16 July 2021
Regulating Companion Dog Welfare: A Comparative Study of Legal Frameworks in Western Countries
By S.S. Andersen, I. Meyer, B. Forkman, S.S. Nielsen, and P. Sandøe (2021)
Animal welfare legislation is an important tool defining acceptable minimum requirements for the breeding and guardianship of animals. With farm and laboratory animals, there has been a focus on the role of legislation, and considerable efforts have been made to compare and harmonise animal welfare legislation across countries. The role of legislation in maintaining the welfare of companion animals has received less attention. We rectify this by examining and comparing legislation on the welfare of companion dogs in eleven Western jurisdictions. The welfare issues we look at include breeding, surgical interventions, day-to-day handling, and killing. We demonstrate that there is significant variation across the jurisdictions in the way the legislation is developing. Thus, some countries have implemented regulations setting out how private owners should take care of their dogs (e.g., by taking them for walks), while others have not. Most of the countries studied regulate sales of dogs (e.g., requiring a minimum age when sold) and ban surgical interventions such as ear cropping and debarking. The main exception is the USA, where despite some differences at state and municipality level, the regulation is in general minimal.
There appear to be growing concerns among experts, NGOs, and members of the public about the welfare of companion dogs. With farm and laboratory animals, legislative initiatives have long been considered valuable tools in the management of welfare whereas the use of legislation to protect companion animal welfare has received less attention. We aim to rectify this by comparing legislation with an impact on the welfare of companion dogs in eleven Western jurisdictions. The comparison also provides a basis for further consideration of regulatory initiatives. We identify the rules applying in the jurisdictions and classify them in accordance with the following categories: breeding of dogs with risks to the health of the offspring, reproductive limitations, sales, surgical interventions, day-to-day handling, and killing. We demonstrate that, overall, there is significant variation across the jurisdictions. However, the degree of variation depends on the specific category. Whereas most countries, with the USA being a notable exception, regulate sales of dogs and ban surgical interventions, there is considerable variation in the regulation of day-to-day handling and the killing of dogs. Furthermore, different jurisdictions employ different regulatory tools to ensure the desired level of welfare for companion dogs. Overall, there appears to be real potential for dialogue and mutual inspiration.