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Puppy Mill vs Breeder: How to Spot the Difference!

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

sleeping dogs inside a cage

So, you’ve finally chosen your favorite doggy breed. After all the research and difficult lip-biting decisions, you’ve made the final decision. Hurrah! But, we’re afraid to say that we are about to burst your celebratory bubble. You’ve still got some hard work and research to do. Sorry!

You now need to find your puppy. And with hundreds of breeders out there, how exactly do you choose? The best place to start, and the first place to begin, is to decide which type of breeder to work with. And here you have two options: a puppy mill or a real breeder.

Normally in these versus guides, we would pitch one against the other, normally showing you the benefits of both. But when it comes to puppy mills, there are no benefits. So this guide will show you how to spot the difference and help you to avoid unscrupulous breeders altogether.

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Define Puppy Mills:

lonely puppies inside the cage
Image Credit: SOMMAI, Shutterstock

A puppy mill is a term for breeders who’s primary concern is to breed dogs for profit. They will pump out as many pups as possible to maximize their earnings. Usually, they have little to no experience in dog breeding. They typically breed whatever breed is trending at the time, or any breed they can get hold of easily and cheaply.

Are Puppy Mills Illegal?

Unfortunately, no, not all puppy mills are illegal. Although there are laws that protect animals, there are many loopholes in the system when it comes to breeding animals. Puppy mills and unscrupulous breeders take advantage of these loopholes.

As long as puppies are given the basic food, water, and shelter, they are not unlawful. In many states, a breeding kennel can keep hundreds of dogs in cages at any one time. And they can stay there for their entire life. They are not required to provide them with routine medical care, exercise, interaction, or love.

Why are Puppy Mills so Bad?

They do not breed healthy dogs and will often reproduce sick or diseased dogs who are cheap to buy in the first place. Their overheads are minimized, and their earnings are maximized.

This increases the chances of unhealthy puppies. Once the puppies are born, they receive little to no medical attention, and neither does the mother. Puppy mills do not handle or socialize their pups and usually leave them in a cage until they are sold. This means no handling, love, or attention. Which creates behavioral problems and potentially dangerous dogs, or overtly shy ones.

puppies inside a cage
Image Credit: KHANISTHA SRIDONCHAN, Shutterstock

Is it Okay to Work with a Puppy Mill?

It is never okay to work with a puppy mill. The prices might be slightly lower than a puppy from a reputable breeder, but you can be sure that the puppy will be unhealthy at the very least. Not only are you likely to receive a poorly pup, but there have been many cases where dogs have died within days of going to their new homes.

Not only that, but by supporting puppy mills, you are putting money in the pockets of animal abusers. And increasing the chances of them breeding more dogs and subjecting them to neglect and cruelty. It’s a neverending circle and one that no one should participate in.

  • None
  • Unconcerned with the health of dogs
  • Produces poorly pups
  • Encourages cruelty to animals
  • More expenditure in the long run

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Overview of Breeders:

A breeder is a person or business who takes pride in breeding dogs. There are two types of breeders. The first and best to work with are first-class breeders who are easy to spot. Their dogs will be registered with the American Kennel Club or other governing bodies. And they will have professional websites and health certificates. We’ll go through the ways to spot them further down in this guide.

They aren’t concerned with maxing their profits and instead only cover their costs and earn a fair wage. But more importantly, they are more interested in securing the health and future of the breed. They will screen their dogs and make sure that they are suitable for breeding. Meaning that their puppies will be as healthy as possible.

There are then breeders who find themselves in between. They aren’t first-class, but neither are they considered to be a puppy mill. They are often labeled grey-zone breeders. They are concerned with their pups’ health, but they aren’t always experienced enough to produce the most healthy dogs. And they are usually heavily influenced by profit too.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Puppy From a Puppy Breeder?

This is a frequently asked question, but also a difficult question to answer. Aside from the factors regarding which breed you are choosing, it all depends on the breeder’s reputation. If you are seeking a puppy from an award-winning breeder, or particular lineage, you can expect to pay thousands of dollars for a pup.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. And this is the same for puppies. Many puppy mills will lower the price of their pups to lure customers like you in. But just as you wouldn’t expect top quality results from a cheap Nokia 3210 compared to the latest all-singing, all-dancing iPhone model. You cannot expect the healthiest pups from a puppy mill. And the same goes for grey zone breeders compared to top-quality breeders.

  • Healthiest puppies
  • Puppies raised with love and socialization
  • Happy puppies
  • They will provide expert advice
  • Aftercare contact and advice provided
  • Higher price
  • Potential waiting lists

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Difference Between Puppy Mill and Breeder

All of the information into a concise table. This list isn’t exclusive, but it covers the typical differences.

Puppy Mill Breeder
Purpose of Breeding Maximum profit Betterment of the breed
Breeding Environment Usually in a warehouse or outbuildings, stacked in cages, no warmth, filthy conditions. You will never be invited to meet the pups beforehand Usually in the breeders home, surrounded by family, warm and clean
Number of breeds available Numerous Usually one, maybe two or three
Puppy availability Immediately Waiting lists are common
Veterinary care for mother and puppies Legal minimum required, sometimes none at all Extensive care, frequent checkups throughout pregnancy, and selective breeding checks. Puppies will all be examined regularly to ensure developmental health
Handling and training of puppies None All puppies will be socialized with their littermates and parents, and other humans, noises, grooming, and handling
Puppy pickup In a parking lot, ad-websites, pet stores At breeders home, or shipped with prior permission and adequate planning
Communication before sale Only to agree on price and pickup Always available, will usually meet you in person to make sure you are suitable for the breed, photos will be sent with updates
Communication after the sale None Will regularly keep in touch to make sure everything is running smoothly with your new pup
Age of puppies at the time of sale Usually four to six weeks Between 8 to 12 weeks
Puppy contracts None Usually, contracts will be signed to state that you will contact the breeder for guidance if anything goes wrong. If you cannot keep the dog, it must be surrendered back to the breeder. Some may state that the dogs must not be bred and that you will neuter the dog

How Common Are Puppy Mills?

They are more common than people think. With an estimated 10,000 puppy mills in America and over two-million puppies originating from puppy mills sold every year, the market is rife. You can be certain that there are puppy mills near you.

With these facts in mind, it is more important than ever to carry out thorough research. Never assume that someone is a top-notch puppy breeder, and get them to prove it. Top-quality breeders will do everything that they can to prove that they are and ease any concerns that you may have. Puppy mills will do everything that they can to avoid difficult questions.

australian shepherd puppy
Image Credit: Michael Morse, Pexels

Puppy Mill Red Flags

Below is a list of warning signs that will identify a puppy mill from a good breeder:
  • You have found the puppy on an ad-website, such as Craiglist or other online forums. Or you are in a pet store
  • Communication is poor, except to agree on a price and pickup point
  • They will not allow you to meet the puppies or their parents
  • They do not send you any photos or developmental updates
  • The seller is pushy
  • They cannot answer any questions
  • The does not have any vet records or vaccination cards, and only a USDA health certificate
  • They sell rare or unique breeds or colors

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How to Identify a Puppy Mill

The American Kennel Club, or other associations, will usually have a page, such as find a puppy, where they will list registered breeders. This is a great way to find top quality breeders.

Alternatively, you can also search online for other reputable breeders. Always look for a professional website that is solely dedicated to the breeding of one or two breeds. Look through their website, and if you get a good feeling about them, get in contact and arrange to meet up with them.

Another great way to learn about them is to look for search engine business reviews. Or speak to other like-minded dog owners who might be able to recommend a breeder. Just remember to always carry out your own research.

Ensure that they tick all of the boxes and tips above, and you can almost be certain that they will be a reputable breeder worth working with.

Head or Heart Decision?

This is one rare occasion where we suggest that you follow both your head and your heart. Follow your head and the advice in this guide, as well as your own due diligence. When you meet the breeder, the pups, their parents, and see the environment they are being raised in, follow your heart. Even if this is your first time buying a puppy, you will get a feeling of whether the breeder is ethically sound or not.

The Cost Factor

Cost and budget will always be a factor for most families. However, if you are swayed towards the lower price of a puppy mill, you need to seriously ask yourself whether you are financially able to care for a dog.

The average cost of a dog per year is anywhere between $1,500 and $9,500. Times that by say, ten years, and dog ownership is not a cheap hobby. Therefore, if you’re tempted to sacrifice a puppy’s health to save a few hundred dollars, you should wait until you’re in a better financial position.

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Conclusion: Difference Between Puppy Mill and Breeder

It’s usually at this point where people ask, would it be better to save a puppy from a life at a puppy mill? And the answer is no. If you want to do your bit in preventing the cruel puppy mill markets, do not work with them. Ever!

It’s clear to see the difference between puppy mills and breeders. Follow the guidance in this article, and you cannot go far wrong. The lower price might seem appealing, but you can be sure that the puppy you receive will not be as happy or healthy as a puppy from a breeder.

Featured image credit: TPM-FOTO, Shutterstock

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