Puppy Mills: How To Spot Them!

Puppy mills, also known as puppy farms, breed puppies simply for profit. Conditions are often horrific and the pups' health very poor owing to cruel neglect.  Read on to learn how to know when you're buying from a puppy farm.

Why You Shouldn't Buy From A Puppy Farm

Please don't buy from puppy mills. You may not know it, but many puppies bought from these places have serious health issues as a result of sheer neglect. Many of these puppies don't even reach the age of six months!

Black and tan roan cocker spaniel puppy, lying down. The photo was taken against a white background.Thankfully, I didn't come from a puppy mill!

During this time you are likely to have shelled out considerable amounts of cash on vet bills and had to endure much sadness and heartache watching the pain and suffering of your little puppy. 

Please don't think that by buying a puppy from one of these farms you'll be helping to rescue an ill-treated and unhealthy puppy. You won't be. Instead, you'll be allowing farms like these to thrive and continue their cruel breeding practices.

If you follow my advice below it will help you to avoid accidentally buying a puppy that's been born and raised in one of these horribly cruel breeding kennels.

Luckily, this little fella above wasn't bought from a puppy mill. He comes from a good breeder, and it shows!

How To Avoid Puppy Mills

Puppy farmers are eager for your money and will go to extreme measures to try to pull the wool over your eyes. So, how can you be sure you're buying from a responsible breeder?

How To Avoid Puppy Mills: Be Sure To...

  • visit their premises and check the conditions in which they're breeding. Be suspicious if there are many outbuildings or sheds that could be being used as mass breeding grounds.

  • ask how many different breeds they raise and be very wary if they're offering more than two or three types of breeds for sale. (There are good breeders who offer more than one breed, but make sure you check them out.)

  • be patient. Good breeders will only breed once or twice a year and you may need to add your name to the breeder's waiting list. A puppy mill is likely to have many puppies available, and perhaps even several different breeds too!

  • ask how many litters they produce a year.
Very light golden cocker spaniel puppy sitting on kitchen tiles.I'm not sad, honestly!
  • always ask to view both parents of the puppies, or at the very least, the mother. She should look clean, happy and healthy, if not a little tired, which is only natural after giving birth and caring for her puppies.

  • get references. Ask if they'd mind if you spoke to pet owners who've bought puppies from them previously.

  • ask to see the puppy's registration papers and check the details against the breeder's details.

  • Ask what their policy is on returning a puppy. A good breeder will always accept a return without question and will re-home the puppy for you.

Puppy Mills: Obvious Warning Signs!

When you arrive at the breeders premises, take a look around you. There may be some obvious warning signs that you could be dealing with a puppy farmer, for example: 

  • The breeder is offering many different breeds of puppies;

  • The pups are crated, or kept elsewhere and brought to you one puppy at a time. You need to see all puppies together (even if most of them are ear-marked as sold) so that you can see them interact with each other. 

  • The mother is either very young or looks unkempt and in poor health, indicating that she's not properly cared for and is over-breeding;

  • The seller isn't very knowledgeable about Cocker Spaniels;

  • The breeder doesn't ask you questions to assess your suitability as an owner for one of their puppies, indicating that money would seem to be the main issue.

  • Puppy farmers tend not to name their breeding bitches. Warning bells should ring if the mother doesn't seem comfortable around her owner or doesn't seem to recognize her name. 

  • Be cautious if the breeder recommends or is willing to let the puppy go to their new home before it's 8 weeks old. The breeder may well save money letting the pup go early, but its development will almost certainly suffer. 

  • If the seller asks you to collect your puppy from anywhere other than their kennels (for example, a shopping mall car park or a service station), refuse.

    The same applies if they offer to deliver the puppy to your home. It's likely that they don't want you to see their premises. Ask yourself why?

Don't Buy From A Pet Shop!

Although the pups may look healthy, you can't be certain where pet shop puppies have been bred, nor can you be certain of their pedigree.

They're very often being sold on behalf of one or more puppy mills or they've been bred by inexperienced individuals who don't have the welfare of the puppies at heart; they only want to make money.

"The advertisement listing Cocker Spaniel puppies for sale may have been placed by a professional breeder, a puppy farmer, or a pet shop owner - the question is, how will you know which one you're replying to?"

If You're Replying To A Newspaper Advert...

If you're replying to an advert, read it very carefully.

  • Does the advert give lots of detail?
  • Are the puppies described with love and affection?
  • Does the advert confirm that the puppies have been wormed?
  • Have they had their first vaccination?
  • Will the puppy be insured, and if so, for how many weeks?
  • Is the breeder registered with the Kennel Club and has the puppy's birth been registered?
  • Do they offer a puppy pack and help after the pup leaves the mother?
  • Will the puppies be part socialized?
  • Will the breeder sell only to a good home?
  • Do they profess to be professional Cocker Spaniel breeders?
  • ...or...,

  • Did the advert simply give the bare facts?

If you decide to answer an advertisement, answer the advert that contains the most information, and one that gives a kind and loving description. It shows that the breeder cares a great deal about the puppies and probably won't let them go indiscriminately.

Alternatives To Buying A Puppy

You might like to consider adopting a rescue dog (or if you're very luck, a puppy!) from your local Cocker Spaniel rescue centre.

Breeders are very often on the look-out for caring homes for their dams when they've reached their breeding limit. If this sounds of interest to you, you might want to register your interest with one or two local breeders.

Avoiding Puppy Mills: Conclusion

Vigilance and careful questioning will help you to separate the puppy farmer from genuine, responsible Cocker Spaniel breeders.

Take your time, ask your questions, and make your assessment. Don't be rushed or 'backed into a corner'.

Never accept a puppy without having first seen where it was bred, the mother and its siblings,  and if they offer to deliver your puppy, be firm and insist you call to collect it.

If any of this appears to be a problem for them, thank them and move on, you're very probably dealing with a puppy mill owner!

You can read more about puppy farms here, (including a video of a puppy mill raid in Tennessee). 

Here's a link to the ASPCA (American society for the prevention of cruelty to animals) if you'd like more information on how to avoid buying from puppy mills.

And if you're in the UK, here's a link to the RSPCA (Royal society for the prevention of cruelty to animals) who explain what they are doing to help put a stop to puppy farms.

Good luck!

How To Eradicate Puppy Mills

I received this letter from one of our visitors. It made quite a lot of sense so I thought I'd post it here.

How To Make Effective Change

I have been reading and telling the story of shunning puppy mills for 40 years, and they are still with us. Education and awareness will not make them go away because there are too many unwitting people in the world.

However, there are hints of ways to make possible changes that will help the situation a lot. Public push for regulation and enforcement has been an important impetus for change, but we need more.

A family member got me a pet shop puppy as a gift when I was going through a very rough time in my life. That is generally an unwise thing to do, but my dog is a gem and did make me feel better. The pet shop had him well socialized, kept him clean and exercised. They sold to anyone but required the buyers to fork over several thousand dollars up-front, which then gave them a year of free vet care at a local clinic including agreement to neuter.

Golden cocker spaniel puppy sitting on a white kitchen chair. Kitchen cupboards are visible in the background.What time's dinner Mum?

I think something like this as a law would go a long way in stopping impulse buys and ensuring proper puppy care and population control. My puppy came with up to date vaccinations. Because the law required the seller to do inoculations, and prove it by affixing the inoculation sticker to the paperwork as solid proof.

My family member signed a contract that included a 'waiver' of existing animal welfare laws, such as laws in place that require ensured health, or remedy of taking animal back....such laws should be universal, unable to be waived and strictly enforced by all who sell puppies.

I think those selling purebreds with known testable health problems should be required to test the parents for these problems before they are used for breeding, and should be required to disclose certification that the parents are clear of such defects or fully disclose any defects.

My puppy came with paperwork that gave the name of the breeder. Sadly I tracked this down and realized it was on the list of 'the horrible hundred' puppy mill. In the past this puppy mill had a fire that killed 'unknown' number of animals breeding in a barn. They had been cited in the past for poor conditions and poor animal health. Some changes were made thanks to the Inspectors issuing citations with follow-up, but there needs to be more accountability.

I found online pictures of what I think were my pup's parents. The mother is sitting in a stain-soaked plywood whelping box/dog house leading out to a catwalk with metal chain-link-fence like flooring. Some of the cited dogs had blisters on their feet from walking on cage bars. I love my pup very much, but I am saddened to think of his mother living in such conditions, and the fate of all his many brothers and sisters.

In the past I have worked with responsible breeders who were on-top of their litters; they tested for health, were willing to take animals back, and let buyers know if an issue developed with the parents or litter mates that might reflect on the pups. Working with a conscientious breeder who will keep in touch with you and help you train and work with your pet is by far the preferred method.

Thank You

By: Pauline
Website Author and Owner

Hello, You don't give your name but I would like to thank you for your contribution to my page. I wholeheartedly endorse all you say.

Your ideas for eradicating these unsafe and wicked practices are sound and I would love to see them fulfilled, however, it's not something that you or I can do alone. We need to get more people on board.

Keep telling your story about shunning the puppy mills (and I'll continue to write about them) and who knows, eventually, we may be able to help close many down.

Value of organizations
by: Anonymous

Thank you. I have since learned that the positive laws and changes I did see were thanks to a hard fought legal battle by local and national organizations also seeking change.

Photo credits for How to spot puppy mills:
1. Lilun at http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-family-english-cocker-spaniel-dogs-image23621952