Library:Tricks of the Trade: the truth about the illegal puppy trade in the UK (report)

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Tricks of the Trade: the truth about the illegal puppy trade in the UK (report)

Tricks of the Trade: exposing the truth about the illegal puppy trade in the UK is a report published by Four Paws, an animal welfare organisation, in 2021. The report reveals the scale and impact of the illegal puppy trade in the UK, as well as the motivations and behaviours of puppy buyers. The report also provides recommendations for consumers, advertising sites and politicians to end the trade and protect the welfare of puppies.


The report is based on two sets of research: a survey conducted by Savanta, an independent market research agency, and an investigation and analysis of online adverts for puppies conducted by TRACKS Investigations, an undercover investigation organisation for animals. The report covers the following topics:

  • Purchasing patterns: The report examines how the COVID-19 pandemic influenced people’s decisions to buy puppies, what factors they considered when choosing a breed and a breeder, and where they found their puppies. The report found that companionship was the main motivation for buying a puppy, that appearance was the most important criterion for choosing a breed, and that social media sites were the most common source of finding puppies.
  • Puppy smuggling: The report exposes the extent of illegal imports of puppies from Eastern Europe, especially Romania and Hungary, into the UK. The report reveals how many breeders and sellers falsify documents, such as pet passports and vaccination certificates, to evade border checks and animal welfare regulations. The report also highlights the welfare issues faced by imported puppies, such as long and stressful journeys, inadequate living conditions, health problems and early death.
  • Online trade: The report investigates the deceptive adverts used by illegal puppy sellers on classified advertising sites, such as Gumtree, FreeAds and Pets4Homes. The report identifies some of the tricks used by sellers to mislead potential buyers, such as using different names and numbers, offering home deliveries, feigning legitimacy, providing customer references, and using paid advertising memberships. The report also introduces the VeriPet system, an innovative technical solution developed by Four Paws to ensure that only registered dogs can be advertised online by traceable sellers.
  • Consequences: The report discusses the negative consequences of the illegal puppy trade for both animals and humans. The report warns about the health risks posed by imported puppies that may carry diseases such as rabies or tapeworms. The report also estimates the hidden costs of buying an illegally bred or imported puppy, such as veterinary bills, insurance fees and rescue centre donations. The report also notes that rescue centres are at capacity due to increased abandonment of puppies by owners who cannot cope with the responsibility or cost of raising a puppy.


The report concludes with a set of recommendations for different stakeholders to eliminate the illegal puppy trade and safeguard the welfare of puppies across the UK. The recommendations are:

  • Potential buyers must do their research and be certain they are ready to take on the responsibility of a puppy. They must undertake adequate research of the breeder and make sure never to buy puppies from social media sites.
  • The Government must ensure the provisions in the now discarded Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which would have addressed illegal puppy smuggling, are introduced in new legislation and passed through Parliament.
  • Potential buyers must watch out for suspicious adverts, report cases to FOUR PAWS’ online reporting tool and avoid purchasing via social media platforms.
  • Classified advertising sites must adopt mandatory identification and registration in the form of the Four Paws VeriPet system, to ensure that any dogs advertised have registered microchips, and that the identity of the seller is recorded and verified to allow for traceability.
  • Further legislation with stricter enforcement is needed, including enforced traceability of online sellers through mandatory identification and registration, as well as a clamp down on social media sites that are not enforcing their own policies.

See also