Few dog owners (and particularly dog breeders) will have forgotten the airing of the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed in 2008, which was a real watershed moment for the UK Kennel Club and thousands of dog breeders and owners of show dogs.
The documentary shone the spotlight on the widespread prevalence of health problems, conformation defects, exaggerations and welfare concerns across many different dog breeds, and the practice of awarding prestigious show accolades to dogs whose health or conformation had a significant and negative impact on their health.
After initial denials of the documentary’s findings, The Kennel Club was forced to review their position in the wake of an avalanche of negative publicity, and lobbying from both the general public and animal welfare organisations to acknowledge the issues and bring about positive change.
Pedigree Dogs Exposed aired 10 years ago this year (2018) and despite the decade that has passed since then, the documentary and its aftermath remains clear in the minds of dog breeders, show exhibitors, judges, and the Kennel Club organisation as a whole.
You can read a more detailed rundown of the contents of the documentary itself here. Now that Pedigree Dogs Exposed is ten years on, enough time has passed to be able to review the larger impact of the documentary and its aftermath, and to assess what improvements have come about as a result of the documentary, and what areas are still cause for concern.
In this first of a two-article series, we’ll examine what has changed for the better as a result of Pedigree Dogs Exposed in the ten years since the show first aired. Read on to learn more.
Whilst The Kennel Club was rather slow to act in the aftermath of Pedigree Dogs Exposed as their public image virtually collapsed around them overnight, the ensuing decade has seen a number of important changes brought in to help to moderate dog breeds and breeders more effectively.
Today, show judges undergo more comprehensive training on the types of dogs that should be awarded prizes, and veterinary checks for competitors have become the norm at all major shows.
Litters that result from the mating very closely related dogs can no longer be registered with The Kennel Club, and dog owners can check the details of potential stud dogs or mating matches using health results checker tools online.
Restrictions have also been placed on the number of litters a bitch can produce, and the number of caesarean sections a bitch can have as well.
Whilst not all dog breeders, show competitors, breed organisations and even The Kennel Club itself were initially keen to decry conformation exaggerations in dogs that can affect their health in the immediate aftermath of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the general public took up the call.
The average dog lover today has a much better awareness of the ways in which selective breeding can be used to alter the appearance of dogs and produce exaggerations that can lead to health problems and welfare concerns, which has in turn had a knock-on effect on breeders and a fall in the trend for highly exaggerated conformations.
Over time, this has led to a slow decline in the number of obvious or serious exaggerations seen in the show ring, and the awarding of prizes to more moderate dogs in their place, although there is still a long way to go and unhealthy dogs are still unfortunately being rewarded in many show rings.
Inbreeding to some extent is common across many pedigree breeds, particularly those with small breed populations. In order to produce a desirable example of a given breed, excellent parent stock must be selected – and mating closely related dogs in order to achieve this was historically very common.
However, breeding two closely related dogs increases the risk of health problems in their litter, and the Kennel Club now seeks to educate breeders on inbreeding and the dangers that come with it. They have also introduced a number of free to use tools to allow breeders to determine how closely related their potential mating match is before going ahead.
Many veterinary professionals were initially slow to risk the ire of The Kennel Club and dog breeders by speaking out against harmful breeding and showing practices in the wake of Pedigree Dogs Exposed. However, the veterinary profession as a whole in the UK is today right at the forefront of advocacy and lobbying for reform in support of improvement of pedigree dog breeds, as are all of the UK’s main animal welfare charities and organisations like the RSPCA.
The October 2018 introduction of a newly revised edition of the Animal Welfare Regulations incorporates a caveat that dogs that might reasonably be expected to produce a litter with health or welfare concerns must not be used for breeding.
How this will be enforced in practice is still a bone of contention, however, had its very addition is a step in the right direction and means that the legislation can be used to prosecute breeders who do not comply with this regulation.
Additionally, the definitions of what constitutes a dog breeder have been tightened up, as have the licencing regulations for breeders and the details of what they must do in order to be awarded with a licence to breed dogs.
Finally, the general public and dog lovers as a whole are a lot better informed about pedigree dog health issues today than they were a decade ago, and they’re using this knowledge to lobby for real change in how we think about and treat pedigree dogs and dog breeds.
Whilst some of the most high-profile dog breeds in terms of health and welfare concerns are also among the UK’s most popular – like the French bulldog and pug – the public’s greater understanding of these breed’s health and challenges is helping to curb the spread of ever-more unhealthy future litters.
Cute and quirky brachycephalic dogs are hugely popular in the media as advertising tools for marketing, but there has been a level of pushback over this as individual dog lovers and lobbying groups work to educate those behind media campaigns featuring such dogs about the harmful impact that this can have.
This has led to the selection of more moderate, healthy dogs in many campaigns, or the choice made to select more generally healthy breeds in the future.