The rise and rise of ABP – Anything But Pedigree

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

 

There’s nothing like a jolly good disaster to get people to start doing something – Prince Charles

Each time I find myself layin’ flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race – Lyrics of ‘That’s Life by Dean Kaye and Kelly Gordon

If you are a breeder for pedigree dogs l would ask that you sit down quietly with a cup of tea (or something stronger if you prefer – you might need it), compose yourself, take a deep breath and remember that stress is not good for you. If you feel you are not of a strong disposition or might be severely affected by what you might consider the heretical, even bizarre ideas you are about to be presented with perhaps you should give this essay a miss. We have also taken the precaution of setting up an Our Dogs advice line which we have had especially installed in case you need counselling.

We will approach the subject of this week’s Speakers Corner carefully and just whisper ‘Cockerpoo’ very quietly.

You will perhaps have read that the Kennel Club recently asked its members to compete a survey so those running the institution can assess how they perceive their club and how effective KC services are. A full review of this survey is for another time: for the moment it is enough to say that if every member completed it there would be about 1,300 responses. (In passing, incidentally, I can tell you that, having gone through it carefully, I doubt it will tell Clarges Street anything they could not quickly have discovered by reading the Our Dogs letters pages and the views of our very experienced and dedicated columnists. The questions seem to be more concerned with feelings and concepts rather than facts which, although important, are already well known.)

On the other hand a recent brilliantly designed survey to Cockerpoo owners (I commend whoever created it to the Kennel Club) by the monthly magazine Dogs Today, is incredibly informative. I have often disagreed strongly with some of the content of this magazine but this analysis concentrates on the facts – which not only provide a great deal of relevant and interesting information but should give all of us pause for thought.

Not all surveys are the same

Before I examine the detail and some of the conclusions it might be sensible to discuss surveys. They are broadly divided into three types: those which are entirely random, those where the respondents are carefully selected to provide a balanced ‘spread’ of opinion and those which are targeted on a particular interest group. Both the Kennel Club and the Dogs Today surveys are targeted surveys because they approach a specific group of people with a clearly defined interest.

To get a reasonably accurate picture (assuming the survey is well designed and has clear objectives) you do not need huge numbers so long as the respondents offer a good spread of opinion over the subject. So quite a small percentage of say, four or five percent is more than enough to establish the overall conclusions because more respondents are likely to just confirm the pattern already established.

Next I would ask you to consider the number of responses you would expect if you carried out a survey of, say, Cocker Spaniel or Poodle owners. You are asking questions about why the breed was chosen, it’s general health, whether the owner will buy the same breed again, their character, their fitness and how well they fit into their family’s lifestyle. Would you be happy with 200 responses? This is probably the minimum you would need to get a true picture so do you think 300 would be reasonable? This is probably enough for the survey to be considered valid but 400 would be better and personally I think, that bearing in mind political surveys are pretty accurate with about 1,000 responses (a different type of survey in that it is ‘balanced’ but which nevertheless provides a useful baseline) I would be delighted with 500. I would not expect anything like this number for any group of pedigree dog owners for the result of the breed health survey have been dire in most breeds.

So how many responses do you think Dogs Today received? 1,508 – that’s how many – and we know it is a true figure because it was carried out through Survey Monkey – a respected online application which provides the totals and will not allow anyone to complete the survey twice. And what is especially worrying for all of us deeply involved with pedigree dogs is that almost all owners are delighted with their dog, that they would get another one, that they felt they had excellent service and advice from the breeder and their dogs were healthy, happy and long lived.

There were 41 questions in the survey so it was not an exercise which could be completed in a few minutes. And some of the questions also demanded quite a lot of thought: for instance question 39 asks: ‘As no one registers Cockapoos it is hard to estimate how their popularity compares to other types of dogs. Can you rank these breeds as to which you feel from your own observation is the most popular dog bought recently in your area? What pups are you most likely to see? A rating of 1 would be for the type of pup you see most frequently’.

Clearly this is quite a broad and unscientific question but as 800 people answered it there is a degree of validity which is useful and the analysis is remarkable in that the results make sense in terms of pedigree registrations. For instance, from a long list of breeds and cross-bred dogs and using a complicated algorithm developed by the Survey Monkey to create a figure to enable the proportions of different breeds seen by those taking part to be compared, Cockerpoos scored 16.31 with Labradoodles scoring 12.66 compared to Golden Retrievers at 12.62, Cocker Spaniels at 15.84, Labradors at 17.36 and Staffordshire Bull Terriers at 12.43

Another question asked whether their puppy had been health tested by the breeder and whether certificates were available: it would appear that at least 60% of the parents were health tested and hip scored. About 60% of puppies were sold for between £680 and £999 and about 35% between £400 and £650 and slightly over 80% of owners described themselves as ‘very happy’ with the service that they received from breeders with only a handful being disappointed.

The full results is available https://www.surveymonkey.net/results/SM-MCPJQND7/. It really is worth a look and I would really like to hear of any breed clubs that have carried out a similar survey among owners.

Of course, it is not all cakes and ale. Some recent research suggests that many deliberately cross-bred dogs suffer poor health and are subject to both genetic and conformational abnormalities: this is actually not really surprising because so are we humans – but there is no doubt that the knock on effects of Pedigree Dogs Exposed, (despite all the work which has been carried out by the Kennel Club, breed clubs and breeders in the meantime, are going to reverberate for many years as a result of the impact and success that supposedly ‘healthier’, deliberately cross- bred dogs are having

I know that many breed clubs and breeders are working hard to promote their breeds but it seems to me that we still have a great deal to do.

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