On the origin of puppies
: A multidisciplinary investigation into Belgian dog breeding facilities

  • Pierre-Alexandre Dendoncker

Student thesis: Doc typesDocteur en Sciences vétérinaires


The increasing popularity of dogs has provoked a shift in breeding practices, giving rise to a societal debate on intensive dog breeding. The environment shaped by the breeder plays an important role in the behavioural development of puppies, and adverse situations at the breeder can result in behavioural impairment later in life. There exists great variability between different dog breeding facilities, and inferiority of puppies originating from intensive breeding facilities is suggested. To date however, no systematic investigation of the various breeding systems has been performed.
The environment at the breeder can harbour various pathogens that will impair the puppies’ health and welfare or represent a zoonotic risk, and puppies and pregnant dams are more at risk to contract a disease. Appropriate strategies to maintain biosecurity, that also take into account environmental factors, are of utmost importance to limit disease. However, guidelines on how to improve socialisation and environmental learning practices without compromising the welfare and health of puppies in intensive dog breeding are currently lacking.
It is crucial to characterise the current husbandry conditions at different breeder types that may influence the health, hygiene, socialisation, environmental learning, and welfare. Subsequently, measuring behavioural and health outcomes in relation to the environment will provide potential
areas of improvement. Finally, an evaluation of pet dog behaviour shortly after homing will help to assess the differences between dog breeder types, as perceived by the owner after the sale.
To assess all factors that influence the behavioural development and the health of puppies during their time at the breeder a multidisciplinary approach is required. First, we conducted a cross-sectional study, that revealed considerable variability in environment among dog breeders. Small-scale breeders, and especially occasional breeders (less than 10 adult dogs on site) provided most enrichment, both social and nonsocial, by, for instance, providing more outdoor access for pregnant dams and puppies or by providing access to visitors more freely. Environmental stimuli were less controlled in occasional breeders, raising the debate about quantity versus quality of stimuli at a young age. Large-scale
breeders declared to screen potential owners less intensely and the time to advise them was limited. Second, we conducted a cross-sectional study of health management and biosecurity measures in 102 Belgian dog breeding facilities. Veterinary prophylactic protocols (i.e., vaccination, endoparasite control, ectoparasitic treatments) were mostly highly implemented across all breeder categories. 13.8% of all visited breeders reported to administer antimicrobials to each female post-partum and 10.3% reported to treat all puppies, or at least
of one breed, systematically with antimicrobials. Large-scale breeders reported to employ staff more frequently, and appeared to be more familiar with the principles of biosecurity. Compared to small-scale breeders, they reported to apply disinfection more often at the adult dogs and at the maternity ward. They also reported to apply hygienic measures more often at the maternity ward and the nursery and had a tendency to apply hygienic measures more often at the adult dogs and to quarantine newly acquired dogs more often compared to small-scale breeders.
Nonetheless, a moderate knowledge and use of disinfection was recorded. Pet dogs were found to be present at all breeder categories, breaking the rules of compartmentalisation. Third, we conducted a longitudinal study where 107 puppies from 23 litters in their pens were observed during rest and while being subjected to a nonsocial and social novel disturbance, one week before homing, at the mean age of 9.4 weeks (standard deviation ± 2.9). Puppies from commercial breeders showed more exploration activity compared to puppies from breeders of other categories in all contexts. These puppies also spent proportionally more time investigating the novel object compared to puppies from merchants and had more interactions with littermates during the novel object disturbance. No differences in the frequency of social conflicting signals in any of the contexts could be identified between breeders.
Last, a cross-sectional study of newly acquired puppies was conducted in 20 veterinary practices. Puppies were assessed on their behaviour, both by the veterinarian and by the owner, and on general health. Puppies from dog merchants were more often presented to veterinarians because of illness compared to puppies from occasional breeders. Puppy age was not significantly associated with any items from the behaviour assessment by the veterinarian. Puppies originating from commercial breeders were scored as less fearful than
puppies bred by occasional breeders, and owners of puppies originating from occasional breeders also scored their puppy higher on stranger-directed aggression and fear, and on nonsocial fear than owners of puppies originating from dog merchants. Puppies from occupational breeders were found to be more passive compared to dogs from occasional breeders, commercial breeders and merchants. The results of this research indicate that there is substantial room for improvement in hygiene and disease management across all categories of breeders. Although prophylactic treatments are widely applied, an increase in knowledge of current scientific recommendations is advisable. Additionally, a higher awareness for control over aversive stimuli for pregnant dams and puppies is desirable, especially in small-scale breeders. Large-breeders could make more efforts to provide enriched environment and diverse positive social interactions, without compromising the biosecurity. The results also indicate that the breeder category has an effect on behavioural tendencies, and that puppies from commercial breeders are more proactive. More research is needed to determine the influence of this behavioural tendency of puppies on the behaviour later in life.
la date de réponse22 août 2019
langue originaleAnglais
L'institution diplômante
  • Universite de Namur
SponsorsService public fédéral. Santé publique, sécurité de la chaine alimentaire et environnement. Bien-être animal
SuperviseurClaire Diederich (Promoteur), Christel Moons (Copromoteur), Jeroen Dewulf (Copromoteur), Tiny De Keuster (Copromoteur), Hans Nauwynck (Président), Filip Van Immerseel (Jury), Etienne Thiry (Jury), Damien Coupeau (Jury), Edwin Claerebout (Jury), Ann Van Soom (Jury) & Rachel Alison Casey (Jury)

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