Puppies for sale or dog training ads which appear on the Boxers 101 blog do not necessarily represent either businesses or actions recommended by Boxers 101. For information about Boxer breeders and training Boxers, please visit the Boxer Crazy forum.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The New USDA Regulations and How They Affect Boxer Breeders

In July 2012, the USDA issued a proposed rule seeking to close the "Internet loophole" regarding retail sales of puppies. On the surface, it was a sensible undertaking -- the Animal Welfare Act was written long before the Internet was a household staple, and many large-scale, substandard breeding operations were avoiding any kind of oversight by selling their puppies only at retail, and only by shipping them sight-unseen to the buyers. Unfortunately, the radical animal rights groups were the driving force behind the changes, and so of course what could have been a way to protect animals in poor conditions has become a way to further restrict responsible breeders of home-raised puppies.

The USDA announced on September 10, 2013 that it had finalized the rule and expected it to be published in the Federal Register sometime that week. [It was actually published on September 18, 2013 and becomes effective on November 18, 2013.] This of course started a maelstrom of reaction from dog breeders on Facebook, message boards, email lists, etc. (though noticeably and, sadly, unsurprisingly, *not* among Boxer breeders, who in general it seems prefer to keep their heads in the sand and just hope no one comes after them). Predictably, the fear mongers have been screaming that the sky is falling and every single breeder must be licensed or the government will come and take all their dogs, and so on. Granted, this is not favorable legislation for home breeders, and as usual with anti-breeding-based laws it will do little to nothing to actually address the problem of animals raised in substandard conditions -- but it is not yet the end of responsible breeders and a few key changes were made that actually work in their favor.

Keeping in mind that I am neither a Federal employee nor an attorney, following are the key points of the new rule as I understand them. I've provided as many citations as possible to support these points and help bust the many myths that have already sprung up regarding the rule. For the sake of simplicity, I am limiting the information to the sale of dogs and puppies only; if you also breed and sell other species, a more thorough review of the rule is advised. This is not to be construed as legal advice.

Items Used as Reference
Animal Welfare Act Regulations ("Regulations") -- current as of 9/10/13, do not include new rule (HTML)
Glossary of AWA Terms ("Glossary") -- not updated with new rules as of 9/12/13. (PDF)
Docket No. 2011-2003 ("Docket") -- the Final Rule, until officially published in the Federal Register (PDF)
Press Release Regarding Final Rule ("Release") -- dated September 10, 2013 (HTML)
Questions and Answers Regarding Final Rule ("Q&A") -- Factsheet dated September 2012 (PDF)
USDA Conference Call Regarding Final Rule ("Conference Call") -- Held September 10, 2013 (Vimeo)
Transcription of USDA Conference Call Regarding Final Rule ("Transcript") -- Held September 10, 2013 (PDF)
The Published Final Rule  ("Published Rule") -- as published in the Federal Register on September 18, 2013

* Note that the text of the Final Rule is identical to the text of the Docket, aside from housekeeping changes (such as capitalizing "Amendment" when referring to the Tenth Amendment, etc.). References to the "Docket" will also refer to the "Published Rule", however the published Rule is in a columnar format, where the Docket is not, so the page numbers will be different.

  • If you sell puppies as pets, you are considered a 'dealer' under the Federal Animal Welfare Act. This is nothing new. (See Glossary, page 1; Docket, page 88; Conference Call, first five minutes)
  • If you sell puppies at wholesale as working or breeding animals, you are considered a dealer. This is somewhat new -- it used to be all sellers of working or breeding animals.
  • Dealers must be licensed by the UDSA. This is nothing new.
  • If you sell puppies at retail as working or breeding animals, you are not considered a dealer and are not subject to licensing requirements. This is new.
  • If you are considered a dealer, you may be exempt from the licensing requirements if you meet any one of the following criteria:
    • You are a retail pet store. A retail pet store is defined as "a place of business or residence at which the seller, buyer, and the animal available for sale are physically present so that every buyer may personally observe the animal prior to purchasing and/or taking custody of that animal after purchase". (See Docket page 89; Conference Call, first five minutes; Q&A, page 1) This is somewhat new -- the previous definition of "retail pet store" did not include the requirement for the buyer, seller, and animal to be physically present. (See Glossary, page 3)
    • You maintain four or fewer breeding females and sell at wholesale only their offspring that are born and raised on your premises. This is somewhat new -- previously anyone with three or fewer breeding females who only sold their offspring etc. was exempt. (See Docket, page 90, Regulations, § 2.1(a)(3)(iii))
    • You maintain four or fewer breeding females and sell at retail only their offspring that are born and raised on your premises. This is new -- previously anyone selling pets at direct retail sale for the buyers own use was exempt.(See Docket, page 91, Regulations, § 2.1(a)(3)(vii)) If you fit this definition you are also considered a "retail pet store". (See Docket, page 89)
That's the nutshell. The main change is that if you sell pets at retail directly to buyers for their own use, you may be subject to licensing now, where in the past you were not. It depends on how many breeding females you have, or whether you sell animals not born and raised on your premises, or how you sell them. In an effort to help relieve some of the confusion associated with this rule, I've created this decision tree. Please feel free to share it, so long as the disclaimer and copyright information remain intact.

Questions and answers regarding the new rule can now be found in this blog post.

-- This is my best understanding of the rule at this time, based on the references cited. Changes may be made as more information becomes available, and certain aspects are clarified. -- 


  1. Excellent writeup, one of the best I have seen to date. Do you have more information about constitutes a "working dog". I see a limited number of examples.

    1. Thanks, Jill! "Working dog" is a fuzzy area, I think the USDA folk don't really get what a working dog is. They have said that they acknowledge the examples they have given (hunting, security, stock) are not the total scope of working dogs, but on the conference call there was a lot of confusion about the fact that dog could be a working dog *and* a trial dog *and* a pet dog!

      I am gathering a list of questions and hope to make a phone call to the USDA -- I'll try to get more information on their definition of working dogs at that time.

  2. I Meet The "Four and Fewer" Exemption. Can I Ship A Puppy Sight Unseen? Yes, you can. There are some who are holding fast to the notion that "if you ship even one puppy sight unseen, you must be licensed."

    ^^ Note, you must meet the "four and fewer" exemption AND never sell an animal that was not born and raised on your premises. It's both, not one or the other.

    1. That's correct. Selling only animals that were born and raised on your premises is part and parcel of the "Four and Fewer" exemption. If you sell animals that were not born and raised on your premises, you do not qualify for "Four and Fewer", even if you only have one breeding female.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. So, if I don't ship, (never did anyway), would I be exempt? All of my pups are sold face to face, the person usually comes to my home to see before placing a deposit.... I'm just a little confused!

    1. If 100% of your sales involve the buyer, the seller, and the animal all being physically present in the same place at the same time before the sale/transfer of custody, then you qualify for the "Face to Face" exemption and you are not required to be licensed, regardless of how many breeding females you maintain. Even one "sight unseen" sale invalidates that exemption, though.

    2. Well, that seems to clarify it for me! Thanks Jen, this is a wonderful resource you've got here, I appreciate it!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. I'm trying to organize some thoughts on breed rescue. My breed is quite rare, and all our rescue coordinators are breeders who would normally not fall under this regulation. I'm already in over my head with thoughts of the risks this rule puts on our breed's health and blood lines, now I am also confused about potential rescue scenarios that could be big trouble. Will rescue dogs count as both 'breeding females' if they are intact (many are, and are in need of rehab before spay surgery) and as "sight unseen" sales when delivered by air to a new owner? The internet, of course, is the main line of communication for our rescues. Such a rare breed also means limited potential new owners, and they could be anywhere in the country, miles from where they were picked up. What are your thoughts, do you have any scenarios that might help me develop a question for USDA and our members?

    1. I would guess that unfortunately, yes, intact rescue females would count as "breeding females", and shipping them would count as "sight unseen" sales if the new owner hadn't been to visit beforehand. The Docket does have this statement:

      "Many private rescues and shelters operate under a business model in which representatives for the rescue or shelter and the animals available for sale or adoption are physically present at a location where the public is encouraged to personally observe the animals; this business model is consistent with our definition of retail pet store. As a
      result, private rescues and shelters with this business model have historically been exempted under the retail pet store exemption in §2.1(a)(3)(i) and will continue to be exempted."

      Which of course also seem to indicate that if they don't qualify for one of the "retail pet store" exemptions, they will not be exempted.