Almost two years after Covid triggered a puppy boom, Crufts is expecting a host of newcomers as new dog owners who honed their skills during lockdown take to the ring this week.
“There are new people, who got a dog during lockdown, who have started to show their dogs. Some have qualified for Crufts for the first time ever, which is obviously really exciting,” said Bill Lambert, the head of health and welfare at Crufts.
“Any sport, any activity, needs new blood so it’s great to see people start showing their dogs, especially if it’s something they had never previously considered.”
About 20,000 dogs from more than 200 different breeds are descending on Birmingham’s NEC on Thursday for the first Crufts show in two years, after last year’s event was cancelled due to Covid.
As well as best in show, competitions include agility, heelwork and flyball, with Crufts anticipating record UK interest – although international numbers are down.
“Working from home has opened up dog ownership for a lot more people and there was obviously huge demand for dogs during lockdown, but I think that has extended now and people are looking at other activities to do with their dog, beyond normal pet ownership,” said Lambert.
For years, Pam Reakes had wanted a long-haired weimaraner, a large high-energy gun dog, and when lockdown came she decided she finally had the time to invest in caring for the breed.
“In lockdown everybody was wanting a dog, so I had to go on a waiting list, and I finally got Wilma in December 2020,” she said. “She kept me sane all through lockdown, and she kept me fit. And now it’s given me a whole new circle of friends, a whole new hobby.”
When Reakes first bought Wilma, she had never even thought about dog competitions. She said: “I posted some photos on Facebook and the breeder asked if I had thought about showing her [in competitions]. I nearly fell off my chair.
“I was terrible at first, I couldn’t run properly and looked awful. I am still not exactly where I want to be, but I am so much better than I was.”
Reakes entered her first dog show in May 2021, aged 61, taking home a second and third win, which qualified the pair for Crufts. “I am healthier and happier than I have been in a long time,” she said. “I am scared to death about competing on Sunday but I am so excited about going. I thought I might go and watch Crufts again, but I never dreamt I would actually be in the ring competing.”
Martha Turgoose, 11, had always wanted a dog, but it was not until her father moved to working from home permanently during lockdown that the family were able to get one: a lagotto romagnolo called Bruno.
Martha’s mother, Liz Turgoose, said: “Me and my husband both worked full-time so we couldn’t get a dog, but now my husband only goes in one day a week.
“Martha took on the job of training him for shows during lockdown, when she was doing school from home. Being with him all the time definitely helped them develop the bond they need to compete.”
On Sunday Martha will be competing in Bruno’s breed class, and in the young handler 6-11 category. “She asked to go to Crufts for her ninth birthday in 2020,” said Liz. “And now she’s going to compete. I’m so proud and it’s given her so much confidence.”
But lockdown also came with its challenges for dog owners. When Nicola Collett, 54, first acquired Watson the Italian spinone in May 2020, she said it was difficult to socialise him due to social distancing rules.
“We travelled further afield to find outdoor training classes that were still allowed. We couldn’t take him to shows to get him used to the crowds either,” she said. “Had we not done that and really tried, I don’t think we will be where we are today. But we made it. We’re competing at Crufts on Sunday, and we can’t wait to see how he does.”