How to spot a puppy mill or backyard breeder

  • I recently wrote a blurb online that I shot across the depths of Facebook in an attempt to inform the masses and thus hopefully put a wrench in the gears of puppy mills. Forgive some of the overly plain speak below…it is written for lowest common denominator of pre-existing dog knowledge and common sense. Thus I also chose to be overly explanatory in favor of leaving nothing to doubt.


    Here is a fairly comprehensive list of red flags that often pop up with puppy mills and backyard breeders along with the worst-case scenarios and why these red flags should constitute suspicion of unethical breeding and business practices. Any one of these flags alone do not constitute a bad breeder but any one or combination thereof should constitute SUSPICION of the breeder's ultimate intentions (i.e. happy animals and people OR cold hard cash) until they have proven to you that they have good intentions. Exceptions, mistakes, and special circumstances are one thing…but if you see a "breeder" that checks off most of these red flags, take a guess what you're probably looking at especially if they are located in the Midwest (MISSOURI and Kansas in particular). From there it's your conscious decision whether or not to purchase a puppy from that person!

    1. Selling of multiple breeds simultaneously.
    Most people don't have the time to be responsible, knowledgeable breeders of multiple breeds simultaneously let alone one at a time! Most people who breed multiple breeds rotate what they're breeding so they can devote all their time and expertise to one breed at a time but still enjoy multiple breeds over the years. If someone is selling multiple breeds of puppies, they may be more interested in diversifying their products just like any business tries to offer more than one product so they can attract a variety of customers and their money.

    2. Multiple litters available simultaneously of the same breed or multiple breeds.
    Think about it: what kind of "operation" would it take to properly take care of multiple pregnant dogs and then their numerous litters of puppies all at once? A "puppy mill" operation?

    3. A breeder's website with any of the following features:
    a. "Stock" photography (photos take from the internet, i.e. not their own genuine photos).
    Could be: The few photos they have you wouldn't want to see.
    b. No pictures of the property.
    Could be: You don't want to see the conditions their animals live in.
    c. No pictures of the people involved in breeding (owners, their children, etc.).
    Could be: They don't want you or the authorities to know what they look like after you find out they ripped you off.
    d. No pictures of the dad and mom dogs ("sire and dam").
    Could be: Mom and dad are maybe not even purebred, probably unhealthy, maybe dead.
    e. No health records or mention of health at all for sire and dam.
    Could be: They may have never been to the vet ever.
    f. No pictures of the puppies with their mom (whelping).
    Could be: Puppies may have been taken from their mom prematurely (causing all sorts of potentially life-long behavioral issues).
    g. No pictures of the puppies with their litter-mates or any other dogs or people period.
    Could be: Living conditions too disgusting to show; socialization may be little more than competing for food.
    h. No full address of location listed.
    Could be: They are trying to hide all identifying information, hmm…
    i. No full name of breeder listed.
    Could be: Same as above (fake names may be given).
    j. Listings of dogs that look like eBay or another online shopping website (separate ads for each puppy in long lists).
    Could be: You shouldn't be looking for the "shopping cart" or "checkout". Buying a puppy is not like buying a pair of shoes.
    k. For pictures in the listings, each individual puppy is placed on a blanket next to something cute like a teddy bear.
    Could be: This little scene is a ruse meant to disarm your suspicion with cuteness.
    l. Puppies do not have sire and dam named even, much less info and pictures of their parents.
    Could be: The people who buy these dogs don't care or don't know they should care about a dog's lineage (if only for health reasons).
    m. The phone number or other identifying information listed is also listed on other breeders websites without the acknowledgement of the connection and/or on craigslist, newspaper classified ads, puppy selling websites, etc.
    Could be: They are the same person(s) running multiple websites and advertisements trying to sell their dogs however they can to whoever they can.
    n. AKC registration is "offered" (not the default) for a premium.
    Could be: They'll be happy to forge it and charge you an extra $400.
    o. Multiple differing birth dates of various puppies
    Could be: multiple litters!
    p. Offers to ship sight-unseen to anywhere in the country.
    Could be: they are Amazon for puppies.

    Allow me to demonstrate what a puppy mill operation looks like. Please visit this website:
    Looks kinda nice, doesn't it? Nothing immediately jumps out at you and says "bad guy", does it? Not really, unless you know better. But take note of all the red flags I mentioned that this website checks off. The perfect stock photos, all the breeds and puppies available, the puppy listings that look like "online shopping"/eBay. Where's all the info about sires and dams, about the breeder? Photos of the property and living areas? Photos of the breeder and parent dogs? Notice the eBay style puppy listings and business tone to all the details about the puppies. "Shipping available anywhere in the contiguous USA and Canada". [When I was last on that website 2 weeks ago there were 40+ Basenji puppies of all coat colors and with 6 different birth dates across the whole lot fo them…that's at least 6 litters! But now most have been sold to unsuspecting owners]

    If all of these red flags aren't enough to make you worry about buying a puppy from this "website", you don't have to dig much further to find out that this "kennel" is actually a puppy mill. Plain as day it is listed as a puppy mill operation by The Humane Society of the United States in their report, "101 Puppy Mills: A Sampling of Problem Puppy Mills in the United States" (Use the "find" feature with CTRL+F or Apple key+F to search for Rock Creek Kennel):
    That article also mentions another kennel associated with the operators. Sure enough, the phone number 913-549-7817 from Rock Creek Kennel is also listed for Clover Acres Farm, a kennel posing as an entirely different kennel/business that also just so happens to sell multiple breeds with a website that also hits all the red flags I listed above:

    As if that wasn't enough…

    FINALLY, some REAL pictures…of one of the owner's past dogs, in poor health of course (including a Basenji with what appears to be mange/demodex):

    An rescue/shelter organization's battle against him including evidence that this puppy mill is selling Shiba's to a pet store in California:

    News article about the Rock Creek Kennel reputed to be nothing more than 60 puppies living in a garage with the puppy mill operators throwing dead puppies into vegetation bordering their property:

    Oh look, this "breeder", "Buzz", at one point had a business (not a non-profit) called "Iowa Basenji Rescue". Sounds nice doesn't?
    …except that his entire Basenji breeding business may have been founded off the back of animals that were suppose to be "rescued".

    I can tell you one thing for sure: Whether you want a Basenji puppy, a Shiba Inu puppy, a Bull Terrier puppy, a Westie puppy, a Japanese Chin puppy, a Wire Fox Terrier puppy, an Akita puppy, a Pomeranian puppy, or a Chihuahua puppy (all the breeds this ONE breeder offers)...if you call 913-549-7817, you're going to speak with someone who operates a puppy mill.

  • Websites are very misleading. If the registered names of both parents are not able to be located in the OFA data base proving health testing was done, they are a BYB or puppy mill and you should run in the other direction. should be the first place any buyer goes to verify what the "breeder" is telling them is true.

  • and for what rock creek charges for an unregistered dog, you can get a fully registered dog from a reputable breeder, key is to get on a waiting list a year out.

  • Amen to that Lisa!!!

  • And for those that say "we aren't looking to show or don't need a registered dog"…it's not about the registration- it's about the fact that registering also means you are health testing and doing their best to provide you with a dog whose breed health concerns have been thought about, bred to eliminate them or diminish the occurrence of...and that should be one of the TOP concerns when looking for a Basenji.

    The fact that some charge the same for a dog without any of these concerns, parameters and considerations is utterly ridiculous..

  • I agree with Lisa… while your list can be helpful, puppymillers have learned to look very reputable making it much harder to look at the website to determine. The bottom line is, no matter if they sell one breed or more, they can be a puppymill. And there are certainly some very legit responsible breeders with 2 or even 4 breeds! My entry into dog breeding/showing was a woman who had English bulldogs, her daughter had aghans and setters. If they don't have pedigrees and health testing info on the web page, I'd run. If they have it and you check OFA and find they falsified, or only maybe the current or some of their dogs have testing.. run. The rest they can fake or pretend but generations of health clearances generally aren't part of a puppymill.

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