How to spot a puppy mill

You’ve heard the term “puppy mill” before, but what does it really mean and why are they so harmful?

by Good Dog

Quite simply, 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 basic veterinary care and health testing their animals for any hereditary diseases, and it can be expensive to run an ethical operation. Puppy mills that are in it for the money more than love of dogs skip these crucial and necessary 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 an inhumane approach that treats dogs as commodities instead of intelligent and loyal animals. Puppy mills can be pretty tricky to spot, 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.

Studies have shown that dogs bought from pet 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 seem in that store window.

As discussed in our irresponsible breeder guide, puppy mills frequently put their dogs at risk. If your research finds photos of over-crowded rooms or cages with severe lack of space; dirty living situations; and/or animals who look sick, injured or abused, these are clear signs of a puppy mill.

If an online storefront has an abundance of puppies available right away or allows you to “check out” and purchase a puppy, that’s also 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, forgetting best practices 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.

Responsible breeders largely focus on a small number of dog breeds, often limiting their work 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.

Sometimes, if the “fancy” websites set up by scammers happen to offer some amount of information, it can be misleading. Breeder licenses, for example, often wind up being used as false proof of a responsible breeder.

A license does not always indicate whether a breeder is ethical or unethical, just as size of operation does not indicate welfare. The only thing that dictates welfare is the quality of care and management provided.

Unfortunately, scammers have become very savvy, and puppy mills are not the only ones to look out for. Bad actors may also come in the form of backyard breeders. Click here to read about a different kind of unethical breeder.

Good Dog is here to eliminate the confusion from prospective dog owners who are trying to differentiate between trusted breeders and unethical sources. Read more about our breeder code of ethics here here.