Collaboration Is Key To Making Sure Dog Breeding Regulations Work For Local Authorities, Puppy Buyers And Responsible Breeders

Local authorities could see a ten-fold increase in the number of dog breeders they are required to license under new government proposals, and the UK’s largest dog welfare organisation, the Kennel Club, is warning that without full collaboration with its Assured Breeder Scheme it will simply become a stealth tax on responsible dog breeders and do little to curb puppy farmers who could continue to sell hundreds of thousands of sick and badly treated pups to the public.

New dog breeding licensing proposals have been put forward by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which looks after the UK’s animal welfare laws, which would see the threshold at which a dog breeder requires a licence change from five to just three litters of pups a year. The Kennel Club is urging the government to ensure that the Assured Breeder Scheme is fully incorporated into the regulations in order to assist local authorities who would otherwise face an impossible task of enforcing new laws alone. 

Currently, fewer than 900 dog breeders are licensed and inspected by local authorities annually.  This number will increase dramatically under the new proposals, to 5,800.

Currently around 58 per cent of local authorities have two or fewer members of staff who carry out inspections on dog breeding premises. Normally these staff have no specialist training and are carrying out inspections in addition to their normal ‘day job’, whereas Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme assessors are specially trained and currently inspect around 1,200 breeders per year.  For this reason the Kennel Club is urging the government to utilise its Assured Breeder Scheme to alleviate the burden on local authorities and to protect dog welfare.

This is particularly important now, as Kennel Club research released for its annual Puppy Awareness Week (4-10 September) found that one in five puppy buyers (20 per cent) suspect their puppy could have come from a puppy farm and around a third of people (33 per cent) said they would not be confident that they could identify that a puppy had been bred by a responsible breeder, before buying.

The Kennel Club has released a report which lays out options to government on how it, as an expert body that is already accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) to inspect dog breeders under its Assured Breeder Scheme, can help regulate those breeders who are members of the scheme. These proposals would free local authority resources to tackle bad breeders, whilst reducing the financial burden on those who are responsible, and prioritise health and welfare while ensuring the local authorities remain in overall control. This would benefit not only local authorities, but puppy buyers, responsible breeders and most importantly, the long term health and welfare of puppies being bred.

The Kennel Club firmly believes that failure to take this step will make the good intentions of the proposals unworkable, as local authorities will be given no additional resources to deal with the upsurge of dog breeders they will need to license when the laws change.  Freedom of Information requests carried out by the Kennel Club over the past two years show that many local authorities are not even aware of breeders in their areas requiring a licence, and in some areas the number of breeders who will require a licence will multiply by up to tenfold.

Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, said: “The health and welfare of tens of thousands of dogs is on the line unless we find a way to fix the problems with the current licensing system.  While we welcome Defra’s attempts to tackle unlicensed breeding, we have grave concerns that without proper enforcement, we may lose out on a once in a life time opportunity to drive puppy farmers out of business.

“It is imperative that bad breeders are exposed, and good breeders are easily identifiable, and in our view, this is only possible by incentivising good breeders to become ‘Assured’. This is critical now at a time when illegal puppy trafficking is rife and thousands of puppies are being smuggled into Britain from Eastern Europe to sell to an unsuspecting UK market.”

Bill Lambert, Manager of the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme, said: “We need to find a way to ensure that good breeders are not penalised, so they can continue to meet the public demand for puppies that won’t suffer from health problems, while allowing local authorities to focus on clamping down on those irresponsible breeders who should be licensed but aren’t.

“After conducting extensive gap analysis, and running trials with local authorities, it has been shown that members of the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme, who are inspected and certified by us as a UKAS accredited body, are breeding to higher standards than licensed breeders in every area.”

The Kennel Club has suggested that the government creates a separate ‘risk category’ for Assured Breeders, which would mean they would still require a local authority licence but that the Kennel Club would essentially process the application for them by passing their inspection reports and a nominal ‘administration’ fee to their local authority, and the local authority would, in turn, send them a licence based on them passing an Assured Breeder Scheme inspection. If members of the scheme were suspended by the Kennel Club or did not pass their inspection, the Kennel Club would alert local authorities.  This would allow local authorities to focus on those breeders outside of the Assured Breeder Scheme and ensure they gain vital intelligence about a greater number of breeders in their areas who may not be on their radar otherwise.  It would still mean the system remains under overall local authority control, which would mean a local authority was fully entitled to inspect a breeding premises at any time.

The Kennel Club is a not for profit organisation so sets its scheme membership fees as low as it can manage to break even, often very significantly lower than local authority licence fees, which vary hugely.  The Kennel Club believes that if the knock-on effect of this is that more responsible breeders become assured and are more easily identified as such by the public, then it is a win-win for the Government, who could ensure that resources are targeted on clamping down on unlicensed breeders; for responsible breeders, who can be part of a scheme that sets them apart from rogue breeders without financial penalty; and most importantly, for the welfare of dogs.

A significant advantage of formally recognising the Assured Breeder Scheme as part of the licensing system is that it would increase public awareness of the scheme and how to find a responsible breeder, as currently too many people unknowingly buy sickly pups from dubious sources. Insurance data has shown that Assured Breeders breed healthier dogs, so this would only be a positive step for the long term health and welfare of dogs. Figures from Agria insurance show that dogs bred by Assured Breeders are costing owners on average 18 per cent less in unplanned veterinary fees and are 23 per cent less likely to need to visit the vet. For older dogs the differences are more acute, with dogs bred by Assured Breeders 34 per cent less likely to see a vet, resulting in veterinary bills that are 27 per cent less for their owners.

Read The Kennel Club’s report on proposed dog breeding regulations, ‘Collaboration is Key: The Way Forward for Breeding Regulations’.