Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Written evidence submitted by The Kennel Club

Dog Control

1. Are the approaches proposed by Defra in its announcement on “Tackling Irresponsible Dog Ownership” on 23 April 2012 sufficient to ensure that there is a reduction in the number of attacks by dogs on people and animals?

The Kennel Club has been lobbying for the introduction of Dog Control Notices as genuine preventative action which would allow authorities to take action against irresponsible dog owners at the first signs of their dogs displaying aggression. These pre-emptive measures would mean that “problem dogs” and indeed, problem owners, can be addressed before a serious incident occurs. The Kennel Club is therefore somewhat disappointed that Defra’s package of measures does not do more to hold irresponsible owners to account for their actions.

The Kennel Club firmly believes that pre-emptive measures are a more effective solution than the current legislation which ties up police resources in seizing specific breeds deemed to be dangerous regardless of the behaviour of the individual dog, rather than focusing resources on dogs of any breed, or type, that have actually displayed aggressive behaviour.

2. Is there a need for a more fundamental overhaul of dog legislation, and its enforcement, including that relating to dog attacks on people, livestock and pets?

Yes. The Kennel Club outlined its suggested changes through the construction of the Dog Control Bill, a Private Members Bill taken forward by Lord Rupert Redesdale in the House of Lords and Caroline Nokes MP in the House of Commons.

3. Is sufficient action being taken on pets raised as status dogs to ensure their welfare and reduce their impact on communities?

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 police and local authorities already have a range of powers to prosecute anyone compromising a dog’s welfare and causing an animal to suffer. Under the duty of care clause contained in the Act all owners and keepers of pets are legally required to provide for the basic needs of their animals.

The enforcement of this legislation is shared by the police, local authorities and the State Veterinary Service. If the welfare of some animals is being compromised the Kennel Club would suggest this is not due to a lack of powers or legal vires but rather due to failure to strategically focus resources on the problem in a co-ordinated manner.

With regard to anti-social behaviour and/or dangerous dogs the Animal Welfare Act provides a range of offences related to animal fighting, preventing owners from using their animals in this manner or training them for fighting purposes.

Whilst the Kennel Club is actively campaigning for reform of the Dangerous Dogs legislation it does not see a dog licence scheme as a panacea for these issues. Instead we would like to see delivery reforms such as giving police more preventative powers to deal with the behaviour or any dog.

4. Will compulsory microchipping of puppies improve dog welfare and help prevent dog attacks at an affordable cost to dog owners? Should a dog licensing scheme also be considered?

The UK’s dog licensing scheme was abandoned in 1987 with less than 50% of the dog owning population holding a licence. Government figures estimated the cost of merely administering such a scheme at £22 million as long ago as 19981—likely to be far higher today. A dog licensing scheme would either:

Divert resources away from front line services such as dog wardens and inspectors—funding the Kennel Club believes would be far better spent on recruitment and training of officers to be able to respond to reports of neglect or abuse in animals.

Or, if funded by a licensing fee, unnecessarily burden the responsible majority of the dog owners in England with a financial penalty to deliver a scheme that would have minimal impact on dog welfare or the numbers of dog attacks.

Under a dog licence scheme those dog owners who already behave irresponsibly would have no incentive for change and could easily continue to evade the law, whilst responsible dog owners would be penalised financially for behaving responsibly.

Furthermore, those on fixed incomes such as pensioners and/or those in receipt of benefits, whilst being able to afford day to day up keep may be unable to pay annual or one off lump sums for a dog licence. Dog ownership can provide an inexpensive and effective means of exercise and companionship for those on low incomes and thus has positive impacts on both physical and mental health which should not be dismissed. Such cases of hardship would generate calls for exemptions and thus increase the bureaucratic complexity of a licensing scheme and add further to the burden placed upon those who can afford the license fees.

5. Should the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 be extended to include offences committed on private property?

The Kennel Club believes that it is not acceptable for an owner to allow their dog to behave aggressively either in the home or in a public place and therefore cautiously supports the extension of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 to make it an offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control in all places.

The Kennel Club would stress however that the application of law to include private property must include exemptions to cover circumstances such as a bite as a result of provocation by another animal, on a person whilst that person is committing an offence or as a result of provocation. It will be imperative to ensure that the only owners and dogs to be penalised are those acting irresponsibly and not just as a result of other people’s irresponsible or criminal actions.

Postal workers, health care assistants, social workers, utility inspectors etc regularly visit private properties without necessarily being known to the dog or landowner, and should be able to do so safely. Nevertheless, we do not wish to extend such protection to anyone involved in criminal activity. It is important that the emphasis is on the owners’ responsibility to avoid injury to anybody carrying out their lawful activities.

Furthermore dog owners should not be subjected to prosecution where they have adequately warned third parties not to enter specific areas of their property without first alerting the dog owner.

6. Are Defra’s proposals for wider community and educational approaches to support responsible dog ownership sufficiently ambitious?

Whilst the Kennel Club welcomes local authority and community projects to promote responsible dog ownership and the government’s commitment to invest in such measures, it does not feel that £50,000 will make any impact in improving the current situation. The Kennel Club’s Charitable Trust has made several grants for such schemes, with individual projects alone costing in the region of £10,000. £50,000 shared throughout the UK is therefore unlikely to even provide local authorities with sufficient “pump-priming” resources towards improving measures to prevent dog bite incidents and protect the public from aggressive dogs and their owners.

7. Do local authorities, the police and animal welfare charities have the right roles in managing stray dogs under the current legislative regime?

Yes, the Kennel Club believes the roles held by local authorities, the police and animal welfare charities are effective when undertaken correctly. However, the introduction of compulsory microchipping would help with the management of stray and lost dogs considerably.

Dog Welfare

8. In respect to concerns expressed in Professor Bateson’s report over poor welfare that has arisen in the course of breeding dogs, has the response by dog breeders and the veterinary profession been effective?

The Kennel Club believes that significant and effective steps have been taken, both before and after Professor Bateson’s report.

Although there are irresponsible breeders who operate outside the Kennel Club’s sphere of control, it is still the largest organisation in the UK for dog owners and this puts the Kennel Club in a strong position to influence, help and work with breed clubs, breeders, puppy buyers, the government, vets and charitable organisations for the benefit of all dogs. The Kennel Club is ready to assist in developing proportionate processes and standards that will produce an improvement in breeding standards embracing all forms of dog breeding.

Breeders that register with the Kennel Club are obliged to follow its rules. As such, the Club has put in place a number of initiatives that have had a positive impact on pedigree dog breeders and continues to invest in initiatives to help improve dog health in the future. These include:

Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS)—formed in 2004, members of the scheme agree to follow specific standards of care that will give their puppies the best possible chance of leading healthy, happy lives. Examples include subjecting their dogs to required health tests, socialising their puppies prior to sale and giving Kennel Club ABS Inspectors access to their premises.

The Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme has been identified as the best example of a welfare scheme for breeders that exists in the UK, by Professor Bateson’s Independent Inquiry into Dog Breeding which came out in January 2010. The report also recommended that the scheme sought UKAS accreditation in order to be independently and externally verified, something which the Kennel Club has been undertaking and hopes to achieve in the near future.

The Club would like to see the welfare charities and veterinary surgeons pointing prospective puppy owners towards Assured Breeders as a positive action to ensure people do not unwittingly fall into the hands of less reputable dog breeders.

Litter restrictions—The Kennel Club refuses to register puppies from a bitch that has had more than four litters except in extenuating circumstances. Puppy farmers breed from bitches repeatedly, the current legal limit of litters a bitch can have is six but the Kennel Club feels this is too high and thus has imposed this reduced litter number on pedigree breeders.

Caesarean Sections—The Kennel Club refuses to register litters of puppies born to a bitch that has previously had two caesarean sections, as this could indicate an underlying health problem that means they should not be bred from again.

Breeding licence checks—Those who breed five or more litters a year usually require a breeding licence from their local authority. To register with the Kennel Club, those breeding five or more litters a year must have been inspected by the Kennel Club or provide a local authority breeder’s licence.

Health tests—The Kennel Club encourages all breeders to health test so that we can help to eliminate inherited dog diseases, and Kennel Club Assured Breeders must give their dogs the required tests before they can register their litters.

The Kennel Club runs clinical health screening schemes in conjunction with the British Veterinary Association and also invests in the development of DNA tests that identify dogs with significant inherited defects. Puppy buyers are able to find the health test results of every Kennel Club registered dog online, before they make a buying decision.

Ban on close matings—it is vital that the genetic diversity of all breeds remains at a healthy level and in January 2009, the Kennel Club announced that it would put a stop to the practice of mating very close relatives carried out by a small number of breeders.

Breeding away from exaggerations—the Kennel Club has reviewed every one of the pedigree breed standards to ensure that they contain no wording that could be interpreted as encouraging exaggeration that might lead to health concerns and to make it absolutely clear that health must always come first. Breed standards are regularly reviewed by the Kennel Club, in conjunction with the veterinary profession and other experts.

The Kennel Club remains concerned that many breeders outside of its remit do not take adequate care to ensure the health and welfare of their dogs as there is little legal obligation for them to do so. The Club is therefore taking many steps to try to ensure that dog welfare is at the top of breeders’ agendas, including:

Kennel Club Charitable Trust and the Kennel Club Genetics Centre—In March 2009, the Kennel Club created a Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust. Over its first five years, the Centre aims to investigate 25 inherited diseases. It has and will continue to develop, where possible, screening tests to determine affected and carrier dogs with the aim of reducing or eradicating these conditions.

Estimated effective population sizes—The Kennel Club and the Animal Health Trust have conducted ground breaking research to show how many genetically different dogs are effectively contributing to their breed; this is termed the estimated effective population size. This will enable the Kennel Club to work with breeders to find solutions that will ensure healthy population sizes in the future.

Outcrossing programmes—The Kennel Club works with breed clubs to look at suitable outcrossing programmes (where two breeds are crossed together and their great-great grandchildren registered as purebreds) and at importing dogs from outside the UK, to widen the gene pool. This will ensure that owners benefit from the predictability of pedigree dogs (which includes their exercise, grooming and health needs) and at the same time ensure the decline of genetic diversity in the future is prevented.

Education—the Kennel Club is working to educate people about the importance of going to a responsible breeder to encourage market demand for responsible breeders to act as a driver for improvement. The Kennel Club holds a national Puppy Awareness Week each September to highlight this issue, and responsible breeding and puppy buying are at the heart of its two annual events—Discover Dogs and Crufts Dog Show.

9. What actions should Government take to address these issues?

As well as the need for greater awareness amongst the puppy buying public, the Kennel Club considers change to legislation as the best way forward as well as more effective enforcement of existing legislation. The Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 (as amended by the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999) seeks to prohibit the worst aspects of puppy farming. However, the extent to which this is being enforced varies significantly regionally. The Kennel Club is lobbying to end the sale of puppies from pet shops through the introduction of secondary regulation on pet vending under the Animal Welfare Act. The Kennel Club would like to see tighter regulations to more effectively govern the way people breed and sell dogs and will continue to campaign for an end to the cruel puppy farming trade.

10. Are further controls required on dog breeders, including puppy farms, and those selling or importing dogs to ensure the welfare of bitches and puppies? 

The Kennel Club would like to see principles and standards similar to those followed by members of the Kennel Club Assured Breeder Scheme made mandatory for anyone breeding dogs, as many dog breeders are currently inadequately regulated.

July 2012

1 ‘Dogs’ House of Commons Research Paper 98/6, Patsy Hughes, 2 January 1998

Prepared 14th February 2013