It is the highlight of my sad little year; the one weekend where I get to indulge in my ultimate nerdiness, sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for the winners to be announced.
No, I’m not talking about the X-Factor final; I’m talking about Crufts, the world’s biggest and most prestigious dog show. But before you yawn at the mention of the words “dog show” and head off to read the reviews page, stop a while and I will try to explain this marvel to you.
Firstly, to clarify, while the very heart of Crufts lies in the Best in Show final on Sunday night, and all the pedigree showing leading up to that, there is a lot more to the show than snobs running around with blue blood poodles. There are many other events and competitions going on at the same time which are fun and sometimes even heart warming. And mutts and crossbreeds are more than welcome! The highlights of these extras are agility, flyball, heelwork to music, dog team displays, obedience and the Friends for Life competition. All of these events get a good deal of the television coverage, so tune in and check them out.
If you are lucky enough to be going to the show (jealous!), then you can also check out Discover Dogs, where dogs of every breed imaginable are present for the public to meet and learn about, and the numerous trade stands selling everything from chew toys to china plates.
But the highlight of Crufts (for me at least), is the actual dog showing. The purebreds are judged against their breed standard, which is a document outlining what an ideal perfect specimen of that breed would look like. They are also judged on presentation, movement and character where possible. The 200 odd breeds recognised by the Kennel Club are sorted into seven different groups: Terrier, Hound, Working, Pastoral, Utility and Toy. The showing is conducted over four days, with certain groups allocated to each day. This is done simply because of the numbers of dogs that enter each year – it would be impossible to judge over 25000 dogs on one day! To someone unfamiliar with the whole process, you might wonder how they whittle that big a number down to just one champion. So, let’s assume we own a Labrador and want him to win at Crufts.
Well, first he has to qualify, which means he has to have won specific prizes at different shows over the year. I won’t go into details, but we’ll just assume he did. Then he has to show up on Gundog day (since the Labrador Retriever falls into the Gundog group), and beat all the other male Labradors to become Best Dog of his breed. Then he goes up against the top female Labrador (yes, that’s right, Best Bitch), and has to beat her to become Best of Breed. He then goes into the main ring that evening with all of the other Best of Breed winners from the Gundog group, to be judged for Best of Group.
Once our amazing dog has achieved that, he gets a few days off to prepare for the Best in Show final on Sunday night. Here, the seven group winners go against each other for the title. So, our Labrador is being judged next to a tenacious Terrier, a handsome Hound, a tiny Toy dog etc. The winner out of these seven – as decided by the judge – is Best in Show at Crufts.
This might all sound a little dull, but trust me, once you get into it Crufts is fun to watch. (If you’re really not that into dogs, you can play ‘Spot the woman who really should have invested in a better bra before she started running around rings with Great Danes’, and other such fun people watching activities!) With the usual television coverage, there are plenty of different human interest angles and snippets to get you hooked. So, check it out and maybe this time next year you’ll be like me, dancing for joy because Crufts starts soon!
(As appeared in Pugwash News, Issue 11, March 2008)