Choosing My Dog: Research
Our research to date on choosing dogs
Project Lead: Dr Rebecca Mead
Who else is involved: Dr Katrina Holland, Dr Rob Christley, Dr Melissa Upjohn, Dr Rachel Casey
Project background and summary
Dogs are the most popular pet animal species in the UK today with many households owning, or aspiring to own, them. Decisions surrounding dog acquisition affect many people each year, but throughout the various stages of dog acquisition (pre-acquisition, acquisition, and post-acquisition) there is potential for practices that may compromise canine welfare. It is also the case that whilst people continue to acquire dogs, many dogs are relinquished every year. There are numerous reasons for this, including a limited understanding of dogs’ needs and a lack of appreciation of the time, effort and costs involved in dog ownership. In addition, it is likely that campaigns and education strategies about responsible dog acquisition are not sufficiently effective to make responsible practices the norm. Thus, there is an urgent need to understand how people are making decisions about dog acquisition so that appropriate strategies can be developed that promote responsible acquisition behaviours to safeguard dog welfare.
The aim of this project is to investigate the demand for dogs in the UK and, in particular, acquisition behaviours. This will include understanding how potential owners identify their preferred source from which to purchase a dog, and the motivations and influences affecting the choices they make. The overall project will use a mixed methods research design including an online survey and interviews.
The problem, and its context within Dogs Trust.
The practices associated with the breeding and supply of dogs are closely tied to the health and welfare of these animals. Puppies are in high demand in the UK, especially those of particularly ‘fashionable’ breeds, which currently include French Bulldogs and Pugs. The demand is such that it is not currently satisfied by legitimate and reputable UK breeders alone, leading to an increase of unscrupulous commercial breeders (often called ‘puppy farms’) in the UK, and a rise in ‘puppy smuggling’ from overseas. Although today’s prospective dog owners have a wide variety of sources to choose from, including licensed breeders, hobby breeders, and animal shelters or rescue centres, increasingly, dogs are being sold by third party sellers(1) advertising dogs for sale on unregulated(2) online platforms. We currently have very limited knowledge of how dog owners make decisions about how and why they acquire their dogs, or about the dog acquiring process, from the perspective of potential owners. This study is timely as, although the exact date for implementation of the ban on third party sales is unknown, this preliminary data (and, potentially, early data from the full study) will enable investigation of changing knowledge and behaviour once the ban comes into force.
The factors underpinning buyer acquisition behaviour are not well understood but it seems likely that, at least for some buyers, breed popularity trends may be linked to public influencers such as films, television, social media, celebrities, and advertising. The decisions behind source choice also are not fully understood but availability of a desired dog breed or type, and the speed and ease of purchase, may contribute, particularly to online sales. Further, prevalent social media norms and poor understanding of best practice may impact knowledge and behaviours. Current research also suggests that prior experiences of dog ownership is a significant factor for some owners’ decisions.
This project aims to investigate dog acquisition behaviour. Specific outcomes are to understand:
- Potential dog owners’ pre-purchase motivations, i.e., why people consider getting a dog.
- Potential dog owners’ pre-purchase behaviours, i.e., what potential owners do after deciding to get a dog.
- Potential dog owners’ acquisition behaviours, i.e., how owners source their dog
Findings will inform the design of potential interventions to encourage responsible dog selection and purchase decisions and inform messaging for potential owners. Key to designing potential interventions will be identifying those stages within the acquisition process which are more (or less) likely to be subject to external influence and the components of these stages which an organisation like Dogs Trust could usefully target.
1. In April 2020, the government introduced a ban on the third party sales of puppies (and kittens) in England. This means that anyone who wants to buy or adopt a puppy under six months of age will have to deal directly with the breeder or an animal rehoming centre. This should prevent pet shops, pet dealers, and other outlets from selling these animals, unless they themselves have bred them. In March 2021, the Welsh government also introduced a ban on third party sales of puppies and kittens. Scotland are still awaiting implementation of the ban.
2. Regulation around online sales in the UK has recently changed. Most notably, in October 2018 it became a legal requirement for people selling dogs online as a business to display their breeder license number within the advert as well as stating the local authority that issued the license. However, enforcement of such regulation is unclear as yet.