The Westminster Dog Show expects their human participants to "always consider as paramount the welfare of their dog." So how can animal rights activists have so many objections to dog shows, all based on concerns about the welfare of the dogs?
While some animal activists categorically object to the keeping of pets, there are some concerns specific to dog shows.
What is a Dog Show?
Dog shows are organized around the world by various clubs. In the United States, the most prestigious dog shows are organized by the American Kennel Club. At an AKC dog show, dogs are judged by a set of criteria called a "standard" that is unique to each recognized breed. A dog can be disqualified completely for certain deviations from the standard. Ribbons, trophies and points are awarded to the dogs who most closely match the standard for their breed. As dogs accummulate points, they can attain "champion" status and qualify for higher level shows, culminating in the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Only purebred, intact (not spayed or neutered) dogs are allowed to compete.
The Breeding Problem
The most obvious problem with dog shows is that they encourage breeding, both directly and indirectly. As explained on the American Kennel Club's website, "Spayed or neutered dogs are not eligible to compete in conformation classes at a dog show, because the purpose of a dog show is to evaluate breeding stock." The shows create a culture based on breeding, showing and selling dogs, in the pursuit of a champion. With three to four million cats and dogs killed in shelters every year, the last thing we need is more breeding.
The more reputable breeders will take back any dog the purchaser does not want, at any time during the dog's life, and some argue that they do not contribute to overpopulation because all of their dogs are wanted.
To animal rights activists, this argument does not hold water, because if fewer people bred their dogs, there would be fewer dogs for sale and more people would adopt from shelters. Breeders also create a demand for the dogs and for their breed through advertising and also by simply by putting them on the market. Furthermore, not everyone who wants to give up their purebred dog is going to bring the animal back to the breeder; some will get dumped at the shelter.
The AKC web page listing breed rescue groups is not about adopting or rescuing a dog, but about "information about purebred rescue." Nothing on the page promotes adopting or rescuing dogs. Instead of encouraging adoption and rescue, their page on rescue groups tries to redirect the public to their breeder search page, breeder referral page, and online breeder classifieds.
Every dog purchased from a breeder or pet store is a vote for more breeding and a death sentence for a dog in a shelter. While dog show participants care about the welfare of their dogs, they seem to care little about the millions of dogs who are not theirs.
Animal rights activists object to promoting purebred dogs, because it encourages breeding (as discussed above), encourages inbreeding, and implies that these dogs are more desirable than others. Without dog shows, there would be less of a demand for dogs who have a certain pedigree or conform to an artificial set of physical specifications that are considered ideal for each breed.
As breeders strive to meet the standard for their breed, inbreeding is common and expected. Breeders know that if a certain desirable trait runs through a bloodline, breeding two blood relatives who have that trait will bring out that trait. However, inbreeding also amplifies other traits, including health problems.
Several breeds of dogs are known to have health issues, either due to inbreeding or due to the very standards of the breed. Most bulldogs cannot mate or give birth naturally. Female bulldogs must be artificially inseminated and give birth via C-section. Flat-Coated Retrievers are prone to cancer, and half of all Cavalier King Charles Spaniels suffer from mitral valve disease.
Because of their breed standards and the need to categorize dogs into different breeds and groups, dog shows give the impression that purebred dogs are more desirable than mixed-breed dogs. Even the word "pure" in "purebred" implies something disturbing, and some activists have equated breed standards with racism and eugenics in humans. Animal rights activists believe that every dog, no matter their breed or health issues, should be valued and cared for.