Writer, zoologist and gundog enthusiast, Pippa blogs on life in the countryside

The Canine Alliance

Canine Alliance Mission Statement

The Canine Alliance pledge to protect and support dogs

It has been a fascinating week for those following the fortunes of the  Canine Alliance. 

This is the new exhibitor’s organisation born out of the massive controversy that followed in the aftermath of this years extraordinary events at Crufts Dog Show.

There is a huge amount of confusion on the internet about what has happened in the dog world,  not least of all on the Canine Alliance’s own website.  

I wrote an article on my initial impressions of the Canine Alliance last month. 

And I have written a number of articles this week on the subject,   to try and keep things clear in my own head as much as anything else!  

How it all began

I also wanted to bring attention back to what started this whole juggernaut of controversy,  and that was the plight of dogs being subjected to extremes of breeding.    

So I started this week with an article on brachycephalic dogs and followed up by looking at exaggerated conformation overall,  and then at the scope and purpose of those controversial Vet Checks.

You can find the articles here:

The Canine Alliance

Many are very sceptical about the motives of the Canine Alliance which was initially seen as a pressure group dedicated to suspending the Vet Checks which resulted in this year’s disqualifications.

However,  the CA has since formed a mission statement pledging to protect and support pedigree dogs and I firmly believe that many of their members do have this objective as priority.   There has been a positive proposal already with regard to ensuring health standards in registered pedigree puppies.

The positive

The Canine Alliance has made a start in addressing the issue of the need for registration of puppies to be dependent on breeding stock meeting health standards.  This is something many experts and members of the public have been asking for,  for years.  

I broached this topic again on a large dog forum last year  as it is one of my ‘hobby horses’.   I suggested that it should be a requirement for example, that hip scores of both parents were below average before puppies could be registered with the Kennel Club. 

Interestingly, the response was,  as it had been before, that if the Kennel Club insisted on health tests before registering puppies,  the breeders would just go elsewhere.  And the KC would lose valuable revenue that enables it to work on behalf of dogs.

I personally have never believed that this would be the case.

But, in the light of my previous conversations with breeders,  it is wonderful to see the breeders and exhibitors of the Canine Alliance now getting behind the concept of a registration system that actually requires health testing.

The negative

Unfortunately the Canine Alliance seems to be pouring all its more constructive efforts into the ‘health tests for registration issue’ to the exclusion of the one issue which concerns the public above all others.  That of exaggerated conformation.

This behaviour unfortunately gives the impression that the Canine Alliance are using the ‘health testing for registration’ issue as a ‘smoke screen’  to deflect public interest away from the true purpose of the vet checks.  Which is to identify dogs with clinical problems associated with exaggerated conformation.  

There are also problems with the way that the Alliance is dealing with those members of the public that are not its supporters.  

So far the Canine Alliance has failed in the following respects

  • Reassuring the public that they recognise and will deal with exaggerations in conformation
  • Clearing up confusion on the Canine Alliance Facebook page
  • Objectivity from the steering committee
  • A professional approach to negotiating and presenting its agenda

Reassuring the public

Whilst it is great to see the Alliance tackle the issue of health standards for registration,  this is not the issue which most concerns the public at the present time. 

What most concerns people most is the failure of the dog show community to recognise and address the problems of exaggerated conformation in many breeds.   It is vital that exhibitor’s lead the way in fighting exaggerations in conformation if they are not be accused of defending those within their ranks that are deliberately breeding dogs with disabilities.

It is this issue that brought an end to the BBC’s annual coverage of Crufts.  It is this issue which fuelled the public objections to dogs shows and pure breeding in the aftermath of the Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme.  And it is this issue that we need the Canine Alliance to speak out on right now.

A public distaste

It is not Animal Rights fanatics  nor Jemima Harrison that is responsible for these public objections,  though she has certainly raised awareness.  These objections have been around since the 1960s and beyond. 

There is a widespread public distaste for the deliberate breeding of dogs with, what are effectively, disabilities for whatever reason.   And what people find most objectionable is the seeming inability of the show dog community to fully acknowledge and face up to these objections.

Here is a comment posted on the Canine Alliance Facebook Page by Alistair Hunter on Sunday 1st April.

Hi Cainine Alliance Why are people who claim to be dog lovers blocking this historic opportunity to correct some of the last 100 years of drift to unhealthy interpretation of breed standards that have taken many to the edge of genetic oblivion?

This was an opportunity for the Canine Alliance to show the world that it takes the problems of unhealthy interpretation of breed standards seriously.

The reply given to this question  beggars belief

unfortunately some people lead such boring lives they have nothing better to do .I feel sorry for them ,they must be so unhappy ds

This reply by ‘ds’  who represents the steering committee on the CA facebook page, gives us the distinct impression that the Canine Alliance simply has no interest in the opinions of those concerned with exaggerated conformation.  

 There follows no attempt to recognise that there is a problem with interpretation of breed standards,  there is no attempt to recognise that the vet checks are indeed a historic opportunity to correct these problems,  even if you do not agree that they are the right way to do so.  And there is no attempt to acknowledge that the question posed is a reasonable and valid one.

A proper response might have been

We at the Canine Alliance understand that members of the public are concerned about the exaggerations in conformation that have unfortunately crept into some of our pedigree dogs and would like to assure the public that we intend to discuss this matter at our next meeting

Or something along those lines

A most important issue

The problem of exaggerated conformation  is the  single most important issue facing the Canine Alliance today.  It is the reason for the Vet Checks that were introduced at Crufts and a massive source of concern for the general public.

It is not going to go away no matter how deeply into the sand heads are implanted.

To see these concerns dismissed in such a condescending fashion  does great harm to the Canine Alliance’s  cause.

The unnecessary and deliberate breeding of dogs with deformed bodies and impaired health is abhorrent to most dog lovers.    The vet checks set up by the Kennel Club were specifically designed to address this problem.

In my opinion,  if the Canine Alliance cannot face and address this issue it has no chance of gaining widespread public approval,  and no chance of negotiating its position with the Kennel Club.

Clearing up confusion on the Facebook Page

There  is a desperate need for clarity of information for breeders on the Canine Alliance Facebook page.

There is confusion over

  • The competence of vets
  • The purpose of the vet checks

Numerous posts are going up from exhibitors that are misinformed or uninformed that are not being answered effectively if at all.  

If the steering committee of the Canine Alliance wants to put up and effective fight for the type of checks it would like to support,  and to gain popular support for its agenda,  it needs to clear up some of this confusion. 

The competence of vets

The fact that some breeders still don’t understand the purpose of the vet checks,  and are not aware of the range of competencies of veterinary surgeons does not say much about the information that the CA provides for its members.

Here is one comment that was posted on Sunday 1st April.    

There is a very important something which no one is saying in this debate regarding health testing. That something is the assumption that vets are experts! They are NOT in the main they are just like G.P’s so why should we or the KC put our faith in their decisions??
If the KC wants us to accept what their pet vets say about a BOB winner then they must provide a group of specialist vets at each show to examine the dogs according to the perceived breed problem. So we need eye specialists, skin specialists etc.
Rob Hill

It is a matter for grave concern that fears over the competence of Britain’s veterinary surgeons are not being properly addressed.   This person posting is mistaken in believing that a vet is the equivalent of a GP  or that specialists are needed for the checks initiated by the Kennel Club

How would he cope with allowing his own vet to perform an operation on one of his dog’s eyes?

Who do we turn to when we need a surgical repair to a dog’s eyelid?  Repairing an eyelid with entropion for example?  Do we demand an eye specialist then?

No, of course we don’t.

Because a veterinary surgeon is supremely capable of recognising and if necessary surgically correcting clinical problems such as ectropion and entropion.    If the surgeon is capable of carrying out a repair,  he is surely capable of diagnosing the problem!!

Fact:  Veterinary surgeons are not just like GPs.  The clue is in the name.   They are more like General Surgeons.  They are trained to carry out all manner of complex surgical repairs on your dog.   They are probably some of the most skilled and versatile medical professionals on this planet.

The Kennel Club does not require eye specialists and skin specialists to perform the vet checks in question because the clinical symptoms of exaggerated conformation which are the target of these checks are  within the skills and capabilities on any competent veterinary surgeon.

These checks are not looking for retinal problems that require specialist instruments and experience to detect.  They are looking at the external structure of the eye.  It is entirely proper that this examination is carried out by a standard veterinary surgeon. 

To pretend otherwise is misleading.   And when the CA committee fails to inform the person posting of this error this gives a poor impression of the CA to the general public,  and makes people think that CA members are avoiding checks because they have something to hide.

The purpose of the vet checks

Professor Steve Dean (KC chairman) has stated quite clearly that the primary purpose of the Vet Check is to ensure that dogs showing clinical symptoms arising from exaggerations in conformation are not allowed to be given high awards in the show ring.

Yet time and again this is confused on the CA’s facebook page with the range of other health tests available to responsible breeders.

You can read more about the vet checks and their purpose here on the Totally Dogs site. 

More objectivity from the steering committee of the CA would go a long way to preventing this kind of confusion.

Objectivity from the steering committee

An ability to be objective in the face of criticism and complaint is crucial.  Being objective includes not only an ability to put your own agenda clearly but also involves acknowledging the objections against your propositions and addressing each objection in turn.  

Whilst the CA has raised a number of issues in its presentation to the Kennel Club and on its Facebook page,  it has failed to recognise the concerns of the wider public or to include its proposals for addressing those concerns.   

This has been a lost opportunity so far, and I sincerely hope that the CA will now find the resources to grasp every chance they have to show the public that they care about exaggerated conformation, and the other problems that have to be faced when breeding within a closed register.   As opposed to focusing all their discussions on the general health tests that are already in widespread use amongst responsible breeders.

The more discussion that is opened about resolving the problems facing brachycephalic dogs and dogs with other conformational problems, the greater the chance that a solution will be found without losing these breeds altogether.

A professional approach

 Many of us were hoping for and expecting a far more professional approach to fantastic opportunity which was offered to the Canine Alliance by the Kennel Club. 

The chance to give a presentation to the Kennel Club was precious and I was expecting a document that was professional and considered in its approach. 

Normally such a document would at least begin by outlining the issues at stake and describing the stakeholders and the scope of the problems faced by both parties.    Yet the presentation by Mike Gatsby simply plunged straight into an accusation of ‘victimisation’ by the Kennel Club and finishes with an extraordinary and sweeping dismissal of all those that have taken the time and trouble to write to Steve Dean and offer him their support.

He says

Any support that Steve Dean has received for his veterinary inspections are based on  misleading reports and failures within this initiative.

So there you have it.  Your views don’t count!

The presentation described the selection of 15 breeds as victimisation without a single reference to the reasons that the KC selected these breeds,  or any reasoned argument of why a ‘wider’ or ‘universal’ selection would be more appropriate,  and beneficial to dogs. 

The Kennel Club makes it clear that the Vet Checks are to look for clinical symptoms of exaggerated conformation.  It is widely acknowledged that many breeds do not suffer from exaggerated conformation.   There was no explanation by the Canine Alliance of why the checking of breeds which do not suffer from exaggerations would be justified,  either financially or otherwise. 

The presentation would have earned more respect if a list of other breeds that should join the 15 had been proposed,  rather than just demanding vet checks for every breed regardless of whether or not they suffer from conformational defects.

Another missed opportunity

There were a couple of points in this presentation with which I feel the public would have great sympathy if the earlier points had been better addressed and if their own concerns had not been so offensively dismissed.  

As it was,  these good points were rather lost amongst all the negativity. These points were

  • Empathy
  • Right of Appeal

Empathy

I read the description by one breeder of the way in which her dog was examined during the check, and if her statement is truthful, then I feel very sorry for her.  For she described a cold and unfriendly procedure in which the vet did not speak to her at all.  

I personally would be mortified to be treated in such a way,  and whilst I understand that the whole process must have been very stressful for the vets concerned at such a high profile occasion,  it is important that exhibitors,  who have so much at stake,  are treated courteously during these checks. 

The right of appeal

I suspect that a right of appeal is something that the KC might well be inclined to consider,  and which the public would support.   It does not seem unreasonable after all,  to ask for a second opinion.

Overall though,  I think this document has to be one of the biggest missed opportunities that I have ever read.    I hope that the Canine Alliance will consider putting their next official presentation to the Kennel Club in a more appropriate style.

Edited on 5th April to add:  An official response to Mike Gadsby’s presentation from the Kennel Club has now been posted here

A difficult task

I appreciate that the Canine Alliance has a difficult task ahead.  It has to retain the support and membership that it has engaged so far and to do that it will need to satisfy the requirements of its supporters.   It also has to convince the wider public that is has the best interest of dogs at heart,  and given its poor start,  this may be the toughest challenge of all.

If the supporters of the CA genuinely want to see dogs benefiting from the birth of this organisation,  and I believe that many of them do,  they will need to face some stiff opposition within their own ranks.

There will be opposition to changes in breed standards and to the interpretation of those standards that have to date allowed the continued breeding of dogs with disabilities.   There will always be opposition to changes in the status quo.

In amidst all these responsibilities the organisation has to arrange a company structure, articles of association, a management plan, set up administration and a myriad of other responsibilities.  All with a team of volunteers that have their own lives to lead in addition to their roles for this new project.    And their own views on how things should be done.

I hope that they make it.   I suspect that they will need an experienced PR team to turn things around.

For the future?

Another organisation campaigning for canine welfare ought to be a good thing.   A health tested pedigree register would surely be a good thing. 

But public support is essential.   And to get that support the Canine Alliance must recognise and address the overwhelming issue of exaggerated conformation.    Because the British public is determined to see an end to it.

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9 Comments on “The Canine Alliance”

  1. retrieverman says:

    Health tests for registration was tried in Sweden. It failed miserably. Genetic diversity went down rapidly.

    The issue isn’t that you can test and breed out all the disease. This is what a lot of people are doing now.

    The issue is the closed registry system. The closed registry system leads to lack of genetic variation over time, which leads to closely related individuals being bred together, making it more likely for dogs to be born that are homozygous for bad recessives and it also stacks the deck in favor of inheriting bad gene combinations that lead to disease. Then there is loss of diversity in MHC/DLA haplotypes, which need to be diverse and heterozygous to ensure optimal immune response. All of these things will happen with a closed registry population, but if you add to it the popular sire effect, and these breeds are on a highway to hell in the long run. With popular sire issues, the long-run becomes even shorter.

    If the CA actually cared about these issues, they’d be interested in ridding the dog fancy of a bad breeding system– one that is not based upon Darwin but upon Gobineau.

    They don’t care about these things. Remember, only animal rights activists know anything about population genetics?

    Saying that they want all breeds screened for health and no registration without health checks is a smokescreen.

    The system itself is causing all these problems, it’s not just one disease here or there. It’s not even the issue of one breeder or another. It’s wrong to attack these breeders. They are merely doing what the system says is correct, even though the system is desperately in need of an update to keep up with what the actual science says.

  2. retrieverman says:

    If we want to breed healthier dogs, here are the principles that need to be adopted for every single one of these breeds:

    http://www.seppalakennels.com/articles/population-genetics-in-practice.htm

    Every one of these things makes sense, but they don’t make sense to people who have bought into the shibboleths and “science” of the dog fancy.

  3. spettadog1 says:

    Very interesting article Phillipa…thank you for this! My experience of the CA is very disappointing. My questions have not been answered and, indeed, I was attacked for not having bred a litter of puppies…but then that makes me the customer – who is buying their defective puppies does it not?

    I have people contacting me all the time relating to problems of breeders breeding from unhealthy stock in their breeds. I am sad to say that most of the people accused of doing so appear to be supporters of the CA….and belong to the Exhibitors Voice & Choice Group on Facebook. How are we ever expected to consider this a reputable organisation when they don’t vet the people who join them? That said, perhaps some members will have to pull up their socks to adhere to the rules and regulations of CA…. Oh, that can’t be right….because the CA have no R&Rs or code of ethics….so what are they about then?

  4. Thanks for your comments and the interesting link. I have updated the article to include the Kennel Club’s full response to Mike Gadsby’s presentation.

    The CA’s unusual approach to diplomacy continues today as Andrew Brace posts on the CA facebook page to condemn the Kennel Club’s response as ‘lies’.

  5. spettadog1 says:

    Oh dear! I haven’t looked at the page since Sunday….when I was told to leave because I had never bred a litter and a lot of other piffle! Thank you for such an honest and reasoned blog. I admire your bravery……lol xxxx

  6. alistair hunter says:

    So I am not alone and mad.Alistair friendslikeus

  7. alistair hunter says:

    Thank you retrieverman for the link re population genetics. While reading it occurred to me that the crux of the problem is that breeders are competing with each other rather than co operation for the good of the breed. To reverse the genetic decline of breeds and increase diversity to healthy levels will require the cooperation of a large number of breeders. Showing, racing, or any other activity that brings out peoples competitive instinct will work against such co operation.
    friendslikeus

  8. Hi Alistair, you are definitely not alone! Thanks for your comments

    “Showing, racing, or any other activity that brings out peoples competitive instinct will work against such co operation”

    I think this is probably true and is one of the reasons why it is so important that the KC take the steps that they have done.

  9. alistair hunter says:

    Hi Pipper are you aware of the work of the Boyko s “Tracking ancient dog populations in Africa.There was an article about the project in recent National Geographic available on line This is important work doing research on these ancient dogs who are the link between the grey wolf and modern breeds. There is another expedition planned and they are looking for donations/sponsorship http://www.petridish.org/projects/fido-s-forefathers-discovering-the-history-of-african-village-dogs can you spread the word they need to reach their target in the next couple of weeks.
    Thanks Alistair
    Friendslikeus


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