People who breed and show dogs generally belong to breed clubs. Breed club members will describe themselves as ‘reputable breeders’ and many of them are, but some are not. Any breed, particularly if it is a numerically large breed, may have several breed clubs, but usually there is a national breed club which tends to be bigger and more important. For example, in the UK, there is a national Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club and nine regional clubs. Clubs are autonomous but often work together on important matters which relate to the breed. Clubs are run by a committee elected by members and within those committees there will be one or more people who are the health representative or health sub committee. One reform which the Kennel Club has recently brought in is that every breed should appoint one health representative to represent the whole breed in the UK and liaise with the Kennel Club on matters of breed health.
The Kennel Club is a private club which has overall power and authority in the world of ‘dogdom’. It registers puppies born and changes of ownership, and issues pedigree certificates. It charges breeders for this ‘added value’ and earns for itself in excess of £8 million per year.
The Kennel Club is famous for its annual dog show ‘Crufts’ where it exhibits and promotes its product – pedigree dogs. The message is that these dogs are best examples of their breed. The truth is that some of these dogs are bred with exaggerated features which impact on the welfare of the dog. Others are prone to breed related genetic diseases due to the closed gene pools of the dog breeds and the overuse of some dogs in breeding – so called ‘popular sires.’
The main purpose of breed clubs is to organise and run dog shows. Its members compete with each other to win challenge certificates in various classes and hope that their dog will eventually become a champion. Dogs are judged according to how closely they represent the breed standard (the official Kennel Club written description of the breed). To a certain extent choice will depend on the particular preferences of the show judge (who is also a breeder and member of the breed club). The dogs who become champions are very valuable to the breeder. If male, they will command high stud fees and the offspring of male or female champions can earn more for the breeder in puppy sales. Owners of champion dogs win prestige among their fellow exhibitors and often rivalry is intense.
All dog shows (excluding companion dog shows) are run under the auspices of the Kennel Club. There are strict rules governing the entries and classes, which apply to all breeds. The Kennel Club has a Code of Ethics which breed clubs are required to adopt as their own code. Breed clubs may add their own Code of Best Practice in addition to this. Unfortunately, neither the Code of Ethics nor Code of Best Practice is enforceable. They are not ‘rules’ but simply guidelines.
It is left to breed clubs to handle things as they see fit and often a breed club will ignore poor breeding practice.
Breed clubs will vary in their attitude towards genetic health. Some will have plenty of information on their websites about breed related health problems, others will not. Some breed clubs will try to persuade their members to health test or follow breeding protocols, others will try to play down health issues or even fail to acknowledge that there are any. Their priority will always be the rosettes awarded at the show ground and freedom to enjoy their hobby.
Ordinary dog owners rarely join breed clubs because they are not in the business of breeding and showing but maybe, if they love a particular breed, they should. If ordinary dog owners became involved in breed clubs, their interests could be represented and respected. After all it is pet owners who buy the dogs which the breeders don’t want and who provide the finances to allow breeders to pursue their hobby and conduct their business.