How to Recognize a Puppy Mill
I have been working on my material regarding dog breeders and ethics, and I decided to create this page for my web site, with the hope that it may prevent someone the heartache that comes with making the wrong selection in choosing the breeder of their puppy. If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to forward them to me via the feedback page.
“Buy from a Breeder” that was the text of a popular bumper sticker available years ago when I first started out in dogs. But what exactly is a breeder? Isn’t anyone who brings a litter of puppies into this world a breeder? What distinguishes the ethical breeder from the Backyard Breeder? or the Commercial Breeder? or even worse the dreaded “PUPPYMILL”?
Puppymills are finally receiving the exposure required to make the public aware of what really happens in these operations. But not everyone has seen the 20/20 show, or read the Readers Digest articles (I give a copy out with every puppy!!). So I hope that this page will provide the information that you need to make an informed decision. Please note that these definitions are my opinions only…and used to attempt to clarify the various levels of integrity and ethics (or lack thereof) amongst the dog fancy.
THE PUPPYMILL – The Bottom of the Barrel
I am going to define a “Puppymill” as a commercial breeding operation where dogs are bred under totally abhorrent conditions solely for the purpose of creating a profit.
These operations usually have dogs stacked in cages one on top of the other with no trays between them so that urine and feces fall from the cages above on to the dogs below. Often several males and females are together in small pens, so that when the female is bred the puppymillernis not really sure which dog sired the litter. Females are bred on every heat cycle, until they are no longer producingnreasonably sized litters – at which time they are either sold at auction, or taken out back and shot. Puppies are whelped without human or veterinary assistance, under the assumption that the only the strongest will survive. The puppies that do manage to survive the poor feeding, and unsanitary conditions are shipped several to a cage to either pet stores or dog brokers for resale. There are usually several breeds kept under these conditions and this is where the wonderful whimsical names such as “Cock-a-poos” and “Schnoodles” develop – mixed breeds which will NEVER be recognized by the Canadian or American Kennel clubs…no matter how much your Pet Shop employee tries to convince you otherwise.
Needless to say there are no precautions taken as to screening for health clearances, or health guarantees given to the final purchaser other than that of the end retailer who usually gives a 30 day guarantee offering another puppy as a replacement. (Refund does not fit into the equation). Puppies are taken away from their mothers too young and are not properly socialized. Actually, the puppies that are sold are the lucky ones, their mothers stay to be bred over and over again, while being fed a totally inadequate diet, under filthy conditions until they are no longer able to produce.
Puppymillers are most often found in rural areas where the barking and howling of the dogs is less likely to upset neighbours, leading to investigations. One sign of a PM with these conditions is that you will never be allowed to see the conditions where your puppy has been raised, its parents or its siblings … it will be brought to you by the PM to a separate area away from their “kennels”. A puppy miller will also drive to meet you to drop off a puppy rather than have you come and inspect their facilities.
THE COMMERCIAL BREEDER – A 1/2 Step Up
The commercial breeder is a little better in that they are regulated in the U.S. by the U.S.D.A. and watched in Canada by the S.P.C.A. The facilities that the dogs are in are kept cleaner, and many actually have kennel help on hand to spend some time assisting at whelpings and socializing the puppies.
Once again they can be recognized by the fact that many breeds are available, that no questions are asked about you or your facilities (come with Cash or a credit card and you have your puppy).
The commercial breeder very rarely screens for known genetic defects, it is cheaper for them to replace the puppy from one of their many following litters. The dogs in the pedigree usually have names like “Bob”, or “Queenie” or “John’s Sheba”. (see reading a pedigree below) The only criteria required when breeding two dogs is that one is male, and the other is female. If they happen to be the same breed (or at least look like they are), then that is a bonus, because thenthey may also be registerable if the commercial breeder happens to have registration papers for the parents.
The quality of a dog purchased from either a puppymiller or a commercial breeder is always suspect. Because there is no intention to breed towards improvement of the breed, faults are perpetuated and exaggerated through the generations resulting in severely deformed dogs, or dogs that have poor temperaments, or succumb early in life to genetic maladies.
THE BACKYARD BREEDER – A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing!
Let me clarify this term right off the bat by stating that not having proper kennel facilities does NOT immediately make someone a backyard breeder. MANY good ethical breeders (myself included) prefer to maintain a small number of dogs that can live in the house with them, rather than have a larger number outdoors in kennels.
The term “Backyard Breeder” refers to someone who chooses to breed their family pet because she’s so cute, or because everyone wanted one of her puppies (and the homes disappeared when they were born), or because they wanted their children to see the “miracle of birth”, or because the bitch “wouldn’t feel fulfilled” unless she had a litter, or because “they live longer (or are more feminine) if they’ve had a litter”, or any number of other Old Wives Tales.
The BYB chooses the mate to their dog based on proximity … they have a Golden Retriever, and so does the guy in the next block. Once again they don’t do any health clearances, but the puppies are usually raised in a better environment than in either a puppymill or a commercial breeding establishment. No guarantees are given with the puppies, and sometimes no registration papers either, because the mother was sold on a non-breeding agreement in Canada, or a limited registration in the U.S., although I have seen a creative BYB make up a “Purebred Dog Certificate” on a colour printer and give it to a poor sucker who only realized what had happened when his son decided he wanted to compete with the dog in obedience, and it wasn’t eligible.
The BYB may very well sell you a healthy happy puppy, it may actually come from very good lines. BUT, most likely your relationship with the BYB is going to end as soon as your cheque clears the bank.
So, given that all breeders must have bred their first litter at some point, what makes the difference between a Backyard Breeder and an Ethical Breeder?
THE ETHICAL BREEDER – Your Adopted Family
When the breeder who chose to follow this path bred their first litter, they most likely did it with the advice and assistance of a “mentor” – a knowledgeable person in the breed who gives of their time and advice to help a Newbie learn the ropes. Most of us who mentor others in the breed are almost always willing to help and teach those who display their willingness to learn – by their attention, their intelligent questions, their participation in dog related activities. In this way there is a continuous progression of new breeders in a breed as the elders retire.
The Ethical Breeder would have had all possible health clearances for genetic defects done on their female before looking to breed her. Depending on the breed this could be x-raying hips and/or elbows, Von Willebrands testing, eye clearances, thyroid testing, etc. The EB will be honest with themselves about the faults of the female that they wish to breed, and will search for a mate who is exceptionally strong in those areas. While the ideal mate MAY be in the EB’s own kennel, more often than not they will be breeding to someone else’s dog, because their ethics to not allow them to maintain a large string of stud dogs sitting in kennels.
The pedigrees of the dogs to be bred are studied for compatibility and incompatibilities.By this I mean that breeding of certain “lines” of dogs together, may result in excellent puppies, or doubling up on certain ancestors could spell disaster. Breeding is always a matter of playing “genetic roulette”, but the ethical breeder stacks the game in their favour (and the purchasers) by being aware of what combinations produce what results. A knowledgeable Ethical Breeder will be able to tell you why they chose to breed the dogs that produced the puppies you are interested in.
The EB monitors the bitch’s pregnancy and is present and/or assists at the whelping. Puppies are handled frequently to socialize them and to monitor their progress, daily weigh ins are common to ensure that all puppies are gaining evenly.
Puppies will receive vaccinations when appropriate and wormings when required. Prospective parents are screened by the EB as closely as if they were adopting a child instead of a puppy. The EB will ask YOU for references and many questions about your preferences and lifestyle, and will be willing to provide you with references in return. An Ethical Breeder is not in a hurry to sell off their puppies, and may refuse you or recommend another
breed if they honestly do not feel it is the correct breed for you. An Ethical Breeder will also turn down huge financial offers from other countries for their puppies if they are unable to make contacts to screen the purchasers, because their primary interest is that each and every puppy go to the very best home possible. Another point is that most Ethical Breeders work full time to support this very expensive hobby, because they realize that there is no money to be made in breeding dogs PROPERLY.
One point about an EB, is that they will not mind if you visit other kennels and talk with other breeders (as long as you don’t go the same day you visit them in order to lessen the risk of carrying disease). Other breeders will provide references for the Ethical Breeder, and they will be willing to refer you to other breeders if they don’t have puppies at the time you contact them. For myself, I know that I don’t have to like a “person” to refer puppy buyers to them, I just have to feel that they are ethical in regards to their dogs, and support for their puppy buyers.
The Ethical Breeder will supply you with a pedigree and diet sheet as a minimum. Many also supply you with a puppy pack. They are available almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if you have any problems with your puppy. They offer a period for you to have your puppy checked by your own veterinarian and a full refund if you aren’t happy with the vets findings. They will take back dogs that they have bred if the owner is unable to keep them (can you just see a Puppymill doing that???). And the Ethical Breeder becomes family … a grandma or grandpa who actually never tires of hearing your puppy stories, who will give you advice when you want it and support when you need it.
When interviewing breeders ask for the names of people who have purchased puppies from them before … and call them!!! What they have to say about their breeder will tell you a lot. One final caveat when interviewing breeders. The length of time spent breeding dogs does not necessarily indicate quality. A breeder can breed for 25 years and actually go DOWNHILL if they are not careful about their breeding practices. First, second and third place ribbons mounted on the walls can be meaningless. You should be aware that a dog can actually win a first place ribbon if it is the ONLY dog in its class. Also, if it is a POOR specimen of its breed, the judge may award it a SECOND place, even if it is the only dog in its class. Specialty awards, titles and group placements, are much better indicators of the quality of a breeders dogs.
A breeder will supply you with a Pedigree of your dog. This is simply a family tree, it is not a registration paper, and it does not guarantee that you will receive registration papers. All it does is give you a listing of the dogs in the background of your puppy. Even mixed breeds have a pedigree if their parentage is known.
Looking at the pedigree will tell you many things though. First it will tell you which dogs have completed Championship requirements for which countries. A Ch. in front of a dogs name means it is a champion and usually refers to the country the dog is in, e.g. Ch. to a Canadian breeder means a Canadian Champion, while a Ch. to an American or English breeder would refer to their country. When a dogs is a Champion in multiple countries, the countries are usually listed, such as Am/Can/Mex. Ch. – would refer to a dog who is a champion in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Very few countries use the term “Grand Champion” (Japan, Australia and New Zealand are the few I know of), so put up your warning antennae if your chosen breeder starts using this term.*
(*Update – 4/14/12 – In 2010 both Canada and the United States established Grand Champion requirements. Personally, I am not a fan of the U.S. format for attaining a Grand Championship as it appears to be nothing more than a money making scheme for the AKC. A dog can attain a U.S. Grand Championship without ever winning the breed. I am seeing a LOT of mediocre quality dogs completing the requirements when it is questionable whether they should have even completed a championship. On the other end of the scale the Canadian Grand Championship is being criticized for being too difficult. A dog needs to win a Best in Show and 3 Group 1’s, plus 100 Grand Championship points. Although it is extremely difficult to achieve, to me at least the GCh in Canada means something and I prefer the fact that it will only be awarded to the best of the best!)
A BIS in front of the name usually means that the dog has won Best in Show at an All-Breed dog show, which is quite an honour. A SBIS or BISS, usually refers to a Specialty Best in Show (or Best in Specialty Show), where only dogs of that breed are shown.
Working titles come at the end of a dogs name. CD is a high school diploma in Obedience, CDX is college, and UD is a masters degree. Sometimes you will see a Ch & OTCh. on a dog. In Canada this refers to a dog who is a Conformation Champion and a Utility Dog. In the United States it is more difficult to achieve the OT Ch. title. On working dogs there can be other titles at the end of the name, CGC is Canine Good Citizen, TDI registered with Therapy Dogs International, WC and WCX are hunting titles for sporting dogs, FCh. and FChX are field title champions for Hounds for Lure Coursing or Hunting. The SD and SDX are Sled Dog titles for Nordic Breeds, and the DD is a draft dog title for working dogs.
It is said that a “balanced dog” has a title at each end of its name.
A good breeding is usually one where at least 75% of the dogs in the pedigree have achieved at least one title, either Conformation or Working titles, depending upon the purpose for which the dog is bred. The breeder should be able to discuss the dogs in the pedigree with you, their strengths and weaknesses, and possibly even supply pictures. Here are two pedigrees, one for a typical puppymill/commercial type puppy, the other a pedigree for a litter I have bred. See if you can spot the differences.
|PEDIGREE OF PUPPY “A”|
|Prince Rover III||Happy Toes||Robert’s Rover|
|Lablover’s Ebony Hope|
|Sheba||Earl of Balfour|
|Rustic Shady Lady|
|Queenie||Jack of Swiftcreek||Ch. Swiftcreek Take a Chance|
|Ch. Swiftcreek Daisy, WCX|
|Blackwater Lady||Donegal Tidalwave, CD, WCX|
“Well, hold on!!!” you say. “Look at that third generation!! There are Champions AND Working titles in there!!”
Yes, and this is the type of pedigree that usually backs up an ad in your local paper that says “champion pedigreed”. There are 14 dogs in a three generation pedigree, and 3 have conformation and/or working titles … less than 25%.
The most likely story here is that Jack was purchased from a reputable breeder. Lady was most likely purchased from a Backyard breeder who wanted a hunting dog.
Lady’s owner, another BYB, approached Jacks owner about using him for stud (after all he does come from good lines!!). Then because Lady’s owners were not careful about placements Queenie sadly ended up in a puppy mill.
- Compare that to this pedigree of an actual litter:
OF PUPPY “B”
|Am/Cdn Ch Merrymoon Firestorm”Hunter”||SBIS Am/Cdn Ch. Phi-Vestavia’s Pirates Patch”Dillon”||Am. Ch. Joseter Geefax, JW”Jeepers”||Daleviz Vermillion|
|Am. Ch. Kentwood Lyneth”Lyneth”||Ch. Downholme Silversand of Joseter|
|Eng. Ch. Kentwood Bethan|
|Ch. Phi-Vestavia Unforgettable”Rosie”||SBIS Am/Cdn Ch. Phi-Vestavia Nautilus, PT, CGC,TDI”Percy”||Am/Cdn. Ch. Salvenik Sea Treasure”Rupert”|
|SBIS Am/Can. Ch. Phi’s Amazing Grace Ap Ronel|
|Am/Cdn Ch. Rikarlo American Phi”Beauty”||Ch. Talbot’s Steer ‘Em Right Billy|
|Am./Can. Ch. Twinroc Honey of Demondo|
|PARENTS||GRANDPARENTS||GREAT GRANDPARENTS||GREAT GREAT GRANDPARENTS|
|Ch. Yasashiikuma Cinnamon Heart”Abbey”||Am/Cdn Ch. Markwell’s Matthew Cuthbert”Matthew”||Am/Cdn Ch. Tessaract’s Pete of Santana, CD”Peter”||Am. Ch. Quicks Charlemagne|
|Checkmate Amber Tesseract|
|Am/Cdn Ch. Markwell’s Maggie Tulliver”Maggie”||Am.Ch. Talbot’s Pilot Programme|
|Am/Cdn. Ch. Finnshavn’s Julia Jarvis|
|Ch. Yasashiikuma Heart of Gold”Candy”||SBIS Am/Cdn.Ch. Tessaract’s Pete of Santana, CD”Peter”||Am Ch. Quicks Charlemagne|
|Checkmate Amber Tesseract|
|Ch. Finnshavn Disglaircopr Ceinoig”Penny”||Ch. Markwell’s Silas Marner|
|Am/Cdn/Bda Ch. Sweet Molly Magee|
I can further tell you that in this pedigree are every Canadian National Specialty Winner from 1986 to 1992
- Am/Cdn Ch. Phi’s Amazing Grace Ap Ronel – 1986
- Am/Cdn Ch. Tesseract’s Pete of Santana, CD – 1987, 1988, 1990
- Am/Cdn Ch. Phi-Vestavia Nautilus, PT, CGC, TDI – 1989
- Am/Cdn Ch Phi-Vestavia’s Pirate’s Patch – 1991, 1992
The sire of the litter has shown at 4 U.S. Specialties, and won Best of Winners at 3 of them (1998 National Specialty and two 1999 Regionals) and went Reserve Winners at the 1999 National. As well the pedigree provides links to photos of the various dogs.
There are 30 names in the 4 generation pedigree above, of which 4 do not have any titles (and I had to go to 4 generations to get those!), therefore 86% of the dogs have conformation or working titles. If we remove the duplication of names due to the line breeding on “Peter” we are reduced to 27 names of which 3 are not titled, or 81% titled.
A registration is a proof that your dog is purebred, that its parents are registered with the kennel club of the country in which it was born and that it is eligible to compete in AKC/CKC sanctioned events.
REGISTRATION IS NOT A GUARANTEE OF QUALITY!!!
Sadly this is true. No matter how poor an example of its breed a dog is, it is registerable with the Kennel Club as long as its parents were registered. Therefore the advertisements that say that pups are AKC or CKC registered do not mean a lot to the pet puppy purchaser. You need to learn to read the pedigree of the puppy you are looking to purchase if you are looking for an indication of quality.
In Canada the breeder is responsible for submitting the registrations andthis must be done within 6 months of the date of sale. Canadian breeders are regulated by Federal Agriculture laws which states that all dogs sold as purebreds must be registered, the cost of the registration must be borne by the breeder, and the breeder MAY NOT charge extra for the papers.
In the United States some breeders may choose to register their puppies, but most will give the purchaser the blue registration slip and have the purchaser register the dog.
In Canada puppies which are not sold for breeding purposes are usually sold on Non-Breeding Agreements.The U.S. equivalent to this is the Limited Registration. A responsible breeder who cares about the future status of their breed will ask you to agree to these conditions, to ensure that only the best representatives of the breed are bred, and to ensure that registration papers do not somehow fall into the hands of puppymillers.
|SUMMARY OF TYPES OF BREEDERS|
|XX||PUPPYMILLER||COMMERCIAL KENNEL||BACKYARD BREEDER||ETHICAL BREEDER|
|Reason for Breeding||Profit||Profit||Profit, Miracle of Birth,
Just to try it
|Improvement of the Breed|
|Conditions of Facilities||Unsanitary||Usually Sanitary||Sanitary||Sanitary|
|Number of Breeds Kept*||Many Including Mixed Breeds||Many including Mixed Breeds||Usually One||Usually 1-3*|
|Pedigrees||Few or no titles||Few or no titles||May or may not have titles||Usually >75% titled dogs|
|Whelping conditions||Alone unaided||May be aided||May be assisted or vet assisted||Assisted or vet assisted|
|Health Clearances||None||None||None||Any or all of hips, elbows, hearts, eyes, thyroid|
|Age puppies sold||4 weeks||4 weeks||6-8 weeks||8-12 weeks|
|Puppies sold to……||Pet stores/brokers||Pet Stores/Public||Public (possibly unwittingly to Puppymills)||Carefully screened homes|
|References available||None||USDA or SPCA inspection only||None||Prior purchasers, other breeders|
*Sometimes, if a few Ethical Breeders share a residence there may be more than 3 breeds on the premises. An example that comes to mind is friends who both bred one breed, the husband bred another, the wife 2 others, and their kennel girl another, so in total there were 5 breeds on the premises.