Page last updated at 13:21 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

Inquiry calls for better care in pedigree dog breeding

Sir Patrick Bateson on the key recommendations of his report

The author of a report into pedigree dogs has called for sweeping changes among breeders to improve the health of the animals.

The Kennel Club and Dogs Trust funded an independent inquiry after concerns highlighted in a BBC documentary.

Cambridge University professor Sir Patrick Bateson's proposals cover the running of puppy farms, inbreeding and breeding for extreme features.

The report also called for the Dangerous Dogs Act to be amended.

In 2008, the RSPCA pulled out of Crufts saying exaggerating features like jowls of bulldogs led to painful deformities.

Welfare standards

The Kennel Club introduced new standards for 209 breeds last year.

Sir Patrick, who is president of the Zoological Society of London, has called for a non-statutory advisory council on dog breeding, changes in the law including a requirement for all puppies to be microchipped prior to sale, and an upgraded accredited breeder scheme.

Jeremy Cooke
BBC correspondent Jeremy Cooke
The Bateson inquiry may leave some in the Kennel Club feeling they have scored something of an own goal. Officially they welcome the report - which the Kennel Club itself commissioned in the light of damning allegation in a BBC documentary.

But Professor Bateson's report hardly gives pure bred dog breeding a clean bill of health. He concludes that inbreeding and breeding dogs for specific characteristics such as wrinkly skin are serious welfare issues.

The problem can be that breeders who produce puppies with the most exaggerated "desirable" characteristics have often won awards at top dog shows. And that means the puppies they produce can fetch higher prices.

Professor Bateson called it a classic example of "Private Gain versus Public Good".

He said: "Many breeders exercise high standards of welfare, but negligent management on puppy farms is a major welfare issue as is inbreeding in pure-bred dogs. Fashions for extreme conformations are also a cause of welfare problems."

He also told the BBC: "The public plays a big role here. A dog will be with a family at least 10 years, so they should take trouble in finding a good breeder, making sure that the proper health checks have been done and making sure the dog has been microchipped.

"When all these things are done, I think the public can exert powerful pressure on the breeders."

Key recommendations from the report include:

• the creation of an independent non-statutory council to develop breeding strategies addressing issues of inherited disease, extreme conformation and inbreeding

• changes in the law including requirements for the compulsory microchipping of all puppies and a duty of care on all breeders to have regard to the health and welfare of both the parents and the offspring of a mating

• a robust accredited breeder scheme to set out requirements, including pre-mating health tests, allowing purchasers to view a puppy with its mother, and microchipping all puppies before sale

• the creation of a computer-based system for the collection of anonymous diagnoses of breeds from veterinary surgeries

• a publicity and education campaign to encourage a major improvement in how the public buys dogs

• the Dangerous Dogs Act should be amended to apply to all dogs that have been shown to be dangerous, rather than to specified breeds, and should address the problem of dogs being bred and reared specifically as weapons for fighting.

Sir Patrick had earlier told the BBC that the condition of some puppy farms was "not good" and "probably in breach of the Animal Welfare Act".


Clips from the BBC documentary about pedigree dog breeding

Sir Patrick also expressed concern about breeding dogs for extreme characteristics.

Changing guidelines

The Kennel Club and Dogs Trust said they "broadly welcomed" the report.

In a joint statement they said they "particularly welcomed the report's recommendation that the Dangerous Dogs Act should be overhauled to tackle those who breed and rear dogs as weapons, and that the legislation should apply to all dogs that have been shown to be dangerous rather than to specific breeds".

The Kennel Club, which runs Crufts, changed its guidelines defining which features dogs should have in order to be classed as pedigree in January 2009.

It previously said standards had been revised to exclude "anything that could in any way be interpreted as encouraging features that might prevent a dog breathing, walking and seeing freely".

In August 2008, the Kennel Club was featured in a BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which looked at health and welfare problems in pedigree dogs.

It said physical traits required by the Kennel Club's breed standards, such as short faces and dwarfism, led to inherent health problems and claimed many dogs suffered because owners bred them for looks.

Dogs at Crufts
The BBC televised Crufts for many years before pulling out in 2009

Following its airing, the BBC pulled out of broadcasting Crufts in 2009.

The Kennel Club lodged a complaint about the programme with Ofcom, accusing the documentary of bias.

It said the programme was unfairly edited and did not properly reflect its "deep commitment to the health and welfare of dogs".

The media regulator ruled the programme was not unfairly edited, but criticised some elements of the show and said the club had not been given "a proper opportunity" to respond to the allegations.

'Urgent action'

Changes introduced by the Kennel Club at the start of last year said bulldogs would no longer be encouraged to have heavy jowls and deep, overhanging wrinkles, the forelegs of German shepherds should not be overlong and chow chows which "must not have so much coat as to impede activity or cause distress in hot weather".

Judges at licensed dog shows were instructed to choose only the healthiest dogs as champions. At Crufts it was ruled animals that showed signs of ill-health should be expelled.

In November, an all-party parliamentary group report found many pedigree dogs suffered from serious health and welfare problems and recommended good breeding practices such as health screening and restrictions on the breeding of closely-related dogs.

It advised no dog be given champion status at a show unless it had been cleared for all potential diseases associated with that breed.

In February 2009, the RSPCA called for urgent action to safeguard the welfare and future of pedigree dogs as the result of an independent report into their well-being.

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