Where Should I get a Puppy / Dog From? Part 3 – Backyard breeders, Puppy Mills, and Pet Stores

Before I tackle today’s topic, I want to revisit Part 2 as I was remiss to give important information and pointers for perspective puppy owners.  I outlined what a good breeder should do but what about the things that a perspective puppy buyer should do?

It’s important for a potential dog owner and puppy purchasers to do their homework.  Potential puppy owners shouldn’t be shy about asking tons of questions to any breeder.  If a breeder doesn’t answer these satisfactorily or seems to get mad or frustrated it puts up a huge red flag.  Likewise you should be prepared to answer their questions; honestly.  Just like you want to know where your puppy is coming from they want to know where it’s going.  They’ll likely want to talk to you via phone, get to understand the type of dog you’re looking for, the reasons you want one and what experience you have.  I recently contacted a breeder about a potential puppy and she asked for a vet reference, something I’m more than happy to get for her.  This ensures that you do what is needed to keep your dog safe and that you are a responsible dog owner.  Don’t feel that they are trying to be intrusive; a good, responsible breeder wants to do everything they can to ensure they are placing a puppy in a forever home and one of their dogs isn’t going to end up in a shelter.

I can’t say this enough but please do your homework before contacting a breeder.  Make sure you understand the breed enough to know if it will be something you can handle and will be a good fit with other family members and your current lifestyle.  Go to shows.  Find people who own the breed you’re looking at and ask for a meet-and-greet.  Call potential breeders to find out about the breed.  Check out breed sites or organizational sites like the AKC or the UKC.   Most importantly, don’t buy a dog on impulse.  Dogs are a lifetime commitment.  They cost money beyond just the cost of the dog itself; food, vaccines, medications like heartworm, neuter/spay, toys, equipment…etc.  Make sure you have given it enough thought and are truly ready.  As a good and responsible dog owner you’ll want to do your part!


Now, with that said, let’s turn our attention to today’s topic:  Backyard breeders, Puppy Mills and Pet Stores.

If there are 3 places that you should never, ever get a dog from these are it.  Under no circumstances is it ever okay to pay money for a puppy from any of these 3 sources.

Backyard Breeder

These individuals breed solely for profit or other misguided reasons such as ‘it’s fun’.  Often times they think their dog is cute and they have a friend or neighbor who happens to have a cute dog too and they think the puppies will be just adorable!  /facepalm

They can make a profit because they don’t do any of the needed clearances or testing to ensure they are breeding dogs that are healthy and a good example of the breed.  They have no understanding of genetics, bloodlines, or even have a base concept of breed improvement.

If a price sounds too good to be true, that’s because it probably is.  Backyard breeders sell at a low price because they can sell all the pups and still make a large profit.  If they have a litter of 5 pups and sell each for $200 they still make $1000 and all of that goes back into their pocket since they aren’t paying for the upkeep of the dog.  Their dogs often don’t live in good conditions and puppies are born in make-shift set ups or no set up at all and are left to fend for themselves.  The puppies often grow up in unsanitary and deplorable conditions.  When you don’t pay anything in, even if you lose a few you’re still making money.

Don’t be fooled by a backyard breeder offering papers or registrations with their puppies either.  Just because a breeder offers papers doesn’t mean they are reputable.  Sadly, it doesn’t take much to get AKC registration on a dog or a litter of puppies.

Backyard breeder ad from Ebay classified.  Notice that they offer 'papers'?

Backyard breeder ad from Ebay classified. Notice that they offer ‘papers’?

Signs of a backyard breeder; poor living conditions for the dog.  Photo credit:  http://k9nation.org/breeders/kindsofbreeders.html

Signs of a backyard breeder; poor living conditions for the dog. Photo credit: http://k9nation.org/breeders/kindsofbreeders.html

Not all backyard breeders are evil.  Rather, they are ignorant and/or greedy.  Some backyard breeders have good intentions but are sorely misguided.  They devalue the life of a dog to nothing more than something that can make them money with little regard to where the lives they were responsible for are going to end up.  These breeders will not offer any health guarantees and basically forget about you and the dog once you walk out their door.  These breeders should not be supported under any circumstances.

Recent Craig's List posting for Husky Puppies.  Backyard Breeder.

Recent Craig’s List posting for Husky Puppies. Backyard Breeder.

chocolate lab backyard breeder

Backyard breeders. Puppies are not a Valentine’s Day gift.

Notice the 'rehoming' and 'adoption' fee?  It's how people get around Craig's List rules.

Notice the ‘rehoming’ and ‘adoption’ fee? It’s how people get around Craig’s List rules.

Below are some of the ‘red flags’ that tell you someone is a backyard breeder so you can avoid them.

  1. Advertises in the local papers, places like ‘Petfinder’, or on Craig’s List.
  2. Doesn’t ask you any questions.  They are interested in making a sale only and could care less where the new puppy is going.
  3. Gives you a price immediately before telling you any other details.
  4. Doesn’t offer any health guarantees.
  5. Doesn’t do any health clearances like hips, elbows, or eyes (depending on the breed).
  6. Doesn’t do any genetic clearances like CEA or TNS testing (again, depending on the breed).
  7. Makes excuses on why you can’t see mom or dad or simply flat out refuses.
  8. Won’t let you see where the puppies grow up.
  9. Always seems to have puppies available (a good breeder doesn’t breed until there is demand).
  10. Offers registration papers with full registration and no questions asked (one of the ways that backyard breeders are able to continue).
  11. Breeds dogs under the age of 2.
  12. Breeds dogs back to back in their heat cycle (you should NOT breed back to back as it strains the female).  Backyard breeders do this to maximize profit.
  13. Can’t explain the reason for a dog pairing; i.e. Why did they breed for these puppies?
  14. Often have puppies that are older; don’t have waiting lists.

So what should you do if you come across a backyard breeder?  Most places have laws, regulations and ordinances against backyard breeders.  If you suspect that someone is a backyard breeder call your local animal control or local animal shelter and report them.  There is also a group on Facebook called ‘Wobbies’ that was started in November.  Their goal is to wipe out backyard breeders.  Head to their page, like it, and report any backyard breeders to them and watch the community go to work.

Two key questions you can ask:  Can I get a vet out here to check to puppy before I take him home?  Can I have references from past puppy purchasers?  The backyard breeder is going to say no to both of these questions which tells you to immediately walk away.

Puppy Mills

If backyard breeders are greedy, misguided idiots then puppy mills are simply the embodiment of pure evil.

A puppy mill is a commercial dog breeding facility.  They care only about profit and their dogs are treated like a commodity.  They live in horrible unsanitary and heartbreaking conditions.  Most live in tiny cages that are overcrowded with no access to sunlight, regular fresh water or food and do not have adequate veterinary care.  These puppies have no socialization and are often weaned from their moms between the ages of 5-6 weeks instead of the recommended 8 – 9 weeks.  The Department of Agriculture is supposed to be in charge of regulation and licensing which should include regular inspections.  The reality is that the Department of Agriculture has their hands full with other issues and can’t be bothered to keep up with regular inspections.

Once a ‘breeder’ bitch reaches the age of 4 or 5 she is too old to produce and is killed.  Animals that get sick are left untreated to die or are simply killed.  Many of the dogs can’t walk; some can’t even stand from being in such tiny cages their entire life.  Grown dogs that come from puppy mills require special attention and years of rehabilitation to live a semi-normal life.

If you think I’m exaggerating I’m not.  This is real life hell on earth for the dogs that life in these places.

Puppy Mill Conditions.  Photo credit:  http://www.columbusdogconnection.com/PuppyMillBill.htm

Puppy Mill Conditions. Photo credit: http://www.columbusdogconnection.com/PuppyMillBill.htm

Puppy Mill conditions.  Photo credit:  http://www.columbusdogconnection.com/PuppyMillBill.htm

Puppy Mill conditions. Photo credit: http://www.columbusdogconnection.com/PuppyMillBill.htm


Your typical puppy purchaser (you or me) will never deal with a puppy mill directly.  They don’t allow just anyone onto the facility because they know that no sane, rational human would be okay with what they do.  Instead these puppies are specifically bred and sold in bulk to Pet Stores.

I worked for a vet clinic just after high school that was the contracted/preferred vet who took care of incoming puppies for a local mall’s pet store.  These puppies would arrive on a truck, packed in like any other commodity that gets shipped.  They would be filthy, dehydrated and scared from the long drive.  The condition of these puppies was so bad that the vet clinic had an isolation room that was dedicated to just these puppy mill puppies.  Many came in with fleas, needed IVs, baths, and a large majority had to be immediately treated for parvo.  It was absolutely heartbreaking.  We saw many of these pups get put to sleep because they were already beyond help at just 6 or 7 weeks of age.  There were a few puppies that ended up being ‘adopted’ by vet staff (I use the term ‘adopted here loosely as they were simply taken home and never went back to the pet store).  If a dog needed expensive medical care the Pet Store asked for them to be put to sleep.  The ones that could be saved were and became property of the vet clinic.  One vet tech had 3 dogs, all from puppies that the Pet Store wrote off.  The vet’s prime job was to provide health certificates for the puppies that would go home with the new puppy once the pet store found a buyer.  The kickback to the vet was that the pet store would required these new puppy purchasers to get a vet check with him.  He had a revolving door of business and new clientele that way.  I honestly don’t know how the man slept at night knowing he contributed to the sustainability of both puppy mills and pet stores.

Pet Stores

Pet stores are the sole reason that puppy mills continue to exist.   Pet stores that sell dogs and puppy mills are symbiotic; they can’t exist without each other.  Let me clarify I’m not saying all pet stores are bad, just pet stores that sell puppies.  Again, it’s business and the bottom line on any business is profit.

Most pet stores don’t broker directly with the puppy mill.  Instead the puppy mills use ‘dealers’ who masquerade as purebred breeders.  They serve as a middle man and a buffer for the truth of where these puppies come from.  However, pet stores should know better; no and I repeat, under no circumstances would any reputable breeder sell to a pet store.

I’ve always been shocked by the prices that pet store charge for these so-called purebred puppies.  More often than not they are not purebred dogs regardless of what the pet store tells you.  Even so, if it’s a purebred their prices are astronomical.  An individual could find a reputable breeder, pay less, and get a better puppy.

$1,000 for a mixed breed?!  $600?

$1,000 for a mixed breed?! $600?

$1600 pit bull puppy and over $3,000 for the bulldog.  Bulldog's can be expensive but this a $3k gamble.

Over a thousand for a pit bull puppy and over $3,000 for the bulldog. Bulldog’s can be expensive but this a $3k gamble.

Pet stores also make a crisp business on designer dogs; Cock-a-poo, Golden Doodle, Chavachon, Chesadore, Chi-a-poo, Malshi, Puggle, Malti-poo, Maltzer, Morkie, Peke Tzu, Mini Bulldog (which is apparently a Bulldog, Pug mix) or whatever crazy name they come up with.  A mixed breed, is a mixed breed, is a mixed breed.  These ‘designer dogs’ also come with a steep price tag.  Pet stores can get away with it because people actually pay it.  I cannot even wrap my mind around the fact that people are willing to sell out over a thousand dollars for a mixed breed dog! These are not designer breeds… there is no such thing.

A Shitzu-Yorkie mix for over $500.

A Shitzu-Yorkie mix for over $500.

A list that one Pet Store's website had for all their 'Hybrid Designer Breeds'.

A list that one Pet Store’s website had for all their ‘Hybrid Designer Breeds’.

One pet store I looked at listed over 34 puppies arriving in February alone.  Many of the puppies incoming are already neutered or spayed at less than 8 weeks of age.

Almost all the websites I looked at said they sell only puppies from licensed USDA breeders.  Licensed USDA breeder is code for ‘puppy mill’.  Anyone who sells an animal to a pet store must have a USDA license.  The only reason to get one is so you can sell to a pet store.  The license doesn’t ensure anything more than a requirement for food, water and shelter but doesn’t specify or interfere with the manner in which they are housed.  They puppy mills can literally cram in hundreds of dogs in a small space and so long as they provide food, water and shelter it’s perfectly acceptable.  When a pet store says, “We only sell puppies from USDA licensed breeders they have told you flat out they purchase and resell puppy mill puppies.

At ‘XX Pet Store’ we offer a wide variety of puppies and designer hybrid puppies.

The vast majority of our puppies come from USDA certified breeders. We also enjoy featuring puppies from small independent breeders where licensing is not required. All the breeders names and addresses are proudly displayed on each puppy’s cage! Many of our breeders offer AKC, ACA, or APR registration. Also, many of our puppies come with microchips in case your puppy were to be lost or stolen.

Or this one:

All ‘XY Pet Store’ is the only one of its kind in the industry to be regulated and licensed to sell puppies. This means we must follow the laws with our puppies and only use USDA licensed breeders. When it comes to choosing our breeders, we have our research and development team seek out the finest kennels and ensure that they have the same standards, work ethics and professionalism as ‘XY Pet Store’.

Remember above where I said that puppy mills use ‘brokers’.  That’s exactly who these places are dealing with and regardless of the words they use they’re still perpetuating puppy mills.

Many pet stores also tout that if they don’t currently have the breed you’re looking for they can get it!

We always strive to keep a large selection of Breeds of every size, from Chihuahua’s and Yorkshire Terrier’s to English Mastiff’s and Saint Bernards. We generally have the largest selction of breeds in the area. If we dont have the certain breed you are looking for we may be able to obtain from one of our breeders.

 I left the above quote as is without editing.

I’ve also seen a pet store offer 100% financing for their puppies.  If someone can’t afford a puppy they shouldn’t be buying one and offering financing is almost guaranteeing that the purchaser isn’t ready for a puppy.

I blocked out the pet store name.

I blocked out the pet store name.

So why do people buy from a pet store?

First – impulse.  You’re out and about, and would you just look at the super cute puppy in that store?  We should totally get one!  Let’s do it because if we don’t do it then it might not be there later.  Dresses are an impulse buy, puppies are not.

Second – Easy, no hassle purchase.  Pet stores don’t ask questions.  They aren’t going to screen prospective buyers.  If you have the money they have the puppy.

Third – ignorance.  Prospective puppy buyers just don’t know better.  They don’t realize there is an entire world of reputable breeders that will help them not only find a breed that fits their life but will be a partner with them for the life of the dog.  I’m stunned by the amount of people that don’t even know the first place to look for a puppy.  Between reputable breeders and rescues there should never be a reason to purchase a puppy from a pet store; never.

To recap, there is never a good reason to purchase a puppy from a backyard breeder, puppy mill or pet store; never.  Ignorance is not an excuse.  I didn’t not pull any punches here because I don’t think this is a topic we should be sugar coating.

In Part 4, I’ll be talking about Municipal Shelters vs. No-Kill Shelters

Stay tuned!


1 Comment

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One response to “Where Should I get a Puppy / Dog From? Part 3 – Backyard breeders, Puppy Mills, and Pet Stores

  1. Pingback: Where Should I get a Puppy / Dog From? Part 1 – Overview | BarkCulture

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