Five years on – the legacy of ‘that programme’ Pedigree Dogs Exposed
THIS WEEK marks the fifth anniversary of the documentary that rocked the dog showing community, Pedigree Dogs Exposed.
Originally aired on BBC1 on August 19, 2008, Pedigree Dogs Exposed featured several interviews and research into the dog show and breeding community.
Presented by Jemima Harrison of Passionate Productions, the programme claimed to give an insight into the health of breeds such as the German Shepherd, Rhodesian Ridgeback and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Also under investigation was the topic of line-breeding the programme claimed was destroying genetic diversity it put forward a view that breeders’ quest to breed as close as possible to the breed Standards was impacting on dogs’ health and welfare.
Five years on, the Kennel Club has said that it will ‘continue to improve the health of all dogs’.
Caroline Kisko, KC secretary, said: "For more than a decade, alongside the advancement in genetic science, the KC has supported the work of breeders, breed clubs, scientists and vets, to improve the health of all dogs.
"In 2009 we accelerated the review of all breed Standards, to ensure they were not in any way encouraging exaggerations that would be detrimental to dog health, and we made it clear in every breed Standard that health must always come first.
"We also stepped up efforts to ensure that only healthy dogs were winning in the show ring, by expecting judges and show monitors to report any dogs of concern to the show vet, and by insisting that the 14 (originally 15) breeds most prone to exaggerations passed a vet check before they were awarded a prize.
"There have so far been 495 passes and 17 fails, and breed health co-ordinators have been appointed for each of the breeds to ensure continued improvement.”
The high-profile breeds are the Basset Hound, Bloodhound, Bulldog, Chow Chow, Clumber Spaniel, Dogue de Bordeaux, French Bulldog, German Shepherd Dog, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Pekingese, Pug, Shar-Pei and St Bernard. The Chinese Crested was removed from the list of high profile breeds last year.
These 14 breeds were put under the spotlight earlier this year at a high-profile breed education day where breed representatives could talk health and improvements.
Talking at the event, Brian Wootton, educational working party panellist and member of the German Shepherd breed council, blasted the breed’s ‘unnatural’ stance, saying that it is an ‘insult to their character’.
Speaking to the audience he said: "There are no other breeds subject to this unnatural way of standing and our breed is not plasticine ready to be manipulated.
"Our problem is not a health problem, it is a confirmation problem first and foremost, and this has become an insult to this breed’s character and has made the breed stray from its original purpose.”
The German Shepherd came under heavy attack in Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which said that the conformation of the breed made them look ‘half dog, half frog’.
Sheila Rankin, secretary of the GSD breed council told DOG WORLD this week: "The German Shepherd Dog has always been ahead of the game when it comes to health issues. Our conscientious breeders did not, and do not, need a publicity-seeking documentary to tell us what is right and what is wrong.
"The GSD breed council, through its breed surveys which commenced in 1991, insist on hip, elbow and haemophilia testing and this year it has incorporated a DNA parentage test into the survey.
"I have every confidence that as the years progress the German Shepherd breeders will still be doing the right things for our dogs without the interference of Pedigree Dogs Exposed.”
Following the initial broadcast, a second documentary called ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed – Three years on’ was shown in 2012.
The programme looked at some positive changes made since the first film and investigated areas it felt were of continuing concern.
Now five years on from the original programme, the KC has issued its response to the claims of bad breeding practices and said that the Assured Breeders Scheme is now in place to promote good breeding.
Mrs Kisko continued: "The ABS now has independent UKAS accreditation. It is only by encouraging good breeding practice, and teaching puppy buyers how to find these good breeders, that real change can occur.
"The KC is continually working to give breeders the tools to make informed decisions about the dogs that they choose to breed. One of the considerations is that pedigree dogs are selectively bred in order to generate predictability in terms of their exercise, grooming needs and their temperament, which helps to ensure that people get suitable dogs for their lifestyles.
"But this selective breeding also means that they have smaller gene pools and therefore a higher risk of inheriting identical sets of genes from both sets of parents, whether good or bad.
"The KC has developed eight new DNA tests for more than 20 breeds at the KC genetics centre at the Animal Health Trust, so that breeders can ensure that only healthy genes are passed down through the generations.
"Services have also been developed for our Mate Select website that helps breeders to prevent the loss of genetic diversity by looking at inbreeding coefficients and soon, estimated breeding values, so that the chances of problems occurring can be predicted and pups given the best chance of a healthy life.
"There is still much to do but by far our biggest challenge as good breeders is working to educate puppy buyers about how to spot unscrupulous breeders, so that the risks they run for the health of dogs, whether pedigree, purebred or crossbreed, is brought to an end.”
But the RSPCA said that although progress over the last five years has been made, this is not enough.
Lisa Richards, companion animals scientific officer for the RSPCA, said: "Although some progress has been made by the dog world to address the issues raised in Pedigree Dogs Exposed, it has not been nearly enough and five years on the problems are still far from being solved.
"We’re concerned that many pedigree dogs are still suffering because they’re bred and judged primarily for how they look rather than with health, welfare and temperament in mind.
"We believe that meaningful action is urgently needed in order to make a real improvement to the welfare of pedigree dogs.”
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has also urged the need to push for breeding improvements including practices, stating that over the last five years, ‘greater awareness’ has been shown.
Robin Hargreaves, BVA president elect, commented: "I think there is a much greater awareness among many breeders and showers of dogs that they have a responsibility for the current and future welfare of the offspring they produce.
"However this is not universal. The veterinary profession, working with the KC and the scientific community, particularly the geneticists, continues to push for further improvements.”
The documentary itself was the catalyst for three independent reports: The Bateson Inquiry, the report of the Associate Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare (APGAW) and the RSPCA’s report on pedigree dogs.
The anniversary comes as the KC published their results of the Chiari malformation (CM) and syringomyelia (SM) test results in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, of which found that all Cavaliers tested were certified grade two for CM.
Grade two, according to the BVA testing document, is the highest grade for CM and is classified as the ‘cerebellum impacted into, or herniated through the opening at the rear of the skull (the foramen magnum)’.