Archive for the ‘showing dogs’ category

A new brush on an old broom handle at the RSPCA

March 2, 2012

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A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.’ Bishop Joseph Hall (1574 – 1656)

You have had to hand it to Gavin Grant.  I should like him.  He is a likeable, charming man with an easy-going personality and is something of a rebel too – but I am not comfortable because his ‘causes’ seem to me to come not from deeply held beliefs, but from whatever job is providing his income at the time.  And they are also causes selected to provide him with the high profile which I suspect he craves.

This does not stop him being successful – he is very successful.  He has been a public relations high flyer since the 1970s when he was Organising Secretary of the All-Party Joint Committee against Racism and since that time he has spun (the word is used advisedly) through more jobs than a successful and prolific stud dog has had bitches.

In an interview with PR Week almost exactly seven years ago, Grant explained that he grew up in a politicised household with a passion for sport and, I quote from the article, ‘he quickly learned how to manipulate the media’.

And how!  It was Grant who, when working for the RSPCA in 1989, came up with the idea of using a photograph of a pile of dead dog carcases on the RSPCA stand at Crufts as part of the Society’s campaign to introduce dog licences.   The Kennel Club was, quite rightly, furious and the RSPCA, were not allowed to have a stand for many years thereafter..

After three years at the RSPCA, Grant moved to The Body Shop and was responsible for the Ogoni Campaign, which forced Shell Oil into an out-of-court settlement as a result of allegations which accused the company of complicity in human rights abuses in Nigeria.  This was seriously embarrassing to Shell – which was one of Burston-Marsteller’s clients at that time.  Burston-Marsteller is a hugely successful company and not only has a reputation as the mouthpiece of big business but has become the agency to which corporations turn when they want to cover up misdeeds.  Gavin Grant quickly rose to become its chairman.   B-M has (usually) been very successful and has won many awards for protecting the interests of its clients  These included Phillip Morris (defending smoking), Union Carbide (the Bhophal disaster), AH Robbins (the Dalkon Shield IUD controversy), Google (smearing Facebook), Monsanto (genetically modified foods) and was one of the companies featured in the book ‘Toxic Sludge is Good for You – Lies, Damn Lies and the Public relations Industry’.

Despite his apparent public commitment to ‘liberal’ causes, Grant nevertheless had no problem in joining the Burston-Marsteller UK operation  in 1999!

He was in post when Greenpeace UK head, Lord Melchett, joined the firm causing considerable controversy.  Melchett was appointed to B-M’s Corporate Social Responsibility Unit and in making the announcement, B-M said it ‘expects Lord Melchett’s extensive experience of the NGO community, government and business to provide unique insight for Burston Marsteller clients’.  Not surprisingly, it was said that he (along with Des Wilson, the founder of the homeless charity, Shelter, and another Liberal with ideals who suddenly became a staunch defender of working closely with large corporations) had been head-hunted to boost B-M’s environmental credentials. Melchett was immediately and understandably forced off the board of Greenpeace International.

Now, after a 20 year gap, Grant has returned to the RSPCA as its Chief Executive and has lost no time in stamping his inimitable public relations style on the organisation and focusing its energies and considerable financial resources, not on the improvement of the quality of care on puppy farms or funding research to improve soundness and/or temperament in dogs, but on another attempt to reinstate the dog licence.  The grounds for this reinstatement is that it will ‘foster responsible dog ownership, promote neutering, challenge impulse buying and provide resources to enforce the law and promote dog welfare’.

To this end, Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and her Minister of State, Lord Taylor, were invited to (read: ‘took part in a public relations exercise’) the Society’s Harmsworth hospital in East London so that they, in Gavin Grant’s words, could come ‘face to face with the realities of irresponsible dog ownership and the daily reality of horrific cases of dog fighting, attacks on other pets and wildlife, and the sheer neglect of mankind’s best friend’.

Grant says: ‘we are close to righting a wrong that has been a stain on a nation of so called animal lovers for 25 years’.

Now I am happy to be corrected but as I remember, the Dog Licence in its former existence made not a scrap of difference to the welfare of dogs in society, to the number of dog biting incidents or to identifying dogs with their owners.  And I venture to suggest that its return or for that matter, insistence on micro chipping, will not make any more difference now than it did then.  It is true that there have been many technological advances over the past few years and this (as Grant points out) has enabled the police to much more quickly and effectively track down those whose cars are not taxed, insured or MOT’d.   But Local Authorities and the police have neither the money nor the inclination to follow through on any matters unless there are enough incidents to make it worthwhile.

Despite what appear to be terrible figures, biting incidents are not that common and particularly in days of economic austerity government and local authorities, understandably have to see statistics in context.  55 children were killed on our roads in 2010 compared to one killed by a dog.  Any such incident is tragic but I am afraid that the in assessing the ‘level of risk’ to the population in general and children in particular, it is not high enough to make the enforcement of compulsory micro chipping, licensing or registering worth any government’s while.  This does not mean that legislation or regulation will not be put in place – that part is inexpensive  -but the likelihood of councils enforcing it is increasingly remote.  The concern of local authorities as far as dogs are concerned is fouling, barking and dogs running about out of control and they already have more than enough power to deal with such canine generated nuisances.

The latest estimates of the number of dogs in the community is well over 8 million, an increase of almost 15% on 20 years ago, and yet dogs are much less of a problem to society than they once were.  There are certainly many in rescue, and charities may be under pressure but the number of dogs without owners is a fraction of what it once was.  The reason for rescue centre overcrowding today is nothing to do with packs of dogs roaming the streets but because owners, sometimes for good reason, are unable to keep their dog for its natural lifespan.  This means that many dogs of perfectly sound temperament are ‘in transit’ and consequently are kept by the rescue organisations for much longer than they once were.  They are, quite rightly, reluctant to put healthy and temperamentally sound dogs to sleep but compared to 20 years ago, the number of healthy dogs killed today is very much smaller.

All this is nothing to do with licensing but is instead as a result of a series of Environmental Protection Acts and Clean Neighbourhood Acts and the subsequent amendments and Orders made under them.  Whether or not you are happy with the restrictions that these Acts have placed upon dog owners, there is no doubt that they have ensured better care of dogs in the community and the appointment of dog wardens and outside contractors has, in these instances, been very positive.  However, it seems clear that one of the cost-cutting measures being put in place by local authorities is to cut back on services such as dog wardens so the implementation of further measures does not give me any confidence that they will be effective.

It is worrying that the announcement by Lord Taylor of Holbeach about the ‘package of measures to tackle irresponsible dog owners’ came precisely at the time he and Caroline Spelman made their visit to the RSPCA hospital.  It seems to me that the two events indicate that the government and the charity are working closely together – but that is what you would expect of Gavin Grant, who has had many high-profile contacts with the Liberal Democrats over the years and, indeed, once stood for election to the House of Commons.

Grant says that not putting in place a ‘real system of dog registration is a stain on a nation of so-called dog lovers’.  What nonsense!

The role of government is to regulate society for there will always be those amongst us who will at the least ‘push the envelope’ and at most behave in a way that is unacceptable and criminal.  But my experience is that the vast majority of people genuinely care for their dogs and look after them well.   Although the figures relating to dogs which are in rescue or not cared for properly sound alarming, they are an extraordinarily small proportion of eight million.  It would be wonderful if that proportion was zero percent but if we are realistic we know that is not going to happen whatever regulations are brought in – and that the costs of implementing and monitoring a registration system is out of all proportion to the problem.



Soundness in Pedigree Dogs

September 30, 2009
Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals
The key components of soundness which I have stated on many occasions goes back to the Judging Diploma Course which I wrote (with a great deal of advice from Les Crawley, Pamela Cross Stern, Peter Larkin and Wendy Boorer) back in 1980.  Not that the concept was new: I wrote about the book Conformation and Soundness in Animals published in the 1960s by the Veterinary Surgeon RH Smythe recently but I think my phraseology summarising those ideas, was concise and has stood the test of time.  It is that in any species subject to selective breeding, any departure in conformation or characteristics from the ‘norm’ is acceptable so long as the animal can eat, move, breathe, mate (and whelp and suckle so far as females are concerned) naturally and effectively.   Once you have to restrict exercise, mash food, have generalised and persistent back or joint problems to give just three examples, then the exaggeration selectively bred for has exceeded what is tolerable.
Wendy Boorer used to use the example of a breed of pigeon which had such a distorted beak that it could no longer release its chicks from the egg and I know a few years ago a food company produced a specially shaped kibble which allowed very short-faced cats to pick it up easily.  This is not a criticism of the food company (they were only responding to customer demand) but is a criticism of the breeders who felt that such short-faced cats were acceptable.
Now apply the same arguments to dogs and you can see where I am coming from.
I think none of these criteria need any further explanation but in recent years I have come to the conclusion that we should add a further requirement: that a healthy dog will have a length of life within the longevity spread of the ‘bell’ curve for the species as a whole.  Let me explain for those, like me, who have forgotten all that stuff about graphs and statistics they learned at school.  A bell curve is a graph which looks just as it says – roughly the shape of the sort of bell used in church steeples or in a hand bell.  The graph expresses two factors being measured.  They can be anything but in this instance it is ‘age’ with the length of the curve (the X axis) showing the length of life in years and the height (the Y axis) showing the number that die at any given time.  In statistics it is usual for the very first and the very last readings to be omitted so this would eliminate still born puppies and those dying within a few days of birth and the exceptionally old.  What is left in this instance is an indication of the population longevity of a given species. At the beginning of the curve few die young and at the end, few become very old so the height of the curve is low at the beginning and tails right off at the end when all are dead.  The high point is when the maximum number of animals die.  There are what are called ‘normal’ curves for, say, intelligence and these look very much the correct ‘bell’ shape but those showing longevity are distorted, for the highest point will be well over half way along the X axis.  In humans that highest point is gradually moving further along as, in most populations at least, stay healthier so more of us die at an older age.  In dogs, the same applies, the curve rises until between nine and twelve it is at its highest and then drops away again as by, say, fourteen, most dogs have died and fewer and fewer live longer lives.   If we draw a graph showing the longevity of breeds we have a very different story.  Those closest to the ‘norm’ would fit neatly on the curve for dogs as whole but for some the rise and fall of the line would start earlier and fall away sooner. What we would see is the curve for breeds much larger than the ‘norm’, although approximately the same shape, is ‘shifted’ markedly towards shorter life spans.  I have not carried out any research into the specific breeds listed in the Kennels Club’s ‘fourteen highlighted breeds’ about which they have expressed particular concerns, but I suspect that they would all, whatever their size, show that ‘shift to the left’ described above.  (If breeders in those breeds can show that this is not the case, please contact me direct at so that I can bring it the attention of readers).
However, extremes of type which affect general health and welfare (which are the result of breeders choosing certain characteristics) are dissimilar to genetic health and many people make the mistake of confusing one with the other although there are some generalised genetic conditions which are the result of extreme characteristics.  Entropion is one example and the breathing difficulties which some breeds’ exhibit is another.  However, these are not the same as, say, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, Mitral Valve Diseas or Syringomyelia which develop unseen.  These and many other conditions may certainly be the result of selective breeding but they are involuntary on the part of the breeder and for a wide variety of reasons difficult to eradicate.  However with understanding, knowledge and commitment they can be reduced and eventually eliminated.  This may require considerable investment in research, expense on the part of the breeder to run the various tests required and the involvement of other, allied breeds (cf Dalmatians) but it can be done.
Conditions directly and voluntarily caused by selective breeding such as entropion are much easier to deal with and this is why the KC is forcing changes in the Standards.  Chows have successfully greatly reduced entropion simply by focusing on breeding dogs with larger, less deeply set and therefore healthier eyes.  Breeding for a longer muzzle can eliminate breathing difficulties: if the dog’s mouth cavity has enough room for its tongue and its nasal cavity enough room for air flow then there is no need for it to ‘snuffel’.  The difference does not need to be great – Shih Tzu have relatively short muzzles but I have come across few with breathing problems.   As far as longevity is concerned, breeders can increase it simply by breeding smaller (or less extreme) dogs – none of this is rocket science once one’s head has been raised from the sand.
David Cavill

Crufts will not be televised by the BBC – a response

December 14, 2008
This is the text of a letter to the editor of The Guardian in response to their report about the BBC not broadcasting Crufts.  It could well have been submitted to all the nationals. of course but I thought The Guardian was the most likely to publish it.
Dear Sir,
As the publisher of the UK’s oldest specialist canine publication, Our Dogs, and Studies Coordinator of the leading pet welfare educational organisation, the Animal Care College, I hope I can make a contribution to the debate concerning your article reporting on the decision of the Kennel Club not to cooperate with the BBC following the broadcasters request that some breeds should be withdrawn from competition at Crufts on the grounds that they are ‘at risk’.
The BBC appear to be taking this stance on ‘evidence’ provided in the misleading and distorted programme they broadcast last August, Pedigree Dogs Exposed.  A small cabal of vets and charities colluded with the programme maker, Jemima Harrison, to make outrageous claims about the Kennel Club, pedigree dogs and dog breeders using techniques of which Goebbles himself would have been proud.   The rest of the media, understandably but erroneously, did not see fit to question the selective statistics, slanted video clips and carefully edited interviews – why let the facts get in the way of a good story – and the result has been an entirely unnecessary furore leading to the present impasse.

When this programme was aired I made a series of short talks for You Tube and placed the tests on my web log ( and, to try and lay out sensible and realistic approaches to the fundamental questions the programme posed – for there were important kernels of truth among the dross.  The original talk has had almost 8,000 viewings and, overwhelmingly, the comments made support and reflect the views I expressed.

However, we have to start from here.  The fuss has brought the world of dogs and dog ownership (and the Kennel Club too) to a Rubicon which, if crossed, could lead to a complete and damaging reassessment of the role of dogs in society.  It could effect not only the lives of the many millions of families and enthusiasts who enjoy the peerless companionship that dogs offer, but those who are actively involved in working with dogs professionally,from veterinary surgeons to groomers, those who are disabled who rely on dogs as working partners as well as the thousands of service military, police and security dogs and their handlers.

I accept that a small proportion of breeds suffer from genetic defects and that these are often the result of selective breeding, but your readers should be reassured that the vast majority of pedigree dogs in the UK are fit and healthy.  What is more, despite the programme’s assertions, the Kennel Club in Britain in association with the Animal Health Trust and others, is aware of those problems, has been working towards solving them for many years and has made more progress in eliminating a wider range of hereditary defects in dogs than any other country.  As an International judge of dogs dedicated to soundness both in my judging and in my educational role, I can confirm that the quality of pedigree dogs in the UK is, overall, higher than anywhere else the world.

What should the Kennel Club do?

Crufts, which is not just about pedigree dogs or show dogs, is a reflection of the relationship millions of people have with their pets and, like Ascot, Henley and Wimbledon, is part of the cultural fabric of this country and recognised world wide.  It must therefore absolutely deserves a place on the airwaves as a featured event rather than just another news story.  It would be tragic if Sky or another broadcaster was influenced by the controversy surrounding this particular issue and was therefore not prepared to consider featuring the event.  The Kennel Club must make every effort to ensure this coverage is maintained – not in its own interest but in the interests of dog owners both here and around the world, all of whom may be prevented from enjoying this spectacular and exciting occasion as a result of the BBC’s unfortunate and misguided attempt (supported by well meaning but short sighted lobby groups) to take what it probably believes is the moral high ground.

Pedigree dogs exposed programme Exposed

October 12, 2008

This talk appears on You Tube at

My name is David Cavill. I have bred pedigree dogs for over thirty years and I judge many breeds both in Britain and all over the world. I have also worked extensively with rescue dogs too.

In my lectures on breeding and judging dogs there is a major section at the beginning of my talk about how dogs came to be as they are and it might help those who have assumed that everything in the recent television programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed was ‘gospel’ that there is another side to the claims which it made: another side which shows that many of the statements made were seriously distorted and designed just to grab headlines. ‘Headlines’, of course create a bandwagon and many individuals and organisation have jumped on board. In this the producers were extraordinarily successful.

Firstly a few facts: a groomer friend of mind sees dozens of Cavalier Charles Spaniels every month and has never seen a dog with the symptoms described in Pedigree Dogs Exposed – which is not surprising as the incidence is estimated to be about 2%. The programme stated that the incidence was ‘up to 30%’. This is not, in itself, untrue but implies a proportion which is it approximately fifteen times the correct figure!

Several people have called for the Boxer shown in the programme to be put to sleep and even for the owners to be prosecuted for cruelty in that they are keeping an epileptic dog alive. The truth is that the dog is under successful medication and fits ‘about once a month’.

The statement by the RSPCA Vet has been criticised by senior members of his own profession. It is inaccurate and untrue and the RSPCA has since had to withdraw support for it.

The incident of dogs with an inbreeding coefficient of 50% (that is mother to son or vice versa or father to daughter or vice versa) is less than one percent. The average inbreeding coefficient of pedigree dogs on the Kennel Club registry is less than 5%. To put this in perspective, if someone marries their cousin (a very common occurrence in many human societies) the inbreeding coefficient is just 6.25%

There are many other examples of the way in which statements have been taken out of context to ‘prove’ the allegations made in the programme. Beverly Cuddy is a past master of the technique. She is a friend of mine, incidentally but with a long history of prejudice against pedigree dogs for personal and political reasons despite the fact that she is, herself a championship show judge of Bearded Collies. She says in the programme ‘ pedigree dogs are falling apart’. I suspect that this quote was taken out of context for it is demonstrably not true as anyone who goes to a dog show can see for themselves and I delighted to say that she, like the RSPCA and Dogs Trust, has found it necessary to publicly modify their stance.

This is not to say that there are no serious problems within the world of pedigree dog breeding: there are and they must be addresses. But the truth is very different to the message which Pedigree Dogs Exposed tried to deliver which was that all dogs were damaged or crippled. Firstly, though let us see if we can understand the way in which ‘the normal’ translates to ‘the exaggerated’ and, finally to the ‘deformed’ in the breeding of animals.

In my lectures I begin with a picture of a mongrel, which I describe as an unexaggerated dog. It is about 14 inches high at the shoulder, a little longer than it is high, neither heavy or thin and with a medium length single coat similar to that which might find on a working Irish Setter. When I was one of the senior managers at Battersea this was typical of hundreds of dogs we were asked to re-home (times have changed but that is anther and longer story). Whether it is typical of the dogs that hung around human encampments in the days when most of us were nomadic travellers I do not know. I suspect that semi wild dogs then were leaner and ‘racier’ but what I am sure of is that if you left a thousand of our 21st Century pedigree dog and bitches together in and enormous enclosed game park and let them loose, a large proportion of dogs similar to the one I have described would be the result after four or five generations of breeding,

Why should this be? Firstly some of the breeds would not survive into the second generation because they would not be fast enough to catch game or get to ‘kills’ in time so would not be able to hunt and feed themselves while others would not be able to mate or whelp naturally so there would be no puppies from these breeds. Of the rest some would be more adept at foraging for food than others and, if the space were varied enough, it would not be long before the dogs most adapted to specific environments would migrate to those areas where they would have the best chance of survival. So you would have some variety in size, weight and conformation (and temperament, too, of course) but a sizeable number would be like my Battersea mongrel: perfectly adapted for the widest type of terrain. Of the more specialist types you would see some leaner, with longer legs and deeper chests, others, probably fewer, would be thicker set and be heavy enough to bring down slower but bigger animals: our mongrel would do well from the scraps left by those other groups as well as being fast enough to catch small (and often elderly or ill) game.

Now bring in a human dimension, To begin with ‘man’ refines and improves what he has, but essentially, dogs that can be helpful survive and those that cannot are rejected and either are killed or become household pets and children’s’ playthings. Remember the same process was also going on with other domestic animals – cows were being bred that would give more milk for longer, sheep for thicker coats to give more wool, pigs for more piglets in a litter which would grow to maturity with more lean meat and less fat – the process was not confined to dogs.

As far as dogs are concerned a few types were developed for more specialist uses over the millennia. Dogs for herding, dogs for war and dogs for hunting (for fun rather than for food) but eventually people began to use the extraordinarily flexible chromosomes of the canine genome to produce animals radically different to ‘the norm’ in just the same way as breeders of cats, horses, budgerigars, pigeons  and roses for that matter have done for centuries.

Dogs became longer, shorter, taller, thicker set, shorter muzzled and lower to ground in terms of conformation, and hairier, smoother or slacker skinned, wrinkled, double coated, fancy tailed, fancy eared and multi-coloured in terms of their individual characteristics.

I emphasise that I have no problem with any of this but there is a point when the changes introduced militate against the best interests of the dog in terms of its health and welfare. My talk asks the deceptively simple question ‘Where is that point?

I hope I have shown that it is not unreasonable to breed specialist dogs for our own pleasure and/or for the pet owning public so long as they are well cared for and remain fit and healthy.

A breeder may feel, aesthetically, that they would prefer their dog’s ears to be a little more upright, longer or better set; they might want the eyes darker or the coat longer; they might want more or less of a stop or a broader or narrower width of skull – all of these characteristics are ones which are peripheral and acceptable. Coats can be washed and groomed easily so they are not an issue whatever you think of Poodle cuts of the length of the coat on a Yorkshire Terrier, but under normal circumstances, skulls cannot be enlarged, bones cannot be lengthened or shortened, livers and lungs, hearts and throats and eyes and noses cannot be replaced so these are the physical characteristics where ‘the question’ becomes important.

I offer you this definition: as soon as an animal is finds it difficult to eat or chew ‘normal’ food, has difficulty in breathing under all normal circumstance, finds it difficult to keep up with its owner at a brisk walk, cannot under normal circumstances mate or whelp naturally or they die well below the average age one expects a dog to die, then it is important that breeders take a long, hard look at what they are doing.

This has already happened in many breeds and the Kennel Club has put pressure on many others to take action. The Chow Chow is an excellent example: from being a dog with real problems with its conformation, eyes and muzzle it is now, in the UK at least, a pleasure to judge. And in terms of temperament, the Kennel Club brought in a regulation almost fifteen years ago that if any dog bit within a dog show the dog would be banned permanently from showing and all its progeny banned permanently too. The effect was immediate and the incidence of dogs biting people or other dogs at a show is now very rare.

Pedigree Dogs Exposed has forced the hand of the Kennel Club and I know the Chairman and others, including Kennel Club staff, are actually pleased to be given this lever to force through further improvements.

But it must be made clear that the proportion of dogs affected in these ways is relatively small. The vast majority of pedigree dogs live long healthy lives and, in fact, there is no statistical difference in the life span of pedigree dogs and mongrels. If you go to any veterinary surgery the number of pedigree dogs and mongrels you will see are equally balance – about 50/50 – the same as the proportions as in the population as a whole!

Go to a dog show: see for yourself.