22 February 2018

DNA Test Can Identify Illegal Dog Breeds

Illegal dogs

The breed of both purebred dogs and cross-breeds can now be determined with great accuracy using DNA tests, also called DNA markers, a new study conducted at the University of Copenhagen shows. The researchers behind the study and the Danish Veterinary Association are pleased with the result, which may cause the current administration of the Danish Act on Dogs to be changed.

New research conducted at the University of Copenhagen may be able to help solve a dog problem that has existed since the Danish Act on Dogs was amended in 2010.

The amendment introduced a ban against 13 dog breeds and cross-breeds hereof. This means that dogs of the given breeds and cross-breeds hereof acquired after July 2010 must be put down.

A report from the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark shows that 552 dogs were put down in period from June 2010 to August 2017 in consequence of the ban added to the Act on Dogs. The number only includes the cases reported to the police. The actual number of dogs that have been put down is likely to be much higher.

Pedigree and Appearance Are Vital
In case of doubt as to whether a dog belongs to one of the illegal breeds or cross-breeds, the police can demand that the owner provides documentation of the breed of the dog. If the owner fails to do so, the police will place the dog in a kennel, and the owner will by the police be given a deadline within which the owner must prove that the dog is not of an illegal breed or cross-breed. 

‘The only practical ways of documenting the origins of a given dog has been to present a credible pedigree or to obtain statements from breeders or other trustworthy individuals. In cases where this has not been possible, decisions have been made exclusively on the basis of the police’s assessment of the suspected dog’s appearance. This is problematic, as research shows that this is not a reliable way of identifying the breed of a dog’, says Professor Merete Fredholm from the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences.

A series of cases with reference to the Act on Dogs have been settled in court – at the latest the highly publicised case of the dogs Marley and Frigg. In 2014 the breed of the two dogs was found to be the illegal American Staffordshire Terrier (Amstaff) cross-breed based on a subjective assessment of the appearance of the dogs. The case was decided in the Supreme Court in 2017; the dogs had to be put down. The case lasted an unreasonably long time seen from the perspectives of the dogs, the owners and the authorities.

Association Is Hoping for DNA Proof
With the help of two master’s thesis students and Professor Peter Sandøe from the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences Merete Fredholm has conducted a study that paves the way for impartial and reliable identification of the breed of the majority of the dogs suspected of violating the Act on Dogs.

The study is based on DNA from 192 Danish dogs and on genotyping from Swedish and American dogs. The results of the study are presented in an article in Dansk Veterinærtidsskrift (the Danish Veterinary Association’s members’ magazine) on Thursday 22 February.

The Danish Veterinary Association is pleased with the perspectives of the study.

’Since the adoption of the Act on Dogs we have been against the breed ban and reverse burden of proof. We hope the presented studies may form a basis for changing the current administration of the Act on Dogs, ensuring that analyses based on DNA markers are accepted as proof of breed. Furthermore, we hope a lower limit for illegal cross-breeds will be established’, says President of the Danish Veterinary Association Carsten Jensen.

 Link to article in Dansk Veterinærtidsskrift https://www.dkk.dk/uploads/documents/R%C3%A5dgivning/Specialer/DNA-for-breed-identification-2018.pdf

More information about the project is available at www.dyreetik.dk

For further information, please contact Professor of Domestic Animal Genetics Merete Fredholm, University of Copenhagen (phone: +45 2013 3395) or Professor of Bioethics Peter Sandøe, University of Copenhagen (phone: +45 2149 7292).