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Top canine psychologist slams BBC’s decision on Crufts
Dr Roger Mugford says KC is a ‘friend and defender of dogs’


Dr Roger Mugford has stepped forward to add his thoughts to the many others following the BBC’s decision to break its contract with the Kennel Club over the airing of Crufts 2009.

Roger MugfordThe KC’s stand over a handful of ‘at risk’ breeds saw them refuse to back down to requests from the programme makers not to allow those breeds to compete at Crufts, a stand which has been backed by a huge number of exhibitors.

Dr Mugford exclusively contacted OUR DOGS to add his thoughts: ‘Human beings are competitive creatures who may choose to compete in sometimes bizarre pastimes like Strictly Come Dancing, beauty shows for babies or even beetle races. What could be more natural than that dog owners come together from time to time and compete in physical activities like agility, Schutzhund or, in the case of Crufts, conformity to a breed standard.

‘Dog shows have been going on for aeons, but of course the institution was famously refined by the showman and entrepreneur Charles Crufts in 1891. Crufts has now become a worldwide institution that everybody knows about, thousands attend and millions watch it on TV. However, Crufts is more than just a dog show! It has become a celebration of canine culture, exploring the remarkable emotional and practical bonds that link people to dogs and that go back for many thousands of years. The organisers of Crufts happen to be the Kennel Club, who can be proud that no other FCI-affiliated Kennel Club (including the American Kennel Club with their Westminster Dog Show) can lay on a spectacle that provides the size, glamour and diversity of Crufts.’

Psychologist Mugford said that he had watched the ‘furore’ unfold over the last few months, but had resisted joining the debate until he had heard all the arguments. He also praised Caroline Kisko for her level-headedness in the face of what he termed ‘aggressive questioning by the media’ and said she was definitely not one of the ‘old guard’.

Critical

He continues: ‘My views about dog shows have changed over the many years I have been in behavioural practice. In the ‘80s, I was critical of the intolerance of many dogs who are approached by strangers when they were benched on cramped facilities at the old Earls Court venue. The dogs were visibly stressed by the London experience, by having insufficient space to exercise and the unrelenting pressure of crowds smoking in a poorly ventilated venue. All or most of those shortcomings evaporated when the show moved to NEC. There are acres of grassy space, smoking has been banned and benching is more spacious and orderly. Now I rarely witness the threats from stressed or insecure Smooth Haired Dachshunds, German Shepherd Dogs or Cocker Spaniels: breeds which featured top of the aggression list in my 1984 study. Following publication of that work, the Cocker Spaniel fraternity (in particular) responded by markedly tightening up on the behavioural selection criteria of solid-coloured English Cockers (i.e. the reds and blacks). The breed that used to be associated with “Cocker Rage” is now no different in its representation of disturbed or aggressive behaviour than other Cockers, or indeed when compared to any other breed.

‘My experience with Cocker Spaniels made me more curious about the behavioural content of the judging process. What I found turned me from being a critic of the show process (which is the key instrument for genetic selection of our many breeds of dogs) to my recognising that it can have a benign effect upon development of companionable qualities in dogs. So why the change of mind?

‘There are many factors that influence the suitability of dogs to live safely in society and to perform the demanding role of “family pet”. We all know about the importance of puppy socialisation and of building positive but managed experiences with responsible owners. Then there is the influence of diet, litter size, trauma and disease, all acquired l cont from front page

characteristics. Genetics has, until recently, been a relatively unquantified factor in determining the behavioural traits of dogs. Much more is now known about genetic influences upon global traits such as excitability, neophobias/fearfulness or low threshold, uninhibited aggression. Clearly it is the latter element that can get dogs (and their owners) into serious trouble. Are dog shows a good medium for selection of better-behaved dogs? To answer this question, we have to look at the whole process that goes on before, during and after dog shows.

Socialisation

‘First, to make it in to the show ring, the dog has to be trained, i.e. attend ring craft. A dog which is under-socialised or say, lives in an unstimulating kennel environment, is unlikely to cope with the hustle and bustle of a dog show. So, only well-socialised and trained dogs should make it to the show.

‘Then there is transportation: dog exhibitors travel from one end of the country to the other, even flying dogs across the world. Again, only dogs able to withstand transport stress, separation in crates on aircraft and the like are shown.

‘Finally there is the show environment itself. Dogs are led through milling crowds of people and other dogs, to a bench where they may be left unsupervised for hours. In the ring, there will be shouting, flash photography (and for a German Shepherd, maybe even double handling!) A stranger (the judge) approaches and stares at the dog, which for many will be quite a threatening experience. Go to any park in the country, or to a dog re-homing centre and try staring at dogs, then examine their dentition, count their testicles and the rest. But be warned, you may be at risk of being bitten but I don’t see many show judges with missing fingers!

‘Various commentators and “experts” in the world of dogs have proposed that there should be a more formal approach to behavioural selection than I have just described here. The reality is that no one would agree upon the test protocol, who should be the judges or how the data should be interpreted. In reality, the system we have is working well, and the great majority of dogs which I see exhibited at KC-approved shows have superb temperament and are generally presented by caring (if sometimes eccentric!) exhibitors. Why change the system?’

Minority

Dr Mugford also spoke about the BBC programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed, aired in August. He said that the programme principally focused its fire upon physical and neurological defects of a small number of breeds. He said: ‘Behaviour was barely mentioned, and yet it is this which is a more important determinant of success as a pet than a dog’s appearance. Of course, I accept that a minority of breeds have standards which have produced bizarre exaggerations and that predispose some animals to disease or suffering, but they are a minority and each and every one of the breeds concerned is being challenged by a proactive “new” Kennel Club. Twenty years ago, they would not have had access to the same quality of genetic data (e.g. the canine genome) nor results of epidemiological studies showing the breed clusters for particular physical conditions.

The pursuit of perfection will always be a challenging task, sometimes liable to failure. However, broadly speaking, I am content that the Kennel Club has the best interests of dogs at heart, taking initiatives which have substantially improved certain of the breed standards. The Kennel Club pursue those suspected of employing corrective surgery or use other wilful ploys to hide anatomical defects, and are taking many sound initiatives to improve the practice of dog breeding. Of course, there is much more to be done, but I recognise the sound motivational principle of rewarding progress in behaviour, not just delivering nagging criticism.

‘But the KC (and I am not and probably never will be a member of that August club) have undertaken other initiatives designed to benefit all dogs, through grants from their Charitable Trust, their junior handling schemes, Discover Dogs, a trainer and behaviourist Accreditation Scheme and, something that I really welcome, by their publication of guides to dog-friendly businesses.

Hostile media

‘So often, I have had to defend dogs and their owners before a hostile media, usually following a bite incident. Britain has some of the most harsh (and illogical) legislation in their Dangerous Dogs Act, and it is so often used as an instrument whereby local authority dog wardens and over-zealous policemen can persecute (oops, I mean prosecute) owners of, say, long-legged Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Crufts dog show has traditionally provided a welcome alternative to this too-familiar negative press commentary about dogs. It is an annual mediafest for all of us concerned to promote better awareness and sympathy about dogs to the wider public.

‘But you may wonder why would the RSPCA (amongst others) be seeking to stop organised dog shows? Maybe it is that the RSPCA is seeking to re-define its role as the agents, judge and jury for the new Animal Welfare Act. Like the greedy cuckoo in a small nest that is the United Kingdom dog culture, it would fit their agenda very well to shove the Kennel Club to one side and insert themselves as the arbiters of who, when, where and what kind of dog (if at all) people can own as pets.

‘The BBC programme which featured their “media vet” Mark Evans making ludicrous statements about “a parade of mutants” and worse, revealed nothing new to serious commentators, scientists or vets about the health status of dogs, pedigree or non-pedigree. It did not fairly portray the reality that many of the case studies which were shown were, in fact, exposed by initiatives taken by the Kennel Club itself. Research at Imperial College, University of London was actually funded by the Kennel Club Charitable Trust! How unfair that the RSPCA and some other animal charities that were willing to exhibit at Crufts and the like, even accept donations from their Charitable Trust, should now turn against their hosts. There is no new science that justifies their taking the present anti-Crufts line that was not known 5, 10 or 20 years ago, and so much has got better.

Influenced

‘The BBC will, of course, have been influenced by the propagandising, media-savvy RSPCA and others. The final “straw” which will have persuaded the BBC to pull out may have been the withdrawal of Pedigree Petfoods from their former role as principal sponsor of Crufts. Yes, this is the same Pedigree Petfoods which changed its name from Chappie Ltd to Pedigree on the back of its “top breeders recommend it” Chum brand. Again, what a disloyal act by a company in pursuit of short-term gain rather than long-term support for an institution trying to improve the status of pets in society.

‘Readers of OUR DOGS, please support the Kennel Club and enjoy the greatest dog show on earth which will be Crufts 2009. But think less of those who have been disloyal and seek to undermine an organisation which has most definitely proved its credentials as a friend and defender of dogs.’ Dr Mugford can be contacted by e-mail on
roger.mugford@companyofanimals.co.uk or by telephone on 07785 978 499.

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It is great to know someone like Dr Mugford supports the KC and realises just what the RSPCA are. (in my opinion useless)
Crufts is a wonderfull event long may it continue.

Margaret Wildsmith



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