Crufts stages talent show for dogs

In its 121-year history, Crufts has built something of a reputation for pedigree, refinement and a certain formality.

The dog show staged its first “Crufts Factor” – inspired by human TV talent shows, pitting Teddy, the skateboarding Newfoundland against Maddy, the nimble Dandie Dinmont football dribbler.

Also in the final was Jackson- speciality: playing hockey using a rubber chicken leg as a stick – and Elee the Shiba Inu, much admired for balletic elegance and djembe drum playing.

The Kennel Club, the organizer, insisted this wasn’t so unusual: Cruft’s already has agility trials. Then Pippa Langhorne, the former Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist opened Crufts Factor by singing Pie Jesu, accompanied by Buddy her singing Lhasa Apso.

Before the final, videos of 27 canine performers were posted online. More than 1,000 people voted to decide which four performers should go through to the final at Crufts, at the Birmingham NEC.

Ability levels varied: to the untrained ear, some singing dogs sounded much like howling dogs.

Perhaps also in line with the human shows, the dogs didn’t need pedigree breeding – unlike contenders for Cruft’s best in show.

As the final four dogs entered the arena, David Lamb, 70, a retired philosophy lecturer, from Eastleigh, Hampshire, admitted Teddy’s skateboarding had been an accident.

“I wanted to teach him body boarding, so I began with a skateboard. But once in the water for body boarding, he just pushed the board with his paws like he does with the skateboard. We stuck with skateboarding.

“God knows what he’ll do in the ring.”

Teddy put in a near perfect performance.

Paul Keevil, a Surrey art dealer, had less luck. Jackson, his Dandie Dinmont, appeared uninterested in playing chicken hockey, occasionally casting its owner a bemused glance.

“I always knew,” Mr Keevil admitted, “This would be the most amazing two minutes of my life, or the most embarrassing. But he enjoyed it.”

Laura Sleight, 20, a student from Cleethorpes, Lincs, entered with Maddy.

A small dog careered away, dwarfed by the football at its nose, banging into some arena-side microphones.

The judges’ standing ovation went to Elee the Shiba Inu.

Before entering the arena, Delphine Lamalle, 31, the Swiss-born, London-resident owner, had revealed her secret weapon:

“Swiss sausage slices in my pocket. Hopefully they will make her stay focused on me.”

The audience was charmed as Elee flawlessly begged, played dead, played the drum and leapt into Miss Lamalle’s arms.

Elee won the victor’s rosette, a small glass trophy, no money, but glory.

Miss Lamalle, a business assistant, who trained with her dog for just five minutes a day to prevent it getting bored, said: “She’s going to get as many sausages as she wants.”

In a separate development, five dogs judged Best in Breed at Crufts have been disqualified from collecting their awards after they failed new vet checks designed to combat the health problems associated with pedigree dogs.

It means there will be no Pekingese, Bulldog, Clumber Spaniel, Mastiff or Neapolitan Mastiff in the Best in Show competition.

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club secretary, said: “The veterinary checks were introduced to ensure that dogs with exaggerated features do not win prizes. We are determined to ensure that the show ring is a positive force for change and that we help to move breeds forward by only rewarding the healthiest examples of a breed.”