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Dr. Roger Mugford on Crufts

I met and interviewed Dr. Roger Mugford at his Train and Behave Week. He’s a real character who’s lots of fun and not afraid to speak his mind. He’s also passionately committed to dogs; his own and those whose owners appeal to him for training or legal help. He is extremely likeable in person.

Roger invented the Halti, and sells many variations on a Kong theme. You can find his website at www.companyofanimals.co.uk

Here’s some thoughts from Roger about Crufts and the contribution of showing to the development of dogs:

Dr Roger Mugford, the animal psychologist and Managing Director of the Company of Animals, has accumulated 25 years of data studying the behaviour and temperament of pedigree verses non pedigree dogs. It is sometimes said that show judges, as at the forthcoming Crufts show, place more emphasis upon ‘beauty’ than upon behavioural aspects, which ultimately are more important to pet owners and society.

Dr Mugford’s data from his Animal Behaviour Centre shows remarkably little difference between breeds in terms of their liability to referral for behavioural problems, specifically aggressive behaviour. These findings are in line with the recently published data of Serpell et al in the United States.

Specifically on the dogs benched at dog shows such as Crufts, there has been an overall marked improvement in the reduction of fear-based and threatening behaviours towards strangers, which are the main basis for complaints about dogs behaving dangerously in society. Dr Mugford firmly believes that this is because there has been a marked behavioural selection by show judges in favour of tolerance of handling by strangers, transport (to and from shows), confinement (tethering and holding on show benches) and especially the presence of many hundreds, sometimes thousands of strange dogs and people.

The institution of dog shows such as Crufts has an overall beneficial effect on the selection of better character or temperament in dogs. It is not true (as is sometimes argued) that mongrels or randomly-mated dogs are better behaved or problem free compared to their pedigree counterparts. Dogs in Britain (and throughout the FCI-affiliated countries of the world) need to be constantly selected for the companionable qualities of friendliness towards people, tolerance of strange dogs and confidence in novel, potentially stressful or fear-evoking situations.

Accordingly, Dr Mugford and his team from the Company of Animals will be present at Crufts 2009, and whole heartedly endorse the continuing policy of the Kennel Club to improve both the physical and the behavioural state of dogs in Britain. He believes that the Kennel Club represents the best interest of all dog owners, both show, pedigree or non-pedigree pets. At a time when so many unwarranted restrictions and negative media coverage of dogs abound, Dr Mugford believes that The Kennel Club has been a consistent defender of the positive role of dogs in society.

Finally, Dr Mugford is highly critical of organisations such as Mars (Pedigree Pet Foods), the RSPCA and various other animal charities which have chosen to withdraw from participating in Crufts and other Kennel Club sponsored shows. Dr Mugford, for some 9 years employed as a research scientist with Pedigree Pet Foods, is deeply embarrassed by the inconsistency of the company that built its major brands on the endorsement of dog breeders, such as the slogan “top breeders recommended Pedigree Chum”. The science of canine genetics and the distribution of heritable defects in different breeds of dogs was as well known 25 years ago as it is today, and one has to conclude that Mars, the RSPCA and others have some other agenda which has no objective basis. Rather, their actions would seem to be media-driven, perhaps precipitated by a recent highly misleading anti-dog programme on BBC television. Thankfully, pedigree dogs are not a “parade of mutants” (statement of RSPCA vet Mark Evans) and the great majority present superb behavioural characteristics that make the contemporary dog better suited to the important role of family pet than in previous times. Without continuing behavioural selection at dog shows, Dr Mugford predicts that there will be a deterioration in the overall temperament of our dogs.

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