Can You Spot a Puppy Mill? (download PDF here)
No one wants to support a facility that mistreats animals. Unfortunately, animal cruelty laws are lax. There are many legal grey areas. As an unregulated industry, anyone can breed and sell dogs. The pet industry is buyer beware.
Great breeders have an abundance of knowledge. They need to understand genetics. They must be able to understand concepts such as recessive genes. Great breeders care.
As a general rule of thumb, great breeders are exceedingly careful when they place their dogs. You should feel like you have been grilled over the coals.
Sometimes people are turned down for a dog. Do not take this personally. Instead ask "why?" It could be that you want a family companion and this litter has been bred to work 18 hours a day.
A good breeder cares if they make a bad match. Money is not their primary motivator. Great rescue groups operate the same way.
Look for red flags as you look for a good breeder. Marketing claims may be deceptive. This means that you, as a potential new owner, need to become more educated.
The following are warning signs to look for. If you see them, it does not mean you are dealing with a mill. It does mean you should exercise care.
"Pure-bred." A pure-bred dog comes with papers from an organization such as the CKC, AKC or UKC. The dog has a pedigree. No pedigree? You are buying a mutt. It still might be a great dog. But it's not pure-bred.
No Breeder on Site. This is a huge warning sign. If you are not dealing with the breeder, then you really do not know where they came from. Do you really think a broker or pet shop will admit to purchasing animals from puppy mills?
Kennels and crates. Young puppies need to be with other puppies and their mom until at least 7 1/2 weeks of age. Great rescuers can compensate for this. They put the pups into homes that can make up the loss. If a puppy lives in a kennel during this critical period, they are not being socialized. Puppies that spend too much time penned up can learn to soil where they sleep and eat. These puppies are very difficult to house train.
Do not spend time with people. Great breeders breed infrequently because they focus on quality. The puppies live with humans because they need to be socialized. Puppies restricted from normal household situations often behave like wild dogs - not family pets. Don't be fooled by spotless, automated business practices. Dogs should not be produced on an assembly line. Of course, breeders do use x-pens and whelping areas. These should be kept as clean as possible.
Guarantees and contracts. These are legal documents. They are only as good as words on the paper. Legal battles are costly. No matter how right you are, can you afford a legal battle? Read before you sign. Put details or changes in writing.
No interview. Why not? Great breeders screen because they care.
Health issues. A fat chubby belly on a calm puppy might mean the pup is full of worms. All puppies need medical attention from a veterinarian. Ask to see veterinary records.
Designer Dogs. I've met a lot of nice "some-thing-a-poos." But make no mistake. It is not a pure-bred. They are popular cross breeds that consumers will pay money for. Look for the same standards you would expect in a great breeder or rescue group.
Health Checks. It costs money to breed correctly. Some breeds require hip x-rays. Some breeders run genetic testing for recessive genes. Vaccinations, birthing, time off from work to keep the facilities clean all cost money. If you are paying $700 for a pup, a good breeder will probably have paid out as much in veterinary care. Some even pay for in home veterinary care to ensure the pups are not exposed to contagious diseases on route to a clinic. Great breeders can easily justify the cost.
Rescue Groups with Designer Dogs. It's despicable, but there are people dishonest enough that they pretend to be a rescue group - when they are actually a mill. Puppies are rare in shelters. Some agencies may have puppies that were seized from a mill operation. Some facilities may work with rural strays that sometimes are pregnant. Deal with reputable rescues.
At least one parent on site. You want to see how the parents of a litter behave. If they are aggressive or ill, why are they being bred?
The bottom line is buyer beware. Poor breeders don't care if they create a situation where the pup acts like a wild dog. Poor breeders don't care if you have years of house training issues. Poor breeders don't care if you or the animal is happy. Support facilities that care. If you suspect that an animal is suffering, contact your local Humane Society or SPCA. There is no excuse for animal abuse. Remember that there are plenty of breed specific rescues if you are looking for a specific breed.