Young puppy born in a puppy mill tries to see outside its cage

What Are Puppy Mills and Why Should You Avoid Them?


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Puppy mills (also called puppy farms) are a growing problem worldwide and sadly Australia is no different. However, just by taking simple steps, not only can you find ethical puppy breeders but you can also help break the cycle of backyard breeding.

But what is a puppy mill exactly and what happens to dogs in these puppy farms?

In this article PD Insurance outlines exactly what puppy mills are. We share tips on how to recognise them so you can avoid playing into their hands. You’ll also get some bonus tips from animal advocate and HUHA shelter CEO, Carolyn Press-McKenzie.

a dog in a puppy mill is stressed out due to being locked in a tiny cage

What are puppy mills?

As the name suggests, puppy mills or farms are large-scale, commercial dog breeding facilities that operate with one top priority – making money.

Unlike ethical puppy breeders who use best breeding practices, like health checks for example, puppy mills aren’t invested in the welfare of the breeding dogs and their litters. Their focus is on producing a product (puppies) in as high quantities as possible regardless of whether it’s at the expense of their or their parents’ health and longevity.

What happens to dogs in puppy farms?

Dogs at puppy mills are routinely caged for long lengths of time, confined without playtime, exercise or socialisation. They may be malnourished and forced into overbreeding until they’re too worn out to keep going. This can have a devastating effect on the dogs’ physical and mental health.

Backyard breeding practices are also more likely to result in unhealthy puppies, both physically and psychologically. These puppies aren’t bred from healthy parents and are likely to inherit any issues they carry. They aren’t born into a nurturing environment and often don’t get the stimulation or learning opportunities every puppy needs and deserves.

This can give rise to behavioural problems in the puppies.

Puppies from these factory-style puppy production lines may be sold to unethical pet stores and to unsuspecting owners. But they can also be sold directly to buyers. Unless you know how to spot them, you could be unintentionally supporting an industry that mistreats animals with the sole purpose of financial gain.

a puppy from a backyard breeding syndicate shows signs of trauma - something ethical puppy breeders prevent through good nurturing

How to identify a puppy mill

Let’s say your heart is locked on getting a puppy. You find yourself endlessly gazing at adorable puppies for sale online. But how can you spot the difference between puppy mills that practice backyard breeding vs good ethical dog breeders?

  • Visit in person. HUHA animal shelter CEO, Carolyn, advises that “at a very basic level, it comes down to whether you can go to their home.” When you’re enquiring about a puppy for sale, Carolyn says that there are some initial warning signs to keep an eye out for.
  • Look at large vs small scale. Carolyn says, “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?”
  • Cleanliness check. 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, their premises and their reasons for breeding with any potential puppy parents. In fact, they’ll be glad that the puppies they’ve reared are going to a good home with a discerning owner.

Warning signs of puppy mills

If a breeder won’t let you come to the home and see the puppy in its 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.” – Carolyn

Never mail order a puppy and never trust a seller that’s happy to go that route.

An ethical dog breeder is invested in their breeding dogs. They’ve been with them through their pregnancy and the birthdays of the puppies. They will no doubt have helped nurture these little guys. Can you imagine anyone in this position being willing to hand them over without meeting the buyer?

No. That’s why if you’re that buyer, you can expect a genuine breeder to take an interest in the future of their puppies.

Another possible danger of ordering a puppy without doing your due diligence is being scammed. You pay up and don’t receive a puppy. Read how to avoid puppy scams in Australia.

two huskies used as breeding dogs in a backyard breeding facility smell each other through the bars of their cages

Meet 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. As mentioned, puppy mills often 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 is important. Some puppy mills will put on a front and allow the breeding dog out of the cage for a visitor – but a dog will usually show their true feelings through body language.

If she’s happy, healthy and well cared for, this can help you decide 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. Also read how to tell if a dog is afraid.

pedigreed labrador dog with papers feeding litter of puppies belongs to ethical puppy breeders

Look for healthy puppies and dogs

Since puppy mills breed a copious number of dogs without any real regard for ethics or breed standards, Carolyn mentions that you’ll often see hereditary conditions being passed on. These could be physical problems such as heart conditions, dental issues, autoimmune diseases, eye issues, skin issues and so on.

Of course, some of these are seen in purebred dogs that are bred responsibly, as some breeds are prone to certain health issues. Read more about these in our articles on purebred dog pros and cons and how to tell if a dog is purebred. Plenty of mixed breed dogs have health conditions too.

However, with puppy mill pups there also seems to be genetic predispositions to behavioural issues like being incredibly timid or afraid. Some of these behavioural problems are environmental, but Carolyn mentions seeing an increasing number of dogs from puppy mills who seem to have “hardwired” behavioural issues.

TIP. When you buy a purebred dog from an ethical puppy breeder, they'll have done dog DNA tests or other health tests on mum and dad dogs before breeding them. This allows a breeder to select only the healthiest dogs to produce litters from. 
labrador in a cage belonging to a backyard breeding syndicate

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? As dog lovers, we all want to know puppies and their doggy parents were treated well. This surely means avoiding puppy farms..?

Certainly, many of us buy or adopt via ethical avenues. But many others either aren’t aware of puppy mills or don’t mind buying a puppy from one. Even for the most conscientious buyer, it isn’t always easy to identify puppy mills that practice backyard breeding.

Covering their tracks 🐾

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. More tips on avoiding backyard breeding and finding ethical puppy breeders up next.

NOTE. Unfortunately this growing trade isn't just having an impact on the breeding dogs and puppies. Rackets of dog thieves are now also stealing pet dogs for breeding and selling too. Read more about stolen dogs in Australia.  

How to find ethical puppy breeders

A brilliant and simple way to find ethical puppy breeders is whether they’re registered with a kennel club. Dogs Queensland and Dogs Australia, for example, are both recognised kennel clubs that keep a list of reputable pedigree dog breeders.

Any reputable breeder of purebreds would be registered with a well-recognised kennel club, Carolyn says, but some reputable crossbred breeders might not be registered. That’s why you should also read our steps to finding an ethical dog breeder.

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

A man holds his best bud - which he bought from ethical puppy breeders

Adoption is also an option

Another option is dog adoption. With many Aussies giving up pets to shelters, you could be giving a fur baby their second chance. By adopting a dog or puppy you’re giving them a lease on life.

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!” Not only will you avoid supporting backyard breeding but you can also be proud in bringing home an adopted dog that you’ve sourced via an ethical avenue.

Be sure to also read our dog adoption checklist to prep yourself well.

Give your puppy or dog a soft landing

Regardless of whether you buy, are gifted or adopt your puppy or dog, give it a sound landing. PD Insurance offers three dog insurance plans and three cat insurance plans. This means you can choose the level of cover that suits your pet and your pocket.

Our pet insurance gives your fur baby the soft landing of cover for a broad range of diagnoses and treatments. Plus, you can get one or more months of pet insurance FREE when you buy online.

Click below to start your quote.

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