Britain’s Kennel Club announces sweeping reforms


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Britain’s Kennel Club (KC) has announced major reforms to breed standards and accepted breeding practices for purebred dogs. The changes come in response to concerns (raised, at least in part, by filmmaker Jemima Harrison’s documentary ‘Pedigree Dogs Exposed’) that purebred dogs suffer from serious health problems as a result of breeding for the show ring.

The KC explained the rationale for the reforms in a statement:


The breed standards -- the picture in words that describes each breed of dog - - have been revised so that they will not include anything that could in any way be interpreted as encouraging features that might prevent a dog from breathing, walking and seeing freely. This will help to prevent the practice of exaggeration, where features that are perceived to be desirable, such as a short muzzle or loose skin, are made more prominent by breeders, and which can have detrimental effects on a dog’s health.

The 209 breeds recognized by the KC will see their standards change as a result of the reforms. Prominent among the affected breeds is the bulldog, which was cited as one of the breeds most prone to genetic disorders in Harrison’s documentary. The BBC reports:

In future, the bulldog must be leaner and will no longer be encouraged to have heavy jowls and deep, overhanging wrinkles in its skin. Rules now state ‘skin may be slightly wrinkled,’ but ‘must never adversely affect or obscure eyes or nose’. Wrinkles which lead to ‘pinched nostrils’ -- potentially affecting breathing -- ‘are unacceptable and should be heavily penalized’.

Other affected breeds include the German Shepherd (whose revised standard notes that an ‘over long, weak pastern, which would affect a dog’s working ability is to be heavily penalized’); the Chow Chow (which ‘must not have so much coat as to impede activity or cause distress in hot weather’); the Chinese shar-pei (whose revised standard ‘removes the exaggeration of loose skin folds across the neck, skull and legs’); and the Labrador retriever (whose revised standard ‘precludes excessive body weight or substance’).

Changes to its breed standard aim to address weight issues in Labrador retrievers.

Groups such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) have applauded the KC’s decision. ‘This is something the RSPCA has been calling for and shows recognition that close inbreeding of dogs is not a good idea,’ the RSPCA’s Chief Veterinary Adviser Mark Evans said in a statement released today.

But not everyone’s cheering. Among the dissenting voices are the parent groups of the affected breeds. The BBC notes that one such group, the British Bulldog Council, ‘fears the loss of a breed emblematic of defiance and pugnacity’:


[British Bulldog Council chairman Robin Searle] told the Times newspaper: ‘What you’ll get is a completely different dog, not a British bulldog.’

The new rules will also affect the use of inbreeding (defined by the KC as the breeding of a mother and son, father and daughter, or brother and sister) as a way to lock in desired traits: puppies produced through inbreeding will no longer be registered by the KC, beginning in March.

Additional regulations require dog show judges to ‘choose only the healthiest dogs as champions. Any animals at Crufts that show signs of ill-health are to be expelled,’ according to the BBC.

What do you think about the KC’s reforms? Do they go far enough? Would you like to see similar reforms implemented in the U.S.? Let us know in the comments.

-- Lindsay Barnett

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Top photo: Bob Bird / For The Times
Bottom photo: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times