As the mom of a puppy mill puppy, I know firsthand the impact that unethical breeders have on the individual dogs that are part of their operation and the families that unknowingly support them.
Today, I want to spend a little time sharing with you what you need to know about backyard breeders and puppy mills.
I hope that by doing this, I can help you to understand why these operations need to be eliminated completely and share with you how you can help to do that.
What is a Backyard Breeder? What is a Puppy Mill?
Before we talk about anything else, let’s discuss what a backyard breeder is exactly.
A backyard breeder is someone who keeps multiple dogs and either breeds them on purpose or who allows them to breed under substandard conditions.
Backyard breeders often breed their dogs with the sole purpose of profiting off the puppies that result from their operation.
So, how are backyard breeders different from puppy mills?
Puppy mills are large-scale breeding operations that function in much the same way as backyard breeding operations, but they deal in volume. Where puppy mills will often have multiple litters of puppies at one time, backyard breeders usually tend to only have one or two litters at any one time.
Why Are Backyard Breeders and Puppy Mills So Bad?
Everyone has to make a buck, right? Why are backyard breeders and puppy mills getting such a bad rap?
There is a HUGE difference between a good and reputable breeder and a backyard breeder or puppy mill operation!
First let’s look at what makes a good breeder a good breeder:
- Good breeders have the sole goal of bettering the breed by contributing genetically sound and healthy dogs to the breed population.
- Good breeders breed with one thing in mind – the health of their dogs and puppies. This almost always means LOSING money.
- Good breeders will ONLY breed healthy dogs. If there is a chance that the puppies in a litter may inherit unhealthy genes or characteristics from a potential parent, they will not breed the potential parent and will, in fact, have them sterilized to avoid “diluting the gene pool” of healthy dogs.
- Good breeders LIMIT their breeding activity. A good and reputable breeder will usually have just one or two litters at a time. Limiting the dogs they breed allows them to give full attention to the breeding dogs.
- Good breeders pay money to ensure that ALL of their dogs are cleared for health certifications, this includes eyes, elbows, hips, and heart clearances. AND the breeder will never hesitate to share this information with you when asked.
- Good breeders will have a detailed genealogy report of all of their dogs that details generations past that contributed to a particular dog’s genetic line. Good breeders will also never hesitate to share this information with you when asked.
- Good breeders will care for their puppies for life. This means that if for any reason a puppy is returned or if one puppy does not sell, the breeder will care for that puppy for life.
- Good breeders will keep their dogs in clean and sanitary conditions at all times, often this is in their own home.
- Good breeders will require a solid contract with puppy buyers that ensures that the puppy will be returned to them if for any reason the buyer is no longer able to care for them AND that the puppy will be spayed or neutered. This contract will also include a health guarantee.
- Good breeders will incorporate early socialization in to the lives of their puppies.
- Good breeders will almost always have waiting lists for their puppies.
- Good breeders charge high prices because they breed high-quality lines of dogs that are guaranteed healthy for life.
- Good breeders will help to match you to the right puppy from their litter based upon personality matches and what will be best for you and the puppy.
- A good breeder will always request that you stay in contact and will be excited to hear from you with updates on their puppies.
So, how does this compare to a backyard breeder or puppy mill?
Virtually every one of the above is untrue of a backyard breeder or puppy mill.
THIS is what makes a backyard breeder and puppy mills such bad things.
How Can You Tell If a Breeder is a Backyard Breeder or Puppy Mill Operation?
While I ALWAYS advocate adopting a dog from a local rescue or shelter, if you do decide to buy a puppy from a breeder, look out for signs that the breeder you have chosen is not a reputable one.
Some signs that your potential breeder may not be a reputable one include:
- Multiple litters of puppies at one time.
- Dogs being kept in dirty conditions or areas that smell badly or urine or feces.
- Dogs being confined in tight quarters.
- Puppies being sold before 8 weeks of age.
- Puppies being given away for free or sold at low prices.
- Puppies or dogs that appear to be sick with ocular or nasal discharge, coughing, ear odor or discharge, or a dull or thinning coat.
- A breeder who shows a lack of warmth towards their dogs and puppies.
- A breeder who is reluctant to give you information about health clearances, parental health, and genealogy.
- A breeder who does not allow you to see the puppies before you purchase them – this does not include deposits on breedings.
- A breeder who does not ask you questions about your lifestyle, your home, and what you are looking for in a puppy.
- A breeder who breeds multiple breeds of dog or who “specialized” in designer dogs – this does NOT allow for bettering of a breed.
- A breeder who does not require their puppies to be spayed or neutered – this does not include dogs that are being share-owned by the breeder.
- A breeder who does not take part in or belong to breed specific organizations.
- A breeder who relies on newspaper ads, disreputable websites and classifieds to sell their dogs.
- A breeder who is unknown within the breed community.
What is the Problem With Buying a Backyard Bred or Puppymill Bred Dog?
The first problem that comes with buying a backyard bred or puppymill bred dog is the health of the puppy you purchase.
Now, that isn’t to say that these dogs shouldn’t be rescued and given good homes!
But, know, that when you purchase a puppy from a less than ideal breeder, you are very likely going to end up with a “million dollar dog.”
Unhealthy puppies turn in to unhealthy adults and no matter what stage of life you are in with one of these dogs, you are going to be facing a financial nightmare. This often leads to these dogs being dumped in shelters. Those (like us) who hold on to their dogs from these unreputable breeders, face financial struggles that put a strain on every aspect of life. More important than that, however, is the suffering of a dog that has been bred in such a poor situation.
Common health and behavioral concerns for backyard bred or puppymill bred dogs include:
- Poor socialization leading to behavioral concerns that include aggression, anxiety, and fear.
- Poorly developed musculature, tendons, joints, bones, and limbs as a result of confinement in cages.
- Urine burns on skin.
- Heart defects and disease (note, heart disease can develop in any dog, but it is particularly prevalent in poorly bred dogs.)
- Hip dysplasia and joint difficulties or malformations.
- Elbow dysplasia.
- Intestinal parasites.
- Eye diseases.
- Von Willebrand’s disease.
- Fleas and ticks and the diseases that they carry.
- Kennel cough.
- Abnormalities in metabolism.
- Hormone disruptions and imbalances.
- Certain cancers.
- Autoimmune disorders.
These are just a handful of potential effects of breeding dogs that are not healthy and do not come from healthy genetic lines.
Am I saying that these are poor dogs? Well, yes and no.
OBVIOUSLY, I love my boy more than anything in this universe. He is a fabulous creature and he deserves more time than this life will ever afford him.
However, he also deserves a happy and healthy life.
While I have always done the very best by him, I can only give him happiness and support his health. I cannot ever take away the illness and disease that his poor breeding implanted in to his genetics.
So yes, while he is an AMAZING dog and I would never change having been his mom, healthwise, he is a poor example of the Labrador breed. (Sorry, buddy, but don’t worry, I’m not exactly a prime example of genetics either.)
Another concern with purchasing a backyard breeder puppy or a puppymill puppy is that by giving these operations your money, you are supporting their endeavors. With your money, these operations will continue to churn out litters of unhealthy puppies.
So What Should You Do To Make Sure That Your Puppy Comes From a Quality Breeder?
Firstly, PLEASE reconsider adoption.
There are many shelters, all breed rescues, and specific breed rescues that have dogs and puppies of all shapes and sizes. Consider giving one of these dogs the home that they deserve.
If you are set on buying a puppy, use the following as a guideline:
- Research the breed that you are looking for and look for genetic lines that crop up repeatedly. Research these lines and track them back to the breeders. A good way to do this is to look in to show dogs by visiting dog shows.
- Ask for recommendations from breed owners and breed specific communities.
- Research the breeders reputation with the AKC. Be aware that just because a kennel is registered with the AKC, it does not make them a high quality or reputable breeder. AKC registration mostly depends upon an honor system and kennels are not actually visited by AKC authorities. (Note: Jet’s breeders were AKC registered.)
- Visit a breeder that you are interested in and get a good look at their facility and their dogs.
- Ask the breeder questions:
- How long have you been breeding this breed?
- Can I meet the puppies parents?
- Can I see the parent’s health certifications?
- Can I see the puppies geneology?
- Have you ever experienced any health problems with your puppies?
- How are puppies socialized?
- At what age are puppies taken from their mother?
- Are your puppies dewormed and do they have their first shots?
- Have you ever had a puppy returned?
- What does your puppy contract entail?
- Do you provide lifetime support/guarantees for your puppies?
- Could you put me in touch with a few references of people who have owned your puppies?
- Are you a member of any breed specific clubs?
- How often do you breed litters?
- What do you currently feed your dogs? (This can help you to know what food to have at home for your puppy – you NEVER want to change food right away when bringing your puppy home. This can also help you to know how dedicated your breeder is to healthy dogs based upon the food that they feed.)
- While you are at the kennel facility and asking these questions, be mindful to watch how the breeder interacts with the dogs and how the dogs interact with them.
These tips and the answers to these questions will give you a good idea of whether or not you have come upon a good breeder. You primary hint as to whether a breeder is a good one or not, however, is always going to be their reputation, the appearance of their facility, and their reluctance or openness to your questions. Additionally, a waitlist for puppies and having no need to advertise, also tend to be good signs.
How Can You Speak Out Against Puppy Mills and Backyard Breeders?
The first thing you can do is to refuse to support their operations by refusing to purchase their puppies.
The second thing that you can do is to spread awareness. Share articles like this one. Explain to your friends what puppy mills are and what they entail. Encourage your friends and family members to be informed in their puppy buying decisions.
The third thing that you can do is to report puppy mill and backyard breeder operations. You can do this by filing a report with the Humane Society, contacting your local animal control unit and in cases of neglect, you can also contact your local law enforcement officers.
You should also make yourself aware of your local puppy mill laws for your state. You can find this information here.
Don’t be part of the problem.
Refuse to support and fund these operations that are not only run by amoral and unethical people, but that also contribute to the suffering of millions of unhealthy puppies and dogs around the world.