In the refined world of pedigree dog-showing, the graceful curve of a dog’s neck could be the all-important difference between winning praise and accolades from judges, or coming home empty handed.
A well-known method of improving a canine's posture is to pull firmly on the lead, encouraging the dog raise its head. But now a row has broken out over the practise after the RSPCA accused handlers of holding leads too tightly, causing the dogs distress and risking physical harm.
The criticism of lead-pulling provoked a furious response from Caroline Kisko, the Kennel Club Secretary who claimed the RSPCA were being “boring" and “niggling away” and “silly, non-issues”.
Lisa Richards, the RSPCA’s dog welfare expert and senior scientific officer, said that the issue of handlers pulling hard on their dogs’ leads appeared to be more prevalent this year.
She added that the Kennel Club’s crack-down on double handling may have been a contributing factor, as breeders looked for other ways to impress judges and gain competitive edge.
The controversial practise of double handling involves a second trainer located incognito among the show’s spectators who attracts the dog’s attention using a squeaky toy, a whistle or their own voice.
Hearing the noise the dog raises its head and pricks up its ears. While some claim the technique simply adds excitement and atmosphere to dog shows, animal-behaviour experts say it leaves the dogs stressed and anxious.
Ms Richards, who has been monitoring Crufts coverage for the past four years, said: “When we’ve seen it, it’s when dogs are shown on judging table or on the floor. “The leads are held tightly on their necks but right at the top of their neck behind their ears, to show off the length of the dog’s neck or an aspect of a dog’s neck.”
She is it is “really disappointing” that such superficial displays are “held above a dog’s welfare”.
“It seems to be something we have noticed a lot this year. It has the potential to be quite uncomfortable, it could cause them pain. It is not necessary to cause a dog discomfort in order to show them.”
The RSPCA have an opportunity during Crufts to make hay, they do it every year, it is very boring.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary
Ms Kisko said of the RSPCA: "They have an opportunity during Crufts to make hay, they do it every year, it is very boring.
“We have far, far bigger more important issues that we and the rest of the dog world are looking at. The RSPCA are niggling away and worrying about silly points that are non-issues. I would far rather they concentrated on actual animal cruelty like puppy farming"
Ms Kisko denied that there was any evidence of harsh handling on Saturday night but conceded that there “certainly a few people that had their leads tighter than would be ideal.”
She said: “We are talking about people’s much-loved pets, they are not going to be nasty to them. But they do want to get the best out of them.
“If we had seen harsh handling, as has happened in the past, we deal with it immediately. We are a big organisation and a worldwide dog show with a massive reputation to protect. No way would we allow dogs to be harmed.”
The issue divided opinion among handlers at Crufts. Lesley White, 60, from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk told The Daily Telegraph: "Some people hold the lead high and tight to pull up the head to show off the dog but it's wrong to tarnish us all with that comment. Not all of us do it."
Geraldine McEntee, 71, who won best puppy dog with her Rough Collie Spike, added: "It may look to the spectator the lead is being held too tightly by some handlers but we don't do that with our breed. You hold the lead high with bait in hand, a piece of meat or whatever treat, but it's not being yanked or held too tightly."
Veteran handler Lynne Cousins, 71, retired local government officer from Exeter said: "A tight lead pulls the head up and may give a handler with a bit of a zany dog more control. But if your dog is obedient you shouldn't need to do."
The Kennel Club’s regulations on handling of dogs at shows state that “some breeds are shown with a tighter lead as a matter of constraint or to emphasise the outline of the dog’s neck, which does not cause the dog distress. “
However, there have been instances where dogs have been moved around the ring in a manner which could potentially cause distress to the dog.”
They say it is not acceptable to handle dog in such a manner that “which causes its feet not to touch the ground when on the move”, as this would constitute “harsh handling”.