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Controversy Over BBC's Purebred Dog Breeding Documentary

When the English KC is asked why it didn’t do the same thing, it says it was because it was afraid of losing breeders, of not taking them with them on the road for health reform. But the best English breeders already did all these tests, and more, without compulsion. Unfortunately, the public had no way of spotting the good guys as they rubbed shoulders in the same system with the inexperienced and the plain shoddy.

The KC also claimed it was afraid of breeders breaking away and forming alternative registries. Ironically, another registry saw and exploited a weakness: If the KC was providing expensive bits of paper that meant very little, why couldn’t it do the same thing, but charge less? By not being the best it could be, the KC allowed others an opening in which to compete for a slice of its registration revenue. The fear of taking the lead had lost it the race.

As inbreeding increasingly became an area of concern, the Swedes again were quick to break new ground. If any of you with purebred dogs have ever tried to calculate the level of inbreeding for your own dog, you’ll know how complex it is, and how time-consuming. The logical Swedes built the calculation into their pedigree database and made it freely accessible to all over the Internet. Using this information, breeders could see instantly how inbred any registered dog was and could create test matings and determine the level of inbreeding they might produce.

The Swedish KC also produced tables showing how inbred each breed was and charting trends, which allows the viewer to see if a breed is improving or not. It set bands for acceptable levels of inbreeding and started limiting the number of times a stud dog could be used in his lifetime.

While elsewhere around the globe, the cult of the top-winning show dog was dramatically shrinking the gene pool, the Swedes stopped some very inbred dogs from being brought into their country. (The big problem in Sweden now is dogs being smuggled into the country from Eastern Europe.) They made dog showing and breeding as meaningful as possible by adding temperament tests for some breeds before they could claim their titles, and required Border Collies to pass a herding test before being bred. They discussed how to reduce exaggerations caused by fashion and educated their judges without being provoked to do so by a national television exposé.

More good work: The Swedish Kennel Club worked closely with its government to pass a significant piece of consumer law, one that ensured that health and welfare were always at the top of every breeder’s agenda. In Sweden, if anything goes wrong with the health of a pup in the first three years, the breeder is financially responsible. With a system like that, who is going to have a litter from an untested pet Labrador just to fund a summer holiday? Who would want to be a puppy farmer if the breeder pays for a pup’s ill health?

Apart from having what I consider the best kennel club in the world, Sweden also seems to have cracked many other significant welfare problems that continue to plague other nations. By being strong, forward-thinking and logical, they’ve made dog breeding a respectable and professional thing to do, and made dog shows less like beauty pageants and more relevant to today’s society. In Sweden, they don’t have puppy mills. In Sweden, they don’t have pups for sale in pet shops. The few rescue shelters there are almost empty. No puppy is sold or labeled as “pet quality,” since the supposition is that they are all “pet quality”—family dogs or companion dogs first and anything else second.

In the past, could the English Kennel Club have done anything to avoid that tsunami of hate? What do you think?

Post-PDE, there have been several significant scientific reviews into dog breeding, and I’m hopeful that legislative changes will result that will give England a system as good as the Swedish model.

This little documentary may ultimately have saved the dog from extinction.

Beverley Cuddy has been the editor and proprietor of UK-based Dogs Today magazine for 18 years. As a teenager, she showed Bearded Collies before becoming a pet owner and campaigning journalist. dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

 Photo: iStock

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