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What is ethical dog breeding?

What is ethical dog breeding?

Read time: 9 minutes

The ins and outs of ethical breeding

As a pet parent and Kennel Club registered breeder, I’m passionate about spreading awareness on the importance of ethical breeding. I’m often surprised to find that many pet parents don’t always know what ethical breeding means.

Ethical breeding means the preservation of breeds, maintaining a moral code of ethics, and ensuring the health and wellbeing of the dogs is the utmost priority. Unethical breeding, on the other hand, is the number one contributor to genetic defects in litters, and dogs ending up in shelters.

This blog will aim to provide a better understanding of what defines ethical breeding and the dangers of irresponsible practices. I hope that it helps you understand what to look out for, if you find yourself looking for a puppy to introduce to your home!

Whether you adopt or shop, do your research

I am a proud advocate for the work rescue centres do, and I encourage anyone to rescue a dog if it’s the right fit for them. If you’re interested in adopting a rescue dog, you can learn more about the process in my blog ‘Adopting a rescue dog’.

However, it’s important to recognise that not everyone is able to rescue a shelter dog, often due to their home or family environment. As the pet parent of six working dogs, I can empathise with this. There will always be a demand for puppies, and dog breeding will always occur to fill that demand.

Sadly, there are far too many breeders whose priorities lie with their profits, rather than the health and welfare of their dogs. As pet parents, it’s our responsibility to ensure that we understand the ethics of breeding, to prevent contributing to dogs in shelters.

Why is ethical breeding important?

Dog breeding can have a bad reputation, mostly due to irresponsible breeders. But it’s important to remember the reasons why breeding occurred in the first place, and the benefits that it can have. So, why is breeding important? Let’s strip it right back to why dog breeding became popular.

When dogs were first domesticated, they assisted early hunter-gatherers with hunting, tracking and herding. Humans quickly learned that they could breed dogs with the strongest traits, which resulted in fantastic future working dogs! This is called ‘selective breeding’, and it’s the reason why we have several of today’s incredible service breeds.

The process of responsible breeding is crucial, as it means breeders can reduce the risks of puppies inheriting genetic disorders. This in turn helps to reinforce the pedigree, instilling trust in puppy parents that their new best friend has been responsibly bred, with their health and wellbeing as the top priority.

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What are the dangers of unethical breeding?

So, we’ve spoken a bit about the benefits of ethical breeding, and why it’s important to promote healthy breeding practices. You might now be wondering what dangers can result from irresponsible breeding, and what red flags you should look out for.

Firstly, unethically bred puppies can be more susceptible to health or behavioural problems in early life. These issues can stem from a number of reasons, including:

Skipping genetic testing

If a breeder can’t provide results from genetic tests of the parents, then it’s a strong indication that they’ve skipped testing altogether. This is a red flag, as it suggests that they’re inexperienced and aren’t aware of the importance of genetic testing. Or worse – that they don’t believe genetic testing is necessary at all.

Genetic testing is vital, as it can flag issues very early on, which could be passed down to the puppies. Common genetic health problems can include hip dysplasia, heart disease and breathing issues, particularly in brachycephalic breeds.


Dogs who are overbred are at a much higher risk of developing health problems. These problems can include complications during pregnancy, such as difficulty giving birth. Overbreeding can also contribute to the development of joint, hearing, eye and heart issues in puppies.

Shockingly, a breeding licence is only required in the UK if the breeder produces three or more litters in any twelve month period. This means there are thousands of unregulated breeders breeding their dogs in ‘puppy mills’ at least twice a year. You can only imagine the problems which can arise, especially if the breeder’s methods are unethical.

Unhygienic conditions

It’s common for ‘backyard’ breeders to keep their dogs in dirty environments, such as uncleaned kennels. They also might keep lots of dogs and puppies close together, or in cages. This poses huge health risks to all of the dogs, and can lead to nasty bacterial and viral infections. Additionally, if the mother is kept in bad conditions, the quality of her milk will be poor. This can result in lowered immunity levels in the puppies, meaning they’re more likely to develop health issues at some point during their lives.

Leaving the mother too soon

When a breeder is breeding for profit, it’s not uncommon for puppies to be removed from their mothers too early. This, paired with poor immunity and health can often result in a puppy’s premature death, not long after they go to their new families. Sadly, irresponsible breeders are usually untruthful to new puppy owners. Many people don’t know any better, and unfortunately end up purchasing an unhealthy puppy without knowing it.

Poor socialisation

Puppies from puppy mills and unethical breeders can also be difficult to train, since often they’re kept outside without proper socialisation. If owners are unaware of how to approach this issue early on in their puppy’s life, it could lead to behavioural problems such as reactivity. Unfortunately, many dogs with severe behavioural issues are often rehomed or surrendered to rescue shelters. This is just one of the many ways that backyard breeders end up contributing to dogs in shelters.

What can we do about it?

Unethical breeding practices over time have resulted in the development of inherited health problems in dogs. Heart and respiratory issues, stunted growth and genetic disorders are sadly commonplace now in many breeds. Backyard breeders and puppy mills are the biggest contributor to thousands of unhealthy or reactive dogs ending up in shelters every year.

So what can we do to prevent this? If you’re in the market for a new best friend, here are the quickest red flags to spot an irresponsible breeder:

  • The breeder has not registered the litter with the Kennel Club.
  • The breeder won’t let you see the puppy without exchanging money first (if you find yourself transferring a “holding deposit” before performing a home visit, be wary!)
  • The breeder is unable to provide any information on genetic testing.
  • The mother (or littermates) are not around when you collect your puppy.
  • You’re unable to view the pen or kennel where the puppies were raised.
  • The breeder has little to no questions for you regarding your home environment or the life you can offer your new puppy.

With these red flags in mind, keep wary when purchasing a puppy, particularly from social media. If you’re after more advice on finding a new dog to join the family, you can read my blog ‘My guide to getting a new dog’.

“Happiness is a healthy puppy!”

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog! Ethical breeding is a topic that’s very close to my heart. I feel honoured to be able to preserve the family lineage of my pack, and Mabel is no exception – her great grandmother, Tilly, was my first family dog.

It’s important to remember that breeding will always happen. But, if we can educate more owners, then maybe fewer puppies will be bought from puppy mills and backyard breeders.

The health and wellbeing of my dogs is always my number one priority when it comes to breeding. If you’re looking for help or advice, or if you’d simply like to discuss anything mentioned in this blog, please feel free to reach out to me at I would love to hear your thoughts!

James & Ella x

James’ Top Tip

Diet also plays a huge role in successful breeding! A mother who is fed a nutritious, natural diet is much more likely to produce strong and healthy puppies, with lowered risks of developing medical problems in their early life. Check out Ella’s cold-pressed food to learn more about the benefits of a healthy diet!

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