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Another Look at the FCI Worlds

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Can they be the best of the best if non-pedigree dogs are excluded?

Ask people anywhere in the agility world what the biggest and best international agility competition is and they will likely tell you it’s the FCI World Championships. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Sounds all-inclusive. To be World Champion! The best of all the best, right? Not quite. UK and international competitor Bonny Quick wonders why the agility community continues to support international 'pedigree only' competitions when so many of our 'good' dogs are excluded.

The only dogs who can enter this international agility competition and vie for the title our agility community recognises as 'World Champion' are those pedigrees registered with the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI)

What’s that title again? World Champion! Champion of All Dogs in the World!

And then there is the small print:-

  1. Any breed of dog not recognised on the FCI register is excluded.

  2. All mixed breeds and crossbreeds are excluded.

  3. All dogs without proof of their pedigree are excluded – meaning almost all rescues are excluded.

Is it me or does that sound like a funny kind of World competition?

The misleading competition title is typically justified by its supporters on the basis that pedigree-only competitions promote pedigree-only breeding, which is better than non-pedigree breeding. Why such breeding is better often seems to be simply because 'it’s pedigree.' In other words, the fact that a dog comes with a rubber stamp assigning it to a breed invented by the human race as a category makes that dog somehow superior to other dogs.

Other supporters claim that it is in all our interests to uphold and value a competition for FCI pedigrees because of the healthier breeding that encourages. This is a massively problematic argument. For a start:-

  1. Health tested non FCI pedigrees are not able to compete at the FCI WCs.

  2. Non health tested FCI pedigrees are able to compete at the FCI WCs.

Personally, I am a massive fan of breeding only occurring in responsible, careful circumstances, with health and temperament considerations at the forefront of every breeder’s mind. But 'pedigree' and 'responsibly bred' are not mutually interchangeable terms. Not by a long, long chalk. There are breeders of non FCI pedigrees breeding carefully as well as those breeding irresponsibly; there are breeders of pedigrees breeding carefully as well as those breeding irresponsibly.

If the FCI changed its rules and allowed only health-tested dogs from any background to enter its competitions, then I might at least be tempted to say – 'good effort!' As those tests don’t remotely come into it, how can the healthy argument possibly come into the restrictions on this competition?

There are some wonderful pedigree dogs in the UK and there are some wonderful pedigree breeders in the UK. There is also a vast amount of money and backing invested in and attached to pedigree dogs in a way that is not invested in or associated with non-pedigree dogs: as a result the voice promoting pedigree dogs is often louder than the counter voice.

The fact is that not everything that human beings have done in their creation of 'pedigrees' is positive. Currently, most breed standards are focused on the way a dog looks – recently, a parliamentary report into dog welfare stated that UK breed standards are at present mainly 'based on visual aesthetics.' It is accepted that 'because many (pedigrees) have been bred to look a certain way, many suffer from serious health and welfare issues.' It is, furthermore, a generally accepted scientific fact that narrower gene pools associated with maintaining an aesthetic breed standard can contribute to increasing the likelihood of inherited diseases.'

Pedigree breeds have been established to be, and continue overwhelmingly to be, synonymous with a look – not with an ability and not with a guarantee of health. The APGAW report recommended that 'breed standards should seek' for dogs to be 'fit for purpose' rather than based on visual aesthetics.' This was recommended because as it is now, pedigree doesn’t mean fit for purpose; it means a dog looks a certain way.

What does fit for purpose mean?
What purpose? Agility is increasingly becoming one of the major purposes for dogs in the 21st Century. So if we want to breed dogs who are fit for purpose rather than breeding for dogs who have the 'right' colouring or the 'correct' shape of ears or for whether they otherwise fit into a human-defined aesthetic category, wouldn’t we be better focusing on whether our dogs are physically and mentally fit for this purpose?

Value is sometimes unthinkingly attached to pedigrees over other dogs: people express surprise when large sums of money are paid for a crossbreed. As a quick means of referring to a type, I can’t see the problem in breed categories. Like other general categories they have their uses – for example as a starting point to help pet owners identify dogs that might suit their lifestyle. But as a value system of reference – a system whereby we attach more or less value to a dog, the ability to be classed ‘world champion’ or not….?

For me the pedigree definition is to that extent massively problematic. I feel uncomfortable just thinking about it. It reminds me of many awkward moments in history when human beings have imposed an arbitrary value system on other sentient beings. This human being is more valuable than that one based on his colour, appearance and/or gender.

If, at this point you are thinking that I have something against 'pedigree' dogs, then you have missed my point. I don’t have anything against any type of dog. I love dogs, all dogs – that’s why I just can’t get my head around our continued prioritising of pedigrees over non pedigrees.

Every year I admire some of the handling on display at the international competition which calls itself the World Championships. It's a great competition. It's just not inclusive – it’s not a truly world competition. Statistically it is estimated that less than 50% percent of dogs in the UK are registered pedigrees. That means that more than half of the dogs in this country would never be eligible to take part at the FCI WCs.

The FCI WCs will continue, and the FCIs will, of course, continue to call its agility competition the 'World Championships.' What I can't understand – as a lover of all dogs without exclusion – is why our usually so inclusive agility community both here in the UK and worldwide continues to tacitly agree to uphold the FCI World Championships as our foremost international agility competition – when this is a competition from which so many, many, many dogs are permanently excluded.

About the author...
Bonny Quick is a full-time agility trainer and competitor. She grew up in Belgium, spent some time in Scotland, and currently lives in the south west of England from where she trains and competes around the UK and internationally.

Bonny can be contacted at bonnyquick@hotmail.com

First published 28 July 2015