Controversy surrounded this year's Crufts after judges named a German shepherd with a "deformed back" as Best in Breed.
Officially named Cruaghaire Catoria but known as Tori to her owner, the winning pup's distinct sloping spine and awkward gait prompted shock responses from commentators as it was led around the ring.
During Channel 4's official coverage of the event, host Clare Balding could be heard questioning the physical condition of the dog with fellow experts saying the "way the back is sloping, the weakness of the rear and the fact that the hind legs are completely underneath it are all points the breed standard clearly says should be considered as fault".
The only problem is – they aren't considered as fault. Well, not for UK breeders.
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According to germanshepherdguide.com, the desired British "standard" in a German shepherd is a body where the "line of the back slopes downward from the withers into a straight, strongly developed, and relatively short back… [and the] croup is long and slightly sloping".
Like Westminster in the US, the Crufts dog show is a championship conformation show. Dogs are judged not just on behaviour, but on adhering to a strict set of physical characteristics specifically bred into them via carefully orchestrated breeding programs as set out by The Kennel Club – a nationally-based governing body for dog owners that also acts as an official register for pedigrees.
Dachshunds, for example, should be "low to ground, long in body and short of leg, with robust muscular development"; and bichon frise are "a small, sturdy, white powder puff of a dog whose merry temperament is evidenced by his plumed tail carried jauntily over the back and his dark-eyed inquisitive expression".
Should breeds deviate from these ideals, the dog and their breeders will be penalised "to the extent of the deviation". This uniformity of aesthetics can make watching Best in Breed sections of the competition look like a scene out of Village of the Damned. Only it's dogs.
According to Dr Anne Fawcett from Sydney Animal Hospitals, breed standards are part and parcel of the dog show circuit and maintaining the specifics of particular dog breeds.
"(These standards are) used to judge animals (and their breeders) in shows," she explains to ninemsn Pickle.
"The breed standards we have are a legacy of the past – some date back to the 19th century, and predate animal welfare science. In the last couple of decades there has been an increased awareness of some of the problems with breed standards, and many have been amended to reflect this knowledge."
In 2008, the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed revealed how the health of pedigree dogs shown in conformation shows such as Crufts and Westminster had become compromised in favour for these aesthetic standards.
One of the more poignant moments of the documentary was footage of a Cavalier Kings Charles spaniel in agony from a condition known as syringomyelia, which occurs when the skull is too small for the brain and is a direct side effect of the breeding programs required to maintain the pedigree's desired look.
But while it's easy to demonise breeders and dog shows for promoting unrealistic body standards amongst canines, we the general public aren't entirely innocent either.
How often do we find ourselves choosing pets based on the way they look? Despite the growing push for the adoption of rescue dogs and the backlash against "puppy farms", many would-be pet owners still base their decision on physical characteristics, thanks in part to advertising and even trends.
A pug's squished nose; a sausage dogs awkward gait; a bulldog's underbite – maintaining these "quirks" can come at the cost of the dog's long term health. Pugs suffer severe breathing issues and eye prolapse; dachshunds have intervertebral disk disease; and the humble, loving bulldog has one of the shortest lifespans of any canine thanks to heart attacks and cancer.
Since the release of Pedigrees Dogs Exposed, however, there has been a concerted effort among vets, breeders and even dog show judges to incorporate the health of the dog as part of breed standard.
"Pedigree Dogs Exposed was a watershed moment in bringing many problems to light," says Dr Fawcett.
"This prompted a widespread recognition that what we like in animals, in terms of their appearance, may actually be having a negative impact on their welfare. It’s hard for people who 'love' animals to recognise that we’ve prioritised our interests and ignored theirs."
In response to the documentary, the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC) was quick to release a statement surrounding their vision health and welfare in pedigree dogs.
The statement highlighted a push towards breeding programs that not only maintained the integrity of a breed but would focus on improving its overall health.
Simone Bingham is currently doing her PhD on the role and effectiveness of regulation in dog breeding at the University of Tasmania. As a breeder of Italian greyhounds, she sees the role of the breeder as imperative to not only maintaining the standard of a pedigree, but to also notice and manage any signs of ill-health.
"In dog breeding one of the major issues is ‘embedded practice issues’," explains Bingham.
"[This is when] breeders do things in the same way as they have for many years, despite best practice moving on and despite scientific evidence that what they do is not in the dog’s best interest."
Bingham agrees with Fawcett that the issue is a broader one that includes how media represents dogs and how the general public perceive them. The solution, she states, is a concerted effort to place a dog's health as the priority. Even if that means regulating how and who dogs are sold to.
"It’s up to everyone to get informed and to share the message about breeding dogs for long term health, sustainability, fit for function and genetic soundness," urges Bingham.
"At the end of the day dog breeders must play a role as well. They should only be breeding dogs ... that are healthy, genetically and physically and temperamentally sound as possible. They should be raising their dogs carefully and informing those that purchase their dogs about the dog’s needs and traits. We can’t allow people to buy a Great Dane to live in an apartment just because someone comes along and offers us $2000 for that puppy. We breeders need to be responsible for the dogs we breed."