Dog breeders are required by law to meet various health and welfare conditions, including obtaining and retaining a dog breeding licence.
The following guide to the law on dog breeding looks specifically at the licensing requirements, from who needs to obtain a dog breeding licence (in England) and the conditions that must be met, to how you can check if someone has a valid licence already in place. Please note that regulations on dog breeding differ in all constituent parts of the UK.
What is a dog breeding licence?
A dog breeding licence is the official permission necessary to be able to breed dogs and advertise for sale any of the puppies produced as a result of that breeding, and to be able to legally sell those puppies. This permission must be sought from the local council under the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018.
Guidance documents are available for each licensable activity as set out under these rules, including dog breeding, and should be read in conjunction with the 2018 Regulations.
Who needs a dog breeding licence?
You will need a licence to breed dogs if either you will be:
- running a business that breeds and advertises dogs for sale, and/or
- breeding three or more litters in any 12-month period and sell any of the puppies.
Activities that fulfil one or more of these criteria are subject to licensing. Importantly, the limit on the number of litters will apply, unless it can be proven by the dog breeder that none of the puppies from these litters have been sold, whether as puppies or adult dogs. As such, so as ensure that you do not fall foul of the rules, it is often best to obtain a licence where three or more litters will be bred during the course of any 12-month period (even if you propose to keep the puppies yourself or re-home them without making any profit).
Equally, anyone breeding puppies and advertising a business of selling them will need a licence, regardless of how many litters are produced per year or whether any puppies are actually sold. This is also not restricted to registered businesses, where individuals can be classed as a dog breeding business, depending on the extent of that person’s activities. High volumes of animals either sold or advertised for sale could indicate a business, but so could low volumes of animals with high sale prices or large profit margins.
Dog breeding licence requirements
To successfully obtain a dog breeding licence, you must prove that you can meet the requisite licence requirements. These include being able to demonstrate that the dogs for breeding, and their puppies, will be:
- kept in suitable breed-appropriate accommodation
- provided with adequate food and drink, as well as adequate bedding
- exercised on a regular basis for the breed and needs of the animal
- transported in both safe and comfortable conditions
- protected in the event of any emergency, such as a fire
- protected from any pain, injury, suffering and/or disease
The council will arrange to inspect your premises before making a decision as to whether or not to grant you a licence. They may also carry out additional inspections at any time after.
Anyone disqualified from either operating a pet shop, from keeping a dog, from keeping an animal boarding establishment or from having custody of animals, or who has previously had a licence under any other animal welfare legislation revoked, should not apply.
If you have any doubts whatsoever about whether or not you need a licence to breed dogs, you should contact your local council. They can provide more information on the requirements to be met in relation to dog breeding licensing, as well as any restrictions.
How to retain a dog breeding licence
Having successfully obtained a dog breeding licence, your legal obligations do not end there. A number of ongoing health and welfare conditions must be met for you to be able to retain that licence. Schedule 2 of the 2018 Regulations sets out various general conditions that must be met in relation to all of the following factors:
The conditions here relate to displaying a copy of your licence clearly and prominently on any premises being used for the licensable activity, as well as clearly and prominently displaying your name, as the licence-holder, and number of your licence on any website relating to dog breeding.
The conditions here relate to the retention of records that you are required to keep as a licence-holder for a minimum of three years, and making these available for inspection in a visible and legible format.
Use, number and type of animals
The conditions here relate to the total numbers of dogs kept at your premises, including puppies, where the number of animals must not exceed the maximum that is reasonable, having regard to the available facilities and staffing.
The conditions here relate to having sufficient numbers of competent, trained, experienced and knowledgeable staff to provide a level of care to ensure that the welfare needs of all animals are met where, as a general guide, the ratio of staff to dogs within an established licensed business should be around 1:20.
The conditions here relate to the state of repair, maintenance and cleanliness of where the dogs and puppies will be kept, and any equipment that will be used, as well as maintaining good hygiene and welfare standards when transporting and handling the dogs. There are also specific conditions on observing the dogs at intervals of no more than 4 hours apart during the working day, and not leaving them unattended for any period likely to cause them distress in the circumstances.
The conditions here relate to the quality, quantity and frequency of diet appropriate to the dog’s age, breed, activity level and any stage in the breeding cycle. Food and water intake must be monitored, where veterinary advice will need to be sought if dogs remain without appetite for longer than 24 hours. Food and drinking water must also be unspoilt and free from any contamination.
Monitoring of behaviour and training of animals
The conditions here relate to the provision of active and effective environmental enrichment, where opportunities to exercise must involve at least one walk each day or access to a secure open space. The behaviour of individual dogs must also be monitored daily, with any changes in behaviour indicative of suffering, stress, fear, aggression and/or anxiety acted upon.
Animal handling and interactions
The conditions here relate to the competency of anyone responsible for the care and handling of the dogs to protect it from pain, suffering, injury and/or disease. The animals must also be kept in compatible social groups for the species and individual animal in question or, where appropriate, kept separately, but with daily opportunities to interact with other animals or humans where this benefits their welfare.
Protection from pain, suffering, injury and/or disease
The conditions here relate to the written procedures that must be in place to cover things like feeding and cleaning regimes, transportation, disease, monitoring for health and welfare purposes, and the death or escape of an animal. Anyone responsible for the care of the animals must be fully aware of what these procedures require of them.
The conditions here relate to having an acceptable written emergency plan, which all staff are aware of and can easily access on the premises used for the licensable activity. This plan must be followed, if necessary, to ensure appropriate steps are taken to protect all people and animals on the premises in the event of a fire, as well as any breakdown for essential heating, ventilation or other emergencies.
Further specific conditions for breeding dogs are also set out under Schedule 6 of the Regulations, relating to advertisements and sales; providing a suitable environment; providing a suitable diet; monitoring of behaviour and training; housing with or apart from other dogs; and protection from pain, suffering, injury and/or disease.
How long does a dog breeding licence last?
Your dog breeding licence will be valid for either a period of one, two or three years, where your local council will decide on the length of your licence. You must renew your licence prior to this expiring to be able to lawfully continue breeding dogs.
To be granted a licence, you will need to meet and maintain the minimum standards as outlined under the Regulations, although dog breeders are encouraged to apply higher standards. Meeting the higher standards is optional, although this is the only way to gain a higher star rating. A breeder that meets the higher standards may be able to gain a 4 or 5 star rating under what is known as the ‘animals activity star rating system’.
For example, where staffing levels are one full-time equivalent attendant per 10 adult dogs kept, and where there is a clear plan setting out two walks per dog each working day for a minimum of 20 minutes each, this may warrant a higher rating. This means that you could potentially qualify for a longer licence, for example, two or three years as opposed to a one-year licence. You will also pay a lower licence fee.
However, to qualify as meeting the higher standards, you would need to achieve all of the required higher standards, together with at least 50% of the optional higher standards.
How much is a dog breeding licence?
The costs associated with applying for a dog breeding licence will be determined by your local council, and will also typically vary depending on the length of the licence. For example, for Manchester City Council, the application fee to apply for a licence is £181, whilst the fee to grant a licence following a successful application is:
- One year: £42 (£223 total fees)
- Two years: £209 (£390 total fees)
- Three years: £237 (£418 total fees)
How to apply for a dog breeding licence
To apply for a dog breeding licence you will need to make an application to your local council. You should be able to locate an online or downloadable form on their website.
Once submitted with the application fee, a copy of the application may be sent to other interested parties, such as the RSPCA, for comment. An inspection of your premises will also be carried out before any decision is made to grant a dog breeding licence.
The council inspector will take into account the outcome of the inspection, and any comments made from third parties, and will only grant a licence if satisfied that the licence conditions will be met and that the appropriate fee has been paid. However, there is a right of appeal against a decision to refuse to grant or renew a licence.
Penalties for failing to have a licence
If you or your business unlawfully breeds dogs without a dog breeding licence, the consequences can be very serious. Unlicensed dog breeding, where a licence is required, is an offence punishable by up to 6 months’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. You could also be penalised with an unlimited fine if you breach the conditions of your licence.
How to check if someone has a dog breeding licence
To check if someone has a dog breeding licence you should contact the local council in respect of where the breeding premises are located. This a public register which can be accessed online, although you may need to put your inquiry in writing to request an extract from the register, where contacts details can be found on the relevant website.
The register should show a breeder’s business name and address, although a domestic address will not be disclosed, plus the type(s)of licence(s) held and their star rating.
Dog breeding licence FAQs
Do I need a licence to breed my dog?
You must obtain a dog breeding licence if either you run a business that breeds and advertises dogs for sale, or breed three or more litters in any 12-month period and go on to sell any of the puppies.
Do I need a licence to sell puppies?
If you breed less than three litters in any 12-month period and re-home them without making a profit you will not need a licence. However, you should always check with your local council to see if a licence is needed.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.