It’s definitely puppy season, full of wagging tails and wet noses, and best of all puppy grunts! Plenty of people are either purchasing or thinking about purchasing a new puppy. How do you ensure that you don’t contribute to the success of a puppy mill?

The best way to ensure you are not purchasing from a puppy mill is to adopt from a shelter. There are many perfectly healthy, normal, young puppies (sometimes even purebreds!) who are waiting for their forever homes in a shelter. A shelter with a nonprofit status isn’t going to be getting rich off of your adoption donation. A puppy from a shelter is also likely to be cheaper than a puppy from a breeder, and often may have the neuter or spay surgery and some shots thrown in. Sometimes, they are even microchipped already, giving you a way to permanently identify your puppy throughout their life. You should ask as many questions as you can think of about the puppies and their history, and be aware that the shelter staff may not have all the answers. They may not have gotten any information from the person who bred them. This potential lack of information is often perfectly fine for the casual owner looking for a companion. However, this is also the reason why buying from a breeder is the only thing that fits the bill for other potential owners, particularly if it is imperative to the owner to know genetic details and facts about the lineage of the puppies, and to get any sort of certifications and guarantees about the puppy. 

When looking at a breeder, do your homework. Be prepared to wait for a puppy, as some excellent breeders do not even breed the parents until they have buyers for all the potential puppies. In addition to a possible waiting list, the breeder may ask you questions about your lifestyle, your home, and your needs for the puppy. Are you planning on a family pet? Working dog? Protection? Do you intend to do a particular sport with this dog? Some breeders will match you with a puppy, rather than letting you pick. Many good breeders will be happy to sit down with you and talk about the pros and cons of the breed to help you decide whether that breed will work for you. They should be experts on ther breed and be able to answer your questions. They will also be able to discuss the pros and cons of each individual puppy with you as you decide- if they don’t know each of the puppies individually, that is a red flag.

When you talk to the breeder, ask questions. Is there a guarantee if there should be a genetic defect, so that you can return the puppy for another of like quality or your money back if you needed to? If you found you could not care for the puppy, even after the puppy was grown, will the breeder take the pup back? What is the genetic history like, especially for things that the particular breed is known for: cancer in Goldens, hip and elbow displaysia in German Shepherds, etc? If the breed has a known tendency toward joint problems, have the joints been x-rayed and certified by OFA? If the breed has a known tendency toward eye problems, have the eyes been checked and certified normal (CERF exam) by an opthalmologist? Have the puppies been seen by a veterinarian, and do they have a clean bill of health? Have they been started on vaccinations?

You want to be working with a breeder who will ask you questions and interview you. A good breeder cares about their animals, and will not sell to just anyone. They know that a high-strung dog bred for strenuous work is not going to make the best pet for elderly shut-ins. They also know that a sensitive, shy dog who really just wants to lay around all day won’t be the best companion for an active family with rambunctious children. Since a good breeder wants their puppies to be happy as well as for the customer to be happy, they will try to avoid those sorts of matches. The best breeders will do genetic tests on the parents (especially the mother) to be sure to minimize genetic defects, or they will have had the line for several generations so as to know the risk of genetic defects. These breeders will be working hard to keep driving the risk of genetic defects down- a breeder with a high rate of congenital problems in their puppies is a breeder to avoid buying from.

Spend time with the mother. The mother should not be too old or too young. She should not be overbred, as a good breeder will ensure that she has time to recover from each litter. She should be in good health, and she should be involved in activities she enjoys, whether those are competitions, or simply long strolls.

When you look at the puppies and meet the breeder, insist on meeting the parents and seeing the place where the puppies spend most of the time. What you are looking for is for the parents to have a temperament agreeable to what you want in the puppy and for the area where the puppies are raised to be part of the family home and clean and well kept. This is imperative, and if you cannot meet the parents (especially the mother) you shoul not buy from that breeder at that time. Pay attention to the parents’ personalities. If you can’t get close to them for fear of getting bitten, their puppies may not be suitable for an active family home with lots of visitors coming and going. Are the puppies well-fed and healthy, free of parasites? Have they been started on their socialization?

There should be plenty of enrichment opportunities, like toys and sticks, and outside play time. Do not buy from a breeder who urges you to meet them on the side of the road somewhere or who resists letting you meet the parents and see the puppies’ room. Do not buy from a pet store, because you cannot be sure of the quality of the breeder, and may inadvertently be supporting a puppy mill. Do not buy from the internet and have the puppy shipped to you without checking out the breeder. If you don’t want to spend much time in the puppies’ room because of cleanliness issues, that should be a red flag.

As hard as it is to resist “rescuing” a puppy from a puppy mill, do your best to walk away empty handed. Owners of puppy mills generally do not care about their pets. They don’t care about the quality of the puppy, not about the physical or emotional or social health of the animals. They only care about making the maximum amount of money, so every puppy sold is another reason to continue the abuse and neglect and churn out dozens and dozens more puppies, some of whom will be resigned to a fate of waking on wires, wading in filth, and turning out litter aft litter of puppies. Additionally, many puppy mills dogs end up having health or behavior problems stemming from their heritage as puppy mill puppies- these can be costly for you as an owner to handle appropriately. Instead, if you suspect you have seen a puppy mill, notify your local Humane Society and Animal Control.