At a recent meeting, the Kennel Club Breed Standards Committee discussed feedback from breed clubs on proposed changes to the Dachshund Breed Standard. The amendments are effective from 1 September 2021, and they are published in the Kennel Club Journal and on the KC website.
You can read the full Breed Standard here.
The changes (underlined) are as follows:
General Appearance Moderately long in proportion to height, with no exaggeration. Compact, well-muscled body, with enough ground clearance, not less than one quarter of the height at the withers, to allow free movement. Height at the withers should be half the length of the body, measured from breastbone to the rear of thigh. Bold, defiant carriage of head and intelligent expression.
Characteristics Intelligent, lively, courageous to the point of rashness, obedient. Especially suited to going to ground because of low build, very strong forequarters and forelegs. Long, strong jaw, and immense power of bite and hold. Excellent nose, persevering hunter and tracker. Essential that functional build, size and proportions ensure working ability.
Head and Skull Long, appearing conical when seen from above; viewed from the side, tapering uniformly to tip of nose. Skull only slightly arched. Neither too broad nor too narrow, sloping gradually without prominent stop into slightly arched muzzle. Length from tip of nose to eyes equal to length from eyes to occiput. In Wire haired, particularly, ridges over eyes strongly
prominent, giving appearance of slightly broader skull. Lips closely fitting, neatly covering lower jaw.
Forequarters Shoulder blades long, broad, and placed firmly and obliquely (45 degrees to the horizontal) upon robust rib cage. Upper arm the same length as shoulder blade, set at 90 degrees to it, very strong, and covered with hard, supple muscles. Upper arm lies close to ribs, but able to move freely. Forearm short and strong in bone, inclining inwards, forming a
slight crook which fits neatly around the chest. When seen in profile, forearm moderately straight, must not bend forward or knuckle over, which indicates unsoundness. Correctly placed foreleg should cover the lowest point of the keel, with ground clearance never less than one quarter of the height at the withers.
Body Moderately long and full muscled. Sloping shoulders, back reasonably level, blending harmoniously between withers and slightly arched loin. Withers and quarters of approximately the same height. Loin short and strong. Breast bone strong, and so prominent that a depression appears on either side of it in front. When viewed from front, thorax full and oval; when viewed from the side or above, full volumed, so allowing by its ample capacity complete development of heart and lungs. Ribs extending well back with good length of sternum. Underline gradually merging into line of abdomen. Body sufficiently clear of ground to allow free movement.
Hindquarters Rump full, broad and strong, pliant muscles. Croup long, full, robustly muscled, only slightly sloping towards tail. Pelvis strong, set obliquely and not too short. Upper thigh set at right angles to pelvis, strong and of good length. Lower thigh short, set at right angles to upper thigh and well-muscled. Viewed from the rear, hind legs straight and parallel, neither close
nor wide apart.
Tail Continues line of spine, but slightly curved, without kink or twist, not carried above the topline, or touching ground when at rest.
Faults Any departure from the foregoing points, including desired body condition, should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog as well as its ability to perform its traditional work.
You can read the full Breed Standard here.
I have written previously about the International Partnership for Dogs’ paper “A call for respectful dialogue, collaboration, and collective actions”, published in 2020. In it, IPFD Chief Executive Brenda Bonnett described the polarised positions of different groups on the issue of pedigree dog health (and welfare). She discussed how, at each end of the spectrum, people are expressing views diametrically opposed to each other, for example ranging from “some breeds should be banned”, through to “it’s a war against pedigree dogs and we need to fight back”. Somewhere (in the middle?) there are people trying to work hard, using available data and sound science, to find ways to address the complex problems that we find in the world of pedigree dogs. Those problems aren’t just health matters, some of which can be addressed with scientific, genetic and veterinary knowledge. Some of the most difficult challenges are the behavioural change ones; how to get breeders, buyers, vets, judges and others to behave in ways that work to the benefit of dog health.
Clickbait programme title
Last year, when it was announced that a TV production company would be making a film for the online channel BBC3, there was outrage. The cause of that outrage was the clickbait working title “Will my puppies make me rich?”. Unusually, in this case, the outrage was equally distributed across the spectrum of those in the dog world, including those campaigning for improved pedigree dog health and, of course, the show world. Stories appeared in the canine press as well as national press, all expressing horror at the suggestion that a film could be made that would encourage people into breeding dogs purely for profit. In addition to letters being written to the producers and BBC3 Controller, there was also an online petition (if I recall correctly).
As you might expect, the Kennel Club’s public affairs team, along with other dog welfare charities, contacted the producers to offer advice and to try to steer the programme makers in a less sensational direction. I was soon made aware that my breed, Dachshunds, were to be featured in the film. At that time, the angle was young people breeding Dachshunds and young people buying them. Clearly, that had the potential to add to our woes in the breed, particularly for Mini Smooths where registrations have grown from 3450 in 2015 to 10369 last year and no sign of their popularity declining.
On behalf of our Breed Council, I contacted the producers to offer our help with information on the breed and to try to engage with them in a way that might lead to a storyline that might be less damaging for our breed. I suspect that our emails came as something of a surprise to them as the tone was one of collaboration, rather than outrage and criticism. Consequently, I had several conversations with them and they were really interested in finding out more about breeder and buyer motivations for Dachshunds, as well as the health and ownership aspects of the breed. BBC3’s target audience is younger people (than your average dog club committee member!) and I was able to direct them to some younger breeders as well as representatives of our breed rescues.
Luckily for us, one of our Health Committee is a breeder, exhibitor and veterinary student and she ticked lots of boxes for the producers. I was really pleased to hear when they confirmed that they would be interviewing Bryony and thought she was an ideal person to include in the programme, being young, knowledgeable and undergoing vet training. Win win for all of us.
The programme hit our screens (albeit online) in mid-July but, disappointingly, I heard just before its launch that Bryony’s interview had been cut. While filming, they had discovered various canine fertility clinics and a more “juicy” storyline of illegal practices when they went undercover.
So, sadly, we didn’t get the opportunity to see a member of our Health Committee sharing her knowledge on Dachshund breeding. However, a member of the Red Foundation (Dachshund Rescue) did get a few minutes of airtime and managed to get across to the young couple looking to buy a Dachshund some key messages about doing their research and the hard work needed to train a puppy. The presenter, a vet, briefly discussed our breed’s major health issue, Intervertebral Disc Disease but it was disappointing that there was nothing stronger about this from a buyer and owner’s perspective. It would have been brilliant if somebody could have mentioned our IVDD Screening Programme which was formally adopted by the KC earlier this year.
In the end, the young couple who originally wanted to get a Dachshund puppy took on an RSPCA foster puppy. We didn’t get to see whether it was a breed or a crossbreed, for legal reasons associated with a pending investigation and potential court case. Was that a good outcome for our breed? Possibly. It was one less buyer who had perhaps realised the breed was not the one for them and their lifestyle. Whether the messaging in the film was strong enough for other young buyers to recognise the responsibilities that go with buying a Dachshund, I doubt. Thankfully, we didn’t get to see anyone breeding Dachshunds and, some of the breeders we did see, made it clear how easy it is for things to go wrong and for it to become a very expensive exercise. Overall, I’m not convinced the programme will have any impact on the breeding of Dachshunds or their popularity.
I do think the programme was constructive and another helpful insight into some of the things going on in the world of dog breeding and buying. Probably most importantly, it was aimed at a young audience, presented by a young vet and included young breeders and buyers. That demographic is typically influenced by their peers so that fact it wasn’t shown on terrestrial TV and seen by us older folk, doesn’t matter that much.
The learning point for me is that collaboration works and is likely to be a more constructive approach than mere outrage. It’s far easier to share facts and evidence if you start from the perspective of there’s an opportunity to work together to improve things. Outrage rarely enables a conversation based on science and evidence, and often starts with the assumption that the other party is “wrong” and you are “right”.
“There is nothing more foolish, nothing more given to outrage than a useless mob.”
The recent Our Dogs “Question Time” feature on vet checks at Championship shows for Best of Breed winners in Breed Watch Category 3 got me thinking about the role of judges in protecting breed health.
It’s hard to believe that it’s 9 years since vet checks were introduced at Crufts 2012 for what were then known as “high profile breeds”. The plan for these checks had been announced by the KC during 2011 but its significance had probably not been realised until the show in 2012. It’s worth recalling that these checks were introduced in the period following Pedigree Dogs Exposed and at a time when there were attempts to shame Crufts off our television screens completely. Pedigree dogs were in the spotlight and the KC was arguing that dog shows had the potential to be a force for good in demonstrating fit and healthy purebreds. Professor Patrick Bateson, in his 2010 report on pedigree dog breeding, had also referred to the influence of dog shows on dog welfare:
“I was persuaded that showing and judging constitute a powerful lever for change. That has been demonstrated clearly in the past in the documented and undisputed changes in form that have taken place in many breeds. My concern therefore is that this powerful lever should be effectively applied to achieve the desired improvements in welfare.” and…
Judging is not an exact science but it needs to be informed by recent advances in knowledge. It would be improved with a mechanism for re-training or updating judges over time (what in other circles would be termed continuing development). It would also be enhanced by the introduction of a mechanism for singling out judges who manifestly upheld welfare principles and kept themselves up-to-date.”
At the time, the vet checks were hugely controversial among the show community and made headlines because 6 of the 15 Crufts Best of Breeds failed the examination and were unable to enter their Group competitions. Social media responded with new groups set up in protest at the KC’s actions. That year’s KC AGM also had some heated discussion but a proposal to halt the vet checks was not supported.
The veterinary press, unsurprisingly, took a different perspective and were generally supportive of the vet check process. In a letter to the Vet Record, the 2 Crufts vets (Alison Skipper and Will Jeffels) wrote “The fact that the KC gave two ordinary general practitioners the authority to overrule the decisions of internationally famous judges at the world’s biggest dog show, and trusted us to make impartial decisions about the dogs we examined, is a great mark of confidence in the integrity and ethics of our profession. We should not let them down. We very much hope that many other vets will support the KC by volunteering to carry out these checks at a championship show.”
In contrast, the following year all the high profile breeds passed their Crufts vet checks and proceeded to the group competitions.
The concept of high profile breeds has now been incorporated into the Breed Watch scheme with those breeds being in Category 3. The fact that there are now just 9 Category 3 breeds is a reflection of the progress made by those that have been moved to Category 2. Vet checks remain as a reminder to both judges and exhibitors that health points of concern that are visible to the lay-person should not be acceptable in the show-ring.
Whether vet checks should be extended to all breeds prior to group competition is debatable. Personally, I’d have no issue with it and, if the dogs are fit and healthy, judges and exhibitors should have nothing to fear. The logistics of it could, however, be quite challenging and with more vets involved they would clearly need to have been fully briefed on their role. On balance, I think vet checks are proportionate for Category 3 breeds. The onus is on those in Category 2 not to allow unhealthy exaggerations to creep in that would result in them being moved to Category 3.
Breed Watch health reporting for CC judges of Category 2 and 3 breeds is mandatory but voluntary for Category 1 breeds. Honest reporting of any concerns can only be beneficial if we are serious about shows being a showcase for healthy pedigree dogs.
The tail wagging the dog?
It’s also easy to argue that judges and vets completing visual assessments at Championship shows is the “tail wagging the dog”. If the first time that a judge has to make any comment on the health of a dog they are assessing is when they first award Challenge Certificates, then we’ve missed a huge part of their apprenticeship. First time CC judges will have spent a minimum of 7 years on their journey of education, mentoring and hands-on judging. Awareness of health matters should be baked into that process. How many people realise that Breed Watch is embedded into the introductory section of every Breed Standard?
“Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed. From time to time certain conditions or exaggerations may be considered to have the potential to affect dogs in some breeds adversely, and judges and breeders are requested to refer to the Breed Watch section of the Kennel Club website here https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/events-and-activities/dog-showing/judging-dog-shows/breed-watch/ for details of any such current issues.”
As such, aspiring judges should be learning about Breed Watch and how its principles are meant to be applied, throughout their education. I wonder how much time is spent at Breed Appreciation Days discussing how to assess for visible health concerns compared with how to assess length of ribbing or turn of stifle. Similarly, how many mentoring sessions involve a discussion of visible points of concern as well as discussing dogs’ hind angulation? It really shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to do this because, in some breeds, the visible points of concern are closely aligned to faulty construction or movement. Surely we should be encouraging education and assessment of Breed Watch aspects throughout a judge’s career.
I have to declare an interest as I am a member of the KC’s Breed Standards and Conformation Group (BSCG), a subgroup of the Dog Health Group. The BSCG sets policy for Breed Watch and reviews the reports submitted by judges. Opinions expressed here are my own and not those of the BSCG.
Since publishing the call for respectful dialogue, collaboration and collective actions, Brenda Bonnett CEO of the International Partnership for Dogs has written several blog posts discussing the challenges facing the pedigree dog world. In particular, she has described the need for “tough talk” as well as “open dialogue”, based on what she calls evidence-based reality.
For example, at the recent Embark breed health summit she said “You can’t just say ‘I care about health and longevity but I’m selecting for a big head and a beautiful coat’ and think you are going to get health and longevity.” This came from a panel discussion at the summit and, out of context, it might seem rather blunt but it is entirely factual. Herein lies the dilemma; are pedigree dog breeders serious about the viability and preservation of their breed, or are they more interested in winning awards at dog shows? Clearly, it’s not an “either-or” choice but, all too often, actions don’t match the words.
In another part of the discussion, someone asked: “How do we deal with these people who attack pedigree dogs and say they are unhealthy?”. Ryan Boyko, the CEO and co-founder of Embark Veterinary, Inc. very thoughtfully said “Make it not be true?”. This was not intended as criticism but a practical comment on the need to realise the criticism of pedigree dogs cannot be addressed as if it is a marketing problem; it’s a “product problem”. There’s a well-known phrase from the world of marketing – perfuming the pig – which means making superficial or cosmetic changes to a product in a futile effort to disguise its fundamental failings. Ryan’s point is that until there is evidence that actions by breeders, owners, breed clubs, kennel clubs and vets demonstrably shows the health of pedigree dogs has been improved, it’s no surprise that there will be criticism.
Why is it so difficult to talk about?
In a recent conversation with Brenda Bonnett, I was reflecting on why it is so difficult to get breeders to acknowledge health issues, let alone support health improvement initiatives. It struck me that where there are complex conditions with no simple DNA test to help breeders, there is often a wall of silence and a desire to sweep problems under the carpet.
There are plenty of examples of breeds with these sorts of situations and health conditions such as epilepsy, cancers, spinal disorders, heart disease and breathing problems. Many of these issues are serious for the dogs but, equally, they can be traumatic (and expensive) for the owners. From a breeder’s perspective, these conditions are a nightmare because, often, they are prevalent right across a breed, leaving people with few options to “breed away” from problem lines. Add to that the fact that many of the health screening tests for these conditions only identify risk, and therefore there is no definitive way to ensure a litter of puppies won’t be affected. In some cases, the existence of these conditions could threaten a lifetime’s work for established breeders and that’s pretty hard to face up to for most people.
As an example of a positive outcome, in Miniature Wirehaired Dachshunds it was known from the 1990s that the breed suffered a form of epilepsy known as Lafora’s Disease. It’s a distressing condition that typically begins around 5 years of age but its severity and symptoms are quite variable so some affected dogs can live to 10 or older. In the early days, with no test available, there was little more than anecdotal evidence of a problem and, as with epilepsy in many breeds, it wasn’t something that breeders wanted to talk about, let alone admit to. Eventually, a DNA test was developed (one of the first for any form of epilepsy) and it became possible to quantify the scale of the problem through a sampling exercise organised by the Wirehaired Dachshund Club. The club put all the results into the public domain in an online open registry. From that point on there was no denying the problem but, importantly, there was a way out of it by careful use of the DNA test to avoid breeding more affected puppies. The breed has moved from a point where around 55% of litters had at-risk puppies in 2012 to now, when 98% of litters are safe.
10 steps to improvement
Some dedicated breeders of another breed with an epilepsy problem in the USA have taken an interesting approach to encourage openness and action. The Australian Shepherd Health and Genetics Institute was set up as a not-for-profit in 2002 to increase and share knowledge about the genetics and inherited diseases in the breed. Specifically, they have set up a “10-steps” programme for breeders to express their dedication to the breeding of healthy Australian Shepherds. Their website also lists breeders who have signed-up to the 10-steps; there’s a small fee ($10-15). There isn’t space in this article to reproduce the 10-steps in detail but they are principles for breeders to subscribe and cover:
- Open and honest sharing of accurate health information
- Disclosing health issues in public registries
- Notifying puppy buyers/owners of any emerging issues
- Supporting other breeders who disclose health information
- Supporting research by providing biological samples
- Using available, recommended health screening programmes (DNA and clinical)
This approach also avoids the compliance focus that is the basis of typical quality assurance schemes, puppy contracts or welfare legislation.
This is an interesting approach which goes beyond most UK Breed Club Codes of Ethics which usually mirror the mandatory elements specified by the Kennel Club. Our Dachshund Code of Ethics, for example, does go beyond the basics and includes statements on the responsibilities of stud dog owners and recommendations for health screening of imports and exports.
I suspect some breeders would find the 10-step statements challenging to subscribe to, particularly in breeds where there are complex health conditions and where breeding decisions are inevitably risk-based.
What I particularly like about the 10-steps approach is the language it uses; each step is framed as a personal commitment such as; “I recognise…”, “I support…”, I work to…”, “I will…”, “I openly and publicly disclose…”.
I’ll end with one of my favourite change management quotations from author Libba Ray: “And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.”
For those of you who don’t subscribe to Our Dogs, this is the article published on 15th June:
Eastern Counties Dachshund Association held its championship show at Newark Showground on Sunday 6th June 2021, making it the first Dachshund show to take place since lockdown in 2020. ECDA has a 3-yearly rotational set of Challenge Certificates for Mini Smooths, Standard Longs and Standard Wires so this was an important year for us. We are thankful it wasn’t our rotational year in 2020 when this important show would have had to be cancelled.
We were pleased to be able to share the showground with the Dachshund Club who hosted their open show which meant the organisational workload was shared between the 2 clubs’ show management teams.
It seems like months ago that we began planning for the show amid doom and gloom about the virus and whether we would be allowed to run the show. The Newark Showground events team were amazingly helpful and did everything possible to smooth the path for us. They had template documentation for an Events Plan and asked us to provide a Covid Risk Plan for the local authority. I would particularly like to thank Tim Hutchings for sharing the Cotswold Boxer Club’s Covid Risk Plan as that and the KC guidance available online, enabled us to meet all the regulatory requirements.
It was always going to be a bit of an act of faith given that our show was scheduled during Stage 3 of the Roadmap out of lockdown, when some restrictions would still be in place. There was the threat that the roadmap wouldn’t move as planned but we were determined to run the show if at all possible, knowing that Covid cases had been extremely low all through last Summer even before the vaccination programme had begun.
Nevertheless, against that backdrop we drew an entry of 360 dogs, which was 100 up on our 2018 championship show. The Dachshund Club benefited from a similar entry which meant one of our challenges would be how to get through judging at both shows in good time. Partnership shows for Dachshunds are always complicated by the fact that some exhibitors show more than one variety and the entries vary considerably across the 6 varieties, making judging times difficult to coordinate.
Our show management teams had everything set up on Saturday afternoon and all that remained was to keep fingers crossed that the weather would be dry as everything was taking place outdoors, with only gazebos for shelter in the rings and the “office”.
Sunday morning dawned dry but overcast and the forecast suggested there might be a shower around mid-morning. The first signs that we might have a problem were when committee members arrived and reported large queues building up on the approach to the showground. The showground staff had told us there would be an autojumble on an adjacent part of the venue but had said nothing about its scale or the fact that it might cause traffic problems. It took me 30 minutes to travel the last mile to the showground and that was at 07:40. As time went on, more people were reporting being stuck in traffic and as we approached our start time it was evident that exhibitors and some judges would be late for the planned 10:00 start. This posed a real dilemma for how much to delay judging because we knew the big entry meant judging would go on well into the late afternoon even if it started on time. We know that some exhibitors were stuck for several hours and therefore missed their classes and I’d like to apologise on behalf of our committee for the stressful start they had to their day.
Smiling faces, gazebos and sunshine
Despite the traffic problems the showground was a real buzz of energy and excitement as friends met up for the first time in 15 months, swapping notes on their gazebo-erection challenges and remembering how to do everything that once seemed so routine at a dog show. I even found a few minutes to live-stream some views of the show on Facebook which generated responses and good luck wishes from as far away as Australia.
Being outdoors, there was no specific requirement to wear masks and it was great to see so many happy, smiling faces. Our judges had requested that masks be worn in the ring, where social distancing with them at the judging table would not be possible. Apart from that, it almost looked like a normal dog show (if a dog show can ever be described as “normal”).
By 11:00 our Secretary’s and Show Manager’s stress levels had subsided to something more bearable and judging was well underway in all 6 rings. We had a fantastic group of stewards who kept things moving and managed the required cleaning of the judging tables between dogs. And so it went on; just like in the good old days.
Finally, at 16:00, with dark clouds rolling across the sky, it was time to call the 6 Best of Breed winners into the ring for Best in Show. Both the BIS and BPIS judging were live-streamed on Facebook. Our BIS judge for this special occasion was Daphne Graham (Jadag) and her choice of BIS was Mrs Sue Ergis’s Mini Smooth CH Siouxline Rapunzel with Melriding.
Reserve Best in Show was Mrs Mandy Dance’s, Mini Wire CH Emem Summer Sunshine JW.
BPIS was Mrs Fran Mitchell’s Mini Smooth Bronia’s Antonella, handled by daughter Emily.
RBPIS was Mr Roy Wood’s Mini Long Wildstar Wrolanda and Best Veteran was Ms Marilyn Norton’s Standard Smooth CH Matzell Minella.
The skies opened and the rain came down
By the time we were finishing BPIS and taking photos, the skies opened and the rain came down in torrents. Although our committee must have breathed a sigh of relief that we had just beaten the rain, we felt so sorry for the Dachshund Club judges, committee and exhibitors who still had classes to complete and then to judge their BIS and BPIS.
The rest of the afternoon saw us all sheltering from the torrential rain and dodging out when it let up a bit in order to pack things up and for the Dachshund Club to complete their show. I’d like to end with particular thanks to ECDA Secretary Minna Borsuk and Show Manager Trevor Watkins for their hard work in putting on this very special first Dachshund breed club show of 2021. Also, to Dachshund Club Secretary Lloyd Cross and Show Manager John Bennett for their contribution and teamwork over the past few months and on the day of the show.
I am delighted that we were able to run an event that felt as close to normal as we could make it (so normal that people were complaining about the traffic). The best thing for me was seeing so many friends again and their smiling faces and happy Dachshunds.