Last weekend I visited the Discover Dogs show at Earls Court, London. Amongst the many highlights were the Southern Golden Retriever Display Team’s formation dancing routines and flyball competitions.
Organized by the Kennel Club, the show also played host to Scruffts, a competition to find the ‘Family Crossbreed Dog of the Year.’ Unlike Crufts, where dogs are judged on their appearance and conformity to breed standards, Scruffts celebrates ‘the special relationship with man’s [sic] best friend and brings together crossbreed dogs and their owners.’ In many ways, Scruffts and Discover Dogs are responses to criticisms levelled at the Kennel Club that dog shows and breed standards result in unhealthy dogs. To counter such claims, Discover Dogs places a strong emphasis on living and working well with dogs so that both humans and canines are healthy and happier. In this vein, it offers seminars on ‘Reiki for dogs,’ ‘Obesity – tackling the “big” problem,’ and the ‘Psychological benefits of owning a dog.’
Dog breeding and displaying are attempts to classify and fix dogs into particular shapes and sizes. But the ways in which dogs are displayed and represented is far from fixed. The organizers of mid-nineteenth century dog shows would surely have been surprised by the family-orientated and democratic atmosphere of Discover Dogs.
To find out more on nineteenth-century dog shows, see Harriet Ritvo, The Animal Estate (1987) and Kathleen Kete, The Beast in the Boudoir (1994).