The Animal Welfare Act replaces the previous Animal Welfare Act. The purpose of the new Act is to promote animal welfare and protect animals in the best possible way from harm to their welfare. Another purpose of the Act is to increase respect and good treatment of animals. The intrinsic value of animals is recorded in the grounds for the bill.

The Act will be supplemented by further regulations. For example, a decree on the breeding of pets will be prepared during 2024.

The Finnish Food Authority provides more detailed instructions on what the Animal Welfare Act means for pets. For more detailed information, please visit the Food Authority's website.

General principles and treatment of dogs

Dogs must be treated well and with respect. Dogs should not be subjected to needless pain or suffering, nor should their well-being be endangered needlessly. A dog in your care must not be left without care or abandoned.

Dogs must be treated calmly. A dog's training should aim to take advantage of its species-typical behaviour. The aim should be to help the dog get  accustomed to being handled and to the conditions in which it is kept.

Dogs should not be trained roughly or otherwise in such a way as to cause needless pain or suffering. Dogs should not be placed under excessive strain or kept under unreasonably strict discipline. A dog's training must take into account its level of skill and performance. Dogs should not be forced to exceed their natural abilities or strength.

Dogs should not be needlessly harmed. Using dogs in official activities that make use of the purpose of the breed and which, due to the nature of the task, involve a risk of harm to the animal is not considered as causing needless harm to the dog.

Dogs should not be stained or dyed to alter their appearance.

Prohibited equipment and activities

Equipment or accessories that cause dogs needless pain, suffering or risk of injury should not be used on dogs. Prohibited equipment include, for example, remote controlled electric collars, bark shock collars, as well as so-called invisible fences, that use an electric collar that is activated when the dog approaches the cord used to outline the desired area.

Activities such as ear cropping, tail docking and cosmetic piercings and tattoos on a dog are forbidden. While precautionary removal of dewclaws is prohibited, previously performed removals, or later dewclaw amputations for veterinary reasons, do not preclude participation in a show, trial, test or competition. This also applies to dogs born outside Finland after 1 January 2024.

A dog that has undergone a procedure to change its appearance may not be used in trials, competitions or dog shows. The prohibition applies to all dogs, regardless of whether the procedure was carried out in Finland or abroad.

The care and keeping of dogs

Dogs must have the opportunity to carry out essential behavioral needs related to physical exercise, rest, bodily care, search for food and similar activities, as well as social relationships.

The dog must have constant access to water at the place where it is kept. However, this is not required when exceptionally severe weather conditions prevent continuous availability of meltwater. Annual periods of subzero temperatures are not considered such weather conditions. Continuous access to meltwater is not required in sled dog establishments during the winter, but when the water freezes due to weather conditions, the dogs must be given water at least three times a day.

It must be possible to maintain sufficient cleanliness and hygiene at the place where the dog is kept. It must be possible to examine and care for the dog at the place where it is kept.

A dog may only be kept in a cage intended for its transport or other similar compact storage space if it is required for its transport, illness or other temporary and acceptable reason.

A child under the age of 16 cannot be solely responsible for the welfare of a dog. However, they may own or care for a dog. Parents, guardians or other supervisors of a child under the age of 16 are responsible for how the child treats the animals.

Persons who keep dogs professionally or otherwise on a large scale must report their activities to the Regional State Administrative Agency. Activities defined in Appendix 2 to the Animal Welfare Act are considered professional or otherwise large-scale dog keeping. Examples of such activities include running a dog boarding kennel. The definition of professional or otherwise large-scale activity is also met, for example, if you keep at least seven dogs over the age of six months, or if you breed three litters a year. Cat, ferret and rabbit litters are also included in the litters. More detailed information can be found on the Finnish Food Authority's website in the instructions on the keeping of animals subject to registration and other activities.

Sale of dogs or puppies

When marketing puppies or dogs to be sold or given away, certain information must be provided in the advertisement. Mandatory information includes the seller's name, the dog's date of birth and age, or an estimate of the dog's age, the dog's country of birth (if other than Finland), and its location or country at the time of advertising.

If the seller is engaged in professional or otherwise large-scale dog keeping, the advertisement must also specify the unique identifier of the activity, in other words, the operator's customer identifier or farm identifier displayed in the register of animal keepers and establishments. In the case of foreign operators, the identifier of the original establishment included in the so-called TRACES system can be used as the unique identifier, if necessary.

If photographs are used in the marketing of dogs, at least one of the images must show the advertised animal or its dam, and this information must be visible in the images.

When handing over a dog, the seller must provide the recipient with the necessary information about the care of the dog and other aspects relevant to its well-being.

A puppy under six months of age may not be imported from another country to Finland if the intention is to sell or otherwise hand over the puppy to a third party in Finland within four months of the import. Customs may order such a puppy to be returned to the country of origin. This does not prevent the acquisition of a puppy under six months of age from abroad, as long as the sales agreement has been concluded before the puppy is imported into Finland. In other words, it will continue to be possible to buy a puppy under six months old from abroad and personally travel to the country of origin and bring the puppy to Finland or arrange the transport of the puppy in another way.

More detailed instructions can be found on the Finnish Food Authority's website, section Sale and handover of dogs and cats.

A dog may not be permanently handed over to a child under the age of 16 without the consent of a guardian.

Dog trials, competitions and dog shows

The Animal Welfare Act introduces new obligations for operators organising animal competitions and shows. The organiser of an animal competition or show is also responsible for the safety of the event.

The trial, competition or show must not needlessly risk the well-being of the dog. The dog must not be given a medicine or similar substance or subjected to a method designed to artificially influence its performance or behaviour in a trial, competition or show.

Competitions in which the animal or the target animal may be subjected to unreasonable stress or other pain or suffering must be notified to the Regional State Administrative Agency. The Finnish Food Authority has listed examples of competitions that it considers to be subject to the notification obligation.

These include: 

  • dogs' weight and load pulling competitions aimed at maximal performance
  • greyhound racing on and off track
  • long-distance sled dog races 
  • dog agility competitions at Finnish Championship level or above
  • earthdog trials 
  • herding trials for dogs at Finnish Championship level or above, such as in sheep, cow and reindeer herding.

More detailed information can be found on the website of the Finnish Food Authority, section Animal competitions and shows, as well as in the Guide to organising and participating in animal competitions and shows.

Dog breeding

A dog must not be used for breeding if it is unable to reproduce naturally or if reproduction is likely to cause significant harm to its welfare. A dog must also not be used for breeding if use for breeding is likely to cause significant harm to the welfare of its future offspring. Animals born as a result of breeding must have such characteristics that they are able to live the typical life of their species.

The male dog used for breeding must be able to mate naturally. The provision does not prevent the use of artificial insemination from males that are also capable of mating naturally, or from males whose inability to mate is caused, for example, by an accident. A female dog that, due to its physique or the expected physique of its offspring, is unable to bear offspring without a caesarean section must not be used for breeding.

More detailed provisions on what kinds of animals may not be used for breeding will be laid down in a separate regulation. The Act on Access to and Pursuit of the Profession of Veterinary Surgeon provides for a notification obligation for veterinarians regarding faults and diseases that restrict the use of a dog for breeding. The notifications will be made to the dog register maintained by the Finnish Food Authority.

How to address dog welfare issues?

If you suspect problems with a dog's welfare, we recommend first trying to discuss the matter with the dog's owner or keeper. This is not always possible.

The Finnish Kennel Club's volunteer kennel advisers can offer guidance and help to dog breeders and dog owners, but they have no official authority. However, you can ask them for advice because they have contacts with animal protection operators in their area. Find the contact information of our kennel advisers here.

Animal welfare violations must be reported to animal welfare authorities, in other words supervising veterinarians. More information can be found on the website of the Regional State Administrative Agency.

Violations of the rules or guidelines of the Finnish Kennel Club can be reported to the relevant committee under the Finnish Kennel Club's Board of Directors (Breeder Committee, Show and Judges Committee, Scientific Breeding Committee, Trial and Competitions Committee). More information on filing a report can be found here.