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A Closer Look at the Purdue University Breeding Dog Welfare Project

The breeding dog welfare project, led by Dr. Candace Croney, is a comprehensive program that began with a request from Indiana dog breeders for Dr. Croney’s guidance to develop standards for the care of their dogs. Funding to develop the scientific and educational components needed to accomplish this was provided by pet industry leaders who shared the goal and vision to substantially improve breeding dog welfare and to support breeders across the country who also desired to do so. The project that resulted was developed independently by Purdue University scientists to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest given that pet industry funding was involved.

While many people are familiar with the standards aspect of the project, there are in fact three distinct components that are ongoing: 1) establishing and pilot testing science-based standards for the care and welfare of breeding dogs, 2) conducting research to develop science needed to inform key aspects of the standards (for example, the impacts of different flooring types on dogs, assessment of dog dental health and ways to support it, behavioral evaluation of dogs under different management types), and 3) providing comprehensive breeder education and outreach.

The goals of the program include the development and communication of science-based Standards of Care aimed at facilitating best canine care practices via continuous improvement, research and breeder education.

Details on each of the three program elements – standards, research and education – are outlined below.

Standards

The Standards of Care for dog breeders were developed to provide a science-based, thoroughly tested, outcome-focused foundation for voluntary certification. They are not breed standards, nor are they standards for how to breed dogs. They are simply standards that outline best care practices demonstrated to support and continuously improve dog well-being. Purdue University scientists worked collaboratively to write these standards based on existing science and established codes of practice.

The standards were then reviewed by external scientific experts in animal science, welfare, behavior, health, nutrition, canine reproduction, genetics and ethics, as well as dog breeders. They were then pilot-tested by a small group of breeders from the Midwest. Prior to their release, they continue to be modified to reflect new science, and the outcomes of pilot testing, which was conducted to ensure that they are practical and economical for breeders to follow.

The final standards reflect all of the research and input.  They focus on key areas that impact dog well-being, including health, nutrition, veterinary care, behavioral management, housing and end of breeding life. As these are outcome-based standards, they focus primarily on the dogs and how well their needs are met based on their measurable physical and behavioral responses. To ensure that breeders have the flexibility to meet the standards in any way they can that achieves the desired outcomes for dogs, there are relatively few areas that are prescriptive or specification focused. Examples of these relate to space allocation and housing materials known to cause risks to dogs.

Research

Research is an essential component of the breeding dog welfare project. Originally, the project was focused on three major research topics, but due to the lack of published studies on areas relevant to the standards, such as housing, the research program expanded to include multiple study areas. Among the research topics are common breeder practices and implications for the welfare status of dogs in breeding operations, field studies on the effects of flooring on which dogs are kept, dental health of dogs, socialization and caretaker interactions, and scientific, field-ready metrics of dog welfare. In addition, Purdue University researchers examined public perceptions and consumer behavior as it relates to dog breeding. White papers, extension reports and executive summaries of the research results are continually updated and available online.

Education

To ensure that breeders fully understand the Standards of Care and can successfully implement them at their operations, the third element of the dog welfare project is breeder education. Members of the Purdue University team conduct site visits to breeder operations to ensure breeder knowledge about the standards and to provide support on how to meet them. Educational materials targeted at breeders as well as animal care and health professionals have been created and continue to be developed.

Breeders are encouraged to visit Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science website to review the information on canine well-being and detailed research findings that are posted there.