From my ‘Crossing the headlines’ column in Dog World (12th March 2014) where I review the Crufts 2014 coverage.

‘Every cloud has a silver lining’, so the old adage goes, and for Crufts that ‘silver lining’ has to have been its enforced move away from Auntie over to Channel 4/More4. Nevertheless coverage of the ‘World’s Biggest Dog Show’ got off to a decidedly shaky start as Thursday’s host Liza Tarbuck (covering for Clare Balding) clearly struggled to pronounce the names of certain breeds and even had a tough time wrapping her tongue around the word ‘pastoral’!
For this she got slated on Twitter/Facebook with one wag branding her worst in show. I, however, must confess something of a soft spot for Liza (being from a generation who found waking up for work all themore bearable watching Liza’s early morning antics on Channel 4’s anarchic show, The Big Breakfast) but, yes, I have to admit it certainly wasn’t her finest hour and even I found her constant reading from an iPad infuriating!
Thankfully the ‘real’ experts, Jessica Holm and Frank Kane, were on hand to cover for Liza’s failings and the two of them did a cracking job. First up, Jessica delivered a flawless explanation of the show system, explaining it in ‘layman’s terms’ and I was left wondering why on earth wasn’t she given the whole gig?


Frank followed with an equally perfect, easy-to-understand lesson in breed Standards using a gorgeous Sheltie as a very obliging model. These ‘lessons’ were an important part of the coverage as they exploded the widely-held belief that the pedigree dog was solely developed for the show ring. Throughout, Frank stressed there was a reason for a breed looking the way it did and both of them emphasised the desire in breeders to breed away from any exaggeration.
I suppose it was inevitable that after such a masterclass we had to descend to some silliness and that came, as usual, via a visit to the trade stands. We got to witness the ‘touch-free and no bending over required’ PooVak – a pet waste pooper-scooper vacuum in action using (thankfully) plastic model dog poos. I don’t think James Dyson will be losing any sleep just yet! This was quickly followed by the Dog Buggy; ‘the perfect mode of transport for your dog.’
After yet another ad break it was back to the serious subject of the working group judging but, just before this, Jessica met with three examples from the group that were also members of the controversial high profile breed list. This rather cleverly allowed her to talk about why certain breeds had been put on the list and, more importantly, what breeders can achieve if they work to the breed Standard and away from exaggeration. The examples used to illustrate exactly what she was saying – a Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff and Dogue de Bordeaux – were all wonderful ambassadors for their respective breeds.
The group was won by an ebullient Rottweiler whose owner quite rightly didn’t take his dog back for an interview. As he explained, “people don’t realise how hot the ring is and I don’t want to give a bad impression of the breed.”
I’ve owned two Rottweilers and I know how much they loathe the heat. His wise owner did the sensible thing but I suppose it is a sign of the times how guarded (and media savvy) we have all had to become. On a lighter note, a delightful Lancashire Heeler was given some well-deserved publicity as he stood guard at Liza’s feet – protecting her from all those nasty Twitterers!
Then it was the time I’m sure Liza was dreading, the announcement of the pastoral group. Frank Kane gave a quick overview using a Buhund, a Pyrenean Mountain Dog and a Briard. When going over the Briard he pointed out its tail and commented on something I’d never heard of before; “it should be carried low with a distinctive J-shaped curve or hook at the end known as the crochet.” I had to go and look this up and of course he was quite correct!
The group was won by a sparkling Samoyed – ‘Dan the Man’ to his friends – and who can possibly forget the look of complete disbelief on his owner’s face? It provided one of the highlights of the coverage.
On Friday we all breathed a sigh of relief as Clare Balding resumed her rightful place at the helm, ably assisted by Jessica and Frank. Once again the combo supplied expert commentary on the terrier shortlist.
A theme that was thankfully carried through all the programmes was the featuring of a ‘vulnerable native breed’ and the second episode featured the Skye Terrier. It was the briefest of appearances but truly demonstrated what a lovely breed they are. We got to see the usual prick-eared version and the much rarer (only four in Britain so Clare informed us) drop-eared.
Next up, the winners of (the heavily-promoted) Scruffts was announced. Each winner featured in their own short film which were all quite dull with one notable exception and that was the story of Wylie – the dog rescued from Afghanistan – who had survived being run over, stabbed in the face and having his ears cut off and somehow still manages to love all he comes into contact with. What an incredible dog and a truly worthy winner of Scruffts.
‘Obreedience’ got a mention on Saturday with the Tibetan Terrier team surrounding Clare as she introduced the toy and utility groups. Sadly, their team came ninth out of nine. One, perhaps miffed by Clare’s laughter at their woeful performance, seemed hell-bent on embarrassing her on live TV by eagerly sniffing one of its companion’s nether-regions!
The Dandie Dinmont featured in the ‘vunerable breed’ section and Barbara Kurg and her well behaved trio of Dandies did an admirable job of showcasing the breed’s fine qualities.

Upbeat feature

A surprisingly upbeat feature on genetic testing put a positive spin on modern day dog breeding. Nick Blayney (the KC’s veterinary advisor) admitted that, “If you looked closely at any species’ population you are going to uncover certain things. Dogs are no worse than any other species”. He went on to say (after some pressure from Clare) that, generally speaking, “dogs are healthier than they were say 20 years ago. We are on a journey; we’ve got a long way to go but we are getting there”.
This certainly was a jam-packed show as we caught up with the Barnes family and their search for a pedigree puppy. They settled upon a Wire Fox Terrier and we followed them as they picked up little Winnie from her Assured Breeder. The positivity continued to flow as, just before the utility group judging, Jessica was shown cuddling Percy the French Bulldog and explained that, because their breed club had embraced “modern scientific techniques to improve the health and welfare of the breed”, it had been removed from the HPB list.
The final day started in grandiose style with a run-down of the finalists using up-to-date graphics (reminiscent of an action movie) and hashtags with the dogs’ pet names, even if they did accidentally use the footage of the Miniature Poodle instead of Ricky! Oops! But, all was forgiven with a hilarious parody of the infamous Oscars selfie featuring all the group winners and Clare – a touch of pure genius, even if it didn’t crash Twitter. Once more, the coverage was reaching out to the younger viewers and proving that show dogs can be cool.
Before the judging of the vast gundog group, there was a piece explaining the meaning of names, affixes and show titles – something I have never seen discussed on TV. Another welcome ‘first’ was going backstage and seeing how the finalists were coping with the nerve-jangling preparation for the BIS ring.
The inspiring feature – Friends For Life – demonstrated exactly why Clare is the rightful host of this programme and Chris Amoo summed it all up perfectly; “this just shows how important dogs are in people’s lives”.
Then, with all the pomp and ceremony that we Brits do best, the finalists (a collective demonstrating the diversity of our breeds from a Pom to a Wolfhound) entered to rapturous applause. Ricky and his handler, Jason, were given the nod by BIS judge Jack Bispham and so ended what I feel was the best TV coverage of Crufts I’ve seen.
The show world was depicted in a truly positive light and I feel at long last we have turned a corner. I know that it’s become something of a tradition to moan about Crufts coverage (often with good reason) but this year I’ve been stunned by the producers’ ability to feature so many areas of dogdom from agility to healthy breeding and advice on buying a puppy.
In a world that is increasingly anti-dog – both pedigree and crossbreed – a show that captures that special relationship between man and dog is more than welcome and I think all involved in organising the show, taking part and televising it should feel justifiably proud.

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