Welfare of Dogs in Commercial Breeding Kennels

A major focus of our research is investigating the welfare of dogs kept in commercial breeding kennels. While the term, "commercial dog breeding", is often used synonymously with "puppy mills", they are not the same.

We define a puppy mill as a dog breeding facility where profit is clearly given priority over the well-being of the dogs, and where there is no interest in or effort toward supporting dog welfare.

This lack of consideration of dogs' welfare needs and interests may manifest in filthy and/or unsafe kennel conditions. Dogs may be dirty, ill or injured, and they may receive little to no veterinary care. Their home quarters may be cramped, crowded and lack opportunities for dogs to engage in behaviors of importance to them, such as socializing with others of their own kind, play, positive caretaker interactions, or exercise.

Puppy mills (as defined here) are completely unethical. We do not support them and we do not work with such operations.

We study dogs kept at licensed commercial breeding kennels. At minimum, kennels in good standing must be USDA inspected and in compliance with state and federal standards for dog care and well-being. These kennels may range in size from very small to very large (hundreds of dogs).


Establish Stress and Welfare Benchmarks for Puppies Intended for Detection Work

Detection canines (DC) are a critical asset to homeland security. The demand for DC capable of meeting the rigorous physical and behavioral standards necessary for optimal performance in operational environments continues to grow. However, their ability to work effectively in high-stress environments is critical and is a primary cause of rejection during selection for or early release from training or deployment. This creates a need to evaluate methods for optimizing early development and training practices for candidate dogs. The current study aims to understand the interactive effects of genetic and early environmental factors on the behavior, stress resilience, and welfare of working canines to inform selection and management practices that optimize their career tracking and performance.

This study is a subtask of a larger project with multiple partners involved

Subtask Leaders: Candace Croney (PI), Shanis Barnard, Alessia Diana

Subtask Collaborators: Paul Waggoner (Auburn University); Lucia Lazarowski (Auburn University); Cynthia Otto (University of Pennsylvania)

Funding Source: This study was funded by the Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate, Detection Canine Program Office, in collaboration with Auburn University under contract #70RSAT22CB0000002

Behavioral and Physiological Responses of Dogs to Commercial Breeding Kennel Management and Caretaker Interactions

Caretaker interaction

To ensure the welfare of dogs in commercial breeding kennels, it is important to evaluate the role management practices may play in influencing their behavioral and physical health. The aim of this study is to evaluate the effects of a short, positive caretaker intervention on the behavioral and physiological responses of dogs in commercial breeding kennels and to determine if effects persist over time and generalize to strangers.

Project Leaders: Candace Croney (PI), Kari Ekenstedt, Shanis Barnard, Traci Shreyer, Aitor Arrazola

Funding Source: Life of Riley at Spring Point 

Evaluation of Genetic and Physiological Metrics of Stress and Welfare Experienced by Dogs from Commercial Breeding Kennels Before, During and After Rehoming

two staff with a dog

Rehoming of dogs from commercial breeding kennels requires study and careful planning to avoid creating problems. It is important to properly transition dogs from the kennel environment to retirement, to identify and prepare those assessed to be viable rehoming candidates, increase the number of adoptable dogs, and plan appropriately for retirees who are unlikely to be successfully rehomed.

In an effort to understand lifetime stress in dogs maintained in commercial breeding kennels and stress associated with transitioning to new family homes, a longitudinal study is currently ongoing to help investigate whether associations exist between genetic, behavioral, and physiological metrics. This will ultimately determine which of these markers may yield the most useful information for long and short-term assessments of canine stress and welfare in breeding kennels during and after rehoming.

Project Leaders: Candace Croney (PI), Kari Ekenstedt, Shanis Barnard, Traci Shreyer, Aitor Arrazola

Funding Source: Life of Riley at Spring Point 

Transformative Education, Engagement and Community-Building Plan

a full room listens to a presentation

A major limiting factor in creating positive change in dog welfare in commercial breeding kennels is breeder access to high quality, evidence-based information and educational venues on the topic of canine welfare science. There is currently an unmet need for accessible resources on canine welfare and related tailoring of kennel management for breeders as well as for shelters and rescues.

The aim of this project is to develop, deliver and evaluate a comprehensive outreach education plan translating the new research-based knowledge we create to dog breeders, animal health and pet industry professionals, kennel managers and other interested parties via multiple media.

Project Leaders: Candace Croney (PI), Traci Shreyer, Taylor Rezvani

Funding Source: Life of Riley at Spring Point 

Related Products/Publications

Does Maternal Fear and Stress Impact Puppy Health and Behavior?

a researcher playing with a small dog

Maternal factors such as fear and stress influence offspring welfare in many species, but these relationships are currently understudied in dogs. The aim of this project is to conduct a longitudinal study to explore the effects of dams’ stress levels, behavior, and welfare on that of their litters within commercial breeding kennels. The outcome from this study will help inform breeder decision-making on dog selection, health care and management practices to mitigate welfare risks in adult dogs and their puppies.

Project Leaders: Candace Croney (PI), Kari Ekenstedt, Shanis Barnard, and Traci Shreyer

Funding Source: The Stanton Foundation 

Characterization of Maternal Care in Commercial-Breeding and Working Dog Populations and Its Relationship to Puppy Welfare

a dog and her puppies

Puppies from commercial-breeding kennels may experience fear and distress when they are transported to a distributor and during their transition to a new family home. Maternal care may influence the behavioral and physiological responses of offspring to stressors, but these effects have not been investigated in dogs.

The aim of this study is to understand the relationship between maternal care and puppy welfare and to ultimately improve puppies’ ability to cope with stressors.

Project Leaders: Candace Croney (PI), Kari Ekenstedt, Shanis Barnard, Traci Shreyer, Alessia Diana
Collaborators:  Lucia Lazarowski, Paul Waggoner, Auburn University

Funding Source: The Stanton Foundation 

Related Publications: 

Establishing Science-based Standards for the Care and Welfare of Breeding Dogs

an adult playing with a pack of puppies in the grass

Commercial dog breeding, which helps to meet high public demand for purebred dogs, faces significant scrutiny and criticism relative to the health and well-being of the dogs and puppies produced. Regulated commercial breeding kennels often have difficulty distinguishing themselves from puppy mills, wherein profit is prioritized over the well-being of dogs. This project aims to help the US pet industries address the socio-ethical and scientific (well-being) concerns embedded in commercial dog breeding by developing and testing voluntary standards for the care and well-being of dogs in commercial breeding facilities that far exceed minimum (legislated) standards.

Project Leaders: Candace Croney (PI)

Funding Source: World Pet Association & Pet Food Institute

The Purdue Standards for breeding dog care and welfare (now Canine Care Certified) have gone national!

Related Publications:

Effects of Flooring on Breeding Dog Welfare and Cleanliness

a dog in a clean kennel

The aim of this study was to characterize the relationship between flooring types common in US breeding kennels and the physical health, body and kennel cleanliness of dogs housed on them. The results indicate that dog foot health and cleanliness can be maintained on the flooring substrates assessed. Dog comfort, behavior and preferences for flooring types require investigation.

Project Leaders: Candace Croney (PI), Judith Stella

Funding Source: World Pet Association & Pet Food Institute

Does Flooring Substrate Impact Kennel and Dog Cleanliness in Commercial Breeding Facilities?


  • The foot health of dogs housed on 3 types of flooring- diamond-shaped coated expanded metal (i.e. Tenderfoot), polypropylene, and concrete- were assessed. Few foot, elbow or hock problems were identified on any flooring type.

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Related Publications:

Prevalence of Periodontal Disease in Commercial Breeding Kennels

Canine Teeth

Periodontal disease, inflammation and breakdown of the structures that support the teeth, is one of the most commonly mentioned health concerns for dogs in commercial breeding facilities. However, to this point, no research has been performed to determine how common periodontal disease actually in within breeding facilities. This project has 2 goals: to determine what percentage of dogs in commercial breeding facilities have severe periodontal disease and to evaluate how well inspecting the teeth and gums of an awake can detect periodontal disease.

Project Leaders: Candace Croney (PI), Judith Stella, Amy Bauer

Funding Source: World Pet Association & Pet Food Institute

Evaluating the validity of a visual dental scale for detection of periodontal disease in non-anesthetized dogs.


  • A visual assessment tool for scoring dental disease in awake dogs was compared to the "Gold Standard" of examination under anesthesia with radiographs to determine its validity and reliability.

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A cross-sectional study to estimate prevalence of periodontal disease in a population of dogs (Canis familiaris) in commercial breeding facilities in Indiana and Illinois

  • Periodontal (dental) disease (PD) was visually scored using a 0-IV scale where 0 is no disease and IV is severe disease.

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Related Publications:

Development of Field-Ready Welfare Assessment Tools for Breeding Kennels and Shelters

a group taking notes in kennels

Quick and accurate assessments of the health and welfare of kenneled dogs are essential for ensuring and promoting dog welfare. Because many welfare metrics exist and observers or inspectors may prioritize these differently, reliable, standardized measures of welfare may facilitate consistent, objective evaluation of dogs. A non-invasive tool, incorporating behavior was developed and pilot-tested by experts and novices in animal behavior and welfare with dogs housed in commercial breeding facilities and at shelters.

Project Leaders: Candace Croney (PI), Amy Bauer

Funding Source: World Pet Association & Pet Food Institute

Do you see what I see? Developing a field-ready welfare assessment tool for kenneled dogs

  • Developed a field assessment tool that allows for a rapid assessment of the health and welfare of kenneled dogs by individuals with limited training.

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Related Publications:

Behavioral Wellness Considerations in Breeding Dog Retirement and Rehoming

Objective, science-based information is needed to establish best practices for transitioning dogs out of their breeding careers and to minimize risks of poor rehoming outcomes. This study aims to develop physical and behavioral well-being criteria for rehoming candidates, identify breeder practices that facilitate or make transitioning to rehoming risky, and develop a breeder education program emphasizing behavioral well-being, self-assessment and appropriate planning for all phases of a breeding dog's life with emphasis on preparing retired breeding dogs for success outside of the kennel environment.

Project Leaders: Candace Croney (PI), Judith Stella, Amy Bauer

Funding Source: The Stanton Foundation

Welfare Considerations in Rehoming Breeding Dogs

Improving canine welfare in commercial breeding operations: evaluating rehoming candidate and practices

  • Assessed the behavior of dogs for risk of transition problems during rehoming using a 4-step stranger approach test. Based on the results of this test, 41.7% of the dogs assessed were at risk.

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Related Publications: