According to The Times today, The Kennel Club has confirmed that judges have been told to choose skinny winners over more rotund ones at Crufts 2018.
It’s unclear whether this advice was issued to all breed judges, but the article specifically singles out the “chubby, barrel-shaped” French Bulldog, as research shows fatter dogs are more likely to suffer breathing problems associated with flat-faced [or brachycephalic] breeds. The RSPCA is therefore hoping to have the breed standards for Frenchies, Pugs and Bulldogs changed to stipulate that dogs should have a “waist you can see when you look down from above and ribs you can feel”.
Canine obesity is a very serious issue, with around 30 to 60% of the general population dog thought to be overweight. Show dogs should be exemplars of health and fitness for their respective breeds, but a 2015 Veterinary Record study found that 26% of all Best of Breed winners at Crufts were deemed to be overweight, based on analysis of ‘winners gallery’ images. (The Kennel Club questioned the methods used in the study, and said that it did not take into account changes brought in in 2014 under the new Breed Watch programme.)
Of course, many brachycephalic breeds, including the Pug and (English) Bulldog, are on the Kennel Club’s Category 3/High Profile list, which means the Best of Breed winner has to pass a veterinary health check prior to entering the Group competition. In theory this vet check should prevent unhealthy dogs, including those who are under or over weight, from winning.
The French Bulldog was moved from Category 3 to Category 2 in October 2013. Still, the Kennel Club website lists “dogs showing respiratory distress including difficulty in breathing or laboured breathing” as a particular point of concern on the French Bulldog Breed Watch page. The breed standard also clearly states that the body “should narrow slightly beyond the ribs” and gives the ideal weight as between 11 and 12.5 kg. So French Bulldog judge Miss M.A.E. Persson should have no trouble in selecting fit and healthy specimens for the top prizes.
Other breed standards give height and weight recommendations, though they stipulate that these are just “a guide and description of the ideal for the breed”. The Basset Hound, Clumber Spaniel, Labrador, Golden Retriever, Bulldog, Neapolitan Mastiff, Dogue De Bordeaux, Mastiff, Siberian Husky, Pyrenean Mountain Dog, and Pug are the only breeds which are specifically singled out by the Breed Watch initiative as having weight issues which judges should look out for.
It appears that the Times headline may be slightly hyperbolic, therefore, as the Kennel Club’s judging guidelines already state that “Prizes should never be awarded to dogs which are visibly suffering from any condition which would adversely affect their health or welfare, eg significantly over or underweight”. It it is likely that the Crufts judges were simply reminded of this requirement ahead the most watched dog show of the year, and someone took their comments the wrong way.