Top Dog

On March 7, a four-year-old whippet called Deedee won the 101st Crufts Dog Show in England. Over twenty thousand dogs (and their owners) from 22 countries fought for over four days for the top prize at the world's top dog show. Words and photos by PaweĊ‚ Kubisztal.

Deedee's proud owner, Mrs Lynne Yacoby-Wright, said after receiving the prize, "I never thought when I left home this morning that I would end up winning." Deedee, whose special show name is Cobyco Call the Tune, is described as having a kind and loving temperament.

But the Crufts Dog Show this year was marred by controversy. Midway through the contest, held at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, accusations of dog doping rocked the normally genteel world of dog contests. Owners of one of the favourites to win the top prize this year, Kerri, a Doberman pincher, complained to the judges that their dog appeared to have been drugged. They said their dog was unusually sluggish. "She showed signs of sedation, but we can't prove that she has been drugged. We believe that someone is trying to knock us off the top of the ladder," complained Kerri's owner, Chris Evans. The Crufts Show committee later investigated the claim, but no proof of any dog doping was found.

Man's best friend

The first ever dog show took place in Newcastle, northeast England, in 1859. In 1873, the prestigious Kennel Club was founded and began to license dog shows. The most popular form of canine competition is the "beauty contest" for pedigree dogs. What is important to understand is that dogs are not judged against each other but against official "Breed Standards" set by The Kennel Club. This organisation sets out the ideal characteristics of the particular breed. At the show, the judges must compare each dog with this Breed Standard to find the animal nearest to that ideal picture. However, it's not only the condition of the dogs that matters. Other factors, like preparation, presentation and handling of the dog are also important.

There are nearly 200 officially recognised breeds. Dogs chosen as Best of Breed compete in seven groups: Gundogs, Hounds, Terriers, Toy, Utility, Working and Pastoral. Winners of each group go on to the final where the judges must decide which furry friend is Best in Show.

The best known of all shows is the Crufts Dog Show, founded in 1891 by Charles Crufts, a bored dog biscuit salesman who never owned a dog in his life! It is one of Britain's favourite annual events, a glittering gathering of champion dogs and their proud owners. It attracts international interest and the judging of Best in Show is broadcasted live on national television. In recent years, over 20,000 dogs have taken part annually, and over 120,000 visitors have come to see them.

Crufts is also the best place to see how the British are devoted to their dogs. If you like, you can buy at the many stalls that nestle around the entrance to the event the latest in dog accessories, such as beds, baskets, leads, toys and bowls, not to mention luxury coats and dog fancy dress costumes. Every year there are new products aimed at the posh canines: doggy perfumes, or maybe CDs with relaxing music. And how about a Petmobile - a folding carriage so that you can go for walkies even when your best friend is dog-tired.

Dog shows are not only about competition, however. They provide visitors with varied and interesting canine programmes incorporating demonstrations and displays of agility, obedience and even a kind of doggy version of volleyball. Very often there are presentations by guide dogs for the blind, or those helping deaf and disabled people. It is an opportunity to meet "search and rescue" dogs, or talk to the handlers of police dogs, as well as learn about charities helping homeless and mistreated dogs.

But for the breeders of the dogs, Crufts is serious business. The dog show is a nerve-racking culmination of weeks of grooming, conditioning and clipping, not to mention years of careful breeding. For people enjoying the company of dogs it is just great fun watching it. And one thing is sure - to its owner, their dog is always the best.