Friday, March 15, 2013

Man's best friend.


Crufts dog show is the biggest dog show in the world with over 22000 pooches on parade, over 200 breeds. For four  nights my  other half sits and stares at the tele muttering 'Look at the state of that ...'

This year's winner was a mop headed rug rat ( a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen to be precise).  Second place went to  a lab with a weight problem. I'm sure all lab owners can identify with that.

Like most mongrel fans - sorry 'mixed breed' is now the correct technical term - I've always been a bit ambivalent about all that shampooing and backcombing nonsense. What is the point of a baldy dog? 
My own canine companion is a ‘pit bull type’ (as defined by the  law in GB)  but is still a mixed breed of  - in varying degrees - Pit Bull, German Shepard, haggis, duffle coat, collie  and crime fiction critic.  The result is very like an Australian Heeler.   She has a sensible arrangement of legs at the corners and a tummy high off the ground so it doesn't pick up dirt.
Crufts has always concentrated on excellence of breed standard, and breeding towards the  extreme definition of that standard. And most people thought that was fine but nobody asked the dogs.

The tide turned in 2008 with the airing of a TV show which had filmed  dogs suffering from genetic illnesses going onto win "best in breed". The programme was harrowing to watch. Prize-winning cavalier King Charles spaniel staggering around, suffering from syringomyelia, a condition which occurs when the skull is too small for the brain. Boxers having epileptic convulsions.  Short faces, wrinkly skin, ridge backs, screw-tails and dwarfism all have inherent health problems. As well as the mechanical issues of having a body way too long for stumpy legs.
This dog looks much the same standing up or sitting down, or half and half.

 Even Canine atopic dermatitis which is present in nearly 50% of  Labradors and Golden retrievers, is an inherited condition. The  deliberate mating of close relatives was common practice and the Kennel Club would allow registration of mother-to-son and brother-to-sister matings. “Scientists at Imperial College, London, recently found that pugs in the UK are so inbred that although there are 10,000 of them, it is the equivalent of just 50 distinct individuals.”

In 2009 the Kennel Club responded by introducing an online  dating service for dogs 'Select a Mate.'  Not quite 'fluffy tailed but lonely WLTM N/S GSOH' more a determination of the  impact of any pairing on the gene pool. So far  so good.
  This does not help with fashion and the current nonsense  of the  Porki, Puggle, CockerPoo, Jackawawa etc They are sold on the falsehood that  they do not cast. 50% of the  puppies will. You will not know what 50%.  Why not buy a  poodle in the first  place if you can't stand hoovering.  
            The story of pedigree snobbery at Crufts is interesting. In 1955 they allowed working sheepdogs in the  Obedience Championship Show. Since they are part wily collie, part nuclear physicist they soon became a main attraction - for their  brains. Like Miss World  ;)  
In 1974 Cruft’s was rebranded and lost the  apostrophe. 1978 saw Agility first demonstrated, the first competition  was in 1980. The atmosphere changed at that point with cheering and non stuffy happiness of mad dogs  running and jumping for the sheer joy of doing things that dogs do. In 1985 the Kennel Club Junior Organisation started to run competitions for junior handlers where the handling of the dog is judged, not the dog itself. 1990 saw the introduction of fly ball and monochrome missiles of border collies flying for the  greatest treasure they can ever posses; a tennis ball. Then, in  1992  Mary Ray did her dancing dog stuff.  Not my thing. Dogs wearing pants and jigging about to Beyonce might say more about the owner than the dog. Or am I just saying that as my dog would vote with its teeth? Much better to celebrate this Newfie doing this.... rescuing folk.
  A good pub quiz fact is that Newfies can swim breaststroke. 
 In 2000, the world saw sense and  Rescue Dog Agility was introduced (for rescued dogs not dogs that perform rescue but one has often lead to the other!) showing what fun rescue dogs can be.  In  2004  Friends for Life/ hero dogs  appeared for canine companions with bravery, support and companionship. These have included disability aid dogs, bomb detection dogs, human search and rescue dogs etc.
In 2006 Caro Ramsay, dog loving crime author was appointed a judge at Scrufts, the proper dog show for proper dogs.  It was my job to judge waggiest tail and happiest smile.
In 2009  Judges were given the power to remove unhealthy dogs from the show ring. As a follow up to that, 2012 saw all  the  Best of Breed winners and champions in the 15 high profile breeds ( by that  read  'dodgy')  needing to be vet checked before their awards are confirmed.
My vet said words of great wisdom. Dogs are descended directly from wolves. As you move away from those proportions, you get trouble.
My next book  has these chappies in it. The Ovcharka.  They do a fair bit of the following in the book....
My dog showing pal says that in Europe they are shown with two handlers, only three in the ring at one time and  the judge does  not touch them. He walks past and doesn't  say anything rude until well out of earshot. The American readers may recognize them as the latest drug dealer protection dog. They are slowly making their way off the Caucasious mountains into the streets of Glasgow where they will be force fed chips.
 a border collie having a day off from MENSA. I think he might suspect the photographer of having a tennis ball about his person.

Stanely  Coren in the "The Intelligence of Dogs" tried  to classify dog intelligence and I 'm  not sure he has  it right. He measured  how  many repetitions it took to understand a new command and the consistency  of obeying that command. The border collie still tops the charts of course  but aren't they  more clever as they  do not obey all commands.  I was once told by a guide dog owner that collies are rarely used as  guides dogs because  if it was  a lovely sunny day and the guide dog was told to go to the bus stop for work as usual and sit in a stuffy office all day, a border will  take the  bus to the beach for tennis ball games  instead.  You have to admire that. 
The world has two border collies that are brighter than three year old humans in developmental terms. Both are domestic pets, one is in Austria, the other America. They have vocabularies  of 2000 words or more. Not only can they recognize  colour and form, they can recognize what a photograph is an image of.

 Dogs can sense bladder cancer in urine, breast cancer in  the breath to a 75% accuracy. The current research is to produce a mechanical nose that mimics the dogs ability.  They can sense epilepsy onset and warn their owner to get to a save place ( Marks and Spencer's changing room in my pal's case!).  The genetic marker for epilepsy in boxer dogs is very similar to the errant gene in the human genome.
So much is wrong with this picture. I will refrain from comment. 

Caro and Pit Bull dog  Team GB 15/02/2013


  1. Dear Judge Caro,

    Thank you for making me so smart this morning. I exceeded my other half's intelligence expectations for a border collie just by casually mentioning some of the details from your post. You see, she's an (extraordinary) artist specializing in dog portraits and my being able to drop some of those names and facts made me seem really bow-wow smart.

    If truth be told, though, my real interest was in decoding the advert, WLTM N/S GSOH. I figured out (I think) the WLTM N/S part, but the last bit only made sense to me as "GOSH"... as in golly, gee whiz and wow!!!

  2. Good sense of humour- or humor as you might have it!

    Got a bolognaise coming in for treatment now. (The dog not the pasta). I'll spend the first ten minutes working out which is the end that bites. And avoiding it!


  3. You bring such interesting topics here, and great pictures. I've read all your books, and I'm happy to hear youare doing another.

  4. My ID is "Large Dogs Best." And again the Westminster Kennel Club voted Best in Show to something called "Banana Joe," an Affenpinscher, a small, small monkey-looking dog. Last year BIS was a Pekingese. A Laborador Retriever has never won, despite being a very popular breed. I showed a beautiful English Setter, Lady Guenevere of High Tor, during my dog show days. My best dog -- sigh.

  5. The bolognaise in for treatment shares his kennel with Affenpinchers! They are cheeky little chappies but too close to the ground for me. The breeders also have Japanese Spitz, also close to the ground but much more of a fuzz ball.
    I know some Gordon Setters, don't think I've met an English Setter. Are they the white and black ones? Very handsome dogs!

    1. English Setters can have black and white flecks or orange and white flecks, sometimes black and orange flecks. All three kinds, Irish, English and Gordon have the same "look." Gordon Setters are taller; the Irish have a zany personality, the other two are more sedate. But they are lovely, gentle and wonderful around children.

  6. I have two pugs - now I worry I actually only have one.

  7. Loved this thank you :)