With Westminster over and Crufts winding up, halfway between Miss America and Miss USA, it seems a good a time as any to look at our standards of physical perfection — for dogs and humans — and where they came from.
Recent evidence suggests that — at least when it comes to competitions — they all may have started with pigeons, or, more accurately, with humans in pursuit of pigeon perfection.
This, be warned, is not a scholarly presentation — just an impish one – but we will cite the work of some scholars, namely historians at the University of Manchester who say they’ve traced the first use of a physical standard to describe what’s desirable, appearance wise, for a certain a breed of dog.
That dog was a pointer, named Major, but what’s even more interesting to us is where the whole presumptuous idea came from that we humans get to declare what’s perfect when it comes to the sizes, shapes, coats, muscle tone, wingspan or snout length of nature’s creations.
It’s one thing to set standards for our own species — be they male bodybuilders wearing too-skimpy Speedos, or women in swimsuits competing in “scholarship competitions.” It’s quite another to think we have the right to decide the right look for the entire animal kingdom — and then fashion those creatures to better please our eyes.
Apparently we have the pigeon — or pigeon afficianados — to thank. Fancy that.
Modern day dog show standards were modeled after the scoring system used in the 1800s to rate pigeons, according to University of Manchester historians.
They say they have discovered the first attempt to define a physical standard for a dog breed – in an 1865 edition of a Victorian journal called The Field. It was written, in reference to a show-winning pointer named Major, by John Henry Walsh, who used the pseudonym of “Stonehenge.”
The historians say that makes Major the “first modern dog.” Walsh took the system of giving scores for different parts of the body from pigeon fanciers, paving the way for the pedigree dog breeds we know and love today.
That led the way to all the other breed standards, and inbreeding and all the resulting genetic problems, too.
Historians at the University of Manchester believe standards caught on because, prior to them, judging was a pretty arbitrary pursuit, and contestants — the humans hoping to win ribbons, trophies and money through their animals — were often unhappy with the results, leading to disputes.
In other words, with standards in place, the decisions of judges seemed less arbitrary — even though the standards themselves are mostly arbitrary.
In September 1865, Stonehenge published a classification for the pointer which outlined what it should look like, and gave point values to the various section of its body – head and neck 30 points, frame and general symmetry 25 points, legs and feet 20 points, color and coat 10 points.
Articles soon followed on the standards for gordon setters, clumber spaniels, Norfolk spaniels, truffle dogs and fox terriers. Walsh’s edited collection was published in 1867.
“The standard set by ‘Mr Smith’s Major’ must surely be one of the most important milestones in the six-thousand-year-old relationship between canines and man,” said Professor Michael Worboys, head of the University’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.
“As dogs came to be defined as ‘breeds,’ they were bred for greater conformity to breed standards, which meant more inbreeding, and more health problems as dogs were bred from a smaller gene pool … Stonehenge’s classifications set in chain a process where dogs were re-imagined, redesigned and remade.”
The standards weren’t pulled out of thin air. Most often they were based on traits a type of dog had already shown. The bulldog, for example was bred to have a form ideal for grappling with a bull, even though bull-baiting had been banned in 1830.
While both dog shows and breed standards got their start in England, Americans picked up on them, including P.T. Barnum, who after holding dog, bird and baby contests, is credited by some with staging the first modern American beauty pageant.
P.T. Barnum is also often credited with the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Numerous websites will tell you he said that; many more say he did not — that it was instead the owner of a competing circus.
(The Internet is one of those places that has no standards.)
We’re not totally against written standards, just a little bothered when they are arbitrarily imposed by one species on another, or by one majority on a minority.
There are plenty of places we can use some standards – among them hospitals, Congress and corporate empires, like the one belonging to Donald Trump, the modern-day P.T. Barnum who owns the Miss USA pageant.
When it comes to beauty though — human, dog or pigeon beauty — we think that decision is best made not by a checklist, but by the eye of the beholder.
(Photos: Top left, Sheena Monnin, a Miss USA contestant who, after claiming the pageant was fixed, was ordered to pay Donald Trump $5 million; top right, a pigeon, courtesy of U.S. Department of Fish and Wildife ; sketch of Major courtesy of Dr. Michael Worboys, University of Manchester)
Posted by jwoestendiek March 11th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, beauty, beauty pageants, breeding, conformation, crufts, desirable, disorders, dog breed, dog shows, dogs, donald trump, females, first, form, genetic, humans, ideals, inbreeding, males, miss america, miss usa, perfection, pets, pigeons, pt barnum, shape, size, standards, westminster, written
The RSPCA and The Dogs’ Trust withdrew their support of Crufts. The BBC refused to broadcast the competition. And Pedigree, the pet food company, canceled its sponsorship of the event after more than 40 years.
(Pedigree — coincidentally? — was excused this year as a sponsor of the Westminster Dog Show, also after 40 years.)
After the documentary aired in the UK, the Kennel Club began taking some steps to revise the physical standards, used in judging, that many argued were leading to issues like cancer, epilepsy and breathing problems in certain breeds.
But how much did things actually change? Three years later — during which time, public indignation never seemed to fully drift onto U.S. shores — the answer seems to be not substantially and not quickly enough
That’s one conclusion of ”Pedigree Dogs Exposed: Three Years On,” which airs on BBC tonight, and is likely to trigger a new firestorm — and just in times for Crufts, the prestigious purebred dog show that runs from March 8 through March 11.
The new documentary was making news even before it aired.
In one interview in the program, Gerhard Oechtering, a veterinary professor at Germany’s Leipzig University, called for pugs and bulldogs to be banned, saying it’s unethical to keep producing members of a breed that can’t breathe properly. Dr. Oechtering called for flat-nosed breeds to be mated with long-nosed ones so that new generations do not suffer from blocked airways, reported the Daily Mail.
Another expert, in a call bound to distress many purebred breeders, goes so far as to urge the public to turn to mutts. “The best solution overall would be to popularize mixed breed dogs as pets because they are much less likely to be afflicted with the genetic diseases that are associated with pedigree dog breeding,” Cambridge University’s Nick Jeffery is quoted as saying in the Telegraph.
Jemima Harrison, producer of both the original and the sequel, said in an interview with the Sunday Express that there have been many positive changes in the three years that have passed.
In the aftermath of the documentary, bans were imposed on mating mothers with sons; fathers with daughters and brothers with sisters. The Kennel Club reviewed breed standards for over 200 breeds and made changes to 78.
The Kennel Club now permits Dalmatian cross breeding in order to normalize the breed’s uric acid genes. Currently, high levels caused by inbreeding can cause stones that make some dogs unable to urinate, leading to bursting bladders.
Still, in the eyes of Harrison, some of the changes in standards have been only minor, like changing the preference for a pug’s muzzle from “short” to “relatively short.”
“The Kennel Club is just tweaking; it is fiddling while Rome burns. We have still the problem of dogs being bred within very small gene pools. You can still mate a grandfather and a granddaughter… They are still being bred to win in the show-ring and the show-ring still has no health criteria. It’s the prettiest dogs that win and it’s at considerable cost to the dogs.”
Harrison is particularly pessimistic about the fate of the bulldog, whose breeders, she says, are “adamant that there’s no need for change”– even though the breed’s shape has become such that mating often requires “mating cradles” or human manipulation, and 80 percent give birth by caesarean section.
“Pedigree dogs are heritage breeds and something to be proud of, but too often their health and welfare are compromised. Fundamental reform is needed before we can be proud of the pedigree dogs we produce in this country,” she said.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 27th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bbc, breeds, bulldogs, crufts, dalmatians, documentary, dog show, dog shows, dogs, dogs trust, genetic, health, jemima harrison, pedigree, pedigree dogs exposed, pets, problems, pugs, purebred, rspca, standards, three years on, westminster
A purebred flat-coated retriever won best in show, but it was a one-eyed mutt named Dudley, and his dazzling performance in an agility contest, that won over the crowd at Crufts — the pretentious, I mean presitigious, UK dog show that concluded this past weekend.
Dudley, a six-year-old Lhasa apso-pug mix who lost his eye as a pup, and later was given up by his owners, won an official Crufts rosette for his performance in the agility ring, beating out other rescued dogs in the competition, according to the Southern Daily Echo.
While we’ve been known to poke fun at purebred dog shows, it’s good to see them — on both sides of the pond — opening things up to mixed breeds, like Dudley. And, if the crowd reaction to him is any sign, it’s something they should do a lot more of.
“He was definitely the crowd’s favorite and got a huge cheer as he ran round,” Dudley’s owner, Lara Alford, from Southampton, said. “Over the last few days he has had so many admirers – he’s probably been one of the most photographed dogs at Crufts this year.”
Dudley had his right eye removed as a puppy because of an infection. At 14 months, his owners surrendered him at an animal adoption shelter.
Alford, shortly after adopting him, noticed his speed and maneuverability and began training him in agility. As they run the courses, she always stays on his left side, so he can see her.
At Crufts, the training paid off. “It was one of the fastest rounds Dudley’s ever done,” she said.
More than 21,000 dogs vied for honors at Crufts, which opened Thursday. In the best-in-show competition, Jet, a flat-coated retriever, beat out a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, a German shepherd, a boxer, a wire fox terrier, a standard poodle and a bichon frise.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 14th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: agility, animals, best in show, breeds, crufts, dog shows, dogs, dudley, flat coated retriever, jet, lara alford, lhasa apso, mix, mixed breeds, mutts, one eye, one-eyed, pets, pug, purebreds
Step aside Tiger Woods, Jesse James, even Wilt Chamberlain. You’ve got nothing on Yogi, the Hungarian vizsla who won best in show at Britain’s prestigious Crufts competition this year.
The champion Aussie show dog has fathered 525 puppies in the five years since he emigrated to the UK. That’s well over 100 pups a year and, records show, more than 10 percent of all vizsla puppies registered.
Yogi, you dog you.
The impressive/shameful statistics were gathered by Jemima Harrison, who prepared the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, and who says — though we joke somewhat about Yogi”s rampant sex life – they should raise serious concerns about his growing gene pool dominance.
“Yogi is an absolutely beautiful dog who deserved to win,” Harrison said. “However, the concern is that this dog has been massively overused as a stud dog already … As far as the breed is concerned it’s a genetic time bomb.”
Even England’s Hungarian Vizsla Club is worried about Yogi, who is already grandfather to 340 pups and great grandfather to 10 pups, according to a report carried in The Herald Sun in Australia.
“When you lessen the gene pool you open the breed up to the possibility of auto-immune-related diseases,” said a club spokeswoman.
Yogi earns up to $1,230 per litter, and has fathered 79 registered litters in the UK up to December last year. With his Crufts victory, his stud fee and demand for his studly services can only be expected to increase.
With so many of his pups out there, it’s no surprise there is a Facebook page, called “I have a Yogi vizsla,” dedicated to his offspring.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 1st, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 525, animals, australia, best in show, breeders, breeding, crufts, dogs, facebook, father, fathered, fee, gene pool, genes, hungarian, litters, news, ohmidog!, pets, puppies, rampant, sex life, sired, stud, uk, vizsla, yogi
Out of 22,000 dogs from 187 breeds, a Hungarian Vizsla named Yogi was chosen as Best in Show at Crufts.
The seven-year-old beat off competition from six other dogs in the finale of the four-day show.
Yogi is the first Hungarian Vizsla to win Best in Show, the BBC reported.
Handler John Thirlwell said his “wonderful dog” from Carlisle, Cumbria, will likely retire after the win.
Earlier in the show, during judging of the Gundog category, which Yogi won, a streaker interrupted the proceedings.
The dog show was broadcast on More4 this year after the BBC – which had shown Crufts since 1966 – announced it was dropping its coverage in 2008.
That decision followed a BBC documentary which claimed Crufts allowed damaging breeding practices that caused disease and deformities. Welfare concerns also prompted the RSPCA to withdraw its support in 2008.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 16th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, best in show, breeding, breeds, crufts, deformity, disease, dog, dog shows, dogs, gundog, health, hungarian vizsla, pets, practices, purebreds, standards, vizsla, yogi
Likely the oldest dog to ever appear at Crufts — and probably one of few mutts ever allowed entry – the skeleton of a sea dog named Hatch is on display at the prestigous UK dog show before heading to her forever home.
Hatch — a mongrel, believed to have been about two years old — died in 1545 when her ship, the Mary Rose, sank in the Solent Channel.
After Crufts, she’ll return to the south coast for display at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth.
The dog was likely assigned to catch rats aboard the ship, a common practice at the time because cats were believed to bring bad luck.
According to experts, the formation of her skeleton suggests that she spent almost all of her life confined to the ship’s smallest and darkest areas.
The Mary Rose, the flagship of Henry VIII, sank in 1545 at the Battle of the Solent. Artifacts including clothing, jewelry, furniture, musical instruments, medical equipment and weapons were discovered when the vessel was raised in 1982.
The bones of Hatch were found on board the ship, near a hatch door that led to the carpenter’s cabin, the BBC reported. Staff at the Mary Rose Trust reconstructed her bones, and came up with her name.
John Lippiett, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, said: “Expert analysis of Hatch’s bones suggests that she spent most of her short life within the close confines of the ship … It is likely that the longest walks she took were along the quayside at Portsmouth, her home town.”
The animal’s skeleton and will go on display March 26 at the Mary Rose Museum at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. A new museum to house the Mary Rose Collection is scheduled to open in 2012, and will display the preserved hull of the ship.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 13th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: artifacts, battle, bones, crufts, dog show, dogs, hatch, henry VIII, mary rose, mary rose museum, mary rose trust, mutt, news, ohmidog!, pets, portsmouth, raised, rats, ratter, reassembled, remains, sank, ship, skeletal, skeleton, solent, sunken, uk, working
An independent investigation launched after a BBC documentary raised concerns about purebred breeding practices concludes the health of many animals is being put at risk by some breeders.
Britain’s Kennel Club and Dogs Trust funded the inquiry, which looked at puppy farms, inbreeding, and breeding for extreme features.
Cambridge University professor Sir Patrick Bateson, who is president of the Zoological Society of London, said the report concludes that conditions of some puppy farms was “not good” and “probably in breach of the Animal Welfare Act”.
Also, the report says, some breeders were responsible for “too much” inbreeding, creating “all sorts of health problems,” such as the “very big head of the bulldog” that necessitated about 90% of them giving birth through Caesarian section, according to the BBC.
The Kennel Club and Dogs Trust funded the independent inquiry after concerns highlighted in the 2008 BBC documentary, “Pedigree Dogs Exposed,” which reported that breeders, in an attempt to meet Kennel Club standards and win dog shows, exaggerated the features of breeds at the expense of dogs’ health.
The BBC report, which led the Royal SPCA to pull out of Crufts, said many physical traits called for by the Kennel Club’s breed standards, such as short faces and dwarfism, led to inherent health problems.
The Kennel Club, which runs Crufts, changed many of its breed standards in January 2009 to exclude ”anything that could in any way be interpreted as encouraging features that might prevent a dog breathing, walking and seeing freely.”
Specific changes included calling for leaner, less wrinkly bulldogs; shortening the forelegs of German shepherds which, through breeding, had gotten overly long and weak; and less fluffy coats on chow chows so they wouldn’t become distressed in hot weather.
Judges at licensed dog shows were instructed to choose only the healthiest dogs as champions, and expel any dogs that showed signs of ill-health from the Crufts show.
Posted by jwoestendiek January 14th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: appearance, breed standards, breeds, britain, crufts, dog shows, dogs, dogs trust, great britain, health, inbreeding, kennel club, pedigree dogs exposed, physical, purebreds, rspca, standards, traits
“Pedigree Dogs Exposed, ” the controversial BBC documentary that shed some much needed light on purebred breeding practices and the horrors they have produced, will get its first airing in the U.S. tonight (Dec. 10).
Probably the single most important piece of dog reporting in the past decade, the documentary led to the BBC dropping its coverage of Crufts, the UK’s equivalent of the Westminster Dog Show.
The documentary looks at how many breeds have had their physical appearance so exaggerated they’re unrecognizable from a century ago, and it examines some of the breed-specific health problems that have resulted from breeders emphasizing looks over health when breeding dogs for shows.
The show, which led to some changes in Kennel Club and breeder policies and practices, airs at 8 p.m. tonight on BBC America.
The documentary revealed that dogs suffering from genetic illness are not prevented from competing in dog shows and have gone on to win “best in breed”, despite their poor health. It says physical traits required by the Kennel Club’s breed standards in the U.K., such as short faces, wrinkling, screw-tails and dwarfism, have led to inherent health problems.
This excerpt from the program shows a prize-winning cavalier King Charles spaniel suffering from syringomyelia, a condition which occurs when a dog’s skull is too small for its brain.
The documentary looks at other problems that have resulted from mating dogs who are close relatives, all for the purposes of accentuating certain physical features deemed desirable by the dog show crowd — boxers suffering from epilepsy, pugs with breathing problems and bulldogs who are unable to mate or give birth unassisted because their heads are so big.
While picked up here and there by the U.S. media, the story of shaping purebred dogs to fit arbitrary human standards of beauty — despite the health ramifications – remains best told by the BBC documentary. By all means, watch it.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 10th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, bbc, bbc america, boxers, breeders, breeding, breeds, bulldog, cavalier king charles spaniel, crufts, documentary, dog, dog shows, dogs, expose, first, genetic, health, illness, inbreeding, kennel club, pedigree dogs exposed, pets, physical features, practices, premier, problems, pugs, showing, united kingdom, united states, westminster
Ofcom — the UK’s equivalent to our FCC — has ruled that the controversial BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” was mostly fair, but didn’t give Kennel Club officials a chance to fully respond to all of the allegations it made.
“Pedigree Dogs Exposed,” which is receiving its first U.S. airing tonight, alleged that events such as the Crufts dog show awarded top prizes to unhealthy and inbred animals and encouraged breeders to place appearance above health concerns.
Ofcom said that the way the film was edited was fair and that the Kennel Club was not, as it claimed, deceived about its purpose.” However, it added, the Kennel Club was “not given a proper opportunity to respond to an allegation about eugenics and a comparison with Hitler and the Nazi Party, or an allegation that it covered up the nature of an operation carried out on a Crufts Best in Show winner”.
The Kennel Club made complaints about the program in five areas. Ofcom — here’s the full ruling — rejected complaints in four of these areas stating that there was “no unfairness.”
Only the Kennel Club’s fifth complaint was deemed somewhat valid. The Kennel Club said it was not given an appropriate opportunity to respond to 15 specific allegations, and Ofcom agreed that was in the case for four of the 15.
In one of those, Jeff Sampson, the Kennel Club’s senior scientific adviser and spokesman, “was not given the chance to show how seriously he took the health problems confronting pedigree dogs,” Ofcom said.
The BBC said it stood by the program. “While we note Ofcom’s findings regarding some aspects of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, we stand firmly by the programme, which was clearly in the public interest, and we stand firmly by its conclusions,” said a spokesman for the BBC.
“The broadcast has accelerated unprecedented reform in the way pedigree dogs are bred, including new limits on inbreeding, changes to the written standards of 78 breeds of dog and a new code of ethics which prohibits the culling of puppies for cosmetic reasons,” he added.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 10th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: allegations, appearance, bbc, breeds, complaint, crufts, disease, documentary, dogs, eugenics, fairness, fcc, genetics, health, hitler, investigation, jeff sampson, kennel club, nazi, ofcom, pedigree dogs exposed, ruling, scientific adviser
Not being a close follower of his extra-curricular activities, I didn’t know Cowell has loaned his unexplainable celebrity to campaigns against wearing fur, for spaying and neutering, and cautioning against leaving dogs in hot cars.
Leave it to PETA to straighten me out.
Here are some excerpts of a recent interview PETA had with Cowell:
“…If I was buying a dog, I wouldn’t buy it from a pet shop, I’d go to a rescue shelter … It’s not where the dog came from, it’s the dog. … I get really annoyed when people start telling me about the make and the model of their dog like (it was a) car … A dog is a dog, no matter what background they’ve got … Often, the mutts, the strays have got more personality than a highly bred pedigree.
On dogs as accessories:
Well, I think the fashion accessory thing has become quite the thing here. You’ve got the rap and pop stars carrying around the highly bred dogs …. They think it’d be embarrassing to be seen carrying a mutt … when actually it would be endearing — people would think they cared more about the dog than their image.
I think we’ve got to be balanced on this…I think it’s nice that they have made an issue of buying a dog for the kids. What I think would be great would be if they also took in a shelter dog, just from anywhere, to balance it. I’ll even pay for the dog food!
On dog shows:
Well, again, I have two thoughts about them, because I think the vast majority of people who go and watch something like Crufts or who are involved are animal lovers, not animal haters. The problem (in the U.K. at least) is that we have elitism in the dog world, which does bother me, for who’s to say what makes the perfect dog?
Yeah, dawg. The nerve. What gives those dog show judges the right to put contestants through the hoops and then sit back in judgment?
For Cowell’s full remarks, visit The PETA Files blog.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 14th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: american idol, anti-fur, blog, bo obama, bobama, campaigns, cars, celebrity, crufts, dog food, dog shows, dogs, fur, interview, judges, judging, mutts, neutering, pedigree, personality, peta, purebreds, rescue, shelter, simon cowell, spaying, strays, the peta files, westminster