An outstanding pedigree: a day at Crufts

By Tempus | 28 May 2022 | Culture

Tempus goes behind the scenes at the return of Europe’s most significant dog show to find out why the celebration of man’s best friend is bigger and bolder than ever

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Any animal owner will tell you that a pet will be your most loyal companion. In recent years, especially, we have become more in love with man’s best friend than ever before – with a whopping 3.2m households choosing to get a ‘pandemic pet’ during the lockdown periods of 2020-2021.

It’s no surprise, then, that Crufts is attracting more canine competitors than ever before – over 20,000 – alongside its hundreds of thousands of annual human visitors; not to mention online and TV viewers. Hosted each year at the Birmingham NEC, Crufts is organised by The Kennel Club, whose goal is to protect and promote the wellbeing of dogs. And, after two years of being closed to the public due to Covid-19, this March the show returned – bigger than ever, with three new breeds making their competitive debut.

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“Crufts has grown into a world-class event,” says Bill Lambert, The Kennel Club’s health, welfare and breeder services executive. “[It] is a real celebration of the many activities we can take part in with our dogs, from showing to agility, heelwork to music and obedience to flyball. Not only that, but it is the world’s biggest platform for breeders, vets, dog welfare organisations and dog lovers to demonstrate the many ways in which dogs can enrich our lives and promote the benefits of dog ownership, of all shapes and sizes and backgrounds, whether they are a pedigree, crossbreed, young or old.”

Established by Victoria-era showman Charles Cruft in 1891, and joining The Kennel Club in 1948, the show has a long history of celebrating working dogs. It’s four best in show categories still highlight the heritage of working dogs – categories include Gundog, Terrier, Hound, Utility and Toy – while rescue dogs and ‘hero dogs’ are also given special fields in which to shine. The first agility competition, now synonymouswiththeevent,wasfirstheld in 1980. »

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“The love we have for our dogs is universal and The Kennel Club works hard to organise a top- tier international event which is as interesting and enjoyable to the everyday dog lover as an experienced overseas exhibitor – adding new and fun elements to the programme each year while also keeping up the traditional and much- loved parts of the show,” says Lambert.

Between competition schedules, the show’s guests have a wealth of trade stalls, shops, and eateries to explore – whether they are looking to find out more about specific breeds of dog, nutritional care, or just stock up on accessories for pet and owner – but the real heart of the show is its competing pups.

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“Each breed goes through various stages at Crufts before having the chance to step into the ring for Best in Show,” explains Lambert. “First, they will compete within their breed to win Best of Breed – these take place in rings all around the show. At the end of the judging day, those awarded Best of Breed will then go on to compete within their group, of which there are seven: Gundog, Hound, Pastoral, Terrier, Toy, Utility and Working.

“Once all groups have been judged, all seven group winners compete in the Best in Show ring, where the judge will choose a Best in Show winner as well as a Reserve Best in Show. Ultimately, judges want to see the very best example of that breed – healthy, showing the ideal characteristics, and happy in the ring – this is what makes a true canine champion.”

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And it is fierce competition, given the 222 dog breeds recognised by The Kennel Club. The 2022 Best in Show prize went to Flat-Coated Retriever, Baxer. “Patrick Oware, owner of Baxer, generously donated his prize winnings to the Ukraine appeal, which was launched at Crufts and spearheaded by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust – and which has so far raised nearly £230,000 to help pets and owners impacted by the conflict,” says Lambert. He was also impressed by the winners of the Terrier group, who made their own history.

“The winner of the Terrier group – Donnie (Turith Adonis), an Irish Terrier, was handled by John Averis, who comes from a family of Best in Show winners – his mother, Judy Averis won in 1998 with Welsh Terrier, Ch Saredon Forever Young, and her dad, Les Atkinson handled the 1963 Best in Show winner, Rogerholm Recruit, a Lakeland Terrier.”

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Elsewhere, heads were turned by three new breeds introduced this year: the Hungarian Pumi, the Harrier, and the Smooth Faced Pyrenean Sheepdog.

“The Pyrenean Sheepdog (Smooth Faced) competed for the Best in Show title this year for the first time ever, after being recognised as the 222nd breed by The Kennel Club last year,” says Lambert. “The Harrier is an ancient, medium- sized, British scenthound breed, which was recognised by The Kennel Club in 2020 after the breed had all but disappeared in the UK in the 1920s. This year, the breed was vying for Best in Show for the first time since 1898.

“The Hungarian Pumi is a newcomer to the UK, recognised by The Kennel Club in 2015 and first seen at Crufts in 2016 in various import breed classes and activities, such as agility. This year, however, the Hungarian Pumi had their own breed classes for the first time.”

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With the popularity of pedigree pooches in no risk of decline, The Kennel Club’s recognised breeds helps to emphasise and protect the welfare of dogs – ensuring breeding practices remain ethical, animals are healthy, and welfare data is transparent – and to help buyers make informed decision about what dog might best suit their lifestyle.

“Registration with The Kennel Club does provide puppy buyers with easy-to-access data on a raft of information regarding both the specific puppy and the breed,” explains Lambert. “One of The Kennel Club’s priorities is to direct puppy buyers to responsible breeders. Members of the The Kennel Club Assured Breeder scheme are inspected by trained assessors to ensure they are adopting good breeding practices, such as carrying out relevant breed-specific health testing to ensure that puppies are as healthy as possible. It is so important that potential puppy buyers carry out thorough research and ask breeders the right questions.”

Photography by Andrew Green