The Pedigree Dog Breeding Debate in Ethics and Practice: Beyond Welfare Arguments

Bernice Bovenkerk*, Hanneke J. Nijland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Pedigree dog breeding has been the subject of public debate due to health problems caused by breeding for extreme looks and the narrow genepool of many breeds. Our research aims to provide insights in order to further the animal-ethical, political and society-wide discussion regarding the future of pedigree dog breeding in the Netherlands. Guided by the question ‘How far are we allowed to interfere in the genetic make-up of dogs, through breeding and genetic modification?’, we carried out a multi-method case-driven research, reviewing literature as well as identifying the perceptions of pedigree dog breeding of a variety of parties in the Netherlands. We examined what moral arguments and concepts different stakeholders, including breeders, veterinarians and animal protection societies, put forward when considering this question. While welfare arguments were often used as a final justification, we also frequently encountered arguments beyond welfare in practice, in particular the arguments that certain adaptations were unnatural, that they instrumentalised animals, or that they amounted to playing God. We argue that the way these arguments are employed points to a virtue ethical approach, foregrounding the virtue of temperance, as a balance between extreme positions was sought by our respondents in a variety of ways. Moreover, we argue against a rejection of unnaturalness arguments based on the naturalistic fallacy, as philosophers tend to do. We point out that unnaturalness arguments are related to people’s worldviews, including views on the proper human–animal relationship. We argue that such arguments, which we label ‘life-ethical’, should be the subject of more public discussion and should not be relegated to the private sphere.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-412
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Breeding
  • Genetic modification (GM)
  • Pedigree dogs
  • Unnaturalness
  • Virtue ethics
  • Worldviews

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