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Crufts 2023: The history and controversy of world’s greatest dog show

The first Crufts show was set up in 1891 by Charles Cruft.  (Getty Images)
The first Crufts show was set up in 1891 by Charles Cruft. (Getty Images)

Dubbed the ‘world’s greatest dog show’, Crufts has legions of fans across the UK who tune in each year to the four-day event.

This year’s Crufts runs from Thursday, March 9 to Sunday, March 12 and viewers can expect to see an estimated 18,000 adorable pooches from across the UK be groomed and glammed by their doting owners.

The first Crufts show was set up in 1891 by Charles Cruft, who started selling ‘dog cakes’ in London’s Holborn in 1876.

In 1886 he began to manage the Allied Terrier Club Show at the Royal Aquarium, Westminster and the first Crufts show was held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington with 2,437 entries and 36 breeds.

Crufts 2020 - In pictures

Poodles are prepared ahead of being shown at day one of Crufts 2020 (Getty Images)
Poodles are prepared ahead of being shown at day one of Crufts 2020 (Getty Images)
An American Cocker Spaniel on show at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) on the second day of the Crufts Dog Show (PA)
An American Cocker Spaniel on show at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) on the second day of the Crufts Dog Show (PA)
Lloyd the Italian Greyhound/Whippet cross at the launch of a pop-up spa designed for dogs to use on their way to this year's Cruft (PA)
Lloyd the Italian Greyhound/Whippet cross at the launch of a pop-up spa designed for dogs to use on their way to this year's Cruft (PA)
Molly, an English Bulldog, at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) during the second day of the Crufts Dog Show (PA)
Molly, an English Bulldog, at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) during the second day of the Crufts Dog Show (PA)
A skateboarding Terrier arrives for day one of Crufts 2020 at National Exhibition Centre o (Getty Images)
A skateboarding Terrier arrives for day one of Crufts 2020 at National Exhibition Centre o (Getty Images)
A Shih Tzu waits to be groomed during the first day of the Crufts Dog Show at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (PA)
A Shih Tzu waits to be groomed during the first day of the Crufts Dog Show at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (PA)
Owners arrive with their dogs for day 1 of the Cruft's dog show at the NEC Arena (Getty Images)
Owners arrive with their dogs for day 1 of the Cruft's dog show at the NEC Arena (Getty Images)
A woman wears a face mask whilst grooming her Miniature Schnauzer at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) for the first day of the Crufts Dog Show. (PA)
A woman wears a face mask whilst grooming her Miniature Schnauzer at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) for the first day of the Crufts Dog Show. (PA)
American Cocker Spaniels wait to compete at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (PA)
American Cocker Spaniels wait to compete at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (PA)
Hungarian Vizsla at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) for the second day of the Crufts Dog Show (PA)
Hungarian Vizsla at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre (NEC) for the second day of the Crufts Dog Show (PA)
Owners arrive with their dogs for day 1 of the Cruft's dog show at the NEC Arena (Getty Images)
Owners arrive with their dogs for day 1 of the Cruft's dog show at the NEC Arena (Getty Images)

The awards continued annually, taking breaks during both the first and second world war, and the coveted “best in show” awards began in 1928 – with the first female owner of best in show, Lorna Countess Howe with Labrador Retriever Bramshaw Bob, being awarded the top title in 1932.

How is Crufts judged and how does the competition work?

Each year, thousands tune in to watch pups compete in a series of displays and contests across the four days, with Toy and Utility Dogs on Thursday, Gundogs on Friday, Working and Pastoral Dogs on Saturday, and Terrier and Hound Dogs on Sunday.

Sunday also sees the main event - the best in show - where pedigree dogs are separated into breeds and judges assess them on how well they conform to their breed from standards set by the Kennel Club.

There is only one overall winner who takes home the prize for best in show, but there are also the best of breed winners.

Other competitions taking place throughout the four days, and are open to both purebred and crossbreed pooches, include obedience and heelwork, agility and flyball.

What about the controversy?

A show with so much pomp isn’t without controversy. The BBC began broadcasting Crufts in 1950, but the show was switched to Channel 4 in 2008 after the BBC aired 'Pedigree Dogs Exposed', an exposé on Kennel Club breed standard and judging practices.

In an essay for the RSPCA, vet Dr Michael Lazaris said: “The BBC programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed blamed Crufts for promoting breed standards which can have detrimental effects on a dog's health, such as dangerously flat faces and excessive skin folds, which can cause major health problems and seriously impact on the dog's quality of life.

“In order to achieve and closely match a certain look, or breed standard, breeders will only mate dogs of the same breed together, and often these dogs are closely related. This rapidly narrows down the gene pool and increases the risk of hereditary disease becoming more common, such as hip dysplasia, cancer and heart disease.”

It’s for this reason that organisations like the RSPCA and Dogs Trust haven’t attended the awards since 2009.

That same year, Crufts introduced The Health Zone (later renamed ‘Breeding for the Future’), which works with experts to provide information about breed health and scientific advances. Judges were also given the power to remove unhealthy dogs from the show rings and show monitors could report dogs they fear unhealthy to the show vet.

In 2012, additional safety measures were added that stated that best of breed winners and champions in the 15 high profile breeds would need to be vet checked before their awards could be confirmed.

Click through the gallery above to see all of the best pictures of Crufts from 1930 to now.