Puppy Mills: The Cruelty Behind Cute Puppies

Puppy mills still have a prevalent presence in the dog breeding world. The animals produced range from purebreds to any number of the latest “designer” mixed breeds. While the excitement of adding a new puppy to your home can be overwhelming, it’s essential to prioritize the health and well-being of the dog and support reputable establishments that practice ethically. Unfortunately, unethical breeding practices, such as puppy mills, are still thriving in the industry and have serious consequences for the dogs and their owners.

The number of dogs owned by people has increased significantly, but there is a shortage of well-bred pets. In these current times, the prevalence of rogue breeders and scammers who use sophisticated websites to promote themselves, often with misleading information, makes supporting cruelty a continued reality. There are no enforced standards which allow those with questionable morals and values to prosper. Dishonest breeders are adept at deceiving buyers, which is why it is crucial to educate yourself thoroughly before making a purchase.

Would you buy this puppy? Why or why not?

Puppy mills, also called puppy farming, are commercial breeding facilities that mass-produce puppies and prioritize profit over the well-being of animals. A definition for puppy mills was established in the 1984 “Avenson v. Zegart” court case. The definition was found to be “a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and to maximize profits.” Puppy mills breed with an emphasis on quantity over quality, indiscriminate breeding, continuous confinement, lack of human contact and environmental enrichment, poor husbandry, and minimal to no veterinary care.

*For-profit breeding on a smaller scale than a puppy mill, including unplanned breeding is referred to as backyard breeding.

A puppy mill can be obvious, or it can be well hidden. Selling numerous puppies and keeping people away from the premises is made effortless by attractive websites and online marketplaces. Breeders can have state-of-the art kennels and be inspected, but are still a puppy mill.

These facilities can be “state-of-the-art”, or they can fulfill the “puppy mill stereotype” with neglected dogs living in filthy kennels. Regardless of how “contemporary” they are, puppy mill puppies still frequently produce diseased, sick, and temperamentally unsound puppies.

What does a puppy mill look like?

Many people have negative thoughts and opinions, with common images that come to mind when visualizing puppy mills due to the well-documented animal welfare issues associated with these types of facilities. Puppy mills are overcrowded and have unsanitary conditions.

Puppy mills are readily available and extremely accessible, yet they may not be easily recognizable to the unaware or inexperienced public. They may have slick websites and marketing materials that make them appear legitimate, even though they are not. These breeders use persuasive marketing techniques and buzzwords, which can make it all the more tempting to be taken advantage of. Puppy mills can be out of sight of the public, making it difficult to observe the real conditions in which the dogs are produced and kept.

An example of “hung papers”. This merle “poodle” stud is registered as a black/black mask. Merle does not naturally occur in poodles. This dog has been cross bred in his lineage.
Marketing on a website.

Puppy mills can be hard to spot because they often operate in secret and go to great lengths to hide their operations from the public. They may be located in remote areas or disguised as legitimate breeding operations, making them difficult to identify. They may operate under the guise of a small-scale, family-run breeding operation, making it difficult to distinguish them from reputable breeders. They even may not think they are doing anything wrong. Dogs may not be in unsanitary or overcrowded conditions, but they lack producing genetically sound and healthy animals.

Puppy Mills in 2023 upscale facilities
Puppy Mills in 2023 upscale facilities
Not your typical looking puppy mill

Puppy dealers are using the internet to their advantage to advertise and sell puppies. This is fueled by an increasing demand for puppies among households.

  • They are marketing themselves better than they used to
  • They don’t have kennels, they have “maternity wards”
  • They don’t have breeding bitches and studs, they have “proud moms and dads” and “marriage announcements”
  • They have hired “dedicated and fully trained puppy staff” or invite you to be a “guardian home”

But they’re still a puppy mill.

Marketing used
Marketing used
Marketing used

This lack of transparency can make it difficult for potential buyers to determine the true conditions in which the puppies are being bred and raised. In many cases, puppies sold through these channels may come from puppy mills or other large-scale breeding facilities with poor conditions and little regard for the health and welfare of the animals.

Puppy Mill Red Flags

Characteristics of a Puppy Mill

These are the most recognizable and infamous characteristics commonly associated with puppy mills:

🚩 They prioritize profit above animal welfare

🚩 They don’t provide human affection or socialization

🚩 They use pressure sales tactics

🚩 Puppies are unclean or unhealthy

🚩 Puppies are confined to squalid, overcrowded cages with minimal shelter from extreme weather

🚩 Dogs suffer from malnutrition or starvation due to inadequate or unsanitary food and water

🚩 Sick or dying dogs receive little or no veterinary care

🚩 They breed animals younger than 18 months

🚩 They breed excessively from individual females

🚩 Adult dogs are continuously bred until they can no longer produce, then destroyed or discarded

🚩 They have many types of mixes or purebreds; Puppy millers that breed purebred puppies contribute to the degradation of the breed while deliberately mix-breeding has no scientific justification as a result of fads and trends of the time.

🚩 Dogs are bred with no purpose

🚩 They have ignorance of selective breeding and don’t make thoughtful pairings

🚩 They lack familiarity with the breed standard of the dog being bred/ breeding dogs without a breed standard

🚩 They don’t do any health testing

🚩 They don’t provide guarantee of overall health and temperament, as well as absence of genetic disorders

🚩 They don’t require you to visit them and their dogs

🚩 They are reluctant to show potential customers the entire premises on which animals are being bred and kept

🚩 They lack screening of potential owners

🚩 They breed without concern for the possibility of finding homes

🚩 They don’t have a detailed puppy socialization program

🚩 They don’t prioritize maternal health and well being

🚩 The price seems unusually low

🚩 The price seems unusually high

🚩 The puppy leaves before 8 weeks (adding price to keep puppy longer)

🚩 They don’t have a first-right-of-refusal requirement; they don’t require you to send the puppy back

🚩 They have dogs with behavioral and health issues that are repeatedly bred, producing lots of puppies likely to have the same problems

🚩 They get offensive when you ask questions

🚩 They sell animals with genetic disorders or undisclosed illnesses before they become evident to buyers

🚩 They don’t provide puppy buyers with proper paperwork, including a bill of sale, respected Kennel Club registration papers, vaccination certificates and copies of genetic screening clearances for the sire and dam of the litter

🚩 They don’t provide ongoing guidance and support to puppy buyers

Made up names of mixes; breeding excessive amount of mixed breeds

Modern Day Characteristics of a Puppy Mill

Less recognized characteristics viewed with operations in association to puppy mills:

🚩They intentionally produce “-oodles” and “-poos”, a direct mix of two purebred dogs as those who deliberately cross existing breeds have no scientific justification as a result of fads and trends of the time. A breeder may still be reputable if producing mixed dogs, under specific circumstances such as a sport mix, but not for basic companionship

🚩They make up names, colours, and sizes

🚩They use a description that includes terms like “rare”, “micro”, “mini”, “teacup”, “hypoallergenic”, “non-shedding”, “championship bloodlines”, “hybrid vigor”, “potty trained”, a “service dog” at a few weeks old

🚩They breed for appearance, fads, or trends; colours that are not accepted by their national breed club (i.e. merle)

🚩The price of puppies varies depending on their coat colour, eye colour, or body size

🚩They have snazzy websites that hide information or outright lie

🚩On a larger scale, they have a program for “guardian homes” (this is not the same as a co-ownership)

🚩They are not a member of their national breed club

🚩They do not participate in activities that support the breed: conformation shows, obedience trials

🚩They don’t have health clearances posted; or they don’t match in the database

🚩They don’t belong to regional, national, or international breed (🚩 Mixes are not recognized) and performance clubs formed to preserve, protect, and promote specific breeds

🚩Names of dogs do not have titles listed before or after them; example CH, GCH

🚩They use a courier or pet delivery service to get the puppy to you

🚩They sell puppies via various outlets

🚩They sell their puppies through puppy broker websites, send their puppies to complete strangers or to the first person who sends a deposit

🚩They do not show the entire premise; they bring out the puppy to you so you don’t see the mother, litter mates or where the dogs live. *Keep an eye out for barns and sheds on the property that could be used for mass-breeding dogs

🚩They do not know anything about typical genetic disorders for the breed and do not have their dogs screened by veterinary specialists (hip x-rays, ophthalmologist, cardiologist, etc.)

🚩They may even say “vet clearance” “DNA tested” “Embark” but this is NOT the same as health testing

🚩They may say they have registered dogs

Example of pricing based on phenotype on a website.
Example of intentionally breeding many mixed breeds

*Registering their dogs with a kennel club alone does not guarantee that they treat their dogs humanely or do any medical screening. All it means is that the registered puppy is the offspring of two dogs that are both also registered as being purebred of the breed in question. It is important to note that while registration is often seen as a mark of quality, it is possible for puppy mill breeders to register their dogs with a registry like the AKC. Therefore, it is important for potential pet owners to do their research and seek out reputable breeders who prioritize the health and well-being of their animals.

🚩They hide registration names and/or numbers or they don’t match what they’re advertising

Implications of Puppy Mills

Why puppy mill puppies must be avoided:

When puppy mills flood the market with pets, they reduce homes available for animals from reputable establishments, shelters and rescue groups. Puppy mills contribute to pet overpopulation, and are often associated with illegal activities, such as animal cruelty, tax evasion, and falsification of records.

The dogs that are bred and raised in puppy mills often suffer from a range of health and behavioral issues, which can cause long-term suffering for the animals and financial and emotional strain on their owners.

Puppy mill puppies are 41.6% more likely to develop health issues than the general population of dogs.

Puppy mill puppies are more susceptible to communicable and common hereditary diseases that all are easily preventable and avoidable.

Studies published during the past 23 years have suggested that dogs sold through pet stores and/or born in high-volume, commercial breeding establishments, show an increased number of problem behaviors as adults. The most consistent finding among studies have shown that mill puppies exhibit behavior consistent with:

  • Increase in aggression
  • Significantly higher rates of longterm fears and phobias (to unfamiliar people, children, other dogs, nonsocial stimuli, and when taken on walks)
  • Compulsive behaviors such as circling and pacing
  • Staring blankly into space (“dazed,” “zoned out,” “spaced out”)
  • Learning deficits with significantly lower rates of trainability and energy
  • Unable to cope fully with normal existence
  • Likely to have genetic health problems
  • Likely to have behavioral issues
  • House soiling
  • Undesirable behaviors related to separation and/or attention seeking and a heightened sensitivity to touch

Some key factors include “genetics, early-life stimulus deprivation (inadequate stimulus exposure, inappropriate or lack of social exposure), stress (prenatal maternal stress and postnatal early-life adversity), early weaning and maternal separation, transport and pet-store-related factors, and owner-related factors such as inadequate knowledge and experience with dogs as well as different levels of commitment to the pet dog.

The Puppy Mill Pipeline

Puppy mills sell their puppies in pet stores, online, or directly to the public.

Puppy mills exist on a matter of supply and demand. Buying a puppy from a pet store or a mill is notrescuing” it; it is simply making room for the breeder to sell another puppy. Only when the public stop buying the puppies will the suffering and pipeline end. By walking away and not buying that puppy, you are demonstrating there are no customers for their “product”. Ordering fewer dogs produces fewer puppies and downsizes the number of breeding adults.

Puppy Pipeline

Always avoid breeders offering ‘click and collect’ for a new pet.

It has been common knowledge over the years that puppies in pet stores are from puppy mills. Puppies from puppy mills are often sold through pet stores or online, making it difficult for buyers to determine the true conditions in which the puppies were bred and raised. Statistics reveal that most puppies sold in stores come from puppy mills (The Puppy Mill Project). Roughly 90 percent of puppies in pet stores come from puppy mills. Many retailers who buy animals from such facilities take the wholesaler’s word that the animals are happy and healthy without seeing for themselves.

Owners often do not make the connection between the dogs’ problems and the source of the puppy. Dogs with behavioural and health issues are repeatedly bred, producing lots of puppies to have the same [preventative] issues.

Does all of this sound and look awful?

Animal welfare laws are notoriously weak. The puppy mill and large scale commercial dog breeding industry is completely legal, and thriving.

Breeders are allowed to meet the bare minimum of standards. These are survival standards only, nothing more, and the breeders are given “educational opportunities” to make modifications, even after the worst violations and conditions.

Every breeder will say they are not a puppy mill. However, it’s not illegal to deceive the public, whether it is a complete lie or withholding the truth.

Would you purchase this puppy? Why or why not?

Puppy mills are a complex problem that requires a multifaceted approach to address. Purchasing puppies through the puppy mill channels can perpetuate the demand for puppies from these types of facilities, leading to continued animal suffering and over breeding. Ensuring that puppy mills cannot thrive depends on people being able to recognize and avoid them.

  • Increase public awareness
  • Promote responsible pet ownership
  • Create laws to regulate, enact and enforce regulations that protect animal welfare
  • Give responsible breeders the resources they need to help meet public demands

This approach will augment the sustainable supply of healthy, ethically raised dogs and puppies.

It is important for potential buyers to do their research and seek out reputable breeders or establishments who prioritize the health and well-being of their animals, and for laws and regulations to be put in place to prevent the exploitation of animals in commercial breeding operations.

Synergistically Yours,


Sheepdog Riggs, Forever in Our hearts

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