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

Meet Rachael

Rachael and Pippa

I know.

I said my next puppy was going to be fox-red.

So what on earth am I doing with this chocolate dumpling!

You’ll have to check this out:  My chocolate adventure  to find out!

The standard reaction

I passed a member of our shoot on my way down to the meadow the other day and signalled to him that I had something of interest in the car.

“Oooooh!”  says he with interest

“is it a new puppy??”  says he with enthusiasm as he climbs out of his landrover

“is it a Labrador?” he asks excitedly as he crosses the road and peers in through the window of my truck

“Oh”.   he says,  as his voice trails away with disappointment.   “What a pity”  he sighs.

“Its chocolate…”

And he was only half joking

If you have no idea why the average British shooting man and woman views the chocolate labrador with some derision,  check out my link above.   Chocolates have not yet achieved much success in the  trialling world in the UK.   And have a lot to prove.

You can follow me through my trials and tribulations in: Rachael’s Journey.

I should be in for some fun!

My first video

I have been quite busy this month with my first attempt at video.  Here are the results

Produced by my son Tom.


Posturing and puppies

Labrador puppyA visitor to my blog recently drew my attention to a posturing rant in the Guardian newspaper  by George Monbiot.

The article was intended to express outrage at a proposal by Defra to permit the capturing of buzzards on shooting estates.

But was essentially a vitriolic and ill-informed attack on driven pheasant shooting with accompanying ‘witness account’ of what ‘actually goes on’.

And the witness was?  Monbiot himself.

What particularly caught my eye in the piece was Monbiot’s extraordinary claim to have been employed on a shoot as a loader in his teens.

If you want to know why I found this so odd,  drop into the Guns OnPegs website where you can read my article: Monbiot the Loader – an unlikely story


On a brighter note, it has been over four years since we heard the pitter-patter of four tiny paws in our home, and I am about to remedy that situation!

I raise and train a gundog puppy every few years, to join my picking-up ‘gang’, and accompany us on our ‘expIoits’.  This time we have decided on another Labrador.

I have reluctantly decided not to breed from my own four year old lab bitch.   Mainly because her conformation is rather poor.   This will be the first puppy I have not bred myself for some years.

After some considerable searching, and several disappointments,  I have managed to track down a soon-to-arrive litter of fox-red trial bred Labradors.    The pups are due in about ten days time,  so please keep your fingers crossed for me that there is a bitch amongst them!

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


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.

In which I become an activist!

It was quite a shock to discover when I awoke this morning,  that I am now an Animal Rights Activist!

Apparently an article I wrote supporting the Kennel Club in what I consider to be a brave and important step in canine welfare,  did not go down too well in some doggy circles.

The story

If you have not been following the story,  the Kennel Club introduced veterinary checks at all Championship shows beginning with this year’s  Crufts.   The checks apply to 15 breeds considered to be at risk from conformational extremes.   The six dogs that failed these checks were disqualified.  An unprecedented and extraordinary event in the history of this show   

The KC’s chairman Steve Dean said that the checks were initiated to  “prevent dogs with clinical problems associated with exaggerated conformation competing in the group ring”

Advanced warning of the checks was given and the intention of introducing them for the first time at the world’s most prestigious dog show caused little comment in advance.  

The Alliance

Once the ensuing disqualifications took place however,  an almighty outcry occurred and the show dog community joined ranks to protest.   In the aftermath of the show,  a new organisation was born.  

It was on this subject that I wrote and published an article for the Labrador Site.  You can read the article here: The Canine Alliance.

The activist

I subscribe to the Retriever, dog and wildlife blog, and it was with interest this morning that I read a post about a British Gundog Trainer that had been accused of being an animal rights activist.  It took a second or two for it to sink in that this was about me!

Those who disapprove of outsiders attempting to influence breeding practices in the UK seem to use the Animal Rights label to attempt to ‘diminish’  their critics quite regularly.  Jemima Harrison has frequently been accused of being involved with PETA and the like.   

But it is quite amusing to find this label hung on’yours truly’ as I should imagine it would be hard to find an Animal Rights activist in the UK that would be prepared to stand in the same room as me!

I have no idea how the thread panned out as I am not a member of the facebook group on which it was posted.  Let me know if you saw it.    I’m off to shave my head and get a tattoo.

Copyright and Pedigrees

Jemima Harrison's long awaited documentary to air in February

I suppose that this happens to all bloggers eventually.  But for some reason, I wasn’t expecting it yet.   I came across an article on the internet yesterday that looked remarkably familiar.  But then it would do.  Because I had written the content.

Only the website the article was sitting on was not one of my own.

It is not uncommon for people to copy a part of an article and link it back to the author’s site.  

It is perhaps more unusual for someone to copy an entire article and to alter it  slightly to make appear to have been written by the ‘copier’   (I am resisting the urge to write ‘thief’)  but this is what had happened to my article.

This morning I have written to the person who took my article and asked them politely to remove it from their website.

I will let you know what happens!

Pedigree Dogs Exposed returns!

I also want to spread the news about Jemima Harrison’s new film: Pedigree Dogs Exposed – three years on.

Jemima’s ground breaking film,  Pedigree Dogs Exposed, drew international public attention to the plight of some of our pedigree dog breeds and the problems of maintaining a healthy population of animals within a closed registry.

As some of you know I have taken a keen interest in Jemima’s campaign and am delighted to see that the BBC have announced a screening date for this long awaited documentary.

You can catch it on BBC Four on Monday 27th February at 9pm.   I suspect that the dog owning nation will be glued to their seats!

Eleven thousand, six hundred and eighty mugs of tea

A lot of mugs of teaI have a google alert set to send news items about dogs to my RSS reader.

Each morning whilst I gulp down the mug of tea placed next to me by Himself, I flick through these alerts to find items of interest or inspiration for my dog related websites.

Himself by the way would like it made clear that thirty-two years times three hundred and sixty five days is a lot of cups of tea!

Most days the alerts I scroll through are fairly ‘samey’.  A dog was lost or found, forty or fifty dogs were rescued from an animal hoarder in the USA. 

What is it with animal hoarding in America?   We don’t seem to get that here,  or at least not on the same scale…

There is usually a dog bite,  a fire from which a dog escaped or sometimes sadly didn’t.  Plus there are often nice stories about therapy dogs, or dogs that have turned up after going missing for two years.

But just occasionallly,  I come across an absolute gem of a story.  Something  special, moving,  or different. 

And this morning was just one such occasion.    I wanted to tell you about it, but you’ll have to skip across to Totally Dogs to find out more!

Gundog owners in Wales face new legislation

The Welsh Assembly seems to have become rather ‘carried away’  with its proposals to control the breeding of dogs in order to resolve the problem of ‘puppy farms’  in Wales and are intent on labelling anyone keeping a number of unspayed bitches outdoors as commercial dog breeders.

This has raised questions in the working gundog community,  and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation has now become involved.

Whilst puppy farming is a serious and important problem,  it is also important that new legislation takes into account the needs of those that are clearly not puppy farmers but that may fall foul of the new legislation in its currently proposed form

As it stands at the moment,  under the new proposals, if you keep three or more unspayed bitches in kennels,  as indeed I and many other working dog owners do,  then you would in theory be obliged to register as a commercial breeder.   This would be the case even if you had no intention of ever breeding from your bitches.   Just owning unspayed bitches and kennelling them outside might be sufficient.

An exemption for working dogs

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation is seeking to provide an exemption for owners of genuine working dogs  to be able to produce up to four litters per owner per year.    BASC feels this would be sufficient for owners of working dogs to be able to maintain their working lines whilst still enabling the new regulations to help control puppy farming. 

I do wonder if by asking for this many litters per owner, BASC  risk losing their case altogether.   I would suspect anyone breeding four litters a year has some kind of commercial interest in dog breeding,  even if it is not a full time one. 

There are exceptions,  but few people with say a ‘picking up team’  of dogs,  work more than five or six dogs at once.  Most work less than this.   Anyone maintaining a line of dogs purely for their own personal use is surely only breeding a litter from each bitch once or occasionally twice in her lifetime in order to replace her.  This means that they would not have more than say five or six active bitches at any one time.  Even if you owned as many as ten bitches (to allow for retired and youngsters not yet at work),  and bred from each bitch twice in her lifetime,  with an average lifespan of ten years,   that is up to twenty litters,  or two per year at most.  

Perhaps BASC is hoping that if they ask for ‘4’  they might be able to do a deal for a lower number.

If you are concerned about these proposed new laws,  you need to contact BASC as a matter of urgency and definitely before the 30th September. 

You can find all the details you need here

What do you think about these proposals?  Are they fair?  Will they be a disincentive to puppy farmers, or will those people simply register as commercial breeders and pay their dues?