353 World Dog Show; 2001 Oporto

by   David Hancock

 Oporto in June is worth a visit in any year but 2001 saw the World Dog Show staged there, an added incentive for any dog enthusiast. It was pleasing to see the host nation taking the opportunity to promote its native breeds. Discover Dogs in Britain never does, specifically, and unlike Denmark, Japan, Korea and Portugal, we have no organisation to promote our own breeds. The Portuguese breeds span a water-dog, a number of flock guardians, a rabbit-dog in three sizes, a couple of cattle dogs, a sheep herder and a partridge dog. Each had a promotional stand with an example of the breed in attendance. I had hoped to obtain information on the Cao de Gado Transmontano, but it awaits recognition by the Clube Portugues de Canicultura, the Portuguese Kennel Club.

 I had not seen an Estrela Mountain Dog featuring the shorter coat before this show and was intrigued once again by their cattle dog, the Castro Laboreiro. I first saw this breed some twenty years ago in a Portuguese mountain village. It closely resembled a brindle Labrador with the obligatory otter tail! Looking like that, with 'laboreiro' in its title, and then linked to the Portuguese presence in the Newfoundland/Labrador area in past centuries, it should surely one day encourage some original research by a Labrador Retriever enthusiast. The Azores Cattle Dog, the Fila de Sao Miguel was impressive, resembling the Italian Cane Corso, also a cattle dog but listed with 'the molossers'.

 This leads me to my first 'worry'. When are the canine authorities of the world going to get their act together on the classification and grouping of breeds of dog? We place the Great Dane, the king of the 'par force' hounds in the Working Group. The international body, the FCI, puts it correctly in the 'Molossians' category. But they also put all the broad-mouthed mastiff breeds in this category, despite the Molossi having only a huge hound and a big flock guardian. The words 'shepherd dog', 'mastiff', 'terrier' and 'cattle dog' are used by kennel clubs  almost recklessly, without any system. This must confuse not just newcomers but also those enlightened breeders striving to relate to a breed's function.

 The FCI places the terriers in a group of their own, but includes Toy breeds too. They place the terriers of mainland Europe, pinschers and schnauzers, in a different group. The Tchiorny or Black Russian Terrier can be over 30" at the withers and could never act as an earth-dog. But the same could be said of our Airedale Terrier, which the French would have called a Griffon. The FCI place cattle-dogs in three separate groups and have one group devoted to Dachshunds but not embracing Basset breeds. We place the Ibizan Hound in the Hound Group, the FCI does not. It's all a bit of a mess and must be sorted out so that an improved service to exhibitors is delivered.

 The Portuguese staged this show in their impressive Exponor complex, possessing excellent exhibition facilities but being no place for dogs. This leads me to my next 'worry'. When are we  going to put dogs first? It is not a pretty sight to see dogs defecating on marble floors or urinating against marble pillars. Such a sight on national television only feeds the anti-dog lobby. We are just as much to blame. In my view, the NEC is no place for a dog show when we have Stoneleigh just down the road. Dogs at shows held at agricultural show grounds, like Builth Wells, Malvern and Stafford always seem more relaxed, perhaps because their owners are.

 There are Expo sites all over Europe and beyond; they are superb venues for large exhibitions and commercial promotions. Dogs are not products like tractors or computers, they are our companions on this earth, with distinct needs of their own. This was a show with only 7,000 entries and could so easily have been staged somewhere more dog-friendly. But it did attract 290 breeds from 50 countries, many of these breeds not seen in Britain. The show also embraced the World Obedience Championships. The Portuguese deserve good marks for the conduct of the show itself.

 The British breeds exhibited by foreigners ranged from those which were rather better than our current crop, such as the Bullmastiffs, and others which lacked true breed type, as many of the terrier breeds and our Pointer, did. One English Pointer, bred in Spain, was only 18" at the withers as a fully grown dog, with the bone structure of a sighthound. The West Highland White Terriers were absurdly 'halo-headed' from carefully sculpted hair-cuts. The Skye Terriers were very much over-furnished and both the Dandies and the Sealyhams presented rather like canine hovercrafts. The saddest sight was our Bulldog, struggling to cope with the humidity, whilst breeds developed from it, like the Ca de Bou and the Boerboel, showed no distress.

 It was sad too to hear the Continental Bullmastiff fanciers state that they would not buy stock from Britain because "your Bullmastiffs are too wrinkled, too short-muzzled and too prone to cancer". Most preferred to praise the Finnish Bullmastiffs. It is strange to hear our Bullmastiffs criticised for being too wrinkled when a German dog won Best in Show at the Brussels World Show with a heavily wrinkled foreface, albeit under a British judge. As at the previous world shows I have attended, our Mastiffs, as exhibited, were just low grade dogs, with appalling movement and quite awful hindquarters. But this was true of the Spanish Mastiffs (so-called) too.

 On a happier note, there were plenty of high-class dogs on view. As at previous world shows, the most impressive breed for me, both in conformation and movement, was the American Staffordshire Terrier. There were over 100 entries and they could all have come from the same dam, they were so uniform. It is an enormous pity that we are never likely to see them here. They are genetically the same as Pit Bull terriers and would be forcibly sterilised here even if brought in as pets. All the Amstaffs, as they are known, behaved impeccably at this show. The breed-specific anti-dog legislation in Britain which denies us these admirable dogs came as a direct result of advice given to the Home Office by our Kennel Club.

 Our Kennel Club also advised against allowing the Tosa here, a breed excluded by name in the wording of the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991. The Tosas at this show behaved quite beautifully, as did the handsome Filas Brasileiro. This was in marked contrast to the performance of the Owtcharkas from Central Asia, huge dogs with an apparent eagerness to fight every dog which neared them. Some of their handlers wore special protective gauntlet gloves. These dogs can be freely imported into Britain, mainly because they do not resemble American Staffordshire Terriers-- which behave immaculately! So much for the advice on breeds given by the Kennel Club when the DDA was being drafted!   

 Less well known breeds like the Ca de Bestiar from Majorca, the Czech Wolfdog (very much like the Saarloos dog), the Schapendoes, the Smoushond, the Drent Partridge Dog and the Stabyhoun from Holland, the Poitevin from France (one being exhibited with a wounded thigh), the Rafeiro do Alentejo from Portugal, the Pyrenean Mastiff, the Swiss Laufhund and the Jindo from Korea were on display. Some of the Neapolitan Mastiffs being shown were carrying quite grotesque heads and many, as with the breed here, had unsound movement. Another of my 'worries' is our importation of foreign stock only available because it isn't good enough for the home market.

 Two further 'worries' of mine at such shows concern animal welfare. Whether we like it or not we are entering a decade in which animal welfare will be a big issue. I don't mean fanatical activity about a misconception of 'rights' but a genuine concern for sentient creatures in our care. The ever-increasing use of cages at shows and the excessive grooming conducted nowadays bothers me. At this show there was no benching but more cages than I have ever seen for such an entry. When I attended my first dog show over half a century ago there were no cages to be seen. Here there was even an Irish Wolfhound in one!

 There is nothing wrong with cages as such, but everything wrong with dogs left in cages for hours without water, cages being covered with cloth denying any circulation of air and cages which do not allow the dog to turn round. At this show there were far too many distressed dogs (and too many owners who became over-defensive even aggressive when confronted) and far far too many totally unconcerned dog owners making casually cruel use of cages. One exhibitor left two small mainly plastic dog containers with caged fronts, with a heavily coated Toy dog in each one, in the full sun on an Oporto railway platform. Such an act does nothing for the good name of dog-showing.

 The great grooming game too deserves a rethink. I despair when I see short-haired breeds strung up on grooming platforms. I am astounded to see the big breeds so high off the ground. I am very much against any dog being made to stand still or lie still for an hour whilst its coat is coiffeured. Far too many long-haired breeds display coats far longer than those of their ancestors. Are the grooming fanatics breeding for coat in order to satisfy their obsession? It is all getting out of hand and dogs are the victims. I did not enjoy seeing a Boxer exhibitor shaving every semblance of whiskers from her dog. There is a balance to be obtained between human indulgence and compassion towards dogs, who will tolerate so much to please us.

 Kennel clubs around the world need to tune in to the more  enlightened attitudes to subject creatures like dogs these days and have the vision to anticipate eventual public reaction to excesses. There is a new mood in so many countries in the field of animal welfare and kennel clubs must have the foresight to act ahead of objections or objectors. I certainly object to seeing dogs imprisoned uncomfortably and groomed unreasonably. I would like to see our own Kennel Club draw up a code of conduct on such matters.

 My final 'worry' concerns the gap between our KC and the FCI. The different grouping systems alone are not exhibitor-friendly and urgently require reconciliation. The judging and awards systems are different too, which does not provide value for money for exhibitors. Major dog shows are now held across Europe with easy access by road and rail. It makes little sense for a breed exhibited say in Amsterdam to be judged differently, given different awards on different criteria and shown in a different group than just across the channel. For the breed standards to vary too is simply absurd. Our KC has an obligation to our dog-showing subjects to work closer with the international body, the FCI.

 The Azawakh from Mali and the Sloughi from Morocco are rightly placed in the sighthound group by the FCI. They are similar breeds with a similar function from countries quite close to each other. Similarly the Broholmer and the Great Dane, in comparable circumstances, have been placed in the same group. But the breeds from the Mediterranean littoral which hunt mainly by speed: the Ibizan Hound, the Pharoah Hound, the Cirneco Dell'Etna and the Portuguese Podengos, are lumped with the spitz breeds which do not hunt mainly by speed. The logic of this is hard to fathom. The Spanish Galgo and the Magyar Agar are in the sighthound group, with a similar function.

 Do you want your Ibizan Hound judged in Amsterdam at the next World Dog Show by a judge more familiar with sled-dogs and to a different breed standard? Do we really want our KC to take the stance of 'we are the mother kennel club, we must stand aloof'. Kennel Clubs are run by committee rather than by dynamic individuals but should still listen to dissenting voices. The historian AJP Taylor wrote that all change in history, all advance, comes from nonconformity, adding that: "If there had been no troublemakers, no dissenters, we should still be living in caves". Kennel clubs, on some issues,  can be justly accused of 'living in caves'.

 We could make a start here by reorganising the Hound Group so that it recognises not just the included breeds as scenthounds and sighthounds but accepts that there are four sub-divisions in this group: hounds which hunt mainly by speed and mainly by stamina, those which hunt 'at force' using sight and scent and those which acted as hunting mastiffs, pulling down big game. This would bring the mastiff breeds into the hound judges' rings and improve their movement. Dissent has its uses!