Breeding – The Impact of Breeding Licensing Regulations on Dog Breeders

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

            As a result of continuing concerns by the Kennel Club and the National Register of Pedigree Dog Breeders about the way in which licensing officers were interpreting the new Animal Licensing Laws (The Animal Welfare (Licensing of activities involving animals) (England) Regulations 2018) which became law on 1st October 2018, and in association with Holly Conway of the Kennel Club, David Cavill FRSA designed a survey to make public the extent of the problem and, particularly, the impact it was making on ‘hobby breeders’.  (For the record, ‘hobby breeders’ have been defined as ‘an owner who breeds from a bitch because they would like to have another puppy to take part in the canine activities with which they are involved, whether that be to show, to train for agility obedience or any other reason. That reason could be extended to include that they have another companion when one of their current dogs dies. The key issue is that they are not breeding specifically to sell dogs as a regular part of their annual income. Such hobby breeders are likely to have surplus puppies which they will want to find good homes for and they are entitled to advertise them and sell them. A reasonable ‘test’ for hobby breeder is that they will (usually) be retaining one or more of any litter to pursue their hobby.  Those who breed more litters than two each year may still consider that they are a ‘hobby breeder’ but will, of course, require a breeding licence.)

There has been much hearsay on social media and anecdotal evidence from breeders who have been affected but there has been very little hard data.  Survey has now closed but it addresses those problems. It is particularly interesting and important to note that those who replied were by no means all breeders of pedigree dogs.

Defra has said that at 1st October 2019 there were approximately 600 breeders licensed by local authorities under the old regulations.  The Kennel Club and Our Dogs were therefore very pleased that the survey generated 1,500 replies which clearly showed that breeders were taking responsible action by recognising that they were subject to the new laws disappointed with the revelations about the extent of the problem.  The Kennel Club has now completed its analysis of the responses and provided them to Defra who, we understand, were taken aback by the range of the misunderstandings by licensing officers and have indicated, though not promised, to take action.

Key Statistics

  • 75% of respondents get their information about dogs and breeding from the KC;
  • 89% of respondents consider themselves hobby breeders.
  • 85% did not have a dog breeding licence prior to October 2018. 50% breed less than 1 litter per year and 37% breed 1-2 litters per year;
  • 27% are ABS members – 90% for more than 3 years. ABS membership counted towards compliance history for less than 60% (59%) and as a result they achieved a 4-5 star rating. For 41% it did not and they received a 1-3 star rating;
  • One third had to comply with conditions such as planning permission; companies house registration; public liability insurance; implementing noise reduction measures; applying for business insurance and paying for business refuse collection prior to being issued a licence;
  • 65% do not rely on advertising pups for sale because they have waiting lists. Only 17% advertise on commercial websites and 25% on their own website. Over 80% use non-commercial websites such as KC’s find a puppy service ( or the National Register of Pedigree Dog Breeders (
  • Of those breeders who have been inspected by a local authority nearly half (46%) were not confident or not at all confident that their inspector was knowledgeable about dog breeding; almost half (48%) were not confident or not at all confident that their inspector understood the different between a business and a hobby breeder and over 40% (41%) were not confident or not at all confident that they understood or had applied a business test proportionate to their circumstances.

Survey Responses

The Kennel Club’s analysis and comments provided by respondents runs to 16 pages many of which repeatedly emphasise local authority officers’ lack of understanding of the concept of a ‘hobby breeder’, but we hope that this brief summary will provide readers with an understanding of the main features.

Most comments related to local authorities not recognising hobby breeders and advising any breeder who breeds even one litter to apply for a licence. This is a widespread misunderstanding which these Kennel Club believe needs to be addressed.  For instance Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Council do not appear to be taking any account of ‘hobby breeding’ as an exemption for requiring a license and take a very strict view that if anyone is selling a puppy for any money at all, it counts as a commercial operation. They refused to apply the ‘hobby breeding’ rules are breeder in the Shropshire Council area said she was told that she had to have a licence as she has an intention to breed’.  There were over one hundred similar statements one of which was that Birmingham City Council is actively looking for and even buying puppies to catch hobby breeders with the intention to prosecute them for having a litter and not being licensed.

The Business Test

There were similar misunderstandings about the Business Test. Over 40% of respondents were not confident or not at all confident that licensing officers understood or had applied a business test proportionate to their circumstances.  And the Kennel Club have concluded that ‘there is a systemic problem with the business test which was evident in numerous comments received’. This included Telford & Wrekin using the £1000 turnover business case, so they say that anyone breeding a bitch must have a license as even the sale of 2 cross breed pups will be more than £1000 and Bassetlaw Council saying that anyone selling puppies for more than £1000 will probably need a license.

Almost more worrying is that a third of respondents were expected to comply with conditions such as planning permission; companies house registration; public liability insurance; implementing noise reduction measures; applying for business insurance and paying for business refuse collection prior to being issued a licence.  The KC say that many breeders are clearly being treated as commercial businesses and being requested to jump through excessive hoops in order to receive a licence. This is resulting in many ceasing breeding altogether. The most commonly cited additional requirement breeders had to apply for was public liability insurance. There are however many others.              For instance, one respondent said that planning issues stopped her from applying and Durham County Council also expected to take DNA from every dog because they said they ‘wanted a dog DNA database in order to catch people who left faeces lying around’. A licensing officer in Kent said anyone with more than 3 breeding dogs had to be in commercial premises so in effect. They are advocating puppy farming while trying to close down home breeders.

One respondent reported ‘I have so far been prevented from applying for a licence as the local council insisted that I needed Planning permission for change of use. Architects drawings, planning application, acoustic survey and £7000 later they turned down the application on ridiculous grounds so this has now gone to appeal!’ And the

Throughout the survey it was clear that there was considerable confusion about precisely what was required of breeders by licensing officers and some appeared not to have read the guidance at all. The Kennel Club and say that this seems to be a  ‘one size fits all’ approach so that however small the breeders’ business, the red tape, bureaucracy and paperwork is what one would expect of a large business or even a commercial kennels housing many dogs.

One respondent said ‘I have re-homed most of my dogs since new regulations came out because I simply could not cope with the ridiculous rules and mountains of red tape’. Another wrote, ‘I applied for my Licence in November 2018. I received a phone call from the council asking for £435 before an inspection date could be booked. I received another telephone call a couple of weeks later making an appointment for two licencing officers and a vet to attend my property on 10th January 2019. When they arrived, the inspectors handed me their Guidance Notes for the application, the first time I had seen it. The inspection then took around four hours, working through 36 pages of the application form. About 10 days later I received a call from North Devon District Council to say that they had recommended my application for refusal, although I would have the chance to put my case forward to a committee meeting at a future date to be agreed. I was emailed a 49 page report, outlining the reasons for refusal. Since then it has taken approximately 35 hours to work through the report in order to supply NDDC with the information they require, mainly in written Standard Operating Procedure format. I am still working through the form but to date have put together over 50 pages of response. I do not employ any staff. On a personal level, I have found my experience to date with NDDC very stressful. They clearly have no experience of dog ownership on any level, and stated to me at the outset, they are licencing officers and are only interested in applicants meeting the licence criteria.’

Some local authorities appear to have no knowledge of the new regulations at all. A respondent in Bradford tried to apply for a licence and was met with blank stares while others say that the appropriate forms are not available while giving out conflicting information.  The Kennel Club have made it clear to Defra that it is not acceptable for any local authority to not have any indicators on their websites that the legislation has changed (many have incorrect and outdated information). Further it appears many are unaware of updated regulations even when breeders contact them.

Assured Breeder Scheme membership

According to the Guidance, ABS membership should count towards compliance history so that the star rating awarded (which affects the length of time the licence is allowed to run) should take that into consideration. In fact licensing officers were only prepared to acknowledge ABS membership in about 60 % of the cases where a four – five star rating was applied but worryingly, for 40%, membership, compliance history was ignored.

The Kennel Club has made it clear to Defra that ABS could not only save a local authority time and money but encouraging ABS membership provides the puppy buying public with a pool of responsible breeders. Disregarding the only UKAS accredited scheme undermines the intention of the regulations – which is to improve the welfare of puppies being bred and ensure puppy buyers purchase dogs from responsible breeders.  For instance North Devon District Council quote in their application form: ‘It must be noted the Kennel Club requirements and assessments are not as in depth and complex as this assessment’. Given that the criteria are actually based on the ABS this is clearly a total misunderstanding by the council.  In the instance quoted they wanted to see the ABS Inspection Report but it was not considered or taken into account in their decision making process.  Another respondent reported that their licensing officer did not accept ABS membership and they said, ‘We received a ‘0’ rating and were told that no star will be given till after 2020 even though we have been assured breeders since 2005.

In the Kennel Club’s opinion some local authorities have so misunderstood the regulations it could be damaging to the puppy buying public. They say, ‘If local authorities are not issuing star ratings, or issue only 1 star ratings for a good breeder then puppy buyers may be less likely to buy a puppy from that breeder – even though if rated by another local authority that breeder would be likely to achieve a much higher rating. This inconsistency is detrimental to the puppy market as it fails to assist people looking for good breeders’.  For instance Breckland Council have a policy of not giving stars to anyone and other local authorities have a policy of only giving a one year licence when the Guidance makes it clear that well-established breeders who fulfil the criteria for higher standards should be given a star rating which reflects the quality of their service.

There are also serious concerns about the licence fee.  One respondent reported,  ‘The fee is suddenly five times what it was last year and even though I was given 5* rating they will only grant a 12 month licence which means that in a year’s time I will have to pay a further £1400’.

Fundamental disagreements with minimum standards

There were several issues which responsible breeders fundamentally disagreed with specific criteria for the highest standards.  The result is that they are unable to gain a higher star rating. This shuts out a good source of puppies from the market and undermines the intention of the regulations, for good breeders to breed healthy dogs and for puppy buyers to know where to source them. In their submission to Defra the Kennel Club put forward a number of specific case studies to demonstrate the misunderstandings which are already beginning to appear endemic

North Devon

An ABS breeder applied for a licence with North Devon District Council. They had the inspection and were told they would get a 1 star rating providing some areas were dealt with – including vaccinations & labelling the fridge. They have been a member of the ABS since 2008 with no issues.

South and South West Local AuthoritiesLocal authorities in this area are advising breeders that they will require a licence if they breed and sell even one puppy and are taking no account of membership of the ABS.


An ABS breeder applied for a licence from Teignbridge District Council having joined the ABS in 2013 and having had two ABS inspections resulting in a satisfactory outcome. She is a hobby breeder, who normally breeds two litters per year from home. She was advised however that she would receive only a 3 star rating because she has not undertaken an OFQUAL qualification and had been told that it was essential to complete this at a cost of £900 (there are a number of distance learning colleges which can assist breeders at considerably less than £900 Ed) in order to achieve a 5 star rating. However this is an ‘optional’ requirement of the local authority licensing conditions, intended for breeders who employ staff (which she does not). Further, the local authority informed her that they were not taking compliance with the ABS into account which is causing her to consider leaving the scheme and even stop breeding.

East Riding

East Riding Council informed an ABS member that their ABS history does not count towards their compliance history and as such the ABS member will not achieve any star rating until 2020.

Mid Devon

The Kennel Club have had four complaints regarding Mid Devon District Council as they are not taking into account ABS membership with regards to proof of compliance history and are insisting anyone who breeds even one litter (even if they keep some puppies from the litter for themselves) must be licensed and inspected annually – even if they only have a litter every 3-4 years. Moreover, they are not implementing the scoring matrix at all and so it is unclear as to how they can be issuing an accurate star rating.

Adur and Worthing


Adur and Worthing Councils launched a consultation on the AAL shortly after the new regulations were introduced. The AAL is intended as a prescriptive document. It is not open for consultation. What is more, they stated at the time they would adopt the new regime in ‘early 2019’ and so missed the implementation date of October 2018.


Guildford Borough Council also issued a consultation on its licensing policy. Within this they stated: “Proof of the planning permission required for the relevant activity on the premises should also be provided”. This is additional red tape for low volume hobby breeders who will already have to declare their income to HMRC and provide public liability insurance.


Chichester District Council wrote to us following communications they had been having with an Assured Breeder regarding whether they would require a licence. They stated in their correspondence to them that the majority of dog breeders would now require a licence because breeding and selling dogs with a view to making a profit or earning any commission was now licensed. However this is just one marker in HMRC’s badges of trade and so is not the case.

Defra were contacted regarding this particular conversation and wrote to our Assured Breeder to state:  “The key thing to focus on here is the operation of business as being the determining factor in cases where less than three litters are bred per year. This is where the business test comes into play, which will help differentiate those who are legitimate hobby breeders and those who are actually operating a business….. The business test is not stating that anyone who makes a sale or takes a commission is automatically in scope…”


Selby District Council has been in contact by one of our KC Assured Breeders in relation to their licence and subsequent complaint upon being told they would only be issuing a 1 year licence initially. The reasons given are:’As this is new to all of us, for the first year only we will issue one year licences only. This will give you time to ensure that you are meeting all of the required standards, ready for the next years renewal and give us the chance to see what additional work, if any is required to enable us to get our fee setting correct.’  It is worth pointing out that this one year licence came at a cost of £556.10. Furthermore, this breeder has been a member of the Assured Breeder Scheme, without issue, since 2008 and has been the only licensed breeder within this local authority area for some years now.

New Guidance?

It is unlikely that the current Guidance will be updated in the near future but Defra has suggested that they are prepared to circulate a Briefing Note in the near future which bring some of these problems to the attention of local authorities.  We can only hope that they read them but in the meantime it is hoped that guidance will be made available to breeders so that licensing officers can be shown it as and when necessary.


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