Left to right: Nala, Asha, Zira & Kion

Do you watch Crufts each year on the TV and wonder what it takes to compete? MARIA LAKEN goes behind the scenes…  

The showing of dogs dates back to the Victorian era, when the love for dogs and hobbies went hand-in-hand. Accessible to people of all classes, the fashionable activity grew extremely popular with both exhibitors and spectators and, like today, it allowed breeders to measure the progress being made in the breeding of their pedigree dogs.

In 1873, the Kennel Club was set up to govern dog shows and to ensure they were being run fairly and honestly with the welfare of dogs in mind, and this still applies today with thousands of licensed dog shows running every year under the Kennel Club’s rules. At licensed shows, breeds have to be registered with the Kennel Club to be exhibited and are judged according to their breed standard.

The standard is a guideline that describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance of a breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function and is able to move soundly. Unlike the early days, judges now report on the health of the dogs they have assessed and are instructed not to award prizes to dogs that have conditions or exaggerations that would be in any way detrimental to their health. This is now a major priority in showing, in order to help aid the breeding of happy and healthy pedigree dogs.

Best of Breed – Dogs and bitches of the same breed will compete for the Dog and Bitch Challenge Certificate (CC). The two winners from this then go head-to-head to determine Best of Breed, with the runner-up held as a reserve.

The Kennel Club acquired the world-famous dog show Crufts in 1939, following the death of its founder, Charles Cruft. Today, Crufts is the biggest dog show in the world with thousands of visitors from around the globe attending, alongside more than 20,000 competitors. The much-anticipated event is broadcast on national TV, is covered in the news and streamed live online to millions of dog lovers.

Crufts is not an Open competition – dogs must have qualified at Championship shows throughout the year to enter. From April to January, dogs will need to attend a Champion-qualifying class and achieve first, second or third place to be eligible for Crufts. Those who have qualified will have the option to enter and will receive a schedule of the upcoming show, which discloses what breeds and classes are on offer, as well as who is judging them.

Entries are then usually made by post or online and should be completed by mid-January, giving your Kennel Club register number, how your dog has qualified and at what show and place they qualified at. Dogs who have acquired their stud book number will gain a lifetime qualification to Crufts. Stud book numbers are obtained by winning Challenge Certificates (CC), reserve CC, or a Junior Warrant – which is for dogs up to the age of 18 months gaining points from their wins at both Championship and Open shows.

Karen Simkin and puppy Wilbur

Karen Simkin has been showing Beagles since 2001. This year she is showing nine-month-old puppy Wilbur, who will be exhibited in the puppy class, and nine-year-old Asha, who will be shown in the veteran bitch class. “I have four dogs at home, but I am only taking two, as it is so hectic,” Karen says.

“Crufts is very busy – well, it is the biggest dog show! An average show would have an entry of about 100 Beagles whereas there are around 250 Beagles being entered into classes at Crufts.”

Asha and Wilbur’s registered Kennel Club names are Simeldaka Marsaxlokk Wren and Eardley Will Power at Simeldaka. These exclusive names are chosen by the breeder to set pups aside from those of anyone else. Breeders have an ‘affix’, which is similar to a brand name. ‘Simeldaka’ is the name for Karen’s line of Beagles, but as she bought Wilbur from another breeder, she added the affix to the end of his name instead to show he is now with her.

Best in Group – After the best of each breed is chosen, dogs then compete against others in their own group (Toy, Gundog, Utility, Hound, Working, Pastoral and Terrier) to find the Best in Group.

Because of Karen’s love for the Mediterranean island, she chooses names of places in Malta, as in Asha’s registered name ‘Marsaxlokk’, but breeders can choose any name they wish as long as it is not taken by someone else and is suitable (not offensive). Karen starts her final preparations for Crufts a month before the event.

“In early February, I’ll be checking things like their weight and making sure they’re well groomed and their teeth are clean. I will also do some ring training practice in the garden, to iron out any issues, but you can only do your best. What’s most important is that your dog is happy and healthy.”

Based in Wimbledon, Karen drives two hours with her dogs to the Birmingham NEC for hound day, where the judging for the Best of Breed and Best in Group takes place. Whoever is successful will represent the breed and go up against others in their group. Whoever wins Best in Group will be among the seven going through to the Best in Show finale, for the world-class title.

Attending Crufts can be an expensive day with travel, entry fees, parking, food and drink, but Karen humbly expresses that it is a privilege just to be able to attend. “For me, Crufts is the icing on the cake for showing. It is the pinnacle and the end of our show year, which we have all worked so hard to get to. We always joke that showing on the green carpeted floor is what it must feel like for film stars to walk on the red carpet.

Best in Show – On the final day of Crufts, millions of dog lovers from around the world watch as seven of the Best in Group winners compete for the prestigious Best in Show title. The winner receives the world-class title, their own solid silver replica of the Keddall Memorial Trophy and a modest cash prize.

“Crufts is not just for dog showing – even though that’s what I am most interested in,” Karen explains.

“There are other aspects of the dog world there as well. I have helped at Discover Dogs before, where people get to interact with different breeds and speak to breeders about the dogs they are interested in. The Kennel Club is also there to provide information to breeders. And there’s lots of shopping to do, as well as other competitions, like agility, taking place throughout the day. I am usually too busy to see this – I can catch it on the telly anyway!

“I’m shattered at the end of the day!” Karen admits, and she only gets a small break before preparations for next year start again in April.

It’s clear from talking to Karen that Crufts is the highlight of her year. Showing is an important part of her life and she still dreams of the Best in Show title like she did the first time she began showing.

“Don’t give up because it doesn’t work out with the first dog; nobody at the beginning does wonderful things – it takes time!”

“We all need a hobby in life! I’ve always had dogs, but 2001 was the first time the hobby took off for me. The breeders I had bought my Beagle from told me there was something special about her and suggested I should try showing. I immediately said no, but they insisted that I should join them for a show and, as the saying goes, the rest is history! I have kept in touch with them and we will sometimes see each other at shows, as they are still exhibiting dogs to this day.”

With all her precious years of dog showing experience, Karen was happy to share some pearls of wisdom for beginners. “Take as much advice as possible from your peers, look around the ring and talk to as many people as possible to decide if this hobby is right for you. From there, you should read, learn and go to ringcraft classes.

Left to right: Nala, Asha, Zira & Kion

“Don’t give up because it doesn’t work out with the first dog; nobody at the beginning does wonderful things – it takes time! I am still learning and have just bought a Beagle puppy, as I wanted to bring a different line into my breeding programme. I have always bred from my own dogs, but this time is different, as the puppy hasn’t been with me from day one – so, you’re never too old to learn!”

Crufts 2020 will be running from 5-8 of March. You can catch all the action live throughout the day on the Crufts YouTube channel or watch coverage and highlights on Channel 4 and More4. For more information visit www.crufts.org.uk 

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