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Ask not what your dog can do for you

Crufts has just finished.

Woof, woof, woof! Please note, though, that I am not wagging my tail. The largest dog show in the world is also a nauseating display of commodification, or objectification. This annual parade of pampered, preened, primped, prinked and perfumed pooches makes the models on a Paris catwalk look as natural as daisies. I simply cannot watch it.

Some of Crufts' entrants this year were carried into the competition halls from the car park, lest their paws got muddy; others were bedecked in shellsuits that covered them from neck to nails. One peeked from a holdall, like Roo peering out of Kanga's pouch. With their coats blow dried to candyfloss or topiaried like a National Trust hedge, these poor, perfect, genetically rarified creatures were trotted out for public admiration as if they were the latest It-bags.

They reminded me of the posh kid whose mum sent her on the school day trip dressed in Laura Ashley. She couldn't take part in the fun in case her dress got torn. The expression in some dogs' eyes as they loitered around Crufts, cooped up and bored, yapping and yawning, tells you this is not how they would choose to spend their time. Had anyone yelled "Walkies!" there'd have been a mass breakout.

While no doubt most of the prize-dog owners are fond of them, the same could be said of parents whose little princesses are ear-studded, coiffured and high-heeled by the time they're four. As this display of canine celebrities makes painfully clear, these are not so much dogs as accessories, the sort that make a Cartier watch or an Alfa Romeo seem subtle and modest.

Before dog-lovers' hackles start to rise, I should remind those who coo over Crufts that only five years ago the institution had to review its rules to stave off accusations of cruelty and the loss of sponsorship this bad publicity brought. New breeding standards were introduced to counter criticism, redesigned to ensure breeders did "not include anything that could in any way be interpreted as encouraging features that might prevent a dog from breathing, walking and seeing freely".

Nice, isn't it? Hitherto, some breeds, such as Pekingese or pugs, were being distorted like bonsai trees, twisted and contorted to a pitch of aesthetic perfection that ignored the most basic requirement that the animal should function not as an ornament but as a dog.

One of my big regrets is I've never had a dog of my own. If I lived in the hills I'd have a collie, or a mongrel. But I'm city-bound, and pavements and parks are not the place for anything but small, flat-sized dogs, whose owners have plenty of spare time.

As I well know, however, most of the population wouldn't agree. From my windows overlooking the links I watch Dobermans, Greyhounds, Great Danes and Dalmatians careering about as if training for an appearance at Shawfield dog track. In this neck of the woods there are almost as many dogs as seagulls.

Bought as a child substitute, fashion statement, or way of keeping fit, dogs have become part of our brand-conscious culture. At one end of the spectrum there are the Labradoodles and Tibetan Mastiffs found in leafy suburbia, over whom everyone clucks and smiles.

At the other are the dog owners who swagger past with Pit Bulls and Rottweilers on fat chains and chokers, and strengthen their jaws by dangling them from trees. Such dogs are the legal version of carrying an AK47 or a baseball bat. Bred from birth to be aggressive, these beasts are kept in conditions that would shame Guantanamo, with too little exercise and not enough space. No wonder they grow frustrated, and take it out on strangers or children and babies.

Killer dogs are seen as an underclass problem, nothing to do with the respectable environs of Crufts and its ilk. Yet the two are inextricably bound, reflecting a world in which dogs are things, not animals, there for our benefit and glory, not theirs.

One should, perhaps, ask not what your dog can do for you, but what you can do for your dog. Inside that complicated head this pack animal still hears the call of the wild. It is not entirely tame, and nor should it ever be, whatever Crufts would have you believe. Grrrrrr.

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