Puppy mills—this term in the dog breeding industry that is usually a derogatory one, and for good reason. In the traditional sense of the word, a puppy mill is a “backyard” breeding program where a breeder will purchase several dogs solely for the purpose of raising puppies to sell, subject these breeding dogs to living in unsuitable conditions, and breed the mother dogs as much as possible for as long as the mother dog will be able to produce puppies.
While this definition is fairly correct, the term puppy mills have led many well-meaning potential pup parents to shy away from those breeders who have a smaller, more intimate at-home setting for their dog breeding hobby. Remember, according to the American Kennel Club, any breeder should do what they do to promote the positive characteristics of the breed and improve the breed if anything. Many “hobby” breeders are often grouped with unethical breeders unfairly.
So, within this article, we’ll discuss the difference between a puppy farm and a hobbyist breeder as well as how to know you can trust the “backyard” breeder when looking to purchase a puppy.
A More Proper Definition of Puppy Mill
The key idea to identifying a puppy mill is to identify the breeder’s motivations. Puppy mills “mass produce” puppies, often so they can be sold in pet stores. However, some puppy mills will sell to individual customers as well. Most often, this is done via the internet or classified ads in local newspapers.
However, there are hobbyist breeders who use the internet or newspaper ads to sell puppies too! It’s important to be able to tell the difference between a hobbyist breeder who may only have one or two litters per year and a puppy mill or puppy farm where living conditions for both the mom and the puppies are deplorable.
1. You will likely not be able to visit a puppy mill’s breeding facility.
Puppy mill owners typically will not allow a potential customer to come to their facility site. This is why it’s always important to ask about meeting the puppy’s mom before you buy. A hobbyist breeder is more than happy to allow you on the premises, or, if the hobbyist raises puppies in his or her home, you can at least get a live video of mom and babies (it’s understandable that a hobbyist breeder doesn’t want to open her home to a stranger, but they also understand that you want to ensure you’re getting a healthy pup).
The reason a puppy farm owner will make excuses for avoiding a personal visit to the facilities is obvious. Often, the puppy mill may have several dogs outside in a pen or may be separated by a fence. The puppies may be in dirty, uncomfortable surroundings. Some puppy farms even have mom tethered to a fence. Overall, the place will often be dirty and overrun by dogs both male and female.
The puppy mill breeder realizes seeing puppies in such a condition would likely warrant a call to local animal control authorities, so it is in their best interest to keep most folks away from the facility.
2. Puppy mill owners look at the bottom line—they only see a dollar sign where the puppy is concerned.
It used to be that the breeder provided the first basic vaccinations for puppies, and that was the extent of the healthcare a breeder was responsible for. Puppy farm owners will still offer to have the puppies wormed and the first set of shots at six weeks. However, a reputable breeder has already spent a great deal of money to get a healthy mom, and the babies are equally important as far as health goes.
Many reputable breeders have had their purebred dogs undergo genetic testing using the best dog DNA test kits to ensure they are not producing puppies susceptible to genetic health issues. In fact, another way to determine whether you’re dealing with a reputable breeder is to ask for any type of health certification. (Different breeds often undergo different testing, but a knowledgeable breeder will already know what tests that particular breed should have undergone.)
3. Puppy mills are legal in most states.
Unfortunately, most states allow people to have as many dogs on their property as they wish. This is why it’s important that you “do your homework” on a breeder so that you don’t unwittingly pick a dog from a puppy mill .
About ninety percent of all puppies in pet stores come from a puppy mill facility. It is important to know that most retailers don’t ask for health certifications nor do they tour breeding facilities to ensure the pet store is getting a healthy puppy.
In the true derogatory sense of a puppy mill, some breeders will keep dogs in cages for their entire lifespan just to be able to raise puppies to sell. These parent dogs are never happy. They never get to enjoy life with their humans, and they tend to live a lot less long than a dog that is raised by caring pet parents. This is the reason you hear the slogan “Adopt, don’t shop.” 
4. Some puppy mills purposely breed unhealthy dogs for “designer” mixes or “toy” puppies.
The practice of “designer” breeding has become popular in the last thirty years. For the most part, the folks who do engage in “hybrid” breeding do so because they love the resulting puppies. Take for instance the Labradoodle (a mix of Labrador Retriever and the Poodle). The Labradoodle is a highly popular designer breed dog, and it usually does have the intelligence of both pet parents as well as a keen prey drive and the all-important “hypoallergenic” hair. Most breeders take very good care of their breeding stock and only breed the mothers once a year. They may even keep up with the “generations” of the designer mix (this is the “F1” and such that you see in the description of the dog).
However, there are some breeders who have learned “designer” dogs are a “niche” market, and they exploit the market to the fullest extent. Again, always be prepared with questions for your potential pup’s breeder. Ask to visit the facilities or for a live video. Ask for health certifications in the breeding parents. Make sure the facility is clean and that the mom and pups look to be fairly happy and healthy.
Now, let’s look at one particularly egregious area of puppy farms—the “toy” breed phenomenon.
Surely I can trust a “toy” breeder, right?
Yes and no.
Let’s just be honest here. There is no such thing as a “toy” breed or a “mini” breed. The American Kennel Club only recognizes ONE dog breed as having a “miniature” variation and a “toy” variation, the Poodle. Most smaller Poodles are healthy, and the variation has been around so long that it’s likely any health issues have already worked themselves out of the breed. In other words, you can typically choose a “mini” or “toy” Poodle with confidence the puppy is going to be healthy.
However, when it comes to “toy” or “mini” variations in other breeds, these very small pups usually came into existence via a malevolent method of breeding.
If you’re familiar with the term “runt” when it comes to litters, you know this is the smallest of the siblings. Sometimes the runt is smaller due to health issues. Unfortunately, sometimes the runt does not make it past a few weeks of life. Even if the runt DOES live, the pup may have lifelong health problems.
Unethical breeders who want to market a dog as a “toy,” a “teacup,” or a “mini” variation typically get these very small puppies from breeding two “runts” together to make a very small puppy. If the two “runt” parents are fairly healthy, no big deal. However, it is when a breeder chooses to use two unhealthy “runts” for breeding purposes that breeding becomes unethical.
The puppies of these “runts” usually inherit whatever it is that makes the runts unhealthy. However, unethical breeders never disclose that the puppy’s parents aren’t healthy. Plus, because this is such a big trend with customers, more unethical breeders are breeding unhealthy canine parents in order to cash in as much as possible.
It is important to remember that breeding dogs should be cared for and pampered just like a pet would be. It is unfair to use these dogs to breed over and over, often causing them health problems and creating health issues in their puppies. Dog breeding facilities, whether in a commercial setting or in one’s backyard, should always be clean and the breeding dogs should be able to happily interact with you. They should never be shy or scared of humans because they’ve actually spent time outside of a cage or pen with their humans.
Puppy mills are usually very dirty. Some breeding dogs will lay in their own waste; they have no choice as they are typically confined in a small pen or cage. Also, the puppies are usually taken from the mother before they are eight weeks old.
It’s important to remember that at one time, six weeks of age was the standard for weaning puppies from their mother. However, it is not unusual for puppies to stay with their mother through their eighth week or even up to ten weeks of age. It’s actually healthier for the mom and the puppy, and, when Fido comes home with you, he will be much less likely to spend several nights whining in his dog crate because he misses mom and siblings.
It is also important to remember that, in puppy farm conditions, sick dogs rarely get veterinary care.
Let’s talk about backyard breeders
While puppy mill owners are downright unethical, it isn’t so easy to determine whether backyard breeders are reputable or not.
Some backyard breeders will only allow for the breeding of family pets once a year (maybe not even that often). They do wish to make a profit, but, their breeding stock gets better vet care.
The issue with a backyard breeder is that she may not understand how important genetic testing is for the health of future puppies, or the backyard breeder may not guarantee the health of the puppy.
Most backyard breeders will allow you on their premises to visit the mother dog. However, if they have an unethical operation going, they may refuse. That should be a huge red flag.
Some designer dogs are bred by backyard breeders. If the backyard breeder offers to give the puppy to you before it is six weeks of age, you may need to question the ethics of the breeder.
Finally, the breeder should always have questions for YOU, the potential buyer. If they are truly worried about the future of the puppy, they want to know why you want the dog, how many other dogs you may have, what your experience with dogs maybe, etc. If the breeder never broaches these topics, you may wish to buy from someone else.
1. What is a dog breeding farm?
A dog breeding farm is a facility where the breeders raise dogs as if they are a cash crop, such as beans, corn, or cotton. Production is the key to a dog-breeding farm. While there are some hobbyist breeders who have two, three, or four mother dogs that they care for extensively, unethical breeders may have hundreds of dogs on their premises that are bred or having a litter of puppies at any given time.
2. Are puppy farms illegal?
Unfortunately, no. In most states, it is perfectly legal for people to have as many dogs as they wish on their property, hence the puppy farms.
3. Is dog breeding a good business?
It depends on how one runs the business. Small breeding facilities often spend much more than they ever make, but to these breeders, it is more important to produce a healthy puppy that ensures the breed will carry on rather than to mass-produce puppies. If one is out to simply make money off raising puppies, then it could grow to “puppy mill” status, which is a horrible way to do business.
4. How do I start a dog breeding farm?
Start by purchasing one or two mother dogs. Make sure they have necessary health certifications and be sure they are fed and pampered properly. They’ll also need proper exercise.