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Modelling the UK Dog population for RSPCA

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How the RSPCA used research to inform its policy work.


The Modelling Integrity Team (MIT) formerly sat within Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (now a part of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) to ensure that analytical models used to support key decisions were fit for purpose. This included validating that the correct model had been built and verifying that it had been built correctly (i.e. error-free).
One charity the MIT supported while in DECC was the RSPCA.

The issues we faced

We were asked the question: “how many dogs are there in the UK and how many are moving in and out of welfare/rescue”? The basis for this is that without an understanding of the canine population and how it is stratified, it is challenging to put forward strong evidence for welfare improvement policies.

The actions we took

Our team of 4 volunteers from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) set out to help the clients establish a consensus view of how many dogs there are and how they move between different parts of the system, such as strays and rescue.

The scope of the project included:

  • ·        Reviewing the existing data, by means of a literature review, in order to produce a snapshot of the UK dog population.
  • ·        Designing and building a stocks and flows model to investigate the movement of dogs from ownership (including working dogs), through welfare organisations (including strays).
  • ·        Developing recommendations for possible uses and future development of the model, taking account of potential additional sources of data (e.g. Kennel Club, PetLog, DEFRA).

The literature review identified around 50 data sources and 100 data points and time-series. No consensus on the overall population was possible due to data discrepancies and varying quality among the sources – the population estimates ranged from 8.5 to 11+ million dogs in the UK. We developed a stock and flow model to show where data is available and crucially where key new data requirements are needed for future work.

Volunteering with the RSPCA

Positive outcomes

The clients can now argue the case for better data collection, to inform policy-making, with a clearer view of what is needed in order to model the dog population more fully in the future. For example this project has fed into scoping the direction of the RSPCA campaign to tackle the puppy trade:

Negative outcomes

The gaps in the data meant that there was only so much of the opening questions that we were able to help us with. However, the project helped to confirm and support a number of issues - including the need for better collection of data on the number of dogs that are bred and imported to the UK.

Lessons learnt

The dog modelling project has served as the starting point for a wider scoping project into the breeding, dealing and trade in dogs in the UK, which is one of the RSPCA's strategic priority campaigns.


Page last edited May 04, 2017

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