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Are Dog Shows Ethical? Vet-Verified Facts & FAQ

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on May 29, 2024 by Dogster Team

Irish terrier at dog show

Are Dog Shows Ethical? Vet-Verified Facts & FAQ

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Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Many people are against dog shows. However, there are also many breeders and dog owners that are completely for dog shows. The debate can be fierce and difficult to understand. Often, this is because both sides aren’t really talking about the same thing.

On the one hand, dog shows are arguably very ethical. For the most part, the dogs partake in some grooming and training, followed by a walk around a ring. There isn’t much unethical about that.

On the other hand, some practices that dog shows promote aren’t very ethical. Improper breeding can lead to unhealthy dogs that still win dog shows. Because these dogs win, it can lead to more breeders breeding dogs with unhealthy characteristics. Eventually, this can destroy a dog breed. If you’re wondering if dog shows are ethical, the answer isn’t black and white. It depends.

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German Shepherd Breeding

Just take German Shepherds as an example. They are often known as very athletic dogs. However, shows have previously preferred German Shepherds with more sloped backs. Breeders understand this, so many started breeding German Shepherds with extremely sloped backs. Of course, this led to health problems and a backlash.

Studies have now found that German Shepherds are among the least healthy dog breeds out there,1 primarily due to breeders breeding solely for appearance.

close up of westclose up of western german shepherdern german shepherd
Image Credit: dendoktoor, Pixabay

English Bulldog Breeding

Sadly, this extreme breeding is very easy to see across many breeds. Take English Bulldogs, for instance. These dogs were once used to fight bulls, requiring them to be very fit and enduring. However, they now have tons of health issues.2 Many of these dogs cannot even give birth naturally.

Many dogs have such shortened muzzles that they cannot breathe properly. As you might imagine, this leads to discomfort, a low quality of life, and often early death. Still, many dog shows promote these extremes, picking dogs with the shortest snouts as the “winners.”

Dog Shows & Breed Standards

There is a lot of politics surrounding dog shows. Many breeders make plenty of money from dog shows and breeding the “perfect” pooch. Therefore, they often want the standard to stay the same or change over time to make their dogs fit better. The dog’s health is rarely considered when it comes to breeding standards.

With that said, it is possible for dog shows to be ethical. The practice of showing a dog isn’t unethical itself, after all. In modern times, they do tend to promote and normalize some unhealthy characteristics though.

What Are the Criticisms of Dog Shows?

There are many critics of dog shows, and many of them point to different reasons why dog shows are unethical. Let’s take a look at some of them.

dog show
Image Credit: Katrina_S, Pixabay

Inbreeding

When a particular set of physical characteristics are considered “better” than others, it often promotes inbreeding. Instead of breeding dogs based on their health, dogs are bred based on the shape of their ears or the length of their tails. Often, this means pairing together close relatives who have these same characteristics.

When physical characteristics are bred for in this manner, it often narrows the gene pool. This inbreeding leads to a higher chance of recessive genetic issues to express. The chances of the offspring suffering from disease due to a genetic mutation being inherited are higher when mixing closely related parental lines. Today, most purebred dogs are prone to at least one health issue, and inbreeding is at least partially to blame.

Tail Docking

Many breed standards require tail docking or similar procedures. Some people consider these cruel in non-working dogs. Many of these procedures did develop out of necessity. For instance, herding dogs often had their tail docked because the large livestock animals could step on them. In many cases, this would lead to paralysis and spinal pain. Therefore, it was often considered better to amputate the tail when the dog was young.

However, show dogs are not herding anything. Therefore, removing their tail is often considered unnecessary and inhumane. There are several lawsuits each year over tail docking, and it has become illegal in some areas.

Ear Cropping

Similar to tail docking, ear cropping is now an unnecessary and elective procedure that has been normalized by dog shows. Ear cropping reduces the dog’s ability to express and communicate with other dogs, and like any medical procedure, it has risks and can cause unnecessary pain and discomfort to a dog.

boxer dog with a docked tail walking with a leash
Image Credit: Dmitriev Mikhail, Shutterstock

Health and Ability

Often, breeders who participate in dog shows are concerned with a dog’s looks. This is often the only feature that judges pay attention to. However, in some breeds, dogs must test negative for certain genetic health conditions to be shown. The canine’s health does matter in some cases, and with veterinary medicine improvements, there is more science and awareness.

Many people complain that dog shows are nothing more than beauty pageants. They are no longer representative of what makes a good dog, which makes winning them a bit shallower. Many suggest requiring dogs to participate in skill competitions to compete in dog shows. Dogs were initially bred as working animals, after all.

Many show-bred dogs today lack the breed’s original instincts. As you might imagine, many consider this a decline in the dog breed’s quality. Today, it is common for those seeking working dogs to avoid show-bred dogs. Once again, German Shepherds are an excellent example of this.

What About Those That Like Dog Shows?

There are many arguments for dog shows, as well.

dogs with owner at show
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Education

Dog shows provide an opportunity to educate the public on rare breeds, leading to them becoming not-so-rare. Many dog breeds were originally introduced to the public through dog shows. They can also be used to educate the public on existing dog breeds, including why they make good dogs or who shouldn’t adopt them.

Even those that don’t necessarily like dogs may watch dog shows. Therefore, it is a great way to reach potential dog owners that wouldn’t seek education otherwise.

Regulations

Over the years, and thanks to scientific improvements, many dog clubs have released regulations concerning the health of dogs. For instance, several dog breeds require genetic testing before being shown. Since show dogs are considered stock for breeding purposes, this leads to many of them genetically testing their dogs. Many breed-specific clubs highly recommend or even require certain health tests.

Many argue that without the prestige of dog shows, it would be impossible to heavily encourage certain genetic tests. Furthermore, these dog shows allow agencies to collect data about dogs, which may help make these regulations. Many purebred dogs involved in breeding are at these shows, so it gives researchers a good idea about where the breed is going.

Dog Show Handler
Image Credit: monicore, Pixabay

High-Quality Breeding

Other advocates state that dog shows help puppy buyers tell the difference between puppy mills and quality breeders. Puppy mills are rarely involved in dog shows, while many higher-quality breeders are. Avoiding puppy mills is essential for choosing a healthy puppy and supporting ethical breeding.

However, just because a breed participates in dog shows doesn’t mean they are producing high-quality puppies. As we have seen, many breeders choose to breed for aesthetic qualities and may not put the breed’s health first. This leads to many dogs developing health problems and losing their original functions.

Do Dogs Like Being in Dog Shows?

Another potential factor to keep in mind is whether or not dogs enjoy dog shows. Forcing a dog to partake in a dog show that causes mental anguish is hardly ethical by many standards. However, we can’t exactly say whether or not dogs like to participate in dog shows, as we cannot ask them. Those that are around them the most likely support dog shows, so second-party evidence may be biased.

With that said, many dogs like competing in physical competitions. Dogs that compete in agility and similar competitions often approach it like a training session. It provides the dog with mental and physical stimulation, rounding out their life experience. However, dog shows are a bit harder to judge, as the dog doesn’t do much.

Some dogs probably enjoy dog shows, especially when getting plenty of attention. Very people-oriented breeds may thrive in these environments. However, some dogs probably don’t like it or may experience stress due to all the hustle and bustle of the event.

Australian Shepherd at a Dog Show
Image Credit: LRuss, Pixabay

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Conclusion

Dog shows have recently been the center of great debate, especially after the German Shepherd won best-in-show a few years ago. Many advocates wonder if dog shows still have a place in society when they push breeders to unhealthy extremes. However, many pet owners and breeders support dog shows. They provide a way to control breeding standards, preventing puppy mills from becoming the norm. The most influential individuals in this debate are the dogs. However, sadly, they cannot weigh in.


Featured Image Credit: LRuss, Pixabay

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