6 Warning Signs of a Puppy Mill
Puppy mills are high-volume factory farms that breed puppies for profit. Early weaning, parasites, and genetic diseases are just the start.
At puppy farms, dogs are bred to exhaustion, while puppies are weaned and separated from mom early to begin the cycle again. Raids of illegal puppy mills often find cramped feces-ridden cages, untreated injuries and infections, parasites, painful matted fur, and severe psychological trauma.
Puppy mills sell their puppies through pet stores, Facebook, Craigslist, and any website that uses Google Ads (which is most). They do not openly declare themselves to be puppy mills, although I have seen some to call themselves puppy farms. In short, any time you see an ad with puppies for sale, err heavily on the side of caution. And once you search Google for puppies, expect to be stalked by puppy ads everywhere you go online. They'll use words like CUTE and ADORABLE, playing on your emotions with real or stock photos of puppies.
Perhaps you're actively searching for a dog breeder. How can you tell if you're dealing with yet another backyard breeder or puppy mill, both of whom exploit our love of dogs to make money? Treat them with extreme cynicism. They will claim to be professionals. They will claim to vaccinate. They will claim to have registration. The stakes are too high to take their word for it. Be the detective; find the injustice. Here are 6 warning signs of a puppy mill at work.
1. Puppy Mills Produce Mix Breeds
Puppy mills aim to supply the pet trade with many options, including pure-breeds, cross-breeds, designer dogs, and miniatures. So what's the problem? Aren't crossbreeds healthier because of their diluted gene pool? If only it were that simple.
There is a massive problem of dog overpopulation in the US. Every year, three million abandoned dogs are euthanized because they can't be rehomed. Families who could care for these rescue dogs are diverted to buying puppies, effectively sentencing the rescues to death.
In such circumstances, why would anyone breed more dogs to supply the pet trade? It's all about the money. Puppy mill dogs sell for between $500 and $3,000. Many exceed the price of a rescue Sheltie ($50 to $300) and even ethically bred Sheltie puppies (which cost $900 on average). In particular, designer dogs like Sheltiepoos / Sheltiedoodles (Sheltie x Poodle), Poshies (Pomeranian x Sheltie), and Sheltie-Poms (Sheltie x Pomeranian) are bred for novelty and to maximize profit.
What's more, puppy mills and backyard breeders don't perform genetic screening before they breed two dogs, so they have no idea what inherited diseases will be passed onto the puppies. Genetic screening is vital when creating pure-breeds, as they have a much more limited gene pool. Puppies born without this care may succumb to serious in-born diseases, requiring expensive vet treatments or leading to an early death.
2. Puppy Mills Use False Advertising
Many puppy mills are unregulated and often illegal as they engage in animal cruelty. They keep multiple dogs in the same cage without opportunities to exercise or eliminate outside. The conditions are so cruel and unsanitary that puppy mill workers never invite you to visit the breeding kennels, as professional breeders so often do. Instead, they execute their trades off-site, in car parks or other public spaces, all the while suggesting its for your convenience. They also offer to ship puppies long distances and use this as an excuse for non-contact.
When you see an online listing with a Sheltie puppy for sale, examine it with care. Puppy mills may use false advertising to suggest they are expert breeders, provide falsified AKC registration, and even use fake photos of the puppy and her parents. They rely on the naivety and ignorance of buyers. By the time you realize the puppy you bought is not the same one from the photo, the seller will be long gone.
If the puppy farm insists they perform genetic testing, make them prove it. Look for warning signs of falsification. Who ordered the DNA report? When is it dated? Do the official details listed actually connect the report to the breeder? Ask what specific diseases they screen for—see Common Sheltie Health Problems to gauge their breed knowledge. And this is if they're selling a pure breed. If they're trying to sell you a mixed breed puppy, you know right off the bat they're not professional nor ethical.
3. Puppy Mills Have Many Litters Available
As commercial breeding facilities, puppy farms have numerous litters for sale year-round. Of course, you won't know this without access to their kennel facilities. But you can check if they're advertising lots of puppies at once. A litter is made up of 4-6 puppies, and producing more than two litters at once is an indication of commercial breeding. If you see more than a dozen puppies for sale by the same kennel, know that it's highly likely you're dealing with a puppy mill.
The puppy litters in question may belong to the same breed, or come from multiple different pure and cross breeds. This is definitive evidence that they're being bred for profit, rather than the continuation of a specific dog breed.
What's more, without an invitation to the kennels, there's no way to meet the puppy's parents. This is important; not only can you see what type of dog you're buying, you can also check that the parents are healthy, of good temperament, and cared for in humane conditions. If you were to visit a puppy mill, you'd find the puppies kept in cramped and dirty conditions, making them vulnerable to parasites and infectious diseases which require vet treatment at your expense.
4. Puppy Mills Rehome Pups Before 8 Weeks
Puppy mills offer puppies for sale as young as 2 weeks old. This is not only horrendously cruel to the puppy's emotional development, but deprives her of vital antibodies and fats from her mother's milk.
Young puppies also need to learn how to interact with their littermates, so they can behave appropriately in social situations for the rest of their lives. A key lesson is bite inhibition. This means knowing it's not ok to roughly bite others, and is learned through play biting. When a puppy bites too hard, his playmate yelps and withdraws, teaching him that aggression leads to negative consequences.
Young puppies also need a close primary attachment with their mother. They learn from her how to form healthy attachments with dogs and humans. Separation from mom much before 8 weeks of age can lead to behavioral problems for the rest of their lives.
Poorly socialized puppies shy away from contact, and continue to suffer from lifelong fear and anxiety in the presence of others. His bond with you will be severely diminished too. Anxiety in dogs can manifest as skittishness or aggression, and can be directed at anyone who he perceives to be a threat, including adults, children, and babies.
5. Puppy Mills Sell into Pet Stores
Puppy mills frequently sell their puppies to pet stores. We may associate pet store puppies with joy and innocence, yet in the majority of cases, they come direct from the puppy mill trade.
According to The Human Society, pet store puppies comes from all over the US, and many come from breeders with one or more Animal Welfare Act violations. Such violations include sick and injured dogs deprived of medical treatment, underweight dogs, cages covered in feces, and food contaminated by mold and insects.
Pet store puppies frequently suffer from serious health and psychological problems. Some congenital conditions don't show up for months or years, when the store guarantee has expired. Such guarantees are carefully worded as to bypass liability for vet bills; instead, they will offer to replace your puppy with a different one, thereby sentencing your puppy to death.
More than 2,300 pet stores nationwide have pledged not to sell puppies. It is also illegal to do some in some states, as the ties to the puppy mill industry are so well-known. Never buy a puppy from a pet store. You aren't saving a puppy; you're condemning his mother to produce yet another litter to meet the consumer demand.
6. Puppy Mills Have No Paperwork
Puppy mills only want one thing from you: your money. They don't care whether you plan to vaccinate your puppy against infectious diseases, de-sex them at the appropriate age, or arrange for annual vet checks. They don't care what happens to the dog if you later decide you can't keep him, and will certainly not ask you to return him for careful rehoming. Such details should always be agreed verbally, at the very least, and professional breeders put these clauses in writing.
What's more, puppy mills often fail to give puppies their first vaccinations, which are due at 6-8 weeks, either because they sell their puppies prior to 6 weeks, or simply spare themselves the expense. If they claim to have vaccinated a puppy, ask to see proof. There are always records. Check which vaccinations are cited and contact the vet clinic in question to verify the records aren't fake. The same applies to eye checks: Shetland Sheepdogs are more susceptible to Collie Eye Anomaly and professional breeders have their puppies checked for warning signs before they're rehomed.
As a general rule, when a puppy vendor is only interested in making a trade, and doesn't ask any questions as to your lifestyle or experience with dogs, it's a warning sign that they don't care about the wellbeing of their dogs.
How to Report a Puppy Mill
If you identify a puppy mill in your search for a puppy, file a report online at The Humane Society Puppy Mill Task Force or call 1-877-MILL-TIP. They investigate all information on possible crimes involving puppy mills, especially from those with insider knowledge. You can also file a complaint online with the USDA.