About puppy mills, backyard breeders and other disreputable sources

Once you’ve done your homework and identified which type of dog is best for you, the next big decision you’ll face is where to find your dog. And while there is no shortage of options, not all of them are created equal — some sources, in fact, are downright cruel and inhumane. The choice you make here will help dictate your entire experience as a dog parent — you won’t be the first person to take care of your puppy, and like humans, how dogs are treated in their earliest days can have lifelong consequences.

Getting a dog isn’t at all like going shopping for a new pair of shoes. You shouldn’t be able to stroll into a pet store one day and walk out an hour later with a new puppy. Responsible breeders are a lot more discerning with their prospective dog parents than cashiers at retail puppy dealers and would never sell a dog without interacting directly with the owner. Generally, we all crave easy shopping experiences, but if someone’s willing to sell you a dog like they’re a pair of sneakers, there’s a serious problem.

Working with a good breeder is both more ethical and better for you in the long run, too. Studies have shown that dogs bought from stores, which so often source their animals from puppy mills, are significantly more likely to have health issues and display behavioral problems and aggression later in life, no matter how cute and playful they may seem in that store window.

Good Dog’s mission is to connect responsible owners with responsible breeders to create a healthier ecosystem for our canine companions. Right now, it can be a bit complicated to navigate, even for devoted dog-lovers, so we’ve created an easy guide to help you understand and identify bad actors like puppy mills and careless breeders. With this information in hand, you can feel confident that you’ll be making responsible decisions when finding your new best friend.

What’s a puppy mill?

A puppy mill is a breeding operation that cares more about making money than breeding healthy, happy dogs. Being a good breeder is not a cheap proposition — factor in the high costs of veterinary care and humane living conditions, plus business expenses, and it can be pretty expensive to run an ethical operation. Puppy mills in it for the money more than love of dogs skip these crucial practices in order to minimize their costs and maximize their profits.

Puppy mills come in all sizes, from big operations to smaller shops, but what they have in common is a cynical, inhumane approach that treats dogs as commodities instead of intelligent, loyal animals. Puppy mills can be tricky, too, hiding behind pet stores or glossy websites that look legit but refuse to be transparent about their sourcing or connect you with their breeders.

What’s a backyard breeder?

A broad term that encompasses a number of problematic practices, a backyard breeder is fundamentally an ill-informed, profit-driven semi-professional whose irresponsible methods put the health and welfare of their breeding dogs and puppies at risk.

More than anything else, backyard breeders simply lack the education and resources required to responsibly breed, house, or raise dogs. Sometimes, they’re uneducated breeders who treat their dogs like pets, letting them breed without proper health testing or awareness of potential genetic issues. In other cases, they’re well aware of the heritable diseases their dogs might carry but breed them anyway. Backyard breeders also often ignore guidelines on overcrowding and ensuring that puppies are ready for happy, healthy lives when they leave their mothers.

What about scams?

At Good Dog, we are harnessing the power of the internet for good, to connect prepared prospective dog parents with responsible breeders and create a more healthy and honest way for puppies to find new homes. Unfortunately, the internet also presents endless opportunities for bad-faith actors to trick people and hurt animals.

Small-scale opportunists will steal information and photos from good breeders in order to trick people into buying sick puppies; elsewhere, large puppy mills sometimes set up a flurry of websites so that they can misrepresent themselves as small, trustworthy, responsible breeders. Being a good dog parent already takes a lot of homework and dedication, and these troublemakers don’t make it any easier. It’s simply heartbreaking to hear stories about puppy parents they’ve duped and dogs they’ve hurt.

What’s a disreputable broker?

It’s not just problematic breeders and puppy mills that damage the dog ecosystem. There are also middlemen that cut corners and take advantage of earnest breeders and owners. These disreputable brokers will skip proper screening processes and overcharge breeders to showcase their dogs, while also jacking up rates on prospective dog parents and selling puppies to people who are not ready to handle them.

These brokers are also allergic to sunlight, meaning that they are the opposite of transparent. They won’t tell you where they got their dogs or what health issues they might have, and when problems inevitably arise, they make it almost impossible for new parents to contact breeders or provide crucial information to veterinarians or even shelters.

So how do I avoid these people?

Identifying a disreputable breeder is not always easy, because there are so many ways for them to disguise themselves. Professionally designed websites make it seem like a breeder is caring and discerning; cheap prices make it tempting to not investigate further. The whole thing can make a prospective dog owner feel a bit hopeless and alone — until now.

At Good Dog, we perform this vetting for you and make breeders’ practices transparent, so we can ensure that the breeders you see on our site prioritize their dog’s health and wellbeing over an extra buck.

For more information about our standards and screening process, head here. If you’re looking at a dog or breeder that is not listed on Good Dog, we recommend you read through the following tips to avoid purchasing from and supporting a disreputable source. Here’s what to look for and what to avoid:

Click to purchase

When you’re shopping online, one-click purchasing is generally a nice, convenient way to buy necessary everyday items and clothing. But just as getting a dog shouldn’t be as easy as buying a pair of shoes in a store, it also shouldn’t be as easy as purchasing a tube of toothpaste on the internet. If a website selling puppies isn’t asking prospective dog parents key questions to determine their suitability for raising a certain breed or even a dog in general, they are neither looking out for the best interests of their dogs or even the puppy parents.

Lots of dogs that are available right away

If an online storefront has an abundance of puppies available right away, it’s a pretty good sign that there is an irresponsible breeder involved. Unethical breeders use inhumane practices to maximize the number of litters their dogs produce, jettisoning best practices and and ignoring the health of their dogs. This may lead to a lot of puppies, but they are more likely to be sick and suffer behavioral problems down the line.

Many breeds offered

Responsible breeders largely focus on a small number of dog breeds, often even limiting it to just one single breed. This way, they’re able to focus on the health of their dogs and keep up to date on the latest science and medical trends specific to each breed. If a store or breeder is offering a large variety of breeds, there’s a good chance they’re skimping on care and the necessary work needed to breed generations of happy and healthy dogs.

Lack of transparency

If an online store or breeder’s site doesn’t want to give you their names, contact information, and crucial items like dog health clearances and vet information, you can bet that they’re probably hiding something. It’s absolutely crucial that the place you get your puppy is upfront and forthright with all the necessary information.

Understanding licenses

Sometimes, the information they do offer up can also be a bit misleading. Breeder licenses, for example, often wind up being used as false proof of a responsible breeder.

A license from the USDA is required for any breeder who has more than five breeding females. First and foremost, this means that responsible breeders with small operations don’t need a license, and they often go without them. That doesn’t make them at all unethical or shady; in fact, a small-scale breeder is often more likely to be trustworthy.

Really, because a license is required for larger operations, it can actually indicate a commercial breeder. While commercial breeding is not equivalent to a puppy mill, the more dogs there are in a facility, the more difficult it is to keep track of and prioritize their welfare. Some breeders are able to do this extraordinarily well, but unfortunately, far more do not.

Obviously, there’s a whole lot to keep in mind when you start searching for a breeder. Even the most prepared and knowledgeable prospective puppy parents might find themselves confused or even a little bit overwhelmed by it all, which is where we come in. Our goal at Good Dog is to cut through the bad actors and misinformation online to help you find your new best friend in a responsible and ethical way, so you can enjoy a wonderful future with your puppy.