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How to Identify a Puppy Mill

Puppy mills are large operations where sellers breed a lot of different puppies in unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. To get money, these breeders try to blend in with other reputable sellers and make a quick buck from unsuspecting people who are on the market for a pet. If you’re looking for a new furry friend, take a few minutes and see if you’re dealing with a reputable breeder or a commercial breeding operation. This can save you a lot of time, money, and sadness in the long run, and will help ensure that you’re welcoming a healthy and healthy puppy into your home.

Examining the Advertisement

1. Check if the breeder sells a wide variety of designer puppies. Most reputable breeders don’t have a lot of pregnant or nursing dogs on hand. While it’s not unheard of for reputable breeders to sell more than 1 kind of puppy, you don’t want to trust any seller claiming to sell a huge variety of popular, designer dog breeds.

  • For instance, if the flier advertises German Shepherd, Labradoodle, Pug, Chihuahua, Golden Retrievers, and several other breeds of puppies, there’s a good chance that they’re coming from a puppy mill.

2. Look at the ad to see if the puppy is 6-8 weeks old. Note that puppy mills like to sell their animals as quickly and efficiently as possible, and don’t care about the animal’s welfare. Healthy puppies need to spend several weeks nursing before they can go off to a new home. If the ad is offering newborns or puppies that are only a couple weeks old, then the animals are likely from a puppy mill.

  • If the ad doesn’t specify an age, that could be a red flag.

3. Watch for ads that try to pressure you into buying. Look for phrasing that tries to pressure you into making a quick purchase, like “Limited Sale” or “Today Only.” Reputable breeders won’t care about making a quick buck, while puppy mill sellers are trying to make as much money as they can, as quickly as they can.

  • For example, an ad that says something like “Limited Time Offer! Puppies Selling Fast” is likely from a puppy mill.

4. Search for the ad online to see if there are duplicates. If you’re shopping online, copy and paste the bulk of the ad on a search engine and see what comes up. Note that puppy mills will likely post their ads all over the Internet, while reputable breeders will base their info on a singular website.

  • If the seller uses fake pictures, it likely means that their puppies are visibly unhealthy.

5. Look online to see if the pictures are fake. Puppy mills are notoriously unhealthy places, so sellers may try to fool buyers by including a fake picture of the puppy in question. Save the photo from the listing to your computer, then upload it to a reverse photo search to see if it’s been stolen from another website. If the picture seems to be really high quality with an impeccably healthy pup, there’s a good chance that the picture is fake and the listing is from a puppy mill.

  • Realistically, there should be pictures of the puppy in its living space. Depending on the picture, there might be trainers or caregivers helping the puppy stay still for the camera.

6. Compare the asking price to other breeders in the area. Stay on high alert if an ad listing seems to be selling a puppy for a ridiculously low price, like $75. Search online to see what kinds of dog breeders are in your area, or in a neighboring region. Reputable breeders, especially those breeding designer dogs, will sell their pups for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. If the price on the ad seems too good to be true, then it probably is—and it’s probably coming from a puppy mill, as well.

Interacting with the Seller

1. Ask the seller or breeder if they have a screening process before adoption. Note that reputable breeders will want to get to know you, while puppy mills want to sell and get rid of their dogs as soon as possible. Wait and see if the seller puts you through an interview process, or if they want to take a tour of your home. If a seller only wants to talk about payment, then they’re probably from a puppy mill.

  • Some puppy mill sellers will ask for sketchy forms of payment, like gift cards. Keep this in mind before purchasing a new pet!

2. Check the organization or breeder and see how often they sell puppies. Look online or ask the breeder how often they have puppies available. Reputable breeders will likely take a break for several weeks or months to give the breeding parents time to rest, while puppy mills will always have puppies available.

  • This can be tricky to check, especially if the ad isn’t attached to a website. You may want to use some clever wording when talking to the seller.
  • For instance, you can ask something like: “My cousin lives in the area, and they’re planning to adopt a Golden Retriever in about 2 months. Will you have any puppies available then?”

3. Inquire about the breeder’s veterinarian. See if the seller has any of the vet’s contact info lying around, like a phone number or email. If the seller gives you their contact info, reach out to the vet and get their opinion on the legitimacy of the seller and the health of the animals. If the seller won’t tell you who their vet is, you may want to take your business elsewhere.

  • Be polite when you call the vet. They aren’t connected to the seller financially, and they may not even know if the seller is running a puppy mill.

4. Request veterinary paperwork from the seller. A reputable breeder can provide proof of veterinary check-ups, along with credible information about the puppy’s pedigree. Keep in mind that puppy mill sellers may claim that their dogs are “AKC certified,” but this term doesn’t prove that the puppy in question is in good condition.

5. Ask if you can check out where the puppy is being raised. Note that reputable breeders will be happy to let you meet and greet the puppy in question before making a purchase. If the seller refuses to let you visit, you can safely assume that they’re running a puppy mill operation.

  • If possible, schedule a time to visit. A puppy mill seller may say that you can visit, then dodge the question when you try to schedule something.

6. Listen for suspicious phrasing when you speak with the breeder. A lot of puppy mill sellers want to put you at ease by claiming to be verified, or by using tricky wording that prevents you from seeing their facility. Be on the lookout for really vague phrasing and unverifiable information that the seller may tell you.

  • For instance, it’s a big red flag if a seller refuses to meet you at their facility and asks to meet somewhere else.
  • There is no such thing as being a “USDA-approved” breeder. If a seller claims this, there’s a good chance they’re running a puppy mill.
  • Avoid doing business with people who throw around the term “health guarantee.” This wording is designed to take less pressure and liability off them if the puppy ends up having health issues, which it likely will.

Tip: Save yourself some trouble by shopping with a reputable organization, like the AKC, or your local SPCA.

Visiting the Facility

1. Recognize puppy mills by their dirty, cramped quarters. If the seller allows you to visit, look at how much space each puppy has, and if it seems cleaned and well-maintained. Each animal needs plenty of open area to run around and stay active—if the puppies are being held in cages or really small enclosures, then you’re likely visiting a puppy mill.

  • Some breeds need more running space than others. Really small breeds, like Pugs and Chihuahuas, may not necessarily need a whole yard to run around in, while a sporting dog breed like a Brittany will need a lot more space.

2. Note that reputable breeders are usually based at home. Reliable breeders will have a clean, open living space for their puppies, typically based out of their homes. Puppy mills are usually in large, dirty buildings, like farms or warehouses. It’s a pretty big red flag if the seller is based out of a large establishment.

  • Puppy mills need a lot of space because they’re selling animals at a high volume.

3. Look for clean, accessible food and water at the facility. Check that there are clean food and water bowls that the puppies have easy access to. These bowls need to be clean, and the food and water should look fresh.

  • Large-scale operations may skimp on food and forget to replace the water for their animals.

4. Ask if you can see the parents of the puppies. The breeding mother of new puppies will be resting and nursing her young, while puppy mills won’t give her much time to recuperate from her last litter. Keep in mind that reputable breeders will be happy to let you meet the parents of the puppy, which gives you a sense of its pedigree.

  • It’s a pretty big red flag if the seller won’t let you see the parents.

5. Observe the animals to see if they look underweight. Puppy mills only care about money, and tending to the actual puppies isn’t their top priority. Look at the puppy and see if its ribs are visible, or if it seems low energy overall. Generally, puppy mill animals can look underweight.

Warning: Puppies that are born and raised in puppy mills aren’t cared for very well, and have a lot of behavioral issues as a result.

Tips

  • Ask reputable breeders for referrals if you’d like to purchase a designer dog.
  • Adopt from an established shelter to ensure that you’re receiving a healthy pet.
  • Think about where you’re buying the puppy. If you’re purchasing the puppy from a flea market or other sketchy, unverifiable area, there’s a good chance that the dog is from a puppy mill.
  • If you’re looking for a new pet, consider visiting a shelter! Countless dogs live in confinement, where they may eventually be euthanized due to overcrowding.

Warnings

  • Avoid shopping for dogs online or from a pet store. Only look for a pet online if the site is associated with a reputable rescue shelter or breeder.
  • Contact a humane society if you suspect that you’ve encountered a puppy mill. Use this form to get in touch: https://www.humanesociety.org/forms/report-puppy-mill.