The Dutch ban on flat faced dogs: what it’s all about

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ownership of flat faced dogs may be banned in the Netherlands

In our August 2019 issue, we reported on the Dutch government’s decision to enforce a ban on the breeding of ‘flat faced’ dogs. Now, they’re looking to go one step further – banning their ownership altogether. What is it all about?

Some could say that this ban has been almost a decade in the making. It was 2014 when the Netherlands first passed legislation banning the breeding of dogs whose extreme features put their health and quality of life at risk; however, for the five years that followed, this ban was on paper only.

It was only in 2019 that the Dutch government decided to actually enforce the law, and crack down on the breeding of brachycephalic dogs. The new criteria on which the breeding ban would be enforced was based on a traffic-light system, going from red to green. Any dog with a snout shorter than a third of the skull could not be bred from; unsurprisingly, this encompassed the vast majority of ‘flat-faced’ dogs.

Following the announcement, the Dutch Kennel Club (Raad van Beheer) suggested an alternative breeding supervision plan; when Dutch government officials responded that the plan would not be accepted and that the criteria would not change, the Raad van Beheer ended registrations for 12 breeds – including pugs, Boston terriers, shih-tzus, British bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Cavaliers King Charles spaniels, and affenpinschers.

The Dutch government announced its plan early this year: a complete ban on the ownership of these dogs.

Animal welfare groups across Europe, as well as in the UK, welcomed the decision. However, some had doubts over whether the choice to ban the breeding of brachycephalic dogs would have the desired effect.

“We don’t agree that a simple ban on brachycephalic breeds is the solution to this complex issue,” Bill Lambert, head of Health and Welfare at The Kennel Club, said at the time. “We’re concerned that this absolute approach could further fuel the ongoing crisis of irresponsible breeders, illegal puppy smuggling, and uninformed puppy buyers.”

While the Dutch model has been of inspiration for action elsewhere – in Norway, for example, the Oslo District Court ruled in 2022 that the breeding of the English bulldog and Cavalier King Charles spaniel is a violation of the Norwegian Animal Welfare Act due to the severe health issues which affect the breeds – the concern expressed by Mr. Lambert was not a baseless one.

Frenchies are often target of dognapping

As is the case in Britain with ear-cropped dogs, a simple ban  doesn’t guarantee that those who are set to have a dog who looks a certain way will not resort to loopholes – such as legally importing a cropped dog from outside the UK, or cropping it in secret to then claim the operation was carried out abroad.

However, there are ways to close these loopholes. For the issue of cropped dogs in the UK, there was a planned ban on the import of ear-cropped dogs among the provisions of the Kept Animals Bill (which has since been dropped by the Government, to the disappointment of animal welfare campaigners). For the issue of brachycephalic dogs being imported to the Netherlands, the Dutch government announced its plan early this year: a complete ban on the ownership of these dogs.

At the end of January 2023, Piet Adema, Dutch Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, announced that two bans are being considered: one on the keeping of pets with “harmful external characteristics”, and one on their display. The first ban, that on keeping animals, would automatically mean a ban on trade and import as well.

“We make life miserable for innocent animals, purely because we think they are ‘beautiful’ and ‘cute’.”

“This subject affects me not only as a minister, but also as a person,” Mr. Adema said. “We make life miserable for innocent animals, purely because we think they are ‘beautiful’ and ‘cute’. That is why today we are taking a big step towards a Netherlands where no pet has to suffer from his or her appearance. The keeping and display bans with which I want to achieve this will require a lot of time to be carefully worked out. They are a complex pursuit, but also a right pursuit.”

This ban would not only affect brachycephalic dog breeds: it would include any animal with characteristics that “can be objectively determined to cause permanent suffering”, such as Scottish Fold cats. The Scottish Fold’s distinctive ears are the result of a gene which affects the animal’s cartilage, weakening it. This is what causes the ears to fold forward under their own weight – but it also affects all joints, making these cats likely to develop painful arthritis early in life and greatly impacting their quality of life.

The Dutch government is now considering a list of characteristics which would cause permanent suffering and would therefore be banned in pets; at the moment, they are focusing on dogs and cats, as they are the most commonly kept pets.

bad breeding

“That list will start small, but will be further expanded on the basis of further research into harmful characteristics that can be objectively determined in the individual animal,” a statement reads.

“Seeing a certain type of pet frequently or prominently increases demand for it. To reduce the demand for pets with harmful external features, LNV [Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality] is working on a display ban. This is a ban on showing pets with harmful external characteristics, for example in commercials, advertisements and on social media. The role of celebrities and influencers is also to be considered.

“Both a keeping ban and a display ban are complex and raise many questions. How do we objectively demonstrate when an animal suffers from its appearance? How do we handle the freedoms of social media with care? How do we ensure proper enforcement? These issues will take time to work out carefully. But we want to inform people that this is coming right away, especially people who are considering bringing a new pet in their home.”

“We also hope that this will further fuel the social debate: what do we, as a country, consider normal in terms of animal welfare?”

Dutch animal welfare organisation Dier&Recht has welcomed the announcement as “fantastic news”.

“For years we have been campaigning for strict legislation to end the severe suffering of overbred pets,” said Kelly Kessen, a vet and member of Dier&Recht. “Short-muzzled dogs are not cute, but pitiful. These animals have been deliberately bred for their extreme external characteristics. The deformed nose, abnormal skull shape and often stocky physique cause serious health problems for life. It has long been forbidden to breed animals that suffer from their appearance, but buying and importing these animals was still possible. The announced ban on keeping animals puts an end to that.”

How the Netherlands will enact these bans is yet to be seen. A ban on sharing one’s pet’s photo on social media seems somewhat far-fetched, with the Dutch government readily admitting that this aspect will need careful consideration. As for the ban on ownership, which is probably the most significant of the two, it will not result in nightmare scenarios in which pets are forcibly taken away from their homes: people who already own dogs or cats with banned features are to be allowed to keep them until the end of their lives.

flat-faced pup

In the case of someone caught with an illegally acquired pet after the ban is enacted, the Dutch government has yet to elaborate what consequences there may be for the owner; hopefully, no one in their right mind will think to punish the pet for it. It also remains to be seen whether rescue dogs – for example, those abandoned by the previous legal owner and in need of a new home – will make an exception.

“The message must be clear: purchasing these animals is irresponsible, results in serious harm to welfare, and will soon no longer be allowed,” a statement by the Dutch government reads.

“We also hope that this will further fuel the social debate: what do we, as a country, consider normal in terms of animal welfare?”

1 COMMENT

  1. Love it. The sooner we have ths (and a bit more) in the UK the better. Sadly, our politicians are gutless and won’t do it.

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