Who Decides on Dog Breeding? The Increasing Power of Nonorganized Breeders and Consumers
Helle Friis Proschowsky, DVM, Ph.D. Veterinary Consultant
The selective breeding of dogs with extreme physical features (short nose, flat skull, small body size, protruding eyes and the like) has, together with a high level of inbreeding, led to a number of health and welfare problems for many purebred dogs.1-3 Looking at the discussions in both scholarly journals and popular media, one may get the impression that organized dog breeding and dog shows are the main factors for these problems. Even though this may have been true in the past, it can be argued that the power of selection has changed dramatically over the past few decades. At least in Denmark, there has been a movement away from the organized breeders within the national kennel clubs. This shift has a great impact on the possibility to increase the welfare of dogs by means of breeding programs.
The Danish Dog Population
There are approximately half a million dogs in Denmark distributed in 20–22% of all Danish households.4,5 Since 1993, chip marking and registration of all dogs - purebreds as well as mixed breeds - has been statutory.6 Information about chip number owner and breed is stored in the Danish Dog Registry and this makes it possible to follow fluctuations in the Danish dog population. The dogs in the Danish Dog Registry falls into two major groups; purebred and mixed breed dogs. The mixed breed dogs constituted 18% of the total registrations of new dogs entering the registry in 2016. The purebred dogs can be further divided into 1) The purebred dogs with a pedigree in the Danish Kennel Club (DKC, 33% in 2016), and 2) Dogs that enter the Dog Registry with a breed name, but where the breed is only confirmed by the owner and the veterinarian performing the chip marking (49%). Some of these dogs are purebred while others can have some kind of mixed background. While the mixed breeds have stayed at a relatively constant level, the balance between purebred dogs registered in the DKC and "purebred" dogs without a pedigree has shifted towards the latter (Figure 1).
|Figure 1. New entries in the Danish dog registry per year in total (light grey bars) and the amount which is also registered in the Danish Kennel Club (dark grey bars)|
The observed decrease in the total number of dogs from the mid-nineties to the millennium was followed by a similar decrease in the DKC figures. During the following economic upswing, we see a dramatic increase in the total number of new puppies entering the dog registry each year. However, this time the DKC figures stay at the same level and do not follow the general development. Several issues may have caused this trend. One hypothesis is that the characteristics of the puppy buyers entering the dog market during the upswing shifted. The new consumers had little or no former experience with dogs and no intentions of participating in activities where a pedigree would be a prerequisite. To some extent, the new consumers tended to see dogs as a fashioninfluenced accessory.7 In addition, Danish legislation may have counteracted the organized breeder's possibilities to meet the sudden increase in demand.
Disadvantages of Being a Registered Breeder
Traditionally, the Danish dog market has been characterized by the absence of large commercial breeding operations (a.k.a. puppy farms) found in other countries. The majority of the puppies purchased each year - at least from organized breeders - comes from smaller breeders with 2–4 breeding dogs. This is partly due to tradition and partly to legislation. If a Danish breeder produces more than two litters per year, s/he will be subject to the Commercial Dog Breeding Act, meaning that s/he must fulfil specific requirements regarding registration, inspection, education, etc.8 This legislation may have urged the registered breeders to stay below the limit of two litters while unregistered breeders could increase their "production" as long as they managed to stay out of the public eye. Some may also have started to import puppies - legal as well as illegal. Origin and early life conditions of these dogs are unknown but there are reasons to believe that it could be compromised.
The trend towards breeding outside the kennel clubs may have additional causes. Many national kennel clubs have implemented different kinds of mandatory health screening of breeding animals during the last decades. This goes for hip and elbow dysplasia screening, eye examinations, etc. The breeding programs were implemented to increase the health of purebred dogs, but may also have been enforced by the negative mentioning of purebred dogs in the media culminated with the BBC program "Pedigree dogs exposed." The breeding programs put extra costs on the organized breeders resulting in puppies that are more expensive compared to the puppies from non-organized breeders or imported puppies. In addition, dogs that do not meet the requirements are banned from breeding within the organized kennel clubs. Thus, the organized breeders have experienced a decrease in autonomy. This would not be problematic if the puppy buyers had a demand for puppies bred from health-checked parents. However, this does not seem to be the case. Especially for popular breeds as Chihuahua and French bulldog, the type, personality and simplicity of acquisition outshines the health status of the breeds.9
The last aspect with a negative influence on the organized breeders is the Sale of Goods Act.10 In Denmark, as well as the rest of EU, dogs are goods in line with computers and refrigerators. It means that the buyers have the right to complain within the first two years if the puppy does not meet the expectations. Within the Danish Kennel Club, it is mandatory for the breeders to use an approved purchase document that clearly describes the rights of the puppy buyer or "consumer." These rights exist for the non-organized breeders and the providers of imported dogs as well. However, they are rarely pursued, either because the puppy buyers are unaware of their rights or because it is impossible to rediscover the identity of the provider. In this way, you have a higher risk of being pursued from discontented puppy buyers if you breed within the kennel club compared to being a non-organized provider.
Overall, legislation and consumer behavior have decreased the power of the pedigree organizations. The consumers choose to buy puppies from non-organized breeders that are not subject to the breeding programs of the organized dog society. In addition, the nonorganized breeders seems less obliged to follow the current legislation. This is a seeming paradox. Parallel to this development, there has been an increased focus from the surrounding society and media on health and welfare of purebred dogs. Each time the subject comes up focus and critique is targeted at the official organizations for pedigree dogs, which are urged to "do something." However, when their power declines in favor of the nonorganized breeders there are less animals that the kennel club can influence by means of breeding programs. For some breeds, the result is smaller population sizes and reduced genetic variation making selection even more difficult. Better communication to puppy buyers and media may be necessary in order to increase the health and welfare of dogs.
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