The documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which was aired on 19 August on BBC1, illustrated that pedigree dogs bred specifically for showing are suffering health problems because certain physical characteristics have been exaggerated.

“The welfare and quality of life of many pedigree dogs is seriously compromised by established breeding practices for appearance, driven primarily by the rules and requirements of competitive dog showing and pedigree dog registration,” said the RSPCA’s chief vet Mark Evans.

The programme showed how physical traits required by the Kennel Club’s (KC) breed standards, such as short faces, screw-tails and dwarfism, have inherent health problems. Breeds that are worst affected included spaniels with syringomyelia, a condition that occurs when a dog’s skull is too small for its brain, and boxers suffering from epilepsy. Companion Animal Welfare Council’s James Kirkwood featured in the programme. He highlighted the dangers of deliberately mating showing dogs that are close relatives. He told ST that working dogs are bred comparatively better: “Genetic problems are perhaps generally less likely if breeding for work than for cosmetic reasons — a working animal has to be sufficiently functional and fit. However, there are risks in any selective breeding programmes.”

However, the Kennel Club’s Caroline Kisko refuted the claims, saying that many of the health problems have their roots in Victorian times. She said that the organisation runs

a range of health tests and is funding the development of genetic tests. BASC’s Christopher Graffius also defended the organisation: “We have always found the KC enormously helpful, not only in organising the gamekeepers’ rings at Crufts, but also in advising with legal issues affecting gundogs.”

Simon Tyres, of Hawcroft Gundogs, told ST that he was shocked by the documentary: “As a result of this programme, I anticipate customers taking a more informed interest in puppy lines. I take the breeding of my working spaniels extremely seriously. In fact, last year I discovered that a dog I had put to my champion bitch had a genetic spinal disease. As a responsible breeder I then notified the owners, deregistered the puppies and ensured that they were all neutered.”

The rest of this article appears in 28 August issue of Shooting Times.

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