What is the law relating to the sale of dogs?

Commercial dog sellers

The Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999

Commercial dog breeders must have a licence from their local authority, even if they are carrying on their breeding business from a private dwelling, under the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999. In addition, anyone who breeds more than five litters in a 12-month period must also have a licence.

The local authority has discretion whether to issue a licence, and will take into account factors including whether the dogs have suitable accommodation, food, water and bedding material; whether they are adequately exercised; and all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent and control the spread of diseases amongst dogs.

If a breeder does not have a licence when legally required, they can be issued with severe penalties, including potential imprisonment.

Offences by licensed breeders

There are a number of criminal offences relating to the sale of dogs by licensed breeders under the 1999 Act, including:

  • selling a dog at a place other than the licensed breeding establishment, a licensed pet shop (or a licensed Scottish rearing establishment);
  • selling a dog to someone the seller knows or believes intends to sell on the dog and the purchaser is not the keeper of a licensed pet shop;
  • selling a puppy less than 8 weeks old to someone who is not the keeper of a licensed pet shop;
  • selling to the keeper of a licensed pet shop a dog which was not born at the licensed breeding establishment or a dog which, when delivered, is not wearing a collar with an identifying tag or badge which clearly displays the licensed breeding establishment at which it was born.

Are there any defences available?

The licence holder will have a defence to any of these offences if they can show that they took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid committing the offence.

What are the penalties where one of these offences is committed?

The penalty for failing to comply with any of these offences is imprisonment of up to three months and/or a fine or up to £2,500. On conviction, the court can also order the revocation of any licence held, disqualify the offender from keeping an establishment for the breeding of dogs and/or from having custody of any dog, for such period as the Court thinks fit.

The Court can also order delivery up of a dog in the custody of a third party and order that the offender pays for that dog’s care until permanent arrangements are made for its care or disposal. Failure to comply with one of these orders is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. Where an order for delivery up is made against a third party, that third party will be given the opportunity to make representations to the Court. However, they do have the right to appeal against the order.

The Pet Animals Act 1951

Anyone selling dogs and other pet animals as a business is regarded as the keeper of a pet shop, and must have a licence from the local authority under the Pet Animals Act 1951. A pet shop can only be run from fixed premises, so selling pets from a market stall, or an occasional ‘stand’ is not permitted.

Exceptions include where someone breeds and sells pet animals as a one off, or occasional basis (eg. four litters of puppies per year at the most). In addition, a local authority may direct that a breeder who merely sells animals as pets which are acquired for show or breeding purposes, but were found not to be suitable or needed for such purposes, is not deemed to keep a pet shop.

Breaching these requirements may lead to a fine of £500 and/or a prison sentence of up to 3 months.

The law relating to commercial and private sellers

The Animal Welfare Act 2006

It is a criminal offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to sell an animal to a person who the seller has reasonable cause to believe is under the age of 16 years. For the purpose of the Act, ‘selling’ includes transferring, or agreeing to transfer ownership of the animal in return for the other person entering into another transaction.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, there a number of other offences relating to the general welfare of animals and the prevention of harm to all kept animals.

Contractual considerations

The law treats a contract for the commercial sale of a dog in the same way as it treats the sale of goods. Where a dog is sold, a legally binding contract is created (subject to, for instance illegality rendering the contract void). General contract law and the Consumer Rights Act 2015 will therefore apply.

In the case of a private sale, the buyer can only rely on general contract law should things go wrong.

If you have any issues in relation to the sale of purchase of a dog, we strongly recommend you take expert legal advice from a solicitor with experience in dog licensing and animal welfare law.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.