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Listen to English podcasts are written and produced by Peter Carter, Birmingham, England.
Listen to English podcasts are distributed under a Creative Commons attribution-non-commercial-no-derivatives licence.

Going to the Dogs

We have an expression in English “going to the dogs”. If something is “going to the dogs”, it means that everything seems to be getting worse and worse. There is a special sort of English person – perhaps you have met one – who will tell you that England is going to the dogs. He means that he doesn’t like the sort of clothes that young people wear, that he doesn’t like computers, that he doesn’t understand what an iPhone app does, that there are too many foreigners, that the Australians have just beaten England at cricket and that beer doesn’t taste like proper beer any more. It wasn’t like this when he was young. The country is going to the dogs!

We are going to the dogs today. We are going to visit Crufts, which is the largest dog show in the world. Every year, about 28,000 dogs and their owners come to a big exhibition centre near Birmingham for a four day celebration of dogs and everything connected with dogs. They (the dogs, that is) compete in lots of tests and competitions, to see which is the best dog in each breed, and which is the best dog in the whole show. The best dog in the show wins a prize of £100, which does not sound much to people like you and me, but perhaps it is a lot of money if you are a dog. Also at Crufts there are races for dogs, obedience competitions for dogs and something called “heelwork to music”, which essentially means people dancing with their dogs.

Dogs that go to Crufts are special dogs. They are all pedigree dogs, which means that each dog comes from a pure breed and that there is a proper record of its ancestors. Some are working dogs, which have been bred for hunting or for working on farms. Others are just pretty dogs. There are big dogs and little dogs, noisy dogs and quiet dogs, dogs from Britain and dogs from other countries too.

Why is this dog show called Crufts? It is named after a Mr Cruft, who worked for a company that made dog biscuits. In 1886, he organised a dog show in London. Six hundred dogs took part. Since then, the dog show which he started has grown and grown. In 1991, it became so big that it had to move out of London to a huge exhibition centre in the middle of England.

A few years ago there was a lot of controversy about Crufts. Some people claimed that many of the dogs at Crufts were deformed and unhealthy. They said that dog breeders wanted dogs with exaggerated characteristics – very narrow heads, for examples, or short noses or long back legs. As a result many pedigree dogs were unable to breathe properly, or to stand properly or see properly. Many had severe heart, brain or lung illnesses. There was an outcry when a TV programme about pedigree dog breeding was shown on TV in 2008. The BBC decided that it would no longer send its cameras to make programmes about Crufts.

The organisation for dog breeders in Britain is called the Kennel Club. (A “kennel” is a little hut or building where dogs are kept). In the past few years, the Kennel Club has tried to improve the health of pedigree dogs. They have changed many of the rules and standards. Today, vets examine dogs at Crufts to make sure that they are healthy animals, and disqualify them if they are not. Some of the old school dog breeders don’t like this (they probably say that the country is going to the dogs!), but the public is opposed to cruelty to animals, and most people agree that the new rules are right.

Now lets meet our special guest on Listen to English. Her name is Elizabeth, and she has won the coveted Best in Show award at Crufts, beating all the other 28,000 dogs which took part. This means that she is, for 2012 at least, the Best Dog in the World! What sort of dog is she? Elizabeth is a Lhasa Apso. Lhasa Apso dogs come from Tibet. They are used as guard dogs in monasteries, to warn the monks if strangers appear. There is a photo of Elizabeth on the website. You will see that when she is not guarding monasteries she spends a lot of time at the hairdressers. We sometimes say that dogs look like their owners. So what do you think that Elizabeth’s owner look like? Does she have hair all over her eyes as well? Or perhaps she wears a wig?

I have often told you that we English are mad. Now you know that it is true. Woof woof.