CANINES from across the world converged on Crufts yesterday for the start of the world's biggest dog show.

The event is expected to attract more than 23,700 entrants to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham over four days of competition, culminating in the prestigious best-in-show contest.

Officially recognised as the world's largest dog show by the Guinness Book of Records, Crufts also boasts almost 400 trade stands offering visitors the latest dog-related products.

The cream of almost 200 breeds will be hoping to succeed the 2004 champion, a whippet called Deedee.

But the Kennel Club, which organises the show, has warned that 28 British breeds are facing an uncertain future as numbers fall due to an influx of new blood from overseas and a lack of awareness among the public.

Five of the 13 Scottish dog breeds on show - Skye terrier, deerhound, smooth-coated collie, dandie dinmont, and Gordon setter - have been categorised as "vulnerable".

Caroline Kisko, the Kennel Club secretary, appealed to prospective pedigree dog owners to look beyond labradors, the traditional favourite, and consider the "forgotten" breeds.

She said: "There are other breeds that make great pets. We are trying to promote them to remind people they exist.

"Dog-lovers themselves hold the key to arresting the decline by giving serious thought to owning one of them and instigating a new era for British breeds at their best."

She said that, with more than 200 breeds available in the UK, dog-lovers were spoiled for choice but they should not forget these well-established breeds which were under threat. She added: "It would be a travesty if they became extinct from our shores."

One dandie dinmont breeder said that litters were becoming smaller. He said: "There are less than 100 puppies being born every year and only 300 dogs in the country.

The other Scottish breeds competing are bearded collie, border terrier, cairn terrier, rough-cut collie, golden retreiver, Scottish terrier, Shetland sheep dog, and West Highland terrier.

Dogs from all over the world are taking part in this year's event and all are competing for the most prestigious canine title in the world - Crufts best in show.

There are believed to be just under 1000 competitors from Scotland. A relaxation of quarantine restrictions since 2000 means that more than 700 overseas dogs are registered to take part this year, the largest number in Crufts' history.

Last year's best-in-show was from Stockport but the overall winner in 2003 was Danny, a Pekinese from Glasgow, owned by Bert Easdon and Philip Martin. Danny's triumph was temporarily marred by allegations that he had been given a facelift. However, the dog and its owners were later cleared of all charges.

A survey by a leading pet insurer to coincide with the competition showed that the average dog costs its owner pounds-20,000 over the course of its lifetime. In its annual Cost of a Dog report, Churchill Insurance calculated that almost 80-per cent of pet owners significantly underestimated the average cost of caring for a pet.

The most expensive dog was the Great Dane with lifetime running costs of almost pounds-32,000 while the Jack Russell, at pounds-17,500, came in as the cheapest breed.


Skye terrier

Originally from Skye. Has been known since the sixteenth century and was originally used to hunt vermin. Very agile and strong, with sturdy bone and hard muscles.

Fearless, very good-tempered, loyal and canny.


Also sometimes called a Scottish deerhound, it is a member of the sighthound family and was bred in parallel with the greyhound to hunt deer.

Smooth-coated collie Collies were first bred in Scotland to work with sheep.

The smooth-coated collie was used as a drover to take the sheep to market.

Dandie dinmont

Probably descended from roughcoated terriers in the Borders in the second half of the eighteenth century and bred for going to earth to kill vermin. Named after a character in Sir Walter Scott's 1814 novel Guy Mannering

Gordon setter

Related to the more common Irish setters and English setters.

Intelligent, intensely loyal to their owner and tend to be one-person dogs. Live for about 10 to 12 years.