The issue of how you go about buying a puppy and where you should buy it from is a contentious one.

Those of us who are part of the world of dogs – often described as dogdom here in the U.K. – know the correct steps to follow; research your chosen breed, speak to reputable breeders, buy from health-tested stock, always see the puppy with its mother in its home environment and never collect your new puppy from a breeder in the car park of a motorway service area. But are those steps quite so obvious to potential puppy buyers who have perhaps never had a dog in their life before?

Many puppy buyers in the U.K. don’t know how important it is to see a puppy in its home environment with its dam before taking it on as a family pet. Photo © Can Stock Photo.

According to the Kennel Club, Great Britain is sleepwalking into a dog welfare and consumer crisis. New research revealed that an increasing number of people are buying puppies online or from pet shops instead of from a responsible breeder.

And many of the people who are buying these puppies are buying animals that either need long-term veterinary treatment or are dying before they are 6 months old.

Research carried out ahead of the KC’s Puppy Awareness Week has shown that as many as one in three may have bought from a puppy farm (puppy mill) after they saw an advert on the Internet and social media, or have bought from a pet shop or from a newspaper advert – all outlets used often by puppy farmers.

KC Secretary Caroline Kisko says the numbers are increasing up from one in five last year, and she says: “Puppy farmers breed dogs purely for profit and without taking any of the responsible steps they should to protect the breeding dogs’ and puppies’ health and welfare.

“The increasing popularity of online pups is a particular concern. Of those who source their puppies online, half are going on to buy ‘mail order pups’ directly over the Internet.”

A recent study in the U.K. found that a third of puppies not bought from breeders failed to be healthy. Photo © Can Stock Photo.

The research found that:

  • • A third of the puppies bought online, through social media or in pet shops failed to “experience overall good health.”
  • • Nearly one in five puppies bought via social media or the Internet die before they reach the age of 6 months.
  • • Twelve percent of puppies bought online or on social media end up with serious health problems which require ongoing veterinary treatment from a young age.
  • • A total of 94 percent of puppies bought directly from a reputable breeder were reported to have good overall health.

Half those who bought puppies online or via social media said their puppy had shown behavioural problems, which are a big problem in puppy-farmed animals and can display through unsociability around other dogs or people, fear of their surroundings or aggressiveness.

Of course the findings of this research strengthen the case for the KC’s Assured Breeder Scheme (ABS), which was launched in 2004 as the Accredited Breeder Scheme. It goes some way to address the fact that there is currently very little regulation over dog breeders in the U.K.

“We wanted to ensure that our members always follow responsible steps when breeding and selling puppies,” Mrs. Kisko said last week.

The KC is urging more responsible breeders to join the scheme, saying that currently one-third of puppy buyers fail to see the puppy with its mother; more than half do not see the environment in which breeding and raising of puppies takes place; 70 percent do not receive a contract of sale; 82 percent were not offered post-sales advice; 69 percent did not see any relevant health certificates – which indicate how healthy the puppy is likely to be – for the puppy’s parents.

“These are all steps that our Assured Breeders must take,” Mrs. Kisko said. “There is nothing wrong with initially finding a puppy online, but it is essential to then see the breeder and ensure they are doing all of the right things.”

According to Mrs. Kisko, there is an “extremely serious consumer protection and puppy welfare crisis.” She urges people to always buy a puppy from a member of the ABS, who are the only breeders in the country whose membership is based upon their ability to show that the health and welfare of their pups comes first and foremost.

Sadly it appears the problem is likely to get worse, as mail-order pups bought over the Internet are the second most common way for the 18- to 24-year-old generation to buy a puppy.

At DOG WORLD we have argued for some time that there needs to be a national awareness campaign centred around the right and wrong way to go about bringing a puppy into your family. In fact, we have even suggested a number of ways that this could be done. While we are fully supportive of the ABS, many traditional breeders are less than positive about it. In a letter to a national newspaper last week, Italian Greyhound breeder Jo Amsel was critical of the scheme and made the claim that many breeders who are members of the ABS could also be classed as puppy farmers. In her letter to the Daily Mail, Mrs. Amsel who runs a boarding kennel said: “We see some appalling puppies bred by members of the scheme.” Many traditional breeders like Mrs. Amsel want the KC to refuse to register puppies from puppy farmers.

Although it doesn’t like to admit it in so many words, the KC has listened to critics of the ABS. The scheme was derided when initially launched almost 10 years ago, but over that period it has been refined to a point where it is seen by most in dogdom as a positive initiative. Only last week a new round of tighter controls on health testing was announced and earlier this year the ABS received accreditation from the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, giving it a national stamp of approval.

Where the answer lies to the whole question of puppy-farmed animals I don’t know, but if potential puppy buyers don’t understand they are doing something wrong in their approach to buying an animal, then how can they be expected to put it right?

One of our regular columnists at DOG WORLD is Australian Steven Seymour. He came on board during my time as editor after writing a number of well-crafted letters that made some important points and were very well-argued.

Steven is keen to see greater democracy in the structure of the U.K. Kennel Club and is generally fearful that if the KC does not act soon the future of pedigree dog showing in the U.K. could be at risk.

In his column last week he wrote: “There was a famous line which emerged from the Civil Service when Britain was gripped by industrial strife and economic decline. It was something along the lines of “we are here to manage the orderly decline of Britain.” Does that also ring true when pondering the KC’s approach to the current situation? No matter how much we voice our concern and no matter how far entries and registrations fall in number, the KC response is nothing more than a few well-chosen words here and there. Action is almost totally absent. Love her or hate her, but where is the KC’s Margaret Thatcher? Is there not a single pair of anything fully descended, in that Mayfair building? Is there someone who has not only the vision to see that things have to change, but also the will to do it?

“I am not sure which is worse. The first is the undeniable downturn in all aspects of showing and breeding of purebred dogs, and the second is the fact that you and I, the reader, are totally at the mercy of those who run the KC during this steady decline. We have no say and absolutely no chance of ever getting a say. We really are seeing the management of a steady decline of pure breed pedigree dog showing.

“Britain is in contrast to the rest of the world in the way dogs and shows are run, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. What is a bad thing however is the inability to see the need for change and do something about it.”

Strong words perhaps, but it is a view held by many people. I was at Richmond championship show this last weekend and one exhibitor said to me that when she looks at the behaviour of the KC it reminds her of the Roman emperor Nero who played his fiddle while all around burned.

But I’ll finish on a positive note: we sponsor the Junior Handling Association and the semi-finals of the national junior handler competition were held at Richmond at the weekend. It was truly heartening to see so many youngsters so enthusiastic about participating in the sport. It’s down to us to do all we can to make sure that enthusiasm is nurtured and they become the breeders and exhibitors of tomorrow.

Stuart Baillie is the managing director of the British newspaper Dog World, a Best In Show Daily partner.