Avoiding Puppy Mills And Finding A Reputable Breeder

It might come as a surprise to dog lovers that puppy mills are a growing problem worldwide, and Australia is no different. Responsible pet parents should be wary of buying a puppy from a mill, in an effort to help break the cycle and support only ethical breeding.

We spoke to Carolyn Press-McKenzie of HUHA over in New Zealand to find out more about puppy mills and how potential pet parents can find a reputable breeder.

Identifying puppy mills

A puppy mill (also called a puppy farm) is a large, commercial facility that makes money from breeding dogs. Some do so with great attention to the welfare of the dogs involved. Others don’t, which can have a devastating effect on the dogs’ physical and mental health.

How can you tell the difference?

We asked Carolyn what advice she had for identifying an unethical puppy mill versus a reputable puppy breeder. “At a very basic level, it comes down to whether you can go to their home,” she says.

Warning signs

When you’re enquiring about a puppy for sale, Carolyn says that there are some initial warning signs to keep an eye out for. Do you get to meet the puppies, the parents, the siblings?  Is the seller breeding on a large scale with its primary focus on making lots of money or are they only breeding in small, considered numbers?” Look for signs of the standard of care too; where do the dogs sleep, are the water bowls clean, are the dogs in good condition?

Get an idea of the environment and the idea behind why they’re breeding. This can sometimes be hard information to obtain, but most genuine breeders will be happy to share their history and reasons for breeding with any potential puppy parents.

If a breeder won’t let you come to the home and see the puppy in their natural environment, that’s a big red flag, warns Carolyn. When it comes to puppy mills another red flag is if the breeder is happy to just put the puppy on a plane or bus without getting an idea of who you are and what life you can offer the puppy.

“If a breeder is happy to send a puppy to anyone who pays, without doing their due diligence, it shows that their integrity and reasons for breeding might not be ok,” she says.  

Meeting the dog’s parents

Meeting the puppy’s parents is an important step in identifying unethical puppy mills too. This can help on multiple fronts.

Firstly, it gives you a good idea of how well socialised the mum is. Often, puppy mills will keep the breeding dogs in small cages. They will have had limited interactions with humans and other dogs. Meeting the mother and seeing how she responds to the environment around her, as well as whether she’s well cared for, can help ascertain whether this is an inhumane puppy mill.

Hopefully, everything will be above board. If not though, here are 12 signs of animal abuse and some advice on how to report animal abuse appropriately.

Secondly, because puppy mills breed a copious number of dogs without any real regard for ethics or breed standards, Carolyn mentions that you’ll often see genetic conditions being passed on. These could be physical problems such as heart conditions, dental issues, autoimmune diseases, eye issues, skin issues and so on. Some of these are seen in purebred dogs bred responsibly too, as some breeds are prone to certain health issues. Read more about these in our article on purebred dog pros and cons.

However there also seems to be genetic predispositions to behavioural issues like being incredibly timid or afraid. Of course, some of these behavioural problems are environmental. However, Carolyn mentions HUHA is seeing an increasing number of dogs from puppy mills who seem to have “hardwired” behavioural issues.

labrador in a puppy mill in a cage

Puppy mills aren’t always easy to spot

You might be wondering how inhumane puppy farms manage to operate. Surely every potential pet parent wants the best beginning for their puppy? And wants to know they and their doggy parents were treated well, and so would avoid mills?

Certainly, many buyers adopt via ethical avenues. But many others either aren’t aware of puppy mills or don’t mind buying a puppy from one. And, even for the most conscientious buyer, it isn’t always easy to identify puppy mills.. The same can be said for puppy scams (read our tips for avoiding these here).

In fact, Carolyn tells us that “some puppy mills are getting so good at covering up their tracks that they even hire people to provide ‘cover homes’.” This means that you’ll go to a pretend home to meet the puppy rather than the mill from where it was actually bred. You might think the puppy you’re playing with comes from an honest and reputable breeder but be sorely mistaken.

What else can you do to try and avoid situations like this?

Where to start with finding a reputable and ethical breeder

Australian National Kennel Council is a membership organisation for dog owners, many of whom are professional breeders. It strongly encourages reputable and ethical breeding. Asking who they recommend you contact for the type of dog you’re after is a good start to identifying an ethical puppy breeder and helps you to tell if a dog is purebred or not.

Any reputable breeder of purebreds would be registered there, Carolyn says, but some reputable crossbred breeders might not be registered.

So, is it safe to go to a breeder? Carolyn says that going to a breeder can be risky, but there definitely are good ones out there. If you do decide to go through a breeder, here’s how to buy a puppy safely

Obviously though, Carolyn believes that the best first step is to “go to a reputable animal shelter and see if there’s a dog that desperately needs a home and who you fall in love with!”. That way you can be proud in bringing home an adopted dog that you’ve sourced via an ethical avenue.

Insurance can give your puppy a soft landing

Found a breeder or shelter and got your perfect dog? Ensure they’re protected against accident and illness with a dog insurance plan that suits your needs.

Puppy mills – over to you

What do you know about the state of puppy mills in Australia? Have you ever come across one, and what did you do? Let us know in the comments section below.

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