A newcomer’s guide to Crufts

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04 March 2019
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Exciting, glamorous, and occasionally overwhelming, Crufts has undoubtedly earned its title as the world’s greatest dog show. Yet, there’s even more to the show than you might realise, as Carolyn Menteith explains.

For the dog world, spring brings one of the most important dates in the annual calendar — Crufts Dog Show. Few dog lovers can walk into the hallowed halls of the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, on the very first day of Crufts, without feeling a quickening of the heart, an excitement for what is to come, and a sense of expectation at the thought of which dog from which breed will leave with the Keddell Memorial Trophy for Best in Show.

It’s very easy to think that this is all that Crufts is — a particularly large, canine beauty parade, especially if you’ve never visited the show before, but there is far more to it than that.

Yes, there is the showing — and that is at the heart of Crufts — but even the showing is numerically far greater than most people imagine. Many dog lovers will have watched the television coverage of the seven dogs in the line-up for Best in Show on the Sunday evening, but few will realise that there have been 23,115 dogs, (2018 entry) from 221 recognised breeds, showing in 3,228 classes over the four days, all trying to be in that line-up before those seven dogs even set paw in the ring.

From 23,000 to one!

If you want to understand exactly what is going on at Crufts, you need to appreciate how those 23,115 dogs are whittled down to one. First of all, dogs have to qualify to even get to Crufts, and this happens at shows up and down the country (and also, in some cases, internationally) during the year.

They come to Crufts on the day when their specific group is being judged. The group each breed is in is based on the job they were originally bred to do (and if you plan to visit Crufts, you may want to choose the day when the breeds you like are showing). The groups are: Gundog, Working, Pastoral, Terrier, Hound, Toy, and Utility (the dogs who don’t fi t into the other groups!).

At Crufts, the dogs will be entered in a class that reflects their breed, age, level of previous showing success, and gender. As an example, in one of the most popular breeds, Golden Retrievers (which had 592 dogs competing in 2018; 278 dogs and 314 bitches), there are 28 classes; 14 for dogs and 14 for bitches. The winners of each of these classes go through to a winners’ class (so all the winning, unbeaten dogs compete against each other, and all the bitches do the same). This will result in the top dog and the top bitch in the breed. These two then compete against each other to find the Best of Breed, so, already, nearly 600 dogs have been narrowed down to one. This is repeated in rings around the show for each breed.

The Best of Breed winners then compete in the main ring against the other breed winners in the group to find the Best in Group, and it is these seven group winners who compete for Best in Show on the Sunday evening. Knowing this, makes that achievement all the more special. Crufts has an atmosphere like no other show. It’s crazy, packed, overwhelming, and endlessly fascinating. It is the greatest dog show on Earth.

And there’s more…

While Crufts is the pinnacle of dog showing, this isn’t the only thing that is going on in the rings around the show. There is an obedience ring running in Hall 5 throughout the show, plus agility, flyball, heelwork to music, the Young Kennel Club (the stars of the future), lots of great displays, and the chance to watch a whole host of working dogs.

In addition, around the show you can visit many of the canine rescue and rehoming charities, as well as the assistance dog charities, and find out more about their amazing work.

In the very centre of Hall 3 is the Kennel Club’s main stand, so this is the place to go to if you want to find out about any of the activities that the Kennel Club runs, and get the answers to any questions you may have on everything from the Assured Breeder Scheme to the Kennel Club Accredited Instructor Scheme, and much more besides.

A great spectacle

If your dream is to sit in the arena on Sunday night to watch the Best in Show judging, and all the great displays that come before that, you need to buy a separate ticket.

The Sunday evening main ring programme is always packed, so make sure you book well in advance. It’s well worth it as it is a great spectacle — and, after all, what the four days have been all about.

Showing and shopping

Make no mistake, Crufts is huge! Over the years it has grown until it now fills five (six if you split halls 3 and 3A) large halls in the NEC plus the Pavilion and the enormous Genting Arena, which can seat 16,000 people.

If it is the showing you have come to see, the rings are at the back of Halls 1, 2, 4, and 5, along with the benching for the dogs (where they are prepared for their moment of fame in the ring, and where they hang out when they are not being shown). Large boards as you enter the show tell you which hall and ring each breed is being shown in.

If, however, you have come for the shopping… well you can hardly miss it! Every hall has stands selling pretty much everything you could possible want for your dog — and even for you. Over the four days of Crufts, credit cards are abused at the 400 stands around the show, and bank managers up and down the country despair (or possibly celebrate) as an eye-watering £27 million is spent by the 166,000 visitors to the show, who pack the halls.

You don’t just walk into Crufts — you immerse yourself, ideally for several days if you want to see it all, and emerge later, blinking into the light; poorer, slightly bewildered, and probably covered in dog hair.

New breeds

While you can wander around the benches and admire the supermodel show dogs, if you really want to meet the dogs, admire all of the 221 recognised breeds, and talk to their owners, you need to head to the back of Halls 3/3A to Discover Dogs. Here, there are representatives from each breed, with whom you can get up close and personal (even the new breeds who are showing at Crufts for the first time; the White Swiss Shepherd, the Russian Toy, and the Black and Tan Coonhound). If any breed takes your fancy, you can find out what they are like to live with — the perfect research in your hunt for your new best friend.

Crufts etiquette

Make no mistake, Crufts is an institution, and all institutions have their own sets of rules!

  • Only dogs who have qualified for Crufts, or who have permission to be there, are allowed to attend. Security is tight; each dog has a pass and they need that pass to get in and out of the show. No pass, no dog!
     
  • Do not touch any dog without the owner’s permission. Some dogs may not like being touched by strangers, or, in other cases, the owner may have been working on the dog’s coat for hours and you will not be popular if you mess it up!
     
  • Do not talk to dogs on the benches without permission from the owners. If the owner isn’t there, do not touch!
     
  • Do not give treats to any dog.
     
  • Do not distract dogs who are in the show ring, are working, or are just chilling out.
     
  • Do not eat at the ringside (especially near the Labradors!).

Crufts Best in Show winners

Over the past 10 years, the Best in Show winners have come from a wide variety of breeds and groups (although in the last decade, terriers and gundogs seem to have had the edge), and, unless you are seriously in the know, the identity of the dog who will be awarded the top honours on the Sunday night will be a hugely anticipated mystery. And even if you are in the know, Crufts is a show that can produce some unexpected triumphs and even more unexpected upsets — it’s not frequently called the ‘graveyard of champions’ for no reason!

Here are the top 10 from the past decade:

  • 2009 – Sealyham Terrier.
     
  • 2010 – Hungarian Vizsla.
     
  • 2011 – Flat Coated Retriever.
     
  • 2012 – Lhasa Apso.
     
  • 2013 – Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen.
     
  • 2014 – Standard Poodle.
     
  • 2015 – Scottish Terrier.
     
  • 2016 – West Highland White Terrier.
     
  • 2017 – American Cocker Spaniel.
     
  • 2018 – Whippet.