Dogs are one of the earliest domesticated animals, with both canines and humans across the globe establishing diverse and ubiquitous relationships, said Candace C. Croney of Brill, a Dutch international academic publisher. With people considering their canines as part of their family, dog ownership also sparks a public concern for animal welfare. Hence, debates have ensued about meeting the demand for companion dogs, including the ethical and sustainable sourcing of these canines.
Commercial dog breeders supply US owners with purebred and “designer” dogs, which are generally sold in pet stores or via online sellers. However, there are ethical issues involved with regard to producing dogs in high volume to meet consumer demand, igniting skepticism on the moral justification of commercial breeding.
Perceptions of Dog Welfare, Sourcing, and Breeding Regulation (2016)
Courtney Bir, Dr. Candace Croney, and Dr. Nicole Olynk Widmar of Purdue University: College of Veterinary Medicine, one of the ten major academic divisions of Purdue University, gathered data on the US public’s perspectives on dog welfare, dog welfare sources, acceptability of dog breeding, and more using an online survey tool called Qualtrics in October 2015.
The researchers asked the participants about their overall views on dog acquisition and breeding and to indicate their answers on a scale from 1 (completely agree) to 7 (completely disagree). The respondents chose scale point 4, in between completely agree and completely disagree, most frequently for the statement “dogs in pet stores come from irresponsible breeders” (36%). They also gave a score of 4 to the following statements: “breeding of dogs for sale is socially irresponsible” (30%), “shelter dog populations would decrease if people stopped buying purebred dogs” (28%), “importing of dogs for adoption is irresponsible” (25%), and “the sale of dogs is socially irresponsible” (29%).
On the other hand, respondents chose 1 most frequently for the following statements: “people should be able to buy purebred dogs” (30%), “people should have choices as to where/how to obtain dogs” (31%), and “importing of dogs for sale is irresponsible” (27%). The participants answered questions with regard to the acceptable number of dogs for breeding operations.
Regarding breeders with six to 10 breeding females, with 22% answering “completely unacceptable” (scale point 1) and 19% reporting their neutrality. Only 20% perceived six to 10 breeding females “completely acceptable” (scale point 7). More respondents chose scale point 1 as the number of breeding dogs increased. When asked what they thought about having 300 breeding female dogs, 71% said it was “completely unacceptable.” The participants most frequently chose one to five and six to 10 dogs as an acceptable number for a commercial breeder with individual pens indoors (21%) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversight (19%), commercial breeder with group pens indoors (21%) and USDA oversight (19%). This also included a commercial breeder with individual pens indoors (23%) and industry group oversight (18%) and a commercial breeder with group indoor pens (23%) and industry group oversight (18%).
The survey participants most frequently selected one to five dogs as an acceptable number for a hobby breeder with individual pens indoors and USDA oversight (35%) and a hobby breeder with group pens indoors and USDA oversight (35%). The respondents also deemed having one to five dogs as an acceptable number for a hobby breeder with individual pens indoors and industry group oversight (39%), a hobby breeder with group pens indoors and industry group oversight (38%). The respondents believed that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) (27%), local veterinarians (20%), local humane societies/shelters (19%), Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) (18%), and the American Kennel Club (AKC) (18%) had a very high ability (scale point 7) to influence and assure proper animal welfare/humane treatment practices for breeding dogs.
What Are Some Examples of Dog Breeding Regulations?
In the US, commercial dog breeding is regulated on the federal level, with some states giving additional requirements for breeders, explained ASPCA, a non-profit organization committed to preventing animal cruelty. Federal law mandates certain businesses that use animals such as commercial pet breeders, zoos, and research centers, to meet the minimal care standards. The care standards are found in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The USDA, on the other hand, is in charge of licensing these businesses and monitoring them to ensure that they abide by the law and standards. Breeders who breed puppies to be sold as pets should be licensed by the USDA if they have over four breeding females and sell puppies wholesale, or sight unseen, to pet stores, brokers and/or online.
Sadly, there are many breeders who manage to maneuver around government oversight. Some of them are not subject to USDA oversight under federal laws or work under the said department’s radar. Unfortunately, the USDA’s standards are not something to be praised, as they are only “survival standards” aimed to keep mature dogs “just healthy enough” to breed. In England, an individual breeding three or more litters and selling at least one puppy within a 12-month period will require to apply for a dog breeding license, said The Kennel Club, the UK’s official kennel club. A breeder can breed as many puppies as they can without a license if they provide “documentary evidence” that none of the dogs— whether as puppies or adults— have been put for sale.
A star rating system is also implemented to reward high-performing breeding operations and provide assistance to buyers to help them identify reputable breeders. Breeders with a five-star rating will receive a three-year license, pay a lower fee, and will be monitored less frequently. Breeders with lower ratings will receive a one-year license, pay a higher fee, and will be more frequently inspected. The ratings are based on the welfare standards (ex: use of health tests, etc.) and the breeders’ risk rating (ex: whether the establishment has a history of meeting these standards).
Despite Laws and Regulations, Is the Commercial Breeding of Dogs Ethical?
Croney said there is a lack of scientific knowledge about commercial dog breeding and reported concerns, which explains the skepticism about the moral justification of commercial breeding. However, most commercial breeding could be justified if governments imposed higher standards of care that ensure the protection of dog welfare. If the goal is to completely eliminate suffering, then there needs to have more stringent, enforced regulation of breeding standards. There is a demand for companion animals, which can potentially lead to the establishment of black markets for dogs. The ethical considerations surrounding commercial dog breeding is debatable, but it appears that enforcing more stringent care standards may help eliminate suffering and safeguard animal welfare.