Crufts. The largest and most prestigious dog show in the world. Also a word that auto-correct is convinced should be ‘crafts’. Five times I had to write ‘Crufts’ at the start of is paragraph before it believed me. Two times just then. Auto-correct may have a point though. Crufts isn’t so much dog-showing as it is dog-craft. That much becomes evident to me as soon as I leave my car in one of the many car parks at the NEC (I’ve already forgotten which one) and start walking past the lake to the main exhibition halls. In the crisp early-morning light I am surrounded by people in grey-green or beige suits and dogs. Tens of dogs. Hundreds of dogs. All heading for their thirty-seconds of fame on a green square of carpet somewhere inside.
After a few minutes (it’s early, I’m still waking up) I realise something a bit odd about the dogs enveloping me: they all appear to be mechanised. That is, none of them are actually walking to the venues. They’re in cages being carried; or cages on carts; or just standing in a cart or (in the case of one particularly large hound) straddled between two articulated carts. Most of them are also covered to some extent. Even the ones with several lofts-worth of natural insulation protecting them. Even the ones with dreads. They have blankets over them and various hat-type devices covering their heads. Some of the terriers have their own tents.
This is dog-craft you see. These dogs are the best of the best, the result of many many years of selective breeding and many many hours of selective grooming. This is a theme that continues as I buy my ticket and walk into the first of the huge exhibition halls.
These dogs are special.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it (return your British citizenship now please) Crufts is an immense event that spans four-days at the NEC in Birmingham. Each day sees different ‘groups’ of dogs undergo many rounds of judging. There are seven groups of dogs in total, two-per day with only one in the Friday, and on the Sunday evening the best seven individual dogs from each of these groups are put into the final round of judging for ‘best in show’. To give you an idea of scale, each day will see upwards of seven-thousand dogs go though the preliminary rounds. Each of these dogs will be local or national champions from across the UK, Europe and the rest of the World.
So what are the seven groups? Allow me to explain:
This group contains the breeds of dog that most people will be familiar with and indeed will think of when you say the word ‘dog’. The biggest group by far it has a day of the show all to itself. Spaniels, Retrievers, Labradors and German Shepards all fall into this group. The dogs in this group are seen as ‘popular’ dogs, or the ‘canine proletariat’ as I believe some people here refer to them as. They are the dogs you will see running round your local park on Sunday mornings, helping blind people cross over the road or finding someone trapped under the rubble after an earthquake.
These dogs are generally unionised and all members of the Labour Party. They are dogs were bred to work but usually don’t work with cattle or sheep. Familiar breeds in is group include the Boxer, Rottweiler and Great Dame. Some of the dogs in this group have had quite a rough ride in the media over recent years and have unfortunately ended-up being labelled as ‘dangerous dogs’ by the general public. This is unfair. All dogs will eventually become dangerous if they are mistreated enough.
City dwellers: These are the dogs you see every week on ‘CountryFile’, or hear barking on ‘The Archers’. Rural folk: These are the dogs you see through the mist and rain running around on the mountains, or pulling their owners down the street every morning. They are the Boarder Collies, the Old English Sheepdogs and, of course, Lassie. They are generally black and white or white and tan and, having been bred to heard farm animals, they will generally attempt to heard any group of dogs, people or others animals they happen to chance upon.
This is me of the two groups being judged today. Hounds are generally quite large and lanky dogs who are known for their starring roles in horror films. Werewolves are a subset of this group – I have seen several large hounds who fit into this category today. Perhaps the most well-known breeds in this group are the Greyhound and the Bassett Hound. The latter of these has nothing at all to do with Licourice Allsorts.
The second of the two groups being judged today. Have you ever been chased down the road by a small dog who’s bark was grossly disproportionate to its size? That will have been a Terrier. To be fair the Terrier groups is much wider than that stereotype and includes some fascinating variety. There are varieties of Terrier for pretty-much every county in the UK but, bizarrely, the Yorkshire Terrier does not seem to feature as a recognised Terrier breed and is instead classed as a ‘Toy’. The Skye Terrier, which I figure must be quite a niche breed, does however have its own billing.
These are e dogs you get round when your toilet develops a leak or you have a power-cut. I think. They are the most patriotic of groups including, of course, the British Bulldog (Rule Brittania!) and the Japanease Akita. There are three categories of poodle in this group and a breed called the ‘Chow Chow’, which I honestly have no better idea than you about. I’m wondering if it is in fact a variety of dog chew that has been listed in the wrong page in the guide.
This group is, in fact, primarily made up of well-groomed cats who have, for years, been infiltrating Crufts in an effort to undermine and discredit the organisation. A key requirement for the Toy group is that they must be able to fit in the average-size handbag and will have a ground clearance of such that they have to swim through all but the shallowest of puddles. If you ever see a dog at the Acadamy Awards or Golden Globes it will be from the Toy group. The dogs in this group however have no idea of how small they actually are and have a somewhat regal attitude to both their owners and other dogs – which isn’t surprising considering that most of them are cats.
So there you have it! Those are the seven groups and I will spend the rest of today trying to figure out how exactly Crufts works, how the dogs are judged and who, ultimately, is the best of the best.
Right now…it’s time for the Greyhound judging…