Puppy mills are large breeding facilities that have little or no regard for the safety and health of the dogs in their care. They mass produce purebred puppies and, as a result, do not have the ability (or the desire) to properly care for and raise the dogs. I'm sure you've heard of puppy mills and the horrific conditions that the dogs and puppies inside are subjected to, so I won't go into much detail regarding that. However, if you're considering getting a dog, you need to be aware of what a puppy mill is, how you can recognize one and what to do if you come across one. This will help you avoid inadvertently supporting puppy mills and prevent you from purchasing a potentially sick, unsocialized, genetically defective puppy that may require much more attention and care than an average dog.
Here's what you can do to avoid puppy mills:
- Adopt your puppy from a shelter or breed rescue group! Animal shelters and breed rescue groups typically spend the most time trying to ensure that the right dog goes to the right home. They are not out to make a profit, so you can be confident that their main motivation is the dog's health and happiness. You'll be working to combat the overpopulation problem that exists with both dogs and cats and you'll be avoiding the puppy mill problem all together. Keep in mind that many animal shelters advertise online on sites like PetFinder and many also team up with pet stores on weekends and during high traffic times to show off their animals and pique public interest in adoption. However, if you're looking for a puppy at a pet store, make sure that the display is in fact in conjunction with an animal shelter or breed rescue group and not simply the store's own display (see point 2).
- Don't purchase your puppy from a store, through a newspaper ad, or over the internet. Puppy mill puppies are sold directly to the public through the mill itself, newspaper ads, pet shops and the internet and it's the consumer demand for purebred puppies that drives the puppy mill industry. Dogs don't stay puppies for long and pet stores and breeders realize that most people purchasing a dog want a puppy. Since pet stores and breeders are trying to turn a profit, they have to keep a ready supply of puppies on hand. It is this cycle that perpetuates the puppy mill problem.
That's not to say that every pet store and every newspaper ad is advertising puppies from a puppy mill. It just means that you should be extra vigilant if you are planning to buy a puppy from one of these sources. Ask the pet store where they get their puppies and do some research into that facility before purchasing your puppy. Get the breed registry papers or the interstate health certificate for the puppies you are considering, as well as for a few of the other puppies in the store. These documents list the breeder's name and address. Don't take someone's word for it. Find out for yourself. It may be extra work at the outset, but it could save you years of trouble and vet bills down the line.
- Visit the breeding facility that your puppy came from. If possible, take a trip to your puppy's breeding facility. This can tell you a lot about the conditions your puppy has been living in since his birth. Even if you can't go look at the facility, pretend that you're going to when you talk to the pet store and/or the breeder. Is the breeder hesitant to let you come visit his facility? Is the pet store skeptical about giving out its breeders' information? If so, something may not be right.
Once at the facility, don't be fooled by a façade. Many facilities have a separate area for prospective puppy owners to come and meet the puppies. Clearly this section of the breeding facility will be clean, kept-up and appealing. Ask to see the rest of the facility. Make sure to view where all the puppies (and adult dogs) live on a daily basis.
- Ask to meet the other puppies as well as the parent dogs. When you are taking your tour of the breeding facility, ask to meet the other puppies that the breeder is selling. Remember that you may not be allowed to see puppies that are less than 4 weeks old. This is to protect the puppies from any diseases that you may be carrying and is standard procedure at a breeding facility. Also, ask to meet the parents of your puppy. This is a bit of a trick questions because, most of the time, a reputable breeder will only have the mother dog. The father will belong to someone else. If the breeder does have both dogs it's not a deal-breaker, but should make you slightly more suspicious. In puppy mills, the dogs that are breeding the puppies are usually both present as well as malnourished and sickly because their only purpose is to procreate and they are forced to do so as often as possible.
- Find out how many dogs the facility has and how many litters those dogs produce each year. Any breeder producing more than 1 or 2 litters a year is probably not taking the time to appropriately care for and socialize the puppies. And any breeder who has an "unexpected" litter is certainly not doing their job. Make sure that the parent dogs are not begin "over-bred". Also, notice the tendencies of the parent dogs (or dog). Are they friendly or timid? Do they appear to be afraid of you? Are they running and lively or are they lethargic? These are the parents of your puppy, so make sure that they have the characteristics that you're looking for in a dog.
- Ask your breeder questions. Take the time to ask your breeder a lot of questions. Remember that a dog is an investment and not something you should go into lightly. You need a lot if information before you can make an educated decision about where to get your puppy. Here are some important questions to ask:
- How many dog breeds are bred in the facility?
One is preferred, two is likely acceptable, but any more than two is questionable.
- How long has your breeder been in the breed?
If your breeder switches dog breeds every few years, following the trends, he's not likely a reputable breeder. If he's new to the breed, find out if he has any experience with similar breeds.
- Does your breeder sell to any pet stores?
- Does your breeder have a state or federal license?
- Who is your breeder's veterinarian?
Call her and ask how often the parent dogs are brought in and how healthy they are.
- Can your breeder provide you with references?
Ask for at least 5 references and call them to find out whether they're happy with their puppy or not. Also ask whether their puppy has had any health problems.
- How does your breeder socialize the puppies?
Puppies should be exposed to humans, other dogs, new environments and normal household activities.
- What guarantees does your breeder have for his puppies? Is there a warranty for your puppy? Is the puppy sold on contract? If so, read the contract carefully.
- Will your breeder take the dog back, regardless of age, if you are unable to take care of it?
A lot of breeders or adoption agencies will insist that you return the dog if you are unable to care for it for any reason. They want to ensure that the dog goes to a good home, which is a good sign.
- Can you see your puppy's pedigree?
If you don't understand the pedigree, ask the breeder to explain it to you in its entirety. Your breeder should be able to provide you with a 4-generation pedigree and give you information about all of the dogs within it.
- Let your breeder ask you questions. Give your breeder the opportunity to ask you questions. He should be concerned about your home environment, how much time you have to dedicate to your puppy and why you are looking for a puppy (or this particular breed) in the first place. Ensure that your breeder shows an interest in where his puppies are being placed. If he has no questions for you, or doesn't seem to care about your answers, it should raise a red flag.
- Don't be fooled by AKC (American Kennel Club) papers. Just because your puppy has AKC papers does not mean that she wasn't bred and raised in a puppy mill. The AKC provides breeders with purebred registration papers. It testifies to the recorded lineage of a dog, not the conditions it was/is kept in. Even the accuracy of the reported lineage is not guaranteed by the AKC, so look for these papers, but don't put too much stock in them if your research has raised other concerns about the quality and/or health of the puppies in a certain facility.
- Take your puppy to the vet. You'll need to take your puppy to the vet for shots and check ups during his first year anyway, so talk to your breeder and tell him that you'd like to take your puppy to the vet right away. Make sure that your breeder will give you a refund and take the puppy back if any major medical problems are discovered. This is another situation where you can pretend that you're planning to do it, even if you're not, to see how your breeder reacts to the suggestion.