Dog Breeder Licencing and Legal Considerations

Wondering if you need a license to breed and sell puppies? There is a lot of debate surrounding licensing and what it means for small, home breeders. This article will tell you everything you need to know about breeder licensing laws.

Written by Rebecca Walters
a happy cockapoo sitting on a deck with their owner behind

Many people think of dog breeding as a fun and easy hobby, but there are several legal considerations that must be taken into account before getting started. Breeding dogs in the UK is a serious business, and as with all serious businesses, there are rules and laws around how they are run. 

If you live in the UK and are breeding dogs or are considering breeding dogs, you will most likely be aware that you need to determine whether or not you will be required to apply for a dog breeding licence. 

In this article, we’ll explore how you can become a licensed dog breeder and how you can ensure you are compliant. We’ll also discuss some of the other legal considerations involved.

And remember, if you breed without a licence, you run the risk of 6 months imprisonment or an unlimited fine. It’s not worth the risk!

What is a dog breeding licence?

Under UK law, dog breeding is a licensable activity. If you are already breeding, or if you are considering breeding you need to understand your legal requirements around breeding activities.  

Dog Breeding licences are issued by your local council. Licensing Officers are the people who grant the licences and they follow the guidance written by Defra to determine whether you are licensable or not. The most recent Defra guidance was published in February 2022 and is available on the government website. These new licensing requirements accompany the existing Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) 2018 regulations.

Do you need a licence to breed dogs?

The first step is to read and understand the Defra guidance and decide whether you require a licence or not. This is what is know as being “in scope” or “out of scope.”

To be “in scope” would indicate that you are operating your breeding practices in a way that requires a licence. 

If you are “out of scope” then you are operating your breeding practices in a way that does not require a licence. 

So how do you know if you are in or out of scope? 

Currently, whether you require a licence or not depends on two things. Firstly, do you breed three or more litters in a year and sell any of the puppies? 

And secondly, do you run a business that breeds and advertises these dogs for sale?

This second factor is the so called “business test” and is often discussed among breeders pondering over the guidance and its interpretations. However, the latest guidance has somewhat cleared that up. 

It now says that when determining whether a breeder is ‘advertising a business’, a local authority must consider: 

  • the number, frequency and/or volume of sales; 
  • whether high volumes of animals are being sold or advertised; 
  • and whether low volumes of animals are being sold where high sales prices or large profit margins are involved.

You are also seen to be operating as a business if you have a website, you regularly use sales sites, and if you have social media pages promoting your breeding and puppy sales. If you are seen as operating as a business you would therefore be “in scope” and you would require a dog breeding’ licence. 

On the other side of the equation it can be interpreted that breeders who breed a smaller number of puppies (i.e. fewer than three litters per year) and sell them without making a profit are deemed to be “out of the scope” of licensing.

Although the guidance applies to the whole of the UK, local authorities interpret the guidance differently and there are slightly different rulings around the licencing of dog breeders for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

If you decide you are indeed in scope, or that you will be, or intend to be in scope then you will need to apply to your local authority. 

How to apply and how much does it cost?

You will make an application through your local authority and at that point pay part of the licensing fee. The remaining part is payable upon successful inspection. 

The fee amount varies from one local authority to another so you’ll need to check their websites for exact costs. We checked ten local authority websites and found the average to be around £260, with some as low as £150 and others nearing £400. 

At the point of the initial inspection the licensing officer will be accompanied by a vet. The vets fee is payable by you as the breeder and is not covered in the initial licensing fee. 

Licensing Inspector Visit

Following your application, you’ll receive a visit from a licensing inspector and the accompanying vet.

They will assess:

  • Accommodation and facilities for your dogs – all animals must be protected from injury, illness and escape. 
  • The environment - is it safe and suitable for their behavioural needs and welfare. They’ll be assessing space, air quality, cleanliness, noise and temperature, among other things.
  • Whether the dogs you are breeding from are healthy and temperamentally sound for use as breeding animals.
  • Cleaning and disease management protocols.
  • The exercise, socialisation and enrichment protocols for your litters.
  • What you provide in your puppy packs.
  • Your risk assessments for emergency situations.
  • The staff to dog ratio.
  • Your qualifications, training and experience, as well as that of any staff. 
  • Evidence of training for all/any staff.

In addition, you will be required to provide written procedures for:

  • feeding, cleaning and transportation
  • the prevention and control of the spread of disease
  • monitoring and ensuring the health and welfare of all the animals
  • the death or escape of an animal.

Other records will be checked so they should be readily available for inspection. This could include your dogs’ health tests and pedigree. The licensing officer will also check all of your dogs’ microchips and the corresponding paperwork, ensuring that they match. 

Details of litters, sales and contracts should also be available. A record of the puppies you have sold and their new owners will be requested. You will be expected to provide a register of the dogs on the premises, including any pet dogs or dogs owned by other people. 

The initial inspection takes a few hours, and will be thorough. The inspectors are diligent as they want to ensure that the breeding activities they are licensing are being undertaken correctly and have the health and welfare of the dogs and puppies at their core. 

Once the inspection has been done, the licencing officer is required to produce a report. This can take up to two weeks and is usually sent out to you following the final licensing fee being paid. 

The report will detail the findings and any improvements that you are required to make. It will also detail the length of the licence that has been granted and the star rating that the breeder has been awarded. 

Vet's View on the Breeder's Licence

Wondering if you need a license to breed and sell puppies? There is a lot of debate surrounding licensing and what it means for small, home breeders. This article will tell you everything you need to know about breeder licensing laws. Wondering if you need a license to breed and sell puppies? There is a lot of debate surrounding licensing and what it means for small, home breeders. This article will tell you everything you need to know about breeder licensing laws. Wondering if you need a license to breed and sell puppies? There is a lot of debate surrounding licensing and what it means for small, home breeders. This article will tell you everything you need to know about breeder licensing laws.

Jon Bowen

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What is the star rating?

Successfully licensed breeders will be awarded a star rating from one to five stars. 

Breeders with a five-star rating will receive a three-year licence, pay a lower fee, and will be inspected less frequently. 

Breeders with lower star ratings will receive either a one-year or two-year licence, will pay higher licensing fees, and will be inspected with greater frequency. 

The star rating is based on: 

  • The welfare standards against which you are operating
  • Risk rating, which is based on whether you have a history of meeting these standards.

Breeders operating to higher welfare standards, and who have a history of maintaining these standards, will receive a higher star rating. 

Breeders who operate to the minimum standards and have no compliance history will be awarded a two-star rating. 

A one-star rating will be awarded to those breeders who need to make changes to meet the required standards. 

Proving you are licensed.

It’s highly likely that a potential puppy owner will want to check a dog breeder’s licence in the UK and to do that they need your licence number. This is to aid potential puppy owners in completing their due diligence when they’re looking for a licensed breeder. It provides them with a feeling of security as more and more horror stories fill our headlines due to the cruelty that can be involved in breeding puppies. Potential puppy owners are becoming very wary about who they buy from and buying from a licensed breeder often gives them peace of mind.

The licence itself will need to be displayed on your premises and the licence number should be used in sales adverts. It should also be published on any websites and advertising pages that you use.

When a potential puppy owner wants to check your dog breeding licence they simply contact the issuing authority who will confirm your details and rating. At the same time, if the breeder is not licensed, they can be reported for trading illegally.

Potential puppy owners should always be advised to undertake thorough checks prior to purchasing a puppy and more and more owners want to buy from council licensed breeders. This shows a trend in well considered and well researched puppy purchases and, as breeders, we should welcome this. It shows that an owner is dedicated to finding a healthy, ethically and legally bred puppy for their family to enjoy. It’s also one of the most effective ways we can stamp out puppy dealers. 

Puppy Contracts

Another area for consideration around the sale of puppies is Puppy Sales Contracts. These offer protection for the breeder, the new owner, and most importantly the puppy. 

Your licensing inspector will want to see a copy of the puppy contract you offer to buyers. It’s a crucial part of the sales process and should be considered a tool to encourage the responsible breeding and buying of puppies. 

Your contract should ensure that your buyers have all the information they need to make an informed decision when buying a puppy and should include as a minimum:

  • Puppy details including microchipping details
  • Parent details
  • Pedigree history
  • Health testing history of parents 
  • Breeder details
  • Owner details
  • Details of health checks and treatments
  • Details of the financial transaction and obligations 

There are number of free downloadable contracts available on the internet, spend some time looking at what is available and make sure to use a contract that works for your puppy, the puppy buyer, and you.

Other legal requirements

Lucy’s Law

There are other legal requirements dog breeders need to comply with, the most famous being Lucy’s Law. 

Lucy’s Law was passed after the plight of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Lucy was uncovered when she was rescued from a Welsh puppy farm in 2013. She had spent 5 years in a cage in which she could barely stand up, and was forced to continuously breed litters of puppies. The conditions in which she had been kept were simply awful, and it sparked a move that would trigger the new law that bears her name. 

After Lucy was rescued, campaigners started highlighting these horrific practises, bringing into the public eye the shameful and deeply saddening conditions that many breeding dogs were being kept in. Their puppies were taken from them too early and were treated like nothing more than commodities sold for profit. 

The aim of the campaign was to focus on the welfare of puppies when sold by third parties, or “puppy dealers”. This was to put a stop to dogs being forced to breed multiple times a year, with puppies being taken from their mothers at just a few weeks old and sold on to pet dealers and pet shops.

Lucy's Law states;

  • that puppies must be viewed with their mother 
  • a puppy under six months of age cannot be sold unless the seller has bred the puppy themselves (or if they are not a business, i.e. they are a rescue/rehoming centre). 
  • the sale of the puppy/puppies must take place where the dogs themselves live. 

The intention of this law is to put in place preventative measures stopping animals from being separated from their mothers prematurely and preventing puppy dealers from operating illegal puppy trafficking businesses. 

Dangerous Dogs Act

Although unlikely, you will need to ensure that you are not breeding an illegal breed. 

In the UK there are specific breeds that are listed as dangerous and are therefore banned breeds. They are;

  • The Pit Bull Terrier
  • The Japanese Tosa
  • The Dogo Argentino
  • The Fila Brasileiro

Needless to say, you would not be successful in a license application if you were intend to breed these breeds! 

Age of the Puppies

One thing all breeders need to be clear on is that the sale of puppies prior to 8 weeks of age is a NO GO ZONE! 

Puppies need to be with their litter mates until at least 8 weeks of age. During this time they learn the crucial social and developmental skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

Removing a puppy from its mother and litter mates prematurely can have long lasting effects. Dogs that have been homed too early often suffer with behavioural problems that owners cannot resolve. These can include;

  • Separation anxiety
  • Lack of bite inhibition
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Poor social skills

Long lasting behavioural issues are the most common reason for puppies and young dogs being rehomed. Owners find the effects of these types of behavioural issues extremely challenging to manage and live with. Sadly many dogs find themselves being handed over to rescue centres as a result. This is the reason that it is illegal to sell puppies before they are 8 weeks of age. 

Compulsory Microchipping

Since 6th April 2016, it has been a legal requirement to have all dogs microchipped by the age of 8 weeks. In light of the fact that a puppy cannot legally be sold until it is at least 8 weeks of age, the responsibility to microchip, in the main, falls to the breeder. To be fully compliant, the microchip also needs to be registered on a government approved database, so when a puppy is sold, the registered 'keeper' will be the breeder. The new owner then becomes responsible for ensuring that the puppy is transferred into their keepership and the registered details are kept up to date.

If a dog is found by police or local authorities not to have a microchip, or if the chip details are out of date, the owner is given 21 days to comply. If they fail to do so, they can be fined up to £500. The only exemption from the requirement is where a vet has certified in writing that a dog is unfit to be microchipped.

Microchips must be implanted by a trained and competent professional, be that a vet or someone who has successfully completed an approved microchipping course. Most vets and local authorities will charge a fee for microchipping, but it is a small price to pay to ensure you can be reunited with your dog should it go missing. 

Please note that your dog must still wear a collar and tag with your name and address when in public.

2023 Changes

So, will these laws and regulations change? It’s your responsibility as a licensed dog breeder to keep up to date and abreast of the laws and regulations around dog breeding in the UK. 

There are guidance changes due in 2023. These changes could mean differences in the requirements for dog breeders and the procedures that breeders are expected to adhere to. 

Between now and 2023 Defra are in talks with several steering groups. They are gathering information and data based on the guidance and how it’s been applied so far. This information is coming from licensing authorities, breeders and relevant organisations. It will be processed with a view to adapting the guidance in relevant areas if it is deemed to require adaptation. 

Understanding licensing and the legal requirements around dog breeding in the UK is crucial for anyone already breeding, or contemplating breeding. If you ever have concerns or questions about licensing, contact your local authority and ask the licensing department for their advice and help. 

Are you a breeder? Or planning to start breeding soon?

Sign up to Tailwise for free today and join our community of breeders who are focused on the health and welfare of their dogs. You can start receiving applications for your puppies and building your waiting list, saving you the time and effort of all that admin when your puppies arrive.
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