Breeders vs. Puppy Mills

How to Find A Good Breeder

After taking a realistic look at your lifestyle and resources, you are ready to start searching for YOUR DOG. Although you know that many wonderful canines—both “Heinz 57” and purebreds—are available for adoption, you decide to look into purchasing a pup or older dog.

That Doggie in the Window (or Website)

Pet stores do not want people to realize that at least 95% of the “merchandise” is born in puppy mills, infamous for the cruel treatment of dogs. Purchasers of puppy-mill pups often pay a very high price both financially and emotionally when they discover their new pet comes to them with an illness or congenital defect. The smart consumer will boycott any pet store that sells puppies—both small family-owned stores and large chains. As of April 2011, federal law still does not require any breeder that sells directly to the public—over the Internet or otherwise—to be inspected to ensure that breeder dogs are cared for humanely. Puppy millers will continue to take advantage of this until Congress closes the loophole. If you decide to buy a dog directly from a breeder, limit your search to breeders within driving distance. The only way to be absolutely certain that the parents of your prospective puppy are healthy, socialized and well cared for is to see the breeder’s home and dogs yourself.

The Search

Look for a breed fancier with lots of experience and a breeding plan that stresses health, temperament and socialization. The best way to find a breeder is to be on the lookout for a wonderful dog, and then ask the owner where s/he got the pet. Other good strategies are to:

  • Go to performance events like agility and rally. While you are there, talk to handlers and owners. Just make sure they have time to give you and are not preparing to compete.
  • Consult web sites and publications of national registries and parent clubs. (Warning: Listing is not necessarily an endorsement by an organization.)
  • Get advice from vets, groomers, and members of local training clubs and kennel clubs.

The Selection Process

A reputable breeder wants to cover expenses—not make her living selling dogs. Do not deal with anyone who breeds more than two breeds or specializes in rare colors, sizes, etc. Eliminate from your list any breeder who only accepts cash or credit cards. A breeder should encourage you to visit—not ask to meet you someplace “convenient” to exchange money and pup. Cross a breeder off your list if you find dirty conditions. Frightened, antisocial or unhealthy looking dogs on the premises are serious deal breakers. Never buy a dog from anyone who does not want you to visit their home and spend some time with their dogs. Make sure you meet at least one parent of the litter. If you want an older dog that is already trained, housebroken, and socialized, the breeder might have one available that you can get to know on a visit before any decision is made.

While you are with the breeder, take a look at available background documentation—for example, health records and litter registration. Ask for referrals from a vet, local breed club, or satisfied puppy buyers. Question the breeder about her experience and breeding plan. Discuss the breeder’s views on socialization and early neurological stimulation.

Make sure any breeder you deal with:

  • Screens pups for genetic problems and shows you the paperwork;
  • Answers questions with no hesitation or condescension;
  • Takes the time to educate you and does not push the sale;
  • Helps you make the right decision—even if that means you do not buy a dog; and
  • Agrees to provide advice and support for the dog’s lifetime if you do buy a dog.

A good breeder will often have a puppy waiting list and always interrogates potential buyers about their ability to care for the dog. Questions the breeder will probably ask include:

  • Why do you want a dog?
  • Who will be responsible for the dog’s care and exercise?
  • Do you have a fenced yard? (Some breeders may actually want to visit your home.)
  • If you rent your home, can I contact your landlord to make sure dogs are allowed?
  • What veterinarian have you used in the past so I can call for a reference?

The Deal

The price of a pet-quality puppy varies based on the breed, but typically ranges from $400 to $2000. For example, one Doberman pinscher fancier estimates that the cost per puppy in a litter is over $1600 when the breeder is doing “all the right things” (health testing, ear docking, vaccinations, vet care, supplies, etc.). Good breeders deserve to be compensated for the time and resources they put into producing sound pups.

The Contract

A reputable breeder’s goal is that every pup bred is healthy and will make  someone a fine companion. Keep in mind, however, that some pups in a litter will match the breed standard more than others. Pups identified as potentially competitive in conformation shows are considered show quality; others are pet quality; and some pups may take the breeder longer than the first few weeks to evaluate. When a dog that is (or might be) show quality is sold to a “pet” home, a breeder may want to retain some control just in case the dog might be of use to the breeder in the future. For example, the contract might include language that requires a buyer to get the breeder’s permission before the dog can be neutered; or a co-ownership provision might oblige the owner to return the dog temporarily to the breeder, at the owner’s expense, for breeding or training. If you want to be the only one with decision-making power over your dog, then read the contract carefully before you sign it.

A straight-forward pet quality contract should include the buyer’s promise to spay or neuter the dog as well as a health/wellness guarantee from the breeder. A valid American Kennel Club (AKC) Dog Registration Application form provided by the breeder simply allows the buyer to register the new pup. Registration does not guarantee anything at all about your new dog:

“[A registration certificate] in no way indicates the quality or state of health of the dog….Many people breed their dogs with no concern for the qualitative demands of the breed standards. When this occurs repeatedly over several generations, the animals, while still purebred, can be of extremely low quality. Before buying a dog, you should investigate the dog’s parentage (including titles, DNA and pedigree information), the breeder’s breeding practices, the breed standard, and the genetic tests recommended by the Parent Club for the breed.”

- “About Registration,” from the AKC website

Bottom line: Make sure the terms of the breeder’s contract also protect you and your new dog!

Puppy Mills

Puppy mills are places where purebred or “designer” dogs are bred solely for the money they can bring in, with no regard for the dogs’ welfare.  The puppies are housed in overcrowded, unsanitary cages. Puppies are taken away from their mothers too early and are not socialized with either dogs or humans.  They receive minimal, if any, veterinary care, and inbreeding is common. Disease, genetic disorders, and heartworm are the norm. The breeding females produce one litter after another in cramped cages with no concern for their health.

Puppy mill dogs are sold to pet stores and advertised on the internet and in newspapers. If you are told that a breeding facility is “USDA-licensed” or “USDA-inspected”, that only means that minimal standards of food, water, and shelter have been met. It says nothing about meeting the needs or securing the welfare of the breeder’s dogs. AKC registration papers also tell you nothing about the condition of the dog or how it was raised.

Reputable breeders want you to visit their facility. They ask a lot of questions in order to assess whether or not you will be a suitable and responsible parent for their puppies.  Responsible breeders also don’t churn out puppies as if from a factory.  They generally have a waiting list because they have a limited number of litters born each year.

Those of you who have rescued puppy mill dogs know the difficulties these dogs can face. In addition to health issues, most have never been housetrained; have never walked on a solid surface or with a leash; have never lived in a home with vacuum cleaners, blenders and other appliances; have never climbed stairs; have never interacted normally with other dogs or people.

If you decide to adopt a puppy mill dog from a rescue group, the DVD, “Adopting a Puppy Mill Dog (everything you need to succeed)” can be ordered from www.missiondog.com.  In this DVD, two certified dog trainers guide new adopters through the essential steps that will help transition your puppy mill dog or puppy to life in a home. You should also read “Rehabilitating Your Puppy Mill Dog”, an excellent article that walks you through the issues you are likely to face.

There is a local meet-up group for puppy mill dog adopters in the Washington, DC area. To join, go to

Let’s try to give our pets a better start in life! !Please use the ASPCA and HSUS links below to learn more about how we can shut down puppy mills: