The sale of puppies in pet shops and by third-party puppy dealers could soon be a thing of the past after the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s Animal Welfare: Domestic Pets (1) inquiry recommended a ban on the practice.

A ban would be great news for dogs as the sale of puppies in pet shops and other third-parties allow the true source of puppies to be hidden from the end purchaser. The source of these puppies is invariably puppy farms, large commercial breeders with exceptionally poor animal welfare standards.

Animal welfare groups such as PupAid (2) and C.A.R.I.A.D (3) have been leading the charge for this ban. However other welfare groups have some reservations citing concerns that the ban might be unenforceable or could push the trade underground (4). Both objections may at first glance seem reasonable but when carefully examined they do not stand up to scrutiny.


A ban would be immediately enforceable against pet shops, as these are licensed and inspected by the local authority. A pet shop selling puppies after any ban would be easily identified.

Of course it will be harder to identify puppy dealers (third-party sellers selling from home/online) than pet shops, but it will still be much more enforceable than the alternative, licensing.

Under a licensing system puppy dealers can legally sell puppies from puppy farms as long as the dealer holds a licence. Dealers cannot be held responsible for conditions on the puppy farms that supply them. Conditions in their own premises are regulated by over-stretched councils on the basis of subjective assessments of animal welfare.

Those puppy dealers acting illegally by not holding a license, if caught, can simply pay the fines and apply for a licence and become ‘legitimate’ under the licensing system (as happened in a recent case) (5). This makes meaningful enforcement even against illegal unlicensed dealers extremely hard under the licensing system.

From a regulatory perspective it is much simpler to establish a breach of an objective test (i.e. selling puppies third-party) than to evidence a breach of a much more complex subjective test (i.e. breaches of licensing conditions/animal welfare severe enough to warrant prosecution).

Under the licensing system the source of the puppies can be concealed and the dealer not held accountable for the conditions on the puppy farms that supply them. Under the licensing system licensed dealers can only be stopped if their over-stretched councils (that only routinely inspect annually) find overwhelming evidence of severe breaches of licence conditions. Under the licensing system illegal dealers when caught can just apply for a licence! With a ban anyone identified as dealing in puppies third-party can be immediately stopped.

For these reasons, a ban on the sale of puppies is not only enforceable but in fact far more enforceable than any incarnation of the licensing system can hope to be.

Pushing Trade Underground

It is argued by some that a ban on the sale of puppies by pet shops and puppy dealers will push the trade ‘underground’. However this ignores the fact that there are plenty of unlicensed ‘underground’ puppy dealers under the current system.

Under the current system a licensed dealer or pet shop can sell puppies that they claim to be from a licensed breeder (or even a breeder which is exempt from licensing) but there is no system that ensures that this actually was the puppy’s birth place, relying solely on the honesty of puppy farmers. This leaves underfunded councils with the near impossible task of establishing true origin. With a ban all that needs to be established is that the dealer is selling puppies they did not breed themselves – a far simpler task for regulators. Therefore, far from adding to the booming black market created under the licensing system, a ban would actually help to tackle it!

Furthermore, there is often little to separate ‘underground’ and licensed premises in the first place. As Julia Carr, dog welfare campaigner and founder of Canine Action UK said “…[T]here is little evidence to indicate that standards are significantly lower in unlicensed or illegal establishments. In fact there are often very striking similarities between licensed and illegally operating facilities, implying that the conditions required by licensing are the barest essentials necessary for sustaining life.” (6)

The licensing system has failed, both to protect dogs within it and to prevent the illegal trade outside of it. There is no evidence that any reforms to this shambolic system would tackle the issues created by pet shops and third-party puppy dealers. Only a ban has any hope of addressing the problem.


Photo credit: Fotocad Cornel

This story is a guest submission and does not reflect the views of Dogs Monthly Magazine, always consult a qualified expert.

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