Dogs bred on puppy farms were found to be more aggressive, more fearful of other dogs and more likely to suffer separation anxiety as adults than dogs from reputable breeders, new research has shown.
Animal scientists at Newcastle University have presented the first UK study looking at how the early weeks of dog’s life spent in a puppy farm affects its temperament and behaviour as an adult.
Assessing three popular breeds – the Pug, Chihuahua and Jack Russell – the dogs were grouped as being from “responsible breeders” and “less responsible breeders”.
Dogs ranked against key canine traits
This was done by asking owners questions such as: Did you see the mother? Were health documents available? Were the puppies brought up in a home environment? Did you have any concerns for the bitch or puppies’ welfare? At what age did you get the puppy?
After this, owners were then asked to rank their dogs against a number of key canine traits using the Canine Behaviour and Research Questionnaire.
These included whether their dog was aggressive towards strangers, owners and other dogs; if they had a fear of new things or loud noises and whether they suffered separation related problems. It also assessed ‘trainability’, or how obedient the dog is.
Dr Catherine Douglas, a lecturer in animal science at Newcastle University and research supervisor explained:
“The term ‘puppy farm’ is widely used to describe large volume production of puppies but in this study we also included other smaller scale commercial breeders where the dogs’ welfare may not be the first concern.
“There has been some research around the health problems associated with dogs from puppy farms but very little research into long term effects on adult dog behaviour.
“We found that across all behaviour categories, including trainability, dogs from less responsible breeders had significantly less favourable behaviour and temperament scores than puppies from responsible breeders - those following good practice such as that outlined in the RSPCA, British Veterinary Association and Animal Welfare Foundation’s Puppy contract.
“The results were what most owners, welfare scientists and behaviourists would have suspected, but until now the evidence has been anecdotal. Hopefully this new evidence will further encourage potential owners to do thorough research before getting a puppy.”
Improving animal welfare
The Questionnaire was originally designed by Professor James Serpell of Pennsylvania State University who conducted a similar study in America with dogs acquired from pet stores mostly supplied by high volume puppy farms.
This latest Newcastle study was carried out as part of ongoing research to further our understanding of human-animal interactions including companion animal welfare and behaviour.
Investigating the impact of a poor start in life the research team – led by undergraduate animal sciences student Rebecca Gray – say the findings are unlikely to be attributable to one single cause.
“Previous studies have shown that mothers who are stressed or poorly fed during pregnancy had more anxious and less trainable off-spring,” explains Dr Douglas.
“Early separation from the mother has been found to be detrimental and the direct effect on the puppies of their early experiences in these less than ideal environments is also likely to be a factor.
“Fundamentally, animals destined to interact with humans and the world should not be reared in puppy farms and no breeding animal should be kept in such confinement. The welfare of both puppy and parents should be put above profit and the more the public know about this the more likely they will source their dog from a responsible home to give it the best chance in life of being a successful companion.”
The research was presented at the British Society of Animal Science conference in Chester and further analysis will be presented at Universities Federation for Animal Welfare’s (UFAW’s) Recent Advances in Animal Welfare Science in York on June 23rd.
Dr Douglas adds:
“Our study highlights once again how important it is to thoroughly do your research before buying a puppy. You need to know your breed of dog, its behaviour, care requirements, family history including parents’ temperament and ensure your breed isn’t likely to suffer from inherited disorders.
“And now you also need to think very carefully about where you get it from.”
The research supports the RSPCA advice “Don't buy a puppy because you feel sorry for it – another will be bred to replace it!” and adds further reason, as you may be getting a less suitable companion, behaviourally.
• Reference: “Do puppies from ‘puppy farms’ [puppy mills] show more temperament and behavioural problems than if acquired from other sources? Using CBARQ to assess” Rebecca Gray, Catherine Douglas, Sophie Butler and James Serpell, Presented at British Society of Animal Science “Annual Conference”, Chester, UK, 6th April 2016.
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