What is Puppy Farming?

Commercial intensive breeding establishments are in business; they exist to make money.  They use practices which make it easier to make money from their breeding programs.  The breeder is rarely able to be held to account after the sale of a puppy and therefore there is little to stop them using practices which have adverse impacts on the puppy future development.   The breeder will clearly be interested directly in keeping puppies alive until 8 weeks and in saleable condition but beyond that such establishments may have little knowledge, skill or incentive to rear puppies who will grow into healthy and behaviourally balanced dogs.

These practices fall into five broad areas 1. genetics, 2. early-life stimulus deprivation 3. stress (both prenatal maternal stress and early-life stress), 4. early weaning and early maternal separation 5. Owner related factors (McMillan 2017).   Mcmillan’s summary finds that 86% of cases of puppy farmed pups involve an increase in aggression towards the dog’s owners or family members, unfamiliar people and other dogs.  The other factor found was an increase in fear.

Row of sitting dogs
  1. Genetics

The pairing of sire and dam may occur with little regard for temperament or for inheritable illness.  Instead, the same sire may be used in repeated generations leading to inbreeding.  The commercial dog breeding industry is a major producer of purebred dogs (McMillan et al, 2011), selecting for exaggerated traits which are injurious to the dogs ongoing welfare into adulthood.  From the excessive skin folds and respiratory problems of the British Bulldog to the foreshortened limbs of the Dachshund these disabilities effect every stage of socialisation and development.

The breeding stock used will be chosen because they are cost effective, easily available and they carry traits which will ensure the puppies can be sold for good value.   It has been shown that after rehoming these previous breeding stock had high levels of health problems and significantly higher rates of fear and phobias combined with lower trainability (McMillan et al, 2011).  Whether these issues arise from nature or nurture isn’t shown but it is likely that by selecting for exaggerated physical traits, the inheritable behavioural traits become less stable.  The breeding stock’s higher level of health problems will have produced puppies who are more likely to develop such health problems as they develop.  I’ve certainly dealt with purebred puppies through the pandemic who have in early adolescence been diagnosed with elbow and hip dysplasia and no genetic testing had been carried out.  These cases of ‘behaviour problems’ were only picked up because these owners sort the help of a behaviourist very early in their dog’s life for excessive fear, anxiety and reluctance to walk.  There must be so many other who have just been labelled as stubborn instead.  But there is also evidence which supports a genetic component to such behavioural traits as anxiety, fear, noise phobia, OCD, predatory behaviour and impulse control problems (McMillan 2017).

2. Stress

Maternal stress during gestation is a well-documented predictor of stress sensitivity and emotional reactivity of the puppies through to their adulthood.   In puppy farms, dams are often used for all of their reproductive lives, in states of poor health and hygeine with little room for exercise and no enrichment.  Mcmillan notes the following stressors have all been documented in commercial breeding: spatial restriction, extreme temperatures, aversive interactions with kennel staff, lack of feelings of control over aversive exposure and limited positive opportunities for interactions with humans and other dogs.  Thus, these dams will be suffering from chronic if not acute stress during pregnancy.

3. Early life

Early life deprivation is also a considerable factor in puppy farmed puppies.   Positive early stimulation leads to puppies who grow into more stable adult dogs.  Gentle handling for 3 minutes a day through the first three weeks of life has been shown to produce more emotional stable adult dogs (Gazzano et al, 2008a).  There is no evidence of such practices in commercial breeding establishments.   Instead stress and trauma, from the puppy farming environment can have a long lasting effect on dog’s behaviour (McMillan 2017).

Socialisation begins at 3 weeks, inadequate exposure to a wide range of environments, stimuli, humans and dogs will lead to fear of new things, impaired social behaviour and diminished learning ability.  Puppies experiencing this early start in life are more likely to exhibit behavioural problems as adults including aggression (Howell et al, 2015).   Puppies from commercial breeding establishments are also likely to have received less handling by humans and consequently show more touch sensitivity.

4. Early Weaning

Early weaning is also common practice in commercial breeding as well as early separation from the mother.  Slabbert and Rosa 1993 found that puppies separated at 6 lost more weight and had a  lower survival rate through to the 6 month point.   Pierantoni et al 2011 found that puppies removed at 30-40 days were 15 times more likely to be fearful on walks and 6 times more likely to bark at other dogs than dogs removed from the litter at 60 days.  Early weaning is also associated with poor bite inhibition as play fighting with mother and littermates allows puppies to learn bite inhibition.  McMillan states that an investigation by the Daily Mirror found that puppies as young as 5 weeks were being purchased from breeders.

5. Owner support

Commercial breeding establishments are interested in making a sale of a puppy and have no incentive to interview puppy owners, to ascertain appropriate home life for the puppys’ future or to enter into contracts with new puppy owners or to provide to rehome the puppy if required.     Novice dog owners will often need clear guidance on looking after their first puppy (Gazzano et al, 2008b) which commercial breeding establishments do not provide.  The Independent Inquiry into Dog Breeding stated that poor fit of the dog with the owners lifestyle was one of just four factors impacting on dog’s welfare.