Who’s using the data and why?

It’s not unusual for research papers to get widely reported in the national press, particularly where it’s possible to spin a provocative headline that grabs readers’ attention. Lobby groups and campaigners are also skilled at selecting research that supports their cause. You’d be surprised if they didn’t do that; after all, they have a cause to promote. 

In March 2019, I wrote about the discussions on social media when new scientific papers on canine health and welfare matters are reported and when breed clubs publish their health survey results. Newly published research should prompt us to ask the question “why?” – why might a particular association have been identified and why might the results have turned out like they did.

Last year, the VetCompass project published a paper that generated a lot of publicity in the national press. Life tables of annual life expectancy and mortality for companion dogs in the

United Kingdom reported an approach to assessing canine longevity (Life Tables) which is well-established in human health studies. The paper’s findings that the French Bulldog had the shortest life expectancy of just 4.5 years compared with Jack Russell Terriers (12.7 years) inevitably made for some eye-catching headlines. The VetCompass paper also reported the average longevity of Japanese French Bulldogs to be 10.2 years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that figure didn’t feature in the press headlines.

In contrast, the Kennel Club’s 2004 and 2014 breed health surveys showed the median age of mortality of French Bulldogs to be 9 and 5.9 respectively. This data is summarised in the French Bulldog Breed Health and Conservation Plan. When the KC’s 2014 survey results were published in 2016, the overall median age of death of pedigree dogs was reported as 10, down from 11.3 in 2004. This led to descriptions of an “apocalyptic drop in purebred dog longevity” despite the fact that no such (statistically valid) conclusion could be drawn from the data reported.

Why the differences in longevity?

The VetCompass paper describes some of the limitations associated with the results they published. The limitations included:

  • The sample size for FBs was relatively small, resulting in life tables with reserved confidence
  • The sample was biased towards younger dogs that contribute proportionately more deaths in younger ages

VetCompass reports are based on a particular sample population – dogs attending first opinion vet practices in the UK. This sample will, like every sample, have its own biases. We know, for example, that insured dogs are more likely to be taken to the vet. The Life Tables paper was derived from a sample of nearly 900,000 dogs that had at least one visit to a vet

(90% in England) during 2016. These visits would have been not only due to illness but also included routine vaccinations. It is, therefore, not as simple as arguing that the dogs in the study were all ill. The paper drew data from nearly 900 vet clinics and VetCompass claims to gather data from about a third of all practices in the UK.

It is always worth looking at a range of research papers and analyses in order to build a picture of a breed’s health and longevity. Another useful source of such information is the International Partnership for Dogs (www.dogwellnet.com). They have collated and published data for many breeds, including French Bulldogs, Pugs and Bulldogs (all 3 of which have been the subject of recent VetCompass studies). Their Globally Relevant Integrated Health Profiles (GRIHP) are particularly useful as they pull together data from multiple sources, including UK and Swedish insurance data, VetCompass, Breed Club surveys and more. They don’t, however, provide any specific longevity statistics for French Bulldogs, only data on relative risk mortality compared with an all-breed average. The Agria data show, for example, that French Bulldogs have at least twice the relative risk of mortality than all breeds, for 6 types of health condition including respiratory, eyes and neurological.

One thing VetCompass does really well is communications; it publishes open-access peer-reviewed papers that meet the needs of a technical audience, with supporting data available. It also publishes infographics; easily digestible summaries that are visually appealing and comprehensible to the “person on the Clapham Omnibus”. VetCompass seems to practise a very “agile” approach to the use of its data assets. It publishes useful chunks of information at frequent intervals that answer specific questions. 

Breed clubs need their own good quality research

If a breed has concerns about a particular health condition, age of death or cause of death, it should ensure it can collect sufficient good quality data from a representative sample of dogs. I have previously emphasised the value of clubs collecting data that can show any differences between sub-populations (e.g. show vs. working or show vs. non-show).

The point of Breed Health Surveys depends totally on “the exam question” you are setting out to answer. If the exam question is “what’s the biggest issue?”, most Breed Clubs’ surveys have been able to answer that. The KC’s 2004 and 2014 surveys did that too. If you want to know where to focus effort on improvement, asking about prevalence and age of diagnosis isn’t going to get you very far. You need to know about severity and welfare impact as well. Finally, if you want to know if there’s been any change (for the better or worse) over a period of time, you’d better make sure you’re measuring the same thing, in the same way, at the start and the end. Otherwise, you’ll end up with “Garbage in, Gospel out” with someone cherry-picking the results to suit their own argument!

VetCompass gives us “big data”; breed health surveys give us “small data”. We need both, but most importantly, we need to define the “exam questions” before rushing off to design surveys, or to see if we have data already available.

I believe that all our breed club communities should be supporting the development and use of The Kennel Club’s Breed Health and Conservation Plans (BHCP). These are the most comprehensive documents that summarise the breadth of research available. Breed club officers and health representatives need to be familiar with the content for their own breed so that they can present a balanced and evidence-based argument when challenged about health and/or longevity.

More data won’t improve dog health or longevity

In September 2020, I said that data are necessary but not sufficient. I went on to explain that without human behaviour change, the lives of dogs will not improve. The missing science is that of Human Behaviour Change. 

We do need to question the research that is being published and to understand its strengths and limitations. Every piece of research has the potential to nudge us towards actions that will improve the health and longevity of our dogs. We need to see the bigger picture and focus on the behaviours of owners, breeders and vets who can all actually make a positive impact on dog health.


8 accelerators for breed health improvement in 2023

My January “Best of Health” article is usually either a reflection on the past year or a focus on the New Year. No matter how you look at it, the pedigree dog world continues to be in the spotlight with multiple voices calling for change and improvement. Headlines about breeding legislation from across the world throughout 2022 reflect the fact that, for many people (and dogs), health improvement hasn’t happened fast enough. Our ability to implement change simply hasn’t kept pace with the pressures we face.

I have said many times that this isn’t a veterinary or science problem, it’s a human behaviour change problem and we need to get better at managing change. Professor John Kotter’s 8-step change model was first published in 1995 but was enhanced in 2014 when it became the 8 accelerators of change. This month, as we look ahead to 2023, I want to introduce you to the 8 accelerators and how they might apply to your breed.

Create a sense of urgency

This is the starting point and is all about focusing on the big opportunity that a breed faces. We need to present this as an opportunity, not a threat, and it must appeal to heads and hearts. Beating people up with more data on the prevalence of health conditions isn’t going to cut it. The opportunity is to demonstrate that registered pedigree dogs that participate in KC-regulated activities are leading the drive towards improvement. We should all be able to unite behind a commonality that dog shows and other activities are a force for good.

For your breed, do you see a big opportunity that could unite everyone?

Build a guiding coalition

The guiding coalition means looking beyond the “usual suspects” and engaging a broad spectrum of people who are motivated to accelerate your breed’s improvement efforts. 

The guiding coalition needs to include diverse perspectives and a common commitment to do the right thing for your breed. However, this has to start with Breed Club and Council officers who are in positions of influence and who can marshall resources to enable improvement projects. 

Form a strategic vision and initiatives

A great strategic vision motivates people to take action. For some breeds, the vision might be to increase the popularity of the breed to avoid its demise. For others, it might be to address a particular health issue that is widespread or is causing increasing concern. For some, it might be about diverting demand away from unrecognised colours, particularly if these are associated with health or temperament issues. The breeds currently listed as Breed Watch Category 3 (formerly “high profile breeds”) might set themselves the challenge of moving to Category 2.

Strategic initiatives are targeted projects and activities that will make a tangible difference to your breed. These could be screening programmes, education initiatives aimed at puppy buyers, or support for owners to help them improve the welfare of their dogs (“be a better owner”).

Enlist a volunteer army

This means looking beyond Breed Club communities and engaging with other groups of owners. Every breed probably has numerous Facebook Groups of enthusiastic owners who meet, talk and often raise funds for their breed’s health projects. These groups give you far more reach than can be expected from a breed club. The 5 largest Dachshund Facebook Groups, for example, cumulatively have more than 80,000 members. Regional Dachshund Groups have, on average, around 5000 members. Find out who the Admins are and get them onboard. 

You have to build enthusiasm around the vision, and create a feeling that people “want to” be involved, rather than “have to” be involved. You can’t, and won’t, get everyone onboard. Research shows that you just need 15% of a group to be able to build enough momentum to make progress. 

Enable action by removing barriers

Kotter says that innovation is less about generating brand new ideas and more about knocking down barriers to making those ideas a reality.

If health screening programmes are expensive, breed clubs and breed charities may be able to offer subsidies. If people can’t find a convenient local vet to carry out screening on their dog, set up screening sessions at club shows and events. Make it easy for people to get their dogs health screened. Remove the friction that prevents participation.

Generate short-term wins

People get fed up waiting to see improvements promised by long-term strategic visions. You have to find some quick wins and then shout about them. They enable you to track progress towards your vision and they energise others to drive change. 

A “win” is anything, big or small, that moves you towards your vision. Publish the data that shows how you have reduced the frequency of a deleterious genetic mutation, or the data showing year-on-year uptake of a screening programme. Trend data is particularly useful, so if you’ve conducted multiple breed health surveys, share the evidence that participation is increasing or, better still, that a health condition is reducing in prevalence.

These quick wins are important because they enable you to demonstrate progress, even if the real goal is likely to take longer to achieve. They also motivate other people to get onboard with your improvement initiatives. Jam today, not jam tomorrow.

Sustain acceleration

It’s easy to take your foot off the accelerator after a few quick wins. Don’t. You have to use those wins to enable further improvements. Get more people involved and expand the volunteer army. Getting new people involved will mean they are likely to come up with more ideas (and energy) for achieving your next improvements. 

It can be really hard to maintain motivation and it’s not surprising that we see a turnover of Breed Health Coordinators or club committee members. That’s why it’s really helpful if each breed has a Health Team (Committee) who can share the load and support each other.

Institute change

What is your succession plan for when your Breed Health Coordinator retires and for maintaining a diversely talented Health Committee? Most breeds will have vets or vet nurses in their club community. These people can add credibility and bring much-needed scientific capability to health improvement initiatives.

Continuity of leadership is one of the success factors for sustainable performance improvement. Accelerators 1-7 are all about building capability for change and improvement. Accelerator 8 is about sustaining it over the long-term.

Kotter’s original change model implied there was a linear, sequential, set of steps required to bring about sustainable change. His “accelerator” model implies that many of the steps can be run concurrently and continuously.

I’ll leave the final words and thoughts for the New Year to Dr. Deming: “You don’t have to do any of these things; survival isn’t compulsory”.

We don’t need change, we need improvement!

It’s 14 years since Pedigree Dogs Exposed but actually much longer since some of the challenges associated with the health of pedigree dogs were first discussed. My first “Best of Health” article was published in March 2014 and in it I described canine health improvement as a “wicked problem”.

Wicked problems do not have optimal solutions. They are typically characterised by having multiple stakeholders who often have diverse views of what’s wrong, what’s needed and how to address them. Everyone has an opinion on some aspect of the problem and what needs to be done to solve it. The trouble is, different people disagree about what needs to be done. They are also the realm of unanticipated consequences where somebody implements a supposedly simple solution that ends up making things worse.

We are not alone in having to deal with wicked problems, of course. The economy, climate, health, crime and many other societal issues fall into the category of wicked problems, yet many governments still believe that “evidence-based policy-making” will lead to viable solutions. Governments have tried for at least the past 40 years to draw on research and evidence to inform policy decisions. When I was consulting in the criminal justice sector in the early 2000s, there was much effort put into documenting “what works” in the belief that it could be replicated and rolled-out more widely. Research groups such as the Justice Data Lab collated and published studies to show “what works” to reduce reoffending.

In some ways, we’re not that different in the world of dog health; there is a huge investment in collecting better evidence (supposedly) to help us solve our big health problems. That, of course, is a perfectly rational approach; evidence helps us to understand the scope and scale of any problem, and we can then develop optimal solutions to address them. The trouble is, there’s strong criticism from outside our community that we’re not improving things fast enough and, in some cases, there’s no evidence of improvement at all. In an increasingly complex and polarised society, is the best we can hope for to manage our wicked problems, rather than to solve them? 

Cherry-picking evidence

However rational we might like to be, in reality, the views and opinions of people and groups often means that decisions are political rather than purely being based on any available evidence. There have also been examples of evidence being cherry-picked to make a particular case (e.g. selective choice of photographs to illustrate either “good” or “bad” health in a breed). Some argue that we don’t have enough evidence but that’s always going to be true in a complex, evolving, situation. Others happily put their own spin on the evidence they have looked at. Everyone is entitled to have their own opinions; they are not entitled to have their own “evidence”, though.

One of the other big challenges to evidence-based policy-making is the wide variety of mass communication channels now available through social media. While we’d all like to hope we can participate in courteous conversations in discussion groups, we’ve probably all found ourselves on the end of some wildly polarised conversation. At their worst, some of these groups degenerate into playground squabbles, abuse and trolling. The end result is a multitude of parallel-world echo-chambers where people rarely hear anything other than views that they can align with. This intensifies biases and means that alternative evidence simply doesn’t get any airtime. Back in 2017, I wrote about alternative facts and the post-truth world.

Moving from talk to action

There are a few groups, networks and organisations that continue to defend evidence-based discussion and use collaborative approaches to discuss strategy but they too struggle to get enough people to move from talk to action.

It’s pretty clear that many of the dog health and welfare problems are passionate causes for some people but will, inevitably, be difficult to resolve. More research and more evidence has not resolved the conflicting views; at least not fast enough to benefit the dogs. There is evidence that working at a smaller scale, at breed level, can lead to successful and lasting improvement. I’ve previously written about the pivotal role of Breed Health Coordinators and, each year, we see these individuals given recognition through the International Canine Health Awards. We should encourage more of these breed-level approaches but we do have to recognise they are very dependent on having effective leadership in place. I’m not convinced there’s much effort being put into identifying and developing the breed leaders of the future.

Campaigners, governments and dog people often look for simple solutions to solve these complex problems (change the breed standard, mandatory health-testing, compulsory licensing, more regulation etc. etc.). Vocal leaders among these groups sometimes try to impose their own preferred solution in an effort to “do something”. It’s quicker to “do something” than to acknowledge others’ views and to find ways to collaborate on developing longer-term viable solutions.

Each breed has a unique history that has led it to where it is today and we also have to recognise that, in some cases, large proportions of breeders fall outside the breed club community. I have argued previously that it is important for breed clubs to engage with these people if they want to be taken seriously as guardians of their breed.

There are no neat and quick solutions to the wicked problems associated with canine health and welfare. If that’s what some people continue to search for, they will be bitterly disappointed. We do need the research, the data and the evidence but these alone will not lead us to finding simple solutions to our complex problems. The useful solutions we come up with will necessarily be based on the best available evidence but also based on our ability to collaborate and agree shared objectives. I suspect we’d make more progress if all the groups who “want to do something about dog health” put more effort into improving the way they collaborate than on coming up with the next quick fix aligned to their individual agenda.

If you truly want to understand something, try to change it” – Kurt Lewin

Who’s looking at the bigger picture?

It’s very easy to get so focused on what’s going on in your own breed (or breeds) that you lose sight of the bigger picture and wider context of what’s happening in the world of dogs. For some breeds, particularly the brachycephalics, there has been a huge amount of scrutiny for many years. The most proactive breed clubs and Breed Health Coordinators have focused on getting messages across about good breeding practices and the value of health screening programmes. Some, though, are less proactive and are perhaps wondering what new legislation is going to hit them. If their short-term focus is on tinkering with their Breed Standard or uptake of a single-gene DNA “health” test, I suspect they will be in for either a disappointment or a shock. While it may be true that “backyard breeders” are the cause of many health issues through poor breeding practices and a disregard for the Breed Standard, it’s likely that those in breed club communities will be impacted first. Breed club communities and those who show their dogs are an easily identifiable target for criticism.

At a National level, Kennel Clubs have to juggle and balance priorities across multiple breeds. Decisions that are made for one breed can often have wider implications across other breeds. Here in the UK, there was a time when the KC would consider implementing “Control Schemes” in specific breeds. Probably the best-known example is CLAD testing in Irish Setters.

With effect from 1 July 2005, the Kennel Club would only register Irish Setters that are proven to be clear of CLAD, or hereditarily clear of CLAD e.g. both parents are clear. With effect from 1 January 2008, the Kennel Club ceased to accept any registrations for Irish Setters produced from a CLAD carrier parent mated to a clear or hereditarily clear parent. Breeders wishing to register progeny from a carrier after this date were required to apply for permission prior to the proposed mating, and applications are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing

I remember going to a meeting more than 20 years ago with Professor Jeff Sampson (the KC’s geneticist at the time) where we asked if a control scheme could be introduced for Miniature Dachshunds so that cord1 PRA could be eradicated from the breed. Thankfully, in hindsight, Jeff argued that this would not be in the best interests of the breed and could actually make things worse by further reducing genetic diversity. We had similar discussions with the KC about banning registrations of Mini Wires that were affected by Lafora Disease or that were untested. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we now know that early onset PRA in Miniature Dachshunds is not caused solely by the cord1 mutation. We have also been able to reduce the risks of breeding Lafora-affected puppies without having the constraints of a Control Scheme.

These days, the KC’s health and genetics advisors are very much aware of the challenges associated with loss of genetic diversity and, I believe, the current policy is that Control Schemes are not considered to be an effective tool for managing inherited diseases. This is a good example of how the role of the KC is to understand the bigger picture and to educate breed clubs and breeders on the potential adverse consequences of what might seem like “simple” solutions.

The KC policy that puppies from merle-to-merle matings cannot be registered is another example of where seeing the bigger picture can (and should) influence a decision. The number of merle-to-merle matings was always very low and the risks of breeding health-compromised puppies was known to be high. As such, this decision made sense across multiple breeds where the merle gene is present. The impact of this policy on genetic diversity is low but the impact on avoiding significant health risks is high.

Unintended consequences

I’m sure there are plenty of other examples where breed clubs might argue for registrations to be restricted on the basis of health tests or where they believe there are health issues associated with particular aspects of the Breed Standard (e.g. conformation or colour). Stepping back and considering the bigger picture and potential undesirable consequences might lead us to alternative approaches. For example, if people can’t register with the KC, will these dogs continue to be bred outside the KC system or will their breeders register them with false details? In the former case, we still end up with unhealthy dogs that may suffer from lifelong illnesses and, in the latter case, we end up with a KC registry based on unreliable information. The KC might also have to consider whether a decision that apparently makes sense in one breed would have knock-on effects if applied to other breeds.

At an international level, the challenges of joining the dots and making sense of varying KC policies and diverse national legislation are even greater. Our KC has reciprocal agreements with many other KCs and the FCI acts as a worldwide body for 98 members and contract partners, with oversight of 355 breeds.

What is truly in the best interest of all dogs?

The International Partnership for Dogs is another organisation taking a broader perspective on the world of dogs. They have recently published their Annual Report for 2021. In her opening remarks, Acting CEO Katariina Mäki says “we continue to work with our stakeholders to educate our global community and promote what is truly in the best interest of all dogs”. She also says “We need collaboration among our stakeholders now more than ever”. That group of stakeholders includes KCs, groups with breed-specific interests, academics/researchers and members of the pet industry, including DNA test providers. Their Harmonization of Genetic Testing for Dogs Database now includes 82 academic and commercial Genetic Test Providers (GTPs) in 22 countries. IPFD’s online platform dogwellnet.com is their main channel for connecting with the dog community and, if you haven’t already done so, I’d recommend joining the 2000+ people who have signed-up for a free account which will give you access to all of their resources. If you’re a breeder or breed club officer, the information and tools available for 182 breeds are immensely valuable. Over the past couple of years, IPFD has put a lot of effort into creating over 1000 Breed Relevance Ratings for the list of nearly 2000 breed-specific DNA tests that are available. These evidence-based ratings, together with Globally Relevant Integrated Health Profiles (GRIHP) describe the big picture of health on conditions of interest within a specific breed.

Next month, IPFD will be running their second Virtual Dog Health Workshop with a focus on Genetic Diversity. I’ve been invited to attend, so I expect there will be plenty to share in future “Best of Health” articles.

You don’t know what you don’t know!

It’s well-known that when you ask people to rate their driving skills, the majority say they are better than the average driver. Clearly, that’s impossible because, by definition, more than 50% of people can’t be “above average”. Apparently, it’s the same when it comes to dog breeders understanding of (even basic) genetics. A recent poll by Carol Beuchat on her Institute of Canine Biology Facebook Group asked people to rate their own understanding of genetic management and that of other people in their breed. On a scale of 1 to 5, most people rated themselves at 3 or more, while rating their breed peers below average (lots of 1s).

This might be another example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect which I have mentioned before. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias where people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, some people do not possess the skills needed to recognise their own incompetence. This leads them to overestimate their own capabilities. Charles Darwin wrote in his book The Descent of Man, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.

At the other end of the spectrum, Dunning and Kruger found that highly competent people held more realistic views of their own knowledge and capabilities. Additionally, these experts actually tended to underestimate their own abilities relative to how others did.

Carol went on to explain in her blog why this lack of knowledge about genetic management is such a problem for pedigree dogs. She says: Inbreeding in dogs is FAR higher than in any other mammal, wild or domestic. Inbreeding of wild animal populations is usually in the very low single digits. Breeders of livestock begin to panic as inbreeding approaches 10% because the negative effects are so significant. In fact, they worry about every percentage point of increase.

In a closed gene pool, inbreeding can only increase over generations and the gene pool can only get smaller. With that comes the inevitable consequences of inbreeding depression such as reduced longevity, smaller litter sizes and the appearance of more inherited diseases associated with deleterious mutations.

Breeding strategy

Tom Lewis, formerly the KC’s geneticist, published a paper in 2015 showing data on changes in inbreeding coefficients across numerous KC registered breeds. The data show that breeders are choosing inbreeding as their preferred strategy and, although the data show some evidence of reductions in breed average COI, this is mostly due to the effect of imported dogs with few generations of pedigree data. The data also show COI to be lower than reality because the KC’s pedigree information used in the study only goes back as far as 1980 and therefore excludes breed founders.

In her blog, Carol says there are 2 problems that need to be fixed: firstly, “the significant inbreeding problem that severely imperils essentially every breed”. Then, “we need to breed sustainably” which requires an understanding of the tools used for the management of other animal populations. Clearly, there is much we could learn from the worlds of farm animal production and zoological conservation.

Beyond the Tipping Point?

In some breeds, not only do they face the genetic challenges described above but they also have phenotypic issues associated with exaggerated conformation. You may recall my article last year about the seminar I ran for the Whippet Breed Council. I described the poll we ran for the attendees and their number one concern about the breed for a viable future was conformation and exaggeration. Their number two issue was genetic diversity including inbreeding and popular sires, i.e. everything I have described in the first part of this article.

To me, it was quite surprising that conformation and exaggeration was seen as such a hot topic in Whippets. I’m no expert on the breed, but they don’t strike me as one of the breeds that ought to be overly concerned about that issue. Closer to home, I’m much more concerned about exaggeration in my own breed, Dachshunds. Our Breed Standard was amended last year to make it even more explicit that excessive length of body and a lack of ground clearance were highly undesirable traits. Our health committee produced a paper illustrating a range of types from unacceptably long, heavy and low, through to excessively tall and leggy.

The concept of Tipping Points is, I believe, really useful when considering exaggerated conformation. It is evident from what we see getting awarded in the showring that different judges vary in their view of what is acceptable. The Kennel Club’s Breed Watch programme should be a way to help judges (and exhibitors) recognise the point where exaggeration tips over into visible points of concern, including those with obvious health implications.

Typical dogs

We are also now seeing such discussions about tipping points in published research papers. For example, a paper was published in December 2021 titled: French Bulldogs differ to other dogs in the UK in propensity for many common disorders: a VetCompass study. In it, is this sentence: “In support of a view that French Bulldogs have diverged substantially from the mainstream of dogs in the UK and, are in many respects, no longer even a typical dog, is reflected in their higher differences in disorder propensity.”

I’ve had several interesting conversations about exaggeration recently with vets. Some of those centred around the five welfare needs of dogs which I wrote about in February. We also talked about the dangers of vets (and others) using terms like “normal for a xxx” (insert a breed’s name). The worry here is that we are starting from the perspective of what has become normalised in a particular breed, rather than remembering these should be dogs first. This leads to the question of whether there is a tipping point beyond which a particular breed can no longer be considered to be viable as a dog. When you see pictures of the grossly exaggerated “toadline bulldogs”, it’s pretty clear that a line has been crossed.

For an interesting discussion on exaggeration, listen to Dr Sean McCormack’s wildlife podcast featuring Rowena Packer and Alison Skipper:


One person suggested to me that judges’ education should ignore canine conformation and movement and learning should start with looking at horses. That way, judges would learn about virtues and faults without the hindrance of considering what might be “normal for a breed”. I can’t help thinking there is an urgent need for a robust discussion about tipping points and for breeders and judges to go back to basics in defining where we should draw the line on what is acceptable.