What's Wrong with Dog Shows?

What are the arguments against dog shows?

Dog in competition being examined by judge
Apple Tree House / Getty Images

This article was updated and re-written in part by Michelle A. Rivera, About.Com Animal Rights Expert

The Purina Dog Food Company lists two major dog shows on their website: The Westminster Dog Show and The National Dog Show. In addition to these shows, The American Kennel Club, the AKC, also lists conformation events under their supervision. These shows are about finding a member of each pure breed who conforms to the AKC standard of what they consider the perfect specimen of a breed.

Animal rights activists don’t discriminate among the animals they seek to protect.  Our clarion call has always been about how we don’t only fight for the rights of the cute and fluffy, but any animal of any species because we believe they all have a right to exist unimpaired and unencumbered by humans.

So why then, would animal rights activists target the AKC? This organization appears to care deeply for the welfare of dogs.

Well, for one, the AKC issues “papers” on any purebred dog, which is a big problem for animal rights activists seeking to stop the sale of puppies from puppy mills. When the retailer shrieks about how their puppies are all “AKC Purebreds” it makes it difficult to convince consumers that any puppy, no matter where s/he was born, will get an AKC pedigree as long as the parents are both members of the same breed but that doesn't make the puppy any healthier or more desirable, especially if the puppy is purchased at a pet store.

What is a Dog Show?

Dog shows are organized around the world by various clubs. In the United States, the most prestigious dog shows are organized by the American Kennel Club. At an AKC dog show, dogs are judged by a set of criteria called a "standard" that is unique to each recognized breed. A dog can be disqualified completely for certain deviations from the standard.

For example, the standard for an Afghan Hound includes a height requirement for “Dogs, 27 inches, plus or minus one inch; bitches, 25 inches, plus or minus one inch; and a weight requirement of “Dogs, about 60 pounds; bitches, about 50 pounds. “ In this case, the word “dog” refers specifically to a male. There are also precise requirements as to gait, coat, size and shape of the head, tail, and body. As for temperament, an Afghan Hound found with “sharpness or shyness” is faulted and loses points because they should be “aloof and dignified, yet gay.” The dog does not even have the liberty to choose his own personality. Some standards even require certain breeds to be mutilated in order to compete. Their tails must be docked and their ear carriage surgically reconstructed.

Ribbons, trophies, and points are awarded to the dogs who most closely match the standard for their breed. As dogs accumulate points, they can attain champion status and qualify for higher level shows, culminating in the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Only purebred, intact (not spayed or neutered) dogs are allowed to compete. The purpose of these points and shows is to ensure that only the finest specimens of the breeds be allowed to procreate, thereby bettering the breed with each new generation.

 

The Breeding Problem

The most obvious problem with dog shows is that they encourage breeding, both directly and indirectly. As explained on the American Kennel Club's website, "Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation classes at a dog show, because the purpose of a dog show is to evaluate breeding stock." The shows create a culture based on breeding, showing and selling dogs, in the pursuit of a champion. With three to four million cats and dogs killed in shelters every year, the last thing we need is more breeding.

The more reputable or responsible breeders will take back any dog the purchaser does not want, at any time during the dog's life, and some argue that they do not contribute to overpopulation because all of their dogs are wanted.

To animal rights activists, a responsible breeder is an oxymoron because anyone breeding is not responsible enough to help keep the population in check and is, in fact, responsible for the births, and deaths, of unwanted dogs.

If fewer people bred their dogs, there would be fewer dogs for sale and more people would adopt from shelters. Breeders also create a demand for the dogs and for their breed through advertising and also by simply by putting them on the market. Furthermore, not everyone who wants to surrender a purebred dog will return to the breeder. Approximately 25 percent of shelter dogs are purebred.

The AKC web page listing breed rescue groups are not about adopting or rescuing a dog, but about "information about the purebred rescue." Nothing on the page promotes adopting or rescuing dogs. Instead of encouraging adoption and rescue, their page on rescue groups tries to redirect the public to their breeder search page, breeder referral page, and online breeder classifieds.

Every dog purchased from a breeder or pet store is a vote for more breeding and a death sentence for a dog in a shelter. While dog show participants care about the welfare of their dogs, they seem to care little about the millions of dogs who are not theirs. As one AKC judge stated, “If it’s not a purebred dog, it’s a mutt, and mutts are worthless.”

Purebred Dogs

Animal rights activists object to promoting purebred dogs, not only because it encourages breeding and inbreeding, but it implies these dogs are more desirable than others. Without dog shows, there would be less of a demand for dogs who have a certain pedigree or conform to an artificial set of physical specifications that are considered ideal for each breed.

As breeders strive to meet the standard for their breed, inbreeding is common and expected. Breeders know that if a certain desirable trait runs through a bloodline, breeding two blood relatives who have that trait will bring out that trait. However, inbreeding also amplifies other traits, including health problems.

One study suggests that "mutts" are considered the healthiest of all. Purebreds, however, are known to have health issues, either due to inbreeding or due to the very standards of the breed.

Brachycephalic breeds such as bulldogs cannot mate or give birth naturally because of breathing issues. Female bulldogs must be artificially inseminated and give birth via C-section. Flat-Coated Retrievers are prone to cancer, and half of all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels suffer from mitral valve disease. You can find the entire list of purebred dogs and their common genetic health issues on Dogbiz.com.

Because of their breed standards and the need to categorize dogs into different breeds and groups, dog shows give the impression that purebred dogs are more desirable than mixed-breed dogs. Even the word "pure" in "purebred" implies something disturbing, and some activists have equated breed standards with racism and eugenics in humans. Animal rights activists believe that every dog, no matter their breed or health issues, should be valued and cared for. No animal is worthless. All animals have worth.