The change has angered the British Bulldog Breed Council and it is threatening legal action against the club. Robin Searle, the chairman, said: “What you’ll get is a completely different dog, not a British bulldog.”
New breeding standards for 209 dog species have been brought into immediate force after the furore over breeding practices shown on a BBC One documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, last summer. Breeders have until the end of June to lodge any objections.
The shake-up comes as one of the country’s leading zoologists and animal behaviour experts, Sir Patrick Bateson, announced that he would be heading an independent inquiry into dog breeding. The Kennel Club is determined to show its commitment to dog welfare and has ordered the removal of characteristic features from some dogs. In a statement it said: “The breed standards have been revised so they will not include anything that could in any way be interpreted as encouraging features that might prevent a dog breathing, walking and seeing freely.”
The shar pei will lose the familiar folds of skin on the neck, skull and legs while the Clumber spaniel and the labrador retriever must stay slim to qualify as top show dogs. Flat faces without a muzzle on Pekingese are also no longer acceptable because they cause breathing difficulties. Other breeds to change are the bloodhound, German shepherd hound, basset hound, Saint Bernard, chow chow, the Dogue de Bordeaux and mastiff.
Judges at licensed dog shows have been instructed to use the new breed standards and to choose only the healthiest and best-adjusted dogs when deciding champions. Those at Crufts are under orders to expel from the competition any animal that shows signs of disease or deformity. Incestuous breeding of dogs is also to be banned. Marc Abraham, veterinary adviser to the Kennel Club, said: “The changes will leave breeders and judges in no doubt about their responsibilities to safeguard the health and welfare of dogs, first and foremost.”
Bulldogs are prone to skin and coat problems, cherry eye, respiratory disorders, orthopaedic conditions, and soft or cleft palate. Most are born by Caesarean section because large heads and proportionally small hips make natural births difficult. The breed’s anatomy also hinders mating, with many litters conceived via artificial insemination.
Jemima Harrison, of Passionate Productions, which made Pedigree Dogs Exposed, said that the changes were “hugely welcome and long overdue” but that it would take years to put right all the problems.
Jenny Baker, chairwoman of the Shar Pei Society of Great Britain, also supported the changes. “We have never encouraged breeding of loose skin on the neck, legs or skull.”
Beverley Cuddy, Editor of Dogs Today magazine, was sceptical. “It sounds impressive but remember judges are also the breeders. It’s like asking shoplifters to police themselves. I don’t think there is a judge in the land brave enough to send a dog from the ring.”
Sir Patrick, president of the Zoological Society of London, said yesterday that he wished to appoint a small committee of experts, including a veterinary surgeon and a geneticist, to help his inquiry into breeding techniques. He will also review the registration and showing of dogs, and hopes to complete his report by the autumn. The Kennel Club has lodged a complaint about Pedigree Dogs Exposed with Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, accusing the documentary of bias.