufts' Best of Breed winners and mandatory health monitoring. The Kennel Club also devised a respiratory function grading scheme and invested £4 million ($5.4 million) in research to improve the health of brachycephalic breeds.
Despite these improvements, many animal rights groups, like the RSPCA, still don't support Crufts or The Kennel Club. In an article on the RSPCA website, veterinarian Dr. Michael Lazaris praised The Kennel Club's recent health measures while also acknowledging the dark aftermath of the show:
"[Crufts] often creates a buzz around certain breeds, which can drive up their demand by the public. This can lead to irresponsible and unregulated breeders cashing in without giving two hoots about the dogs' welfare and all the genetic conditions they could be promoting."
Interested in competing in or learning more about breed shows? Planning to welcome a purebred pup in your family? Be sure to do your homework. Check out our guide to finding a reputable breeder, or discover why you should consider adopting a rescue instead.