On the origin of puppies: a multidisciplinary investigation into belgian dog breeding facilities

PhD thesis defended by Pierre-Alexandre DENDONCKER (Dr. Claire DIEDERICH) - 22/08/2019

Joint doctoral thesis at UNamur (Dr. Claire DIEDERICH) and UGent (Prof. Christel MOONS)


Hans NAUWYNCK (UGent), président; Claire DIEDERICH (UNamur); Damien COUPEAU (UNamur); Edwin CLAEREBOUT (UNamur); Etienne THIRY (ULiège); Filip VAN IMMERSEEL (UGent); Ann VAN SOOM (UGent); Rachel CASEY (Dogs Trust, UK)


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 and 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.

First, we conducted a cross-sectional study on the variability in environment in 102 Belgian dog breeding facilities. Second, 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. Third, we conducted a cross-sectional study of health management and biosecurity measures in 102 Belgian dog breeding facilities. Last, a cross-sectional study of the behaviour and general health of newly acquired puppies was conducted in 20 veterinary practices.

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.