On Saturday, 8th March I attended the biggest and best dog show in the world*. Crufts began it’s journey back in 1891, and that’s not a typo. All of those years of experience have shaped Crufts into what it is today, which is different to a lot of people’s perceptions of it and the Kennel Club itself. Crufts is modern, bright, and fun with a capital squeeee!
I’m not qualified to talk about breeding standards and issues, nor to pass much judgement either way. I have my opinions and concerns, I’ve watched the documentaries and read the articles, but on the back of that; I’ve seen change. I’ve seen change for the better, and I don’t think this is where it stops. Crufts gets bigger and bigger every single year, and with that; it’s arms stretch wider. It truly is a celebration of dogs, ALL dogs; pedigrees with exemplary lineage, rescues whose histories we’ll never know and good old mutts that are a mixture of (at least) those two things.
In fact most of the things that I went to see on Saturday (I’m getting to it, honest) included each of those examples. Pedigrees and mixed breeds both definitely qualify as being dogs. And if you are a dog then there are loads of events you can be part of at Crufts.
When we arrived, we made our way straight to the Arena where all the large events happen. Saturdays, as you can imagine, are insanely busy so you need to save yourself a seat pretty early on if you want to catch the action.We made it just in time to see some large dog agility. I love watching agility. Seeing those happy, healthy pooches flying around, jumping about and in most cases yapping along in glee, makes my heart sing.
Here is a link to some of the best from the rescue agility trials, that I didn’t see, but wish I had:
We stayed on for the International Freestyle competition, that’s basically doggy dancing for those of you who are unsure. When I went to Crufts last year, for the first time, I was lucky enough to see this too and it stayed with me. So it was one of the things I was desperate to see this visit, and it didn’t disappoint.
I know, it sounds crazy, and when you watch it on the television; it looks pretty crazy sometimes, too. But there’s something about being there, watching it in that environment that takes your breath away. I’m among friends here, so I don’t mind saying, I teared up on a few occasions. Yes, really.
It’s not the beauty of the dancing. Bless them, these dogs can cut some serious shapes but I don’t think any of them pull off beauty and grace. It’s not even the emotional interpretation of sad music, which some do choose, but I can say with certainty that When I’m Cleaning Windows by George Formby or Poker Face from Lady Gaga have never, ever made me well up before! I think it’s because it really is all about the dog, in fact, that’s part of the judging criteria; that the dog remains the centre of attention at all times. Yet, through that you see an absolute bond between the handler and the pooch that (in my opinion) is more apparent than in any of the other activities. The dogs genuinely seem to love it, probably a bit more than their nervous handlers. Although, there was one dog; Denmark’s competitor, whose nerves got a bit too much for him on the day. He didn’t want to come out and dance, so you know what? They didn’t. I imagine it was sad and really disappointing for the handler, but the feeling around us was admiration. It was further proof, if needed, that these dogs are not forced into anything. She made absolutely the right call. Ms. Denmark, we salute you.
Highlights of the winning routing from Richard Curtis and Syka for England:
The next activity on the agenda, was a rather solemn but awe-inspiring one. A demonstration from the RAF Display Team. They reenacted some situations that these brave dogs tackle in the field. An arena full of thousands of people didn’t faze these brave pups. And they were the only living things in the place that didn’t jump a mile every time a gun was fired. Just incredible.
The final thing we saw in the Arena was the Flyball Teams semi-final. I’d never even heard of flyball before watching last years Crufts coverage, so if you have never seen it either, do look it up. The teams of dogs and their handlers are polar opposites to the show dogs, it’s quite amusing, They are a right rowdy bunch. The noise levels in the place skyrocketed on their arrival. All were dressed in bright team colours, some of the dogs were even sporting dyed fur leg warmers to match. The handlers shout, bellow and call the dogs and the pups shout right back. The crowd are encouraged to get noisy too, cheer on the dogs. It’s bedlam, basically, but it’s fast and so much fun.
Photographs (especially rubbish ones because the dogs are traveling at the speed of light) do NOT do this event justice, clicky down here:
After that we reluctantly decided to leave the arena. You really have to pick your poison where Crufts is concerned, you literally can’t see EVERYTHING in one day. There just isn’t enough time. And since we were at Crufts, it would be extremely rude not to go and have some cuddles with some actual dogs! So we headed off to the Discover Dogs area in hall three. There are over 200 different breeds of dog on show in this place, all categorised by group i.e. Toy, Working, Pastoral etc. and then alphabetically. They are with their breeders/owners and you can go over and have a chat with them, but more importantly have loves from the dogs themselves and take loads of photos.
It’s worth mentioning if the idea of Discover Dogs doesn’t appeal, but you want to stroke some dogs; that there are plenty all around and at all times. Most of the owners are happy to stop and talk to you about their precious pooch and let you fall in love. Unless, they are being primped and preened. Then I would recommend admiring from afar. The dogs aren’t taken off somewhere out of sight to be prepared, they are right there in the stalls all throughout the venue.
Crufts is held at the National Exhibition Centre (N.E.C) in Birmingham. It is an enormous place, with the big arena where concerts take place and FIVE ‘halls’ aside from that. Discover Dogs, with its 200+ dogs in their own stalls with the owners, takes up a little under half of Hall 3. As mentioned there are stations throughout where you will find the owners with their competing dogs, but the rest of the space is cram packed full with stalls for SHOPPING!
This photo shows just one section of Hall 5 with its stalls, I think it’s fair to say that if there is anything remotely related to dogs or owning dogs; you can buy it at Crufts. Finding where the stall is though is another matter entirely and getting to where you want to go through the crowds, is a definite challenge at peak times. Though, these photos were taken right at the end of the day.
Sadly, we didn’t leave much time for shopping. We left it till last to make sure that we got the bits we really wanted to see in, and as we were milling around the stalls were closing around us. But I did manage to pick up some lovely treats for Myfie, Ellie and Millie as an apology for leaving them all day. I was also inspired to keep trudging on with my own plans, in the hope that one day I can take my little business to Crufts as a stallholder myself. Preferably taking people along so I can skip out here and there to see everything that the four-day, annual spectacular offers.
*Crufts calls itself the ‘Biggest Dog Show in the World’… yours might be just as good, though. Take it up with them, I say!