It was appropriate, I thought, that the first thing I noticed as I entered the hallowed halls of Crufts 2017 was the smell of fried sausage – there’s nothing your average dog likes more.
However, while humans visiting the world’s largest dog show might be tempted to chow-down on junk food, I doubt that those prized specimens in the ring – all trim figures, lean muscles, clear eyes, clean teeth and glossy coats – are fed anything but the best that their owners can afford.
It was my first time at Crufts and I was blown away. First, there are the endless stands of intriguing dog goods, things you don’t see at your local pet store, like the Simpsons monolithic stainless steel troughs with fiercely efficient-looking hoses meant for serious dog grooming. I couldn’t help thinking they’d make Teddy’s weekly bath so much easier –they had an industrial appeal, a bit like a chef’s state-of-the-art kitchen.
A fully kitted-out van, with carefully compartmentalized interior, was set out presumably to lure the more committed show-dog owners who clock-up hundreds of miles, collecting rosettes with their prize pooches. Why not do it in luxury?
Canine massage was brilliantly demonstrated on one very chilled-out Vizsla. Smartly packaged herbal dog remedies looked medicinally reassuring. There was a stand devoted to dog ramps and another specializing in dog training techniques.
With what turned out to be a record attendance of 162,000 over 4 days during Crufts 2017, and such a captive audience of dog-lovers, it was always going to be well-stocked with dog accessories: from collars to de-fuzzing brushes and plenty of pet clothes (overwhelmed, the only thing I bought for Teddy was another excellent Equafleece jumper). There were chi-chi crystal dog ornaments and a company that makes cushions and soft toys from your dog’s hair – sounds fairly macabre, but you collect your (living) dog’s hair and they spin it and craft it into surprisingly chic, fluffy little keepsakes. I was particularly taken by one stand, stuffed full of stuffed toys in every breed of dog you can imagine, including an imperious Standard Schnauzer (above) that could almost make you double-take.
There were stands that took a sideways look at the dog show consumer: orthotic insoles caught a lot of passing trade, as did a stand selling mops. Countless dog food manufacturers showed their wares, the more eco-friendly and wholesome the better: the Lily’s Kitchen stand was buzzing.
In among all the offerings and the crowds, dogs bustled about. It was busy. The Kennel Club organisers are keen to educate. Each breed is represented at Crufts on its own stand, so that you can visit, pet and find out more. Apart from the show dogs, there are also Medical Detection Dogs, Guide Dogs, Therapy Dogs, dog rescue and dog charity stands – each with their accompanying four-legged friends. All need to get from A-B, often with a swift pee (at the amazingly well-kept pee-stop alleys created down the sides of some of the halls) in between.
I visited Crufts on Gundog day. There were lots of rope leads in evidence and lots of tweed and tweed-y looking people. There were some truly magnificent Labradors, with huge heads and massive paws, that bore little resemblance to their sweet, barrel-bodied relatives I often see, waddling about London.
Glossy Spaniels wandered around with their ears kept pristine, carefully wrapped up in snoods, like precious Hollywood stars of the Silver Screen. There were English Setters, the aristocrats of the dog world, with their high domed foreheads, looking benignly down their long noses. Owners hovered, bristling with brushes and sprays, hoping for that elusive red rosette. A perfectly groomed American Cocker Spaniel, with her skirts pouffed up and out like a ball gown, was awarded one and left the ring, sparkling like a Disney Princess.
I met Peter Bily from Slovakia, chairman of his country’s Slovak Rough-Haired Pointer Club. “They are hunting dogs but polite,” he rather charmingly explained. He is passionate about the breed (his young family lives with 25 of them) and very keen to improve the overall health and strength of the dogs abroad. He wants to spread the word.
I had a master class in splitting hairs. Really. It’s how you groom a Spanish Water Dog. An owner showed me how, while she waited for her dog Kenya’s turn in the ring. Each curl of hair is divided at the root and pulled apart to make the coat appropriately fluffy. It takes hours. Dedication.
If you love dogs, even just a little bit, then next year visit Crufts. It’s an education.