Dogs are primarily pets – does ‘pedigree’ matter?

I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose = words in their best order; – poetry = the best words in the best order – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Inevitably and understandably those of us involved in pedigree dogs tend to focus on the problems pedigree dog breeders have with the animal licensing laws which were brought in in October 2018.  But pedigree dogs registered at Kennel The club only take up one third of the total bred every year and although many have until now been imported from abroad, the majority of the others are either unregistered pedigree dogs or deliberate cross breeds – sometimes described as ‘designer dogs’.  Although it will be true, just as it is with some pedigree dog breeders, that deliberate cross breeds are bred to provide an income, I can tell you that very many of ‘hobby breeders’ of cross breeds have their own clubs and societies which focus on health and welfare (Labradoodles have at least three that I am aware of and there is even an International Labradoodle Association) and some are working towards establishing an breed standard.

The Hybrid Breeders Association has been established for several years and its strapline is ‘Promoting ethical breeding and responsible ownership of healthy dogs’.  To become a member you have to sign up to a comprehensive code of ethics which is just as stringent as any in the world of pedigree dogs and the site makes clear that the association is not concerned with  ‘breed standards’ but with ‘breeders understanding of the health, husbandry and welfare of the dogs they breed’.  We may look down on these breeders but I can assure you that many breeders of deliberate crossbreeds look down on pedigree dogs.  Like it or not I believe we have to take those that are dedicated to health and welfare seriously.

We also have to take into consideration that the new licensing regulations are about ‘breeders’ and are not confined to breeders of dogs. Certainly cat breeders who fall into scope need a licence and I understand that breeders of other pets are considered targets by some local authorities.  As a result a number of groups have come together to form the Home Breeders Association and their Facebook page has already attracted nearly 500 members. They are mainly breeders of dogs but the Association is open to all breeders of pet animals from rabbits to gerbils.   They have asked me to help and their site and data base  of breeders is about to be launched (pleased note it is still in the ‘Beta’ stage of development)

What I have found interesting is that they carried out a comprehensive survey (as I discussed in a recent Speakers’ Corner) and as a result have already put together a series of recommended reforms which they believe the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) should take into consideration.  They have also become Associate Members of the Canine Feline Sector Group: they are taking their commitment to breeding very seriously

What I found particularly interesting was that their recommended reforms are in close alignment to those which I think we pedigree dog breeders would also like to see.  They point out that the business and trading income test from within the regulations is not just confusing but is being misinterpreted by many licensing authorities and they feel that increasing out of scope breeding license criteria to allow up to three litters rather than two would encourage small responsible domestic home breeders to help meet the high domestic demand of puppies bred by the most responsible breeders within the home environment. They also point out that such a change would also recognise that many breeds produce very small litters.  In passing, may I suggest, as I have on other occasions, that the whole licensing regime as far as breeders is concerned should be about the number of puppies bred each year not the number of litters.

They also have a great deal to say about what they call the ‘strict, tick box rules’ and feel it is important, particularly as far as home breeders are concerned, that a degree of flexibility should be allowed.

Definitions are tricky

This brings me to what might be a definition for ‘home breeders’.  Initially, it was suggested that the home breeder was one where ‘dogs generally roamed freely throughout their home’ but it was quickly pointed out that some breeders often have kennels outside and used crates in the home where dogs and bitches and puppies are placed temporarily even their dogs were still pets and came into the home and ‘ran freely’ regularly.  I was reminded that in Europe it is often unusual for dogs to sleep in the house but they were still regarded as the household’s pets.  However, a number of members pointed out that any definition which allowed crates and kennels should make it clear that the practice of stacking cages indoors to house bitches was not acceptable: I remember back in the 70s in Bracknell I was proudly shown around what from the outside looked a perfectly normal house within which were 30+ crates stacked from floor to ceiling each containing toy bitches – some with their puppies.  This and a visit to Hillside Kennels in Crawley, Sussex led to the publication of the several editions of Dog Directory by Joe and Liz Cartledge and Angela and me which was later taken on by Dog World.

It seems to me that the best solution is to combine the definition of a hobby breeder and home breeder.  So, ‘A ‘hobby breeder’ is one 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 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. A ‘hobby breeder’ will also usually fulfil the definition of a ‘home breeder’ which is one who breeds on a small scale with a limited breeding stock and within a primarily domestic environment where their pets have a degree of freedom within the living accommodation’.

Problems with planning

Such a definition would clarify the situation for local authority inspectors whose immediate reaction is likely to be that numbers are not defined.  My own feeling is that most hobby breeders will be limited to three or four breeding bitches while home breeders might be perhaps allowed five or six.  There is no doubt that many hobby breeders and home breeders will be subject to licensing and a proportion will fulfil some of HMRC’s ‘badges of trade’ so it is important for them to keep accurate financial records.

One area which will continue to cause problems is that there is a presumption among some planning authorities that more than six animals in any domestic environment require planning permission. This is not a matter of law at present but is a legal precedent.  Clearly if there are one or two litters of puppies, numbers often greatly increase temporarily and the expectation of the Assured Breeding Scheme is that stock no longer of breeding age should be retained.  The Home Breeders Association as part of its recommended reforms is to try and bring more flexibility in this matter so that numbers should be proportionate to the environment.  A successful breeder may live in a three-bedroom house on an estate while another may live in in the country with a reasonably sized garden: they should surely not be assessed to precisely the same standards.

The full details of the Home Breeders Associations Recommended Reforms will be found on their website at www.homebreedersassociation.uk


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