The Dog Journal

Canine Care Unraveled:

Part One

The Dog Journal Dec/Jan 2023

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The Dog Journal: Traci, thank you for representing Purdue University and the Canine Care Certified Program, and thanks for giving us the opportunity to sit down and unravel this new and exciting program! In talking to breeders over the course of the past few months we’re hearing the words Canine Care come up frequently, so let’s dive right in and find out what all the noise is about. First and foremost, I understand Purdue University started this program. Tell me more about Purdue, who are they, and what do they do for us as dog breeders.

Traci Shreyer: Purdue University is a Land-grant institution with lots of different programs, degree options, classes, research and so forth. I work at the university in the Croney Research Group which is within the College of Veterinary Medicine, and also works closely with the Animal Science department. A big part of what we do is scientific research, and then not only do we gather scientific research, but being a Landgrant University means we need to actually do something with the data we collect and the studies we create. To meet this mission we help people throughout state and the country by turning the data we collect into practical evidence based recommendations that we share. We do this in a variety of different ways, one of them being creating special educational handouts like the one in this magazine, “Early Exposure for Puppies”. We also have a website that can be found at caninewelfarescience.com with all kinds of helpful information all selected for breeders, and we host an educational event called the Canine Welfare Science Forum here at Purdue in June every year. And then of course, we now offer the Canine Care Certified Program, which is a perfect example of supporting people, in this case breeders, by translating science into action. Having said that, I just want everyone to know, we are more than willing to help any dog breeder, not just breeders on the Canine Care Certified Program. Our education and outreach efforts are for all!

Smiling cute happy pet Irish Setter dog showing his teeth

TDJ: So how did the Canine Care Program start, and what was the push behind it?

TS: Basically, it’s a set of standards created by Dr. Candace Croney that address the health and overall welfare of dogs in the care of breeders. It is the only program that also strongly emphasizes behavioral well-being. 

The idea for Canine Care Certified began when a group of Indiana dog breeders approached the university for help. These breeders understood that the public was unhappy with their businesses, but not exactly sure why. They hoped that having a set of science-based standards for the care of their dogs that they could follow in their kennels would help. I imagine they were thinking something along the line of, “How can we take the science, use it in our facilities, and show society and the regulatory agencies that we are concerned about what we do, we want to do it well, and that we have a set of standards that we go by that actually help us not only self regulate but improve our industry, instead of needing legislative help.”

What happened then was Dr. Croney, myself, and a few other people went out and started actually touring some of these kennels and meeting these breeders. We learned about them, their dogs, the kennels, and their businesses. I will never forget it. The first draft of the standards was created by Dr. Croney in 2013 and that essentially set the stage for the Canine Care Certified Program, where breeders voluntarily adhere to a set of science-based standards, that can evolve and improve as time goes on and more research is collected.

TDJ: Can you give me an overriding mission statement for the Canine Care Certified Program?

TS: The Canine Care Program is a way to take the information that Dr Croney and the Croney Research Group has been collecting for years, and turning it into a checklist of standards to adhere to. This is done in order to hold breeders accountable to a high standard of best breeding practices, and to give potential puppy buyers enough information and assurance that where they are buying their new puppy from is legit, professional, and humane.

TDJ: What type of breeder is an ideal candidate for the Canine Care Program? TS: When I think of an ideal candidate, I think of mindset and attitude more than kennel size, area, housing situation, etc. A breeder that looks at his or her kennel and says “How can I do better? How can I be sure that what I ’m doing on a daily basis is the right thing to do? How will I stay up to date on new science that shows up?” Those are the kind of breeders that really like this program. You need to honest and open, and willing to look at your breeding business through new eyes. Again, size isn’t really important, we have registered members with 6 dogs, and all the way up to over 100. Also, when this set of standards was developed, they were developed for a large variety of circumstances. For example, what works for a German Shepherd may not work for a Yorkie, or what works for someone in Florida might not work for someone in Ohio. If you as a breeder have the right mindset and the willingness to do what it takes, we can work out the small details.

With that, one situation we are not able to register at this point is when someone keeps their dogs in their house. I’ve had someone reach out with 18 dogs, but she keeps them all in her house, and so we need to put her on a waiting list for later. At this point we need a structure or facility that is specifically for dogs in order to do the audit. We hope to work out a system for house kept dogs in the future, but that is down the road.

TDJ: So, Traci, can you break the Canine Care Program down into a few main focus points?

TS: Absolutely! It really breaks down into 5 different categories, which we call the pillars of care:

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Pillars of Care:

  • Physical Health: Only veterinarians may perform any necessary alterations and surgeries. Breeders must create comprehensive physical health plans for preventative care and treatment and ensure they are implemented. Genetic health screening, regular dental care, and grooming are required.  
  • Behavioral Health: Caretakers need to create a behavioral wellness plan, both for preventative care and treatment, as well as provide exercise, meaningful socialization, and enrichment for adult dogs and puppies.
  •  Environment: Breeders must provide safe, enriched, high quality spaces with access to the outdoors and multiple flooring surfaces.
  •  Breeding Life and Requirement: Breeders must follow established limits for breeding ages and litter numbers. Retirement and rehoming plans are required. Adult dogs at retirement cannot be sold for continued breeding or research.
  • Caretaker Expectations: Breeders must participate in continuing education on canine care and wellness, must use low stress handling procedures, and be transparent with stakeholders and compliant with best practices.

TDJ: How do you work together with the regulatory agencies, and do your standards align?

TS: The thing to know about the Canine Care Program is that we will never require you to do something that is illegal or against your dog’s best interest. We are also not here to replace the state regulators or the USDA. Instead the Canine Care Certified program compliments regulatory entities. If any issue should arise where a standard doesn’t work well with a breeder’s regulations, then you can be assured we will work together to come to a solution. Along the same line of thought if new scientific information is discovered, it would also be incorporated into future versions of the standards.

TDJ: Do the vets support this program?

TS: Yes, very much so. The type of veterinarians that serve as attending vets for kennels that we’ve been working with are very positive about this. They often have been working in this industry for years and now are seeing that this program is an amazing way to tie a lot of things we’ve learned over the years all together.

One veterinarian told me recently, “Way back when I first started working with breeders, I knew they needed my help, but quite frankly, it made me sad to walk into some kennels and see that the dogs and puppies weren’t being cared for in the most ideal way, particularly with regards to producing good behavior. Over the years they have made some great progress, but now with this program a lot has changed. Now when I walk into these facilities, I see puppies playing with toys and people, I see dogs exercising outside, I see dogs and puppies wanting to be petted and talked to. Seeing this makes me feel good about these breeders, myself and my job.” The other “type” of vets are those that see customers’ dogs and puppies. We want to help them be able to make educated decisions about breeders. Rather than making blanket statements like “this puppy came from the Midwest, that can’t be good, there are a lot of puppy mills there” or “You bought a puppy from a commercial kennel, that means you are supporting puppy mills”, we want to help them give their clients reliable, accurate information and tools to use during their search.

People trust their veterinarian, and so it’s important to help them understand how this program works and how they can utilize it to help their clients find a healthy pup, that also meets their need to support an ethical source. 

TDJ: Are puppy buyers looking for these Canine Care puppies yet?

Two dogs friends in a pasture in the Italian Alps

TS: So, at first the program’s focus revolved around recruiting enough breeders to participate. There’s no sense in talking about this program to customers if there are no puppies to be found raised by these breeders. Now that we have over 120 certified kennels, and breeders in 20 states registered for the program and working on their applications, you can be sure that we have begun focusing more on prospective puppy buyers, and introducing them to and educating them on the program.

We already supply our members with the right information and customized marketing materials about the program so that they can educate their prospects, and it seems to be working well. There’s certainly more to come.

TDJ: So, if I’m a Canine Care Certified breeder, and after I have my first audit, I fall into a slump and don’t adhere to the standards, what happens?

TS: First off, certified kennels are audited every year. That means an auditor has had boots on the ground inside that kennel regularly. If a customer buys a puppy from a certified breeder and experiences anything negative, we expect them to work with the customer and get the issue resolved. If a customer for any unknown reason cannot keep the puppy, we require they welcome the puppy back and find another home for it, as this is what responsible breeders do. These are just good general practices and are very common-sense standards.

I think what you really asked me about is if something more serious were to happen, let’s say for example a customer or anyone else saw things done in a facility that are harmful, illegal, or unethical, or are a violation of the standards of the Canine Care Certified Program. If this occurs, they should reach out to us at Canine Care Certified or to the auditing service which is Validus Verification Services. The auditing company we use is very concerned about their reputation, and they give us reports based on unbiased facts, and not emotions. They have no connection to Purdue University, the breeders themselves, or any other industry stakeholders. They are paid by the breeder for black and white documentation, to verify if a breeder and his or her operation is following the standards, not to make sure everyone passes.

So, because of that, their name is on the line, along with ours, and they will come out and do another audit if necessary. This ensures that Canine Care Certified breeders are in good standing, and that they actually indeed do what they say they are doing. This is actually very helpful for the breeder too, because as long as he or she is doing what they say they are doing, and are keeping up the standards that are required, they can use the auditing service and The Canine Care Certified Program as a resource, should someone imply that they are not running their kennel and caring for their dogs properly.

This is actually very helpful for the breeder too, because as long as he or she is doing what they say they are doing, and are keeping up the standards that are required, they can use the auditing service and The Canine Care Certified Program as a resource, should someone imply that they are not running their kennel and caring for their dogs properly.

TDJ: What are some of the benefits I should expect as a Canine Care Certified breeder?

TS: Well, there is the obvious things like healthier and happier dogs and puppies, better customer experience which will lead to fewer problems for the puppy and its new owner, and fewer illnesses and puppy losses. Also, this affects the business side as well, and that can show up in places like marketing advantages, consumer reassurance, and just having these credible resources available whenever you need them.

Not only will this help you as a breeder, it can really help give customers an accurate way to make sure the puppies they are buying come from an ethical source. And think about how much power can come from a group of professional dog breeders like this when it comes to legislation.

TDJ: Traci, thank you so much for your time and energy, and I look forward to learning more about this program.

This is part one of a continued series of articles about the Canine Care Program. In the next issue, we plan to sit down with one of the advocates for Canine Care and dig into what’s required and where to start to become a Canine Care Certified breeder.

In the meantime, if anyone out there wants to become registered, please reach out to Traci at 740-215-4551

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