Finland has joined other EU countries in implementing the mandatory identification and registration of dogs. The identification and registration are laid down in the updated decree (68/2022) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and it has prompted some attention in the Finnish media. This new obligation brings both benefits and efforts, but the mandatory registration of dogs is believed to bring more benefits for animal welfare by limiting possibilities for puppy mills and allowing the individual identification of dogs, for example.
All dogs in the dog registry by the end of 2023
The dog keeper is responsible for obtaining identification (ID-microchip and certificate) for each dog and registering all their dogs in the dog registry (koirarekisteri) maintained by the Finnish Food Authority by 31 December 2023. Dogs with a tattoo marking must also be microchipped and registered. Dogs with a microchip and dogs in other private registries must be registered in the Dog Registry. The dog registry was opened for private dog keepers on 8 May 2023 and will be opened for commercial animal keepers and companies later.
According to the responsible experts of the dog registry at the Finnish Food Safety Authority, the dog registry has mostly been working well. Some minor problems have already been fixed. The service is being continuously developed to make it easier for dog keepers to use.
Dog registry helps identify puppy mills and strays
One goal of the mandatory identification and registration of dogs for a longer period is to prevent puppy mills, the unsupervised pet trade, and the abandonment of pets. When information is collected from animal keepers, breeders, and importers, it is possible to identify possible puppy mills. The visibility of the dog registry is also an important way to raise awareness about mandatory identification, as well as puppy mills. The potential buyer can therefore ask to see a certificate of identification and registration before closing the deal. As before, the buyer can ask for more information about the responsibility of a breeder or importer.
Identification is an acknowledgement of a pet’s individuality
For the transparency and traceability of animal husbandry and for disease protection, Finland has a mandatory identification and registration for many animals like equines, bovines and caprine animals, as well as the registration of the establishment. Identification would also help with the traceability of individual dogs, but especially as a gesture to recognise the individuality of animals.
In Finland, the number of unidentified or unregistered pets and the difficulty of finding animal keepers remain a problem. Every year, citizens bring around a thousand dogs to animal shelters in the capital region alone, a third of which are unregistered. Microchipped dogs imported from abroad may also be left unregistered by importers or buyers. Although the authorities and shelter staff usually make contact with dog keepers more quickly than with cat keepers, the process causes significant pressure and expenses for both the authorities and volunteers. Moreover, the keeper of the dog must pay the expenses for every day their dog spends in an animal shelter.
Veterinarians are obliged to report diseases that restrict a dog’s use for breeding
In connection with the dog registry, there has been discussion around the obligation of veterinarians to report all diseases and defects diagnosed by a veterinarian in dogs and cats that limit the animal’s use for breeding. The obligation to report is based on the decree of the updated Animal Welfare Act, but the preparation is still in progress. There will be a detailed list of reportable diseases and defects, and information will probably be available to the public. For example, this will allow the buyer to search for information about whether a dog used in breeding is banned from breeding. The animal welfare authorities can also check in the register during the inspection whether the mother of the litter detected during the inspection has a possible breeding ban and take measures if necessary.
The registration of dogs in multiple registries is raising questions
Due to the lack of an official dog registry, there are only approximations of the number of dogs in Finland. According to the Household Budget Survey data of Statistics Finland, there were around 700,000 dogs in Finland in 2016. In contrast, according to the survey carried out by Taloustutkimus and ordered by the Finnish Kennel Club, there are around 800,000 dogs in Finland, of which around 580,000 are registered in the Finnish Kennel Club’s private register. It has also been possible to mark multi-breed and unregistered dogs in the Kennel Association’s private register.
The obligation to register all dogs in the dog registry for the use of the authorities has therefore raised questions among those who have already registered their dog in another private register. There have been questions about why information about dogs is not being transferred from private registers like the Kennel Club’s register to the official dog registry. According to the Finnish Food Authority, the transfer of personal information would have been too difficult. Some of the information in private registers may have been collected before strong identification, and the authorities would have to investigate whether the information in private registers is being updated. All dog owners would also have needed consent from each dog keeper.
The official dog registry and private registers collect information for a different purpose and with different detail. The dog registry maintained by the Finnish Food Authority collects only the most essential information for the identification of each dog individual and the contact information of the current keeper of the dog. This information is only accessed by the authorities and the animal shelters that cooperate finding lost pets. On the other hand, the private registry of Finnish Kennel club, which is one of the biggest private dog registers in Finland, collects information about dogs’ health, pedigrees, and the Club’s own show and competition results. The Kennel Club uses this information for breeding, for example. The public sharing of the owner’s information in the Kennel Club’s registry is not mandatory.
Registration of dogs is most affordable online
A dog keeper can register their dog(s) either via the online service (€10/dog) or by paper form (€19/dog). The amount of the fee is set to cover data handling costs so that Finnish Food Authority cannot make a profit on payments.
Puppies born after 1 January 2023 must be identified with a microchip and registered within 3 months of birth. Dogs imported from abroad must be registered within 4 weeks of their arrival in Finland. In cases where the ownership of the dog changes, or the responsibility for the dog is transferred to another person for more than 3 months, both the old and the new dog keeper must confirm the changes in the dog registry within one month.
Authorities supervise the implementation of registration
In Finland, the authorities that supervise the implementation of the registration are municipal control veterinarians, other municipal veterinarians, and county veterinarians of Regional State Administrative Agencies. The transport of animals between countries is supervised by the Border Guard (Tulli) and the Centres for Economic Development, Transport, and the Environment. If the authorities observe that the keeper of the dog has not registered their dog in the official dog registry, the keeper can be ordered to register the dog. As with other animal law violations, a person’s failure to correct deficiencies can result in fines and inspection fees, for example.
The use of the dog registry is supported by the register’s own customer service (in Finnish).
Watch a video (in Finnish) about dog registration by Chief of Staff Jaana Husu Kallio of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
Kirsi Vehkakoski and Sanna Varjus, the experts responsible for the Swedish Food Agency’s dog register, were asked to comment on the article.
Text: Heta Rautiainen. Rautiainen is an intern at the Finnish Center for Animal Welfare, an animal trainer and a master’s student in animal behavior and welfare research.