Puppy Lovers Are All About Watching Dog Shows — But Are They Actually Ethical?

"In keeping with their obsession with 'purity of breed,' Crufts, Westminster, and other dog shows reward breeders for producing dogs who have specific physical traits—with little to no regard for their welfare."

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author

May 13 2024, Updated 11:23 a.m. ET

Two women at a dog show awarding a blue ribbon to a dog.
Source: Getty Images

Although dog lovers may be accustomed to cozying up on the couch after Thanksgiving to watch the National Dog Show or tuning into the Westminster Dog Show in the spring, according to the American Kennel Club there are approximately 1,500 dog shows a year.

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These annual events draw dog trainers from across the country to show off their gorgeous pups, and although these events might be enjoyable to watch as fans of four-legged friends, we have to ask: are dog shows cruel?

Or is raising a show dog just as ethical as raising any other working dog? Let's investigate.

Person inspects a French Bulldog at a dog show.
Source: iStock
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Dog shows have been going on for centuries.

Shockingly, dog shows have a pretty extensive history. According to Wag!, they have been going on as early as 1859. They first became popular in England, and eventually came to the U.S., with extremely popular shows such as the Westminister Dog Club Show, as well as the National Dog Show, which airs every Thanksgiving Day.

A group of judges ultimately award which dogs are considered to be the "best in show" within their breed, supposedly identifying "the best of the best."

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Two women examining the teeth of a collie at a dog show.
Source: Getty Images

One of the biggest problems with dog shows: show dogs generally come from breeders.

One major problem with dog shows is that they encourage buying dogs from breeders and pet stores as opposed to adopting, not shopping.

"In keeping with their obsession with 'purity of breed,' Crufts, Westminster, and other dog shows reward breeders for producing dogs who have specific physical traits—with little to no regard for their welfare," PETA explains in an article titled Why Protesters Made a Scene at This Dog Show.

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"This extreme breeding puts animals at high risk of suffering from various painful diseases, birth defects, and congenital health conditions," PETA continues.

Purebred dogs often come from puppy mills that sell their puppies to pet stores. There are too many problems to count with puppy mills — they raise "breeder" dogs and force them to have several litters of babies, often prematurely.

The dogs are raised in absolutely terrible conditions, and if they aren't sold, they are often neglected and effectively left for dead.

Some breeders may provide somewhat better living conditions for the dogs, but promoting the reproduction of purebred dogs in general leads to dogs passing on traits of inbred animals. This is why mixed breeds tend to be healthier than purebred dogs, as per OVRS, because they don't receive large amounts of any one breed's genes.

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Two women examining the teeth and face of a brown and white dog.
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Show dogs can be exploited.

Dogs are naturally playful and loyal creatures. They love bringing you joy as your beloved pet or even helping you as a guide dog. However, training them to be a show dog gives them little to no gratification. They couldn't care less about that "Best In Show" title or the financial reward if they win. And with the incessant inbreeding of purebred dogs, many are left with severe physical issues towards the end of their lives. This certainly isn't a gratifying lifestyle for your beloved puppy.

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"Worst of all, show dogs don’t know that they are famous or valuable, don’t necessarily appreciate hours of grooming or travel, and certainly wouldn’t choose a retirement filled with physical pain in exchange for a few years of successful beauty pageant success," wrote Marisa Scully of The Guardian in a 2017 article.

Even a show dog trainer admits this to be the case.

“Golden retrievers were never meant to run in circles in a show ring,” trainer Karen Mammano told Mental Floss, admitting that this isn't necessarily what they want to be doing. “They were meant to be out hunting and doing that job and other breeds were meant to be out pulling sleds."

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Woman in a pink blouse carrying a small black and white dog.
Source: Getty Images

Show dogs also aren't fixed.

Yes, it's true — show dogs cannot be spayed or neutered, according to RD, or else they get disqualified. Caring pet parents know their dogs should be spayed or neutered your dog for the sake of being responsible for not potentially having dogs that go stray. According to Dayton Daily News, female dogs can contract a uterine infection, which can be potentially fatal if they aren't spayed.

Likewise, not neutering male dogs can lead to prostate enlargement, which can cause urination and bowel movement problems.

Bottom line: your dog would probably prefer living a life of leisure, without doing dog shows. And if you're considering getting a dog, adopt — don't shop!

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