The rise of the "Designer Puppy"
The annual market for puppies in the UK estimates between 700,000 and 1.9 million animals. The specific number is difficult to accurately determine due to the number of unlicensed breeders, but also because licensed and unlicensed breeders could be producing anywhere from one litter to thousands of puppies every year. The issue within the UK actually extends outside of the country, with a small percentage of puppies imported from Ireland and other EU countries. It isn’t proven, but certainly claimed that these puppies are part of a widespread illegal trade issue, which is increasing in size thanks to a UK demand for the designer puppy and cannot be met by breeders in the country.
Estimated sources show that there are more puppies in the UK each year from unlicensed breeders than the total combined from rescue organisations, licensed breeders, KC registered dogs and registered imports from Ireland and the EU. These unlicensed breeders who aren’t regulated are currently the centre of attention at the moment as the question around care and welfare of bitches and puppies is in the spotlight. The concern is that the focus is less around the wellbeing of the animal and more around the cash from the sale.
The way in which a puppy is bred and reared will play a significant role in its physical and mental health, including every decision leading to the sale, for example choice of breeding stock (both dog and bitch) and the management of the bitch pre and post parturition and the introduction of the offspring to an environment that will allow them to learn about the characteristics of people and other dogs, sights, sounds and smells. If these environments are lacking, as it has been discovered by welfare organisations, it can lead to greater behavioural problems in the bitch and her puppies. This is a major concern in animals trafficked from Ireland and the EU who are often bred and reared in sub-optimal environments and are transported long distances, which can often lead to problems such as anxiety, stress and fear.
“Designer puppies” are considered to be the main reason for the increase in the puppy trade with specific breeds of puppies becoming an impulse buy for prospective owners. It could be celebrity based having seen Lady Gaga with her French Bulldog, Cher Lloyd and her Pug or Gwen Stefani and her Pomeranian, or even thanks to a well-circulated puppy video on social media, but this high demand has seen unlicensed breeders look elsewhere to keep up. The impulse reduces the time that should be required to make a household decision on the suitability needed to bring a puppy into a home, so many puppies are later abandoned due to the owners being unable to take the required responsibility, and as the statistics within the puppy trade rise, so do those of dogs abandoned to the street and those in shelters that require rehoming.
These statistics show that traditional educational messaging and advertising from activists and animal welfare organisations aren’t working. The RSPCA recently released a Puppy Trade Report discussing these issues and it highlights the need for change. Right now the biggest difference to a potential buyer is knowing if their puppy is KC registered or not, but the RSPCA believe that improving licensing requirements and invoking regulations on unregulated dealers through the enforcement of financial regulations will be the start of a much needed change. The report will no doubt catch the eyes of the Government, who will look at this as millions of pounds lost in undeclared income. Already there has been movement from The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who have launched a consultation and hope to make changes to the law in the next 12 months. Sadly, these laws have remained unchanged in over 65 years.
This isn’t a call to influence potential dog owners. This is about education. If you are in the market for a dog and are looking for a specific breed then take the time to consider where your puppy is coming from. Is it KC registered? Has it been kept with the mother in a family environment? When deciding which breed to buy, look online or speak to your local pet store or veterinarian. Is that breed of puppy suitable for your home and lifestyle? It might look cute in the arms of Kim and Kanye but will it be the best fit for you? Most importantly, if you come across a breeder who is unregistered, take careful consideration and look out for any noticeable behavioural issues. If you see any cause for concern, alert your local welfare organisation.
To get a closer look at the Puppy Trade Report from the RSPCA, click here.