Puppy Mills: What They Are, How to Spot One, and Why You Shouldn’t Buy From One

So, you have decided that now the time is right for you to get a dog. You want to make sure that wherever your new, potential canine companion is coming from is reputable, right? Of course, there’s always adoption. There are plenty of purebred and mixed breed dogs residing in shelters and rescues right now that need loving, forever homes. However, should you decide to go to a breeder, here are some things that you might want to know first.


Maybe one day while you are out and about doing your shopping, thinking of all of the cool things that you would do if you had a dog, you happen to pass by a store window and you see WHAT HAS TO BE THE MOST ADORABLE PUPPY IN THE ENTIRE WORLD! However, I will give you a warning: most pet stores that sell puppies acquire their “merchandise” from what is known as a puppy mill. Puppy mills are large-scale breeding facilities that place profit over the well-being of the animals. They usually house dogs in overcrowded, inhumane conditions  without proper food or veterinary care. Female dogs are often bred at every breeding opportunity with little to no recover time in between litters. Puppies, often as young as eight weeks old, are sold to pet shops or even directly to the public over the Internet, through newspaper ads, swap meets, at the local flea market, and other places.

Puppy mill dogs are often kept in wire cages that are extremely cramped and can cause serious injury and it is not unusual for the cages to be stacked in columns. Once female dogs are no longer able to be bred, they are euthanized.

Puppy mills like to focus more on profits then the actual well being of the dogs within their facility. Therefore, there is little regard for genetic quality and puppies that are born in puppy mills often suffer from genetic and congenital conditions such as heart disease as well as blood and respiratory disorders. In addition to that they also often arrive to pet stores and their new homes with things like parasites and pneumonia. Because they are often taken from their mothers and siblings at such a young age to be sold, they may also suffer from behavior problems such as fear and anxiety. Also, pet stores often charge ridiculously high prices for their puppies. In fact, one time when I was real young and not as learned as I am now, I walked into a pet store at my local mall and noticed a man and his son looking at a Chihuahua puppy that was for sale. When the father asked about the price of the dog, the shopkeeper immediately came out with, “$1,200.00.” I was shocked. I might have been a kid myself then, but even I knew that was WAY to expensive. Not when my parents let me adopt my Scarlett from a local shelter and her adoption fee was only $35 (and yes, I do know that was before all other expenses).


Puppy mills can be difficult to spot. No one wants to appear to be cruel to their animals when they are trying to turn a profit. However, even if the place you are going to looks clean and presentable, it could still be a puppy mill. Here are some signs to look for carefully:

  • Unhealthy animals – matted coats, sores, unsightly tear stains. These problems are not merely cosmetic and can actually be quite painful, so don’t fall for any offers to groom the puppy for you if you buy it. Tear stains can also lead to bacterial growth and infections if they are not properly cleaned.
  • Uncleared waste – This one speaks for itself.
  • Pushy sales people – many puppy mill salespeople will encourage you to reserve the puppy. They may even tell you that the puppy is very popular or even feed you the wrong information about owning a dog in order to pressure you into buying even more.
  • Unfilled water bowls/inadequate shelter against weather elements/inaccessible back areas – Once again, puppy mills care more about profit than the welfare of their animals and they are often kept in poor living conditions. The worst of these are often more imposed on the breeding dogs because those areas are kept off limits to the public, but if you look closely you might be able to see the telltale signs of a puppy mill even in the areas that the public has access to.
  • Wire flooring – imagine if you had to stand on this type of flooring barefoot every minute of every hour of every day for your entire life. This is what puppy mill dogs have to do and it can lead to serious injuries to their paws just because it makes it more convenient when the puppy mill workers actually DO decide to clean up the waste.
  • No screening of buyers due to welfare concerns. No reputable breeder would send a puppy home with someone without intensive screening first.


The best way to ensure that you are purchasing a healthy, purebred dog is by finding a responsible breeder and the best place to start is with the American Kennel Club. While the AKC does not recommend specific breeders, they can offer you great resources to help you locate breeders. In order to begin your search, the best thing to do is to start by contacting the AKC Parent Club. As of November of 2016, the AKC has recognized 202 different breeds. Each breed has its own parent club, which consists of a group of people who are fanciers of a single breed of dog. They primarily hold dog shows but many of them also hold obedience trials, tracking tests, and any other activity approved by their specific breed. The AKC only approves one parent club per breed, although there can be several local clubs that help support a particular breed as well. All-breed clubs welcome all owners of purebred dogs registered by the AKC, Group clubs welcome owners of particular breeds that are registered with  one of the seven nationally recognized groups (Herding, Working, Sporting, Non-sporting, Toy, Terrier, and Hound). You can find more information on how clubs can be formed here.

When looking for a specific parent club, you’ll want to head over to the AKC Club Search and Directory. Once there, click on the link labeled National Clubs and it will take you to the parent club directory. Simply select which breed you are looking for, and a page will pop up and then from there you should just follow the links to that particular club’s website. Type in  your zip code and you should be lead to a page that gives you a list of specific breeders in your area. You can also find a list of Breeder Referral Contacts here. However, please keep in mind that when you are contacting any referral contacts that you are not calling an office that has regular business hours. You will actually be calling people who are volunteers from the breed club who are eager to take your call and direct you to a breeder who may have puppies available in your area. Please be respectful of time zones and the fact that these are PEOPLE who could have regular day jobs as well as the possibility that they could be away at a dog show or that they could be on vacation and it might take a few days for someone to get back to you. You can run a search for local club breeder referral officers. This will put you in touch with all-breed clubs, but keep in mind that whoever you contact may not have a member of their club who has the breed you are most interested in.


As I mentioned before, there are several purebred dogs waiting for loving homes that DON’T reside with breeders, but breed specific rescue groups and animal shelters. Websites such as petfinder.com and adoptapet.com hold a wealth of knowledge and resources in order to help you find the right animal companion for you.

Good luck, and keep your tail waggin’!



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