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For anyone making their first visit to a dog show SIMON PARSONS explains just what you can expect to see around the rings and explains a little of what is actually going on.

WHAT IS Crufts all about? Indeed what are dog shows in general all about?

For the general public Crufts is THE dog event of the year and for exhibitors it is equally important, Crufts is the culmination of the showing year, it is the only dog show for which entrants have to qualify by winning prizes at a previous show and this fact inevitably gives Crufts a cachet all of its own.

Basically, dogs qualify by winning a first, second or third prize in championship show competition during the previous 12 months. In the numerically smaller breeds this is not normally too hard to achieve if you have a decent dog and show it regularly, but in breeds such as Labradors and Golden Retrievers (Goldens) where the classes regularly contain 20 or more dogs, qualifying can be a major achievement in itself.

The numbers of opportunities to qualify depends on the numerical strength of the breed: Goldens, for example, had 43 championship shows at which challenge certificates were offered, during 2003, whereas Ibizan Hounds had just eight chances.
The championship shows where one can qualify are spread throughout the year, from the South West of England up to Scotland and in some breeds there is an opportunity in Northern Ireland too.
Some shows are for all breeds, some are confined to individual groups – gundogs, for example – and some for single breeds. In addition, top winners at the smaller open shows are also allowed to qualify and since the quarantine restrictions were relaxed a few years ago, dogs can also qualify at one show in each of the major dog showing nations in Europe and North America.

Dogs who have achieved their champion title or won a challenge certificate or reserve, or have won sufficiently well at senior level to gain entry into the Kennel Club’s Stud Book, qualify for Crufts not only for the following year, but for life.

All the dogs you will see in the show rings at Crufts are therefore by definition winners.

Some of the breed rings will be occupied for the whole day by just one breed; indeed some breeds draw so many dogs that they have to be divided into dogs and bitches with one judge and one ring for each sex. In the case of the smaller breeds, there may be time for two, three or four to be judged in the same ring throughout the day, so it is worth checking up to see what time the breed you are interested in can be seen in the ring.
So what actually goes on in the show ring?

Each breed has a Standard, a written blueprint of the ideal. The judge’s job is to reward those dogs which, in their opinion, come closest to that ideal. The judges are experts in the breed they are judging; others are specialists in that particular group or may be ‘all-rounders’, judges who have worked their way up to be approved to judge many breeds at top level.

All breeds were originally bred for a purpose, such as a working hound or terrier, retriever or animal herding dog and the Standard bears in mind the physical requirements which would make a dog well suited to that purpose.

Judges’ decisions are based on ‘type’. Does the dog possess the particular feature which distinguishes that breed from all others – conformation – the way its bone structure fits together – character – after all in any dog, show dog or otherwise, temperament has to be the number one priority and all breeds have subtle differences in character – movement, condition and presentation. In addition, that little extra something, call it ‘class’ or ‘quality’, which makes a show dog look like an aristocrat, also counts for a lot as does ‘ring presence’, the ability to stand out in a crowd.

The technicalities of the judging procedure were dealt with by Jane Lilley in an article in last week’s Dog World Crufts Special, copies of which are available on the Dog World stand in hall 4. Suffice to say that in all breeds the judges will end up with a best dog and a best bitch in each breed, selected from the winners of the various classes. In most breeds these are each awarded a challenge certificate (CC); if a dog wins three CCs under three different judges, at least one of those once it is more than a year old, it becomes a champion.
The winning dog and bitch then compete for best of breed (BOB); if there are two judges and they cannot agree, a referee will be called for.
The BOB winner will represent the breed in the main ring in the group judging in the evening, and the winner of each of the seven groups will compete for best in show on Sunday evening.

You may well ask how judges can compare dogs of different breeds, how a St Bernard can be judged against a Chihuahua; the answer is that each dog is compared with its own breed’s Standard and the one which corresponds most closely is the winner. Again that little extra style and ‘attitude’ can be all-important in distinguishing a good dog from a really great one.

Even if you miss the breed judging, you can also see the dogs on their benches and chat to their owners – but please, under no circumstances touch any dogs without their owner’s permission. It is a long day for them and they appreciate the chance to sleep on their bench.

All breeds have at least one, often many more, breed clubs devoted to looking after their interests. Many of these will have a stand near the benches and to the ring where you can meet experienced enthusiasts who can give you any information and advice you may need.

A popular aspect of Crufts is the Discover Dogs event in halls 3 and 3A. Crufts is a four-day event and the show dogs appear only on the day their group is scheduled. In order not to disappoint visitors who come on a different day from that when their favourite breed is present, Discover Dogs gives you a chance to see virtually every pedigree dog breed present in Britain, whichever day you choose to attend. This includes breeds newly introduced to this country which are not yet eligible for actual competition at Crufts.

The volunteers at the breed booths on Discover Dogs will be only too pleased to discuss their breed with you and to explain what is involved in living with that breed. If, after listening to what the breed people say, a particular breed appeals to you, find out the address of the secretary of one of the breed clubs and go on from there.

Nowadays there is much more to Crufts than just the show ring. One great tradition has been the obedience competition in which dogs of a variety of breeds, mainly Border Collies and Working Sheepdogs trained to the highest possible standard, perform a variety of exercises including heelwork, stays and scent discrimination.

The 50th obedience championships take place in the main ring during the day on Thursday and Friday; Saturday sees an inter-regional team competition and Sunday a new International World Cup.

Even more popular nowadays is the exciting sport of agility in which dogs have to negotiate a course containing several obstacles including tunnels, jumps and ramps. A clear round in the fastest possible time is the aim. There are special classes, too, for the small ‘mini’ breeds which are great fun to watch. The special events ring in hall 3 is the best place to see this. 

More exciting even than agility is flyball, a team relay event in which dogs have to catch a ball ejected from a special box and then run with it. Fast and furious is the best description and again the special events ring is the place to be.

In today’s climate it is vitally important that all dogs are trained well enough not to be a nuisance to anyone and to behave with decorum at all times. The Kennel Club has done its bit to foster this ideal with the Good Citizen Dog Scheme, a three-stage test open to all dogs. Demonstrations of how this works can be found in the scheme’s own ring in hall 3A.

On a similar note, the KC is encouraging young people to get involved in all aspects of the dog world including competition and administration. The Young Kennel Club has its own ring in hall 3 and young people can participate in their own version of all the many activities the show offers. Their show-ring handling skills are tested in various classes and top young handlers from around the world will be competing in the international final, held in the special events ring on Sunday.

One feature of the show you cannot fail to notice is the huge quatity of trade stands, selling everything you could imagine which is remotely connected to dogs, and much, much more. We know of many visitors who spend one day at Crufts exhibiting or watching their own breed, and then return to spend another full day going round the trade stands. In fact it’s quite easy to spend four days at the NEC without being bored for a second, so if this is your first visit to Crufts, enjoy, and we hope to see you again next year.

SIMON PARSONS