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2008 was a time of massive upheaval within the canine community, due in large part to the airing of the BBC documentary 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed,' an investigative expose of The Kennel Club's breed standards and promotion of unsafe breeding practices. The documentary, which took over two years to make, highlighted The Kennel Club's promotion or acceptance of unsafe and unethical breeding standards, specifically:
In the immediate aftermath of the documentary, The Kennel Club found itself under the spotlight and in receipt of a large amount of negative publicity and poor public opinion as a result of the issues highlighted in the programme. Although The Kennel Club initially denied any part in unethical breeding practices and the formation of unrealistic breed standards, they later went on to review a wide range of breed standards and Kennel Club policies and practices as a result of the programme airing, and the strong negative public reactions which they faced. But now that several years have passed since the airing of the documentary, has anything really changed? The BBC sought to find this out by making a second programme which aired in February of 2012 entitled Pedigree Dogs Exposed- Three Years On.
Pedigree Dogs Exposed- Three Years On revisited the issues which they revealed in the initial programme of 2008, and sought to discover what, if any, changes had been made by The Kennel Club as a result.
The Kennel Club acknowledged that they could refuse to register dogs produced from closely inbred pairings, but refuted the claim that inbreeding tends to produce unhealthy dogs which may suffer from a range of inherited problems that can affect their health. The Kennel Club still currently registers inbred dogs.
The Kennel Club introduced a new code of ethics as a result of the initial programme, and now explicitly forbids the culling of healthy puppies which do not conform to desirable breed standards.
As a result of the original programme's highlighting the issue of unhealthy dogs winning Kennel Club shows and dogs being bred to win competitions at the expense of their health and wellness, The Kennel Club have introduced a new standard guideline that states that the revised breed standards and judging practices will not " include anything that could in any way be interpreted as encouraging features that might prevent a dog from breathing, walking and seeing freely. This will help to prevent the practice of exaggeration, where features that are perceived to be desirable, such as a short muzzle or loose skin, are made more prominent by breeders, and which can have detrimental effects on a dog's health."
The issue of how selective breeding for showing standards changes the natural appearance of pedigree dog breeds to show pronounced breed traits is known as 'exaggeration.' Dogs such as the Bulldog and Dachshund have become so over-bred and exaggerated that dogs of these breeds (and various others) are now no longer able to give birth naturally, and some dog breeds have become so exaggerated as to become almost a caricature of their natural ancestors. After the original programme aired, The Kennel Club increased the level of training for show judges, and made some dramatic and far reaching changes to their existing breed standards to not only remove the desirability of exaggeration, but to effectively penalise it. This amendment led to a lot of negative opinion from the pedigree dog breeding world, being as they were effectively left with lines of dogs which may have been considered breed standard show quality one year, and undesirable or even forbidden from competing a year later. However, Pedigree Dogs Exposed- Three Years On concluded that despite what The Kennel Club said in relation to the alteration of breed standards and the principles of exaggeration, the types of dogs which are placing well in their classes and winning the larger competitions would seem to indicate that in practice, little has changed.
Overall, Pedigree Dogs Exposed- Three Years On concluded that The Kennel Club had not shown enough commitment to making the necessary changes to the dog world's breed standards and judging structure, nor were they genuinely committed to the welfare of dogs first and foremost, and that The Kennel Club was the victim of a massive conflict of interests, being the welfare of the dogs involved and their commitment to supporting the breeders of such dogs. The programme considered that The Kennel Club is not 'fit for function' and called for an independent government backed regulatory body to be introduced in order to drive meaningful and far reaching reform for the good of the wider dog population, calling for the general public to support this move and lobby for change- ending with the call to action, "We are supposed to be a nation of dog lovers- now let's prove it." The Kennel Club refused to take part in the development of the programme, stating that the programme was biased and would "repeat the same mistakes as last time, leading puppy buyers to think that the problems of breeding for looks and money over welfare are not relevant to the entire dog population, thus helping to boost the sales of disreputable breeders of designer crossbreeds" The Kennel Club also cited its partially upheld complaints to Ofcom, the broadcasting complaints commission, over the airing of the initial programme (but neglected to mention that the vast majority of its complaints of unfair treatment and inaccurate reporting were not upheld).
Learning that a range of pedigree dogs may be genetically predisposed to ill health, the results of selective inbreeding and the associated health and wellness concerns raised in both of the Pedigree Dogs Exposed programmes is understandably concerning for dog lovers, owners and breeders of all types. It is up to each individual dog lover and breeder to find out all of the facts about any dog they might be considering owning, investigate any claims of poor breeding practices and genetic health issues, and draw their own conclusions as to the moral and ethical considerations involved in some modern breeding practices. It is important to state that, while a significant number of dog breeds and breeding practices may be considered to be flawed and potentially unhealthy, this is by no means true of all dog breeds and breeders, even within breeds which have been revealed to have a particular propensity to potential breeding and health problems. If you are considering buying a pedigree dog, make your selection wisely. Visit a range of breeders and ask the difficult questions on breeding, welfare and health, and what those breeders are doing to ensure that the dogs which they produce are happy, healthy and viable.
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