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How to Identify and Avoid Puppy Farms

Mar 29, 2021
Group of cute puppies

What is a puppy farm? A puppy farmer is an individual that breeds puppies illegally. Often, this means that the puppy has not been bred correctly, potentially even via inbreeding, and has been brought up in unhealthy conditions. This often causes many issues throughout the dog’s life, both physically and mentally.

When you’re searching for a puppy, particularly if it’s your first time, you may not know what to look out for to avoid puppy farms or even that you should be avoiding them. You may only become suspicious when your dog starts showing behavioural issues or symptoms of certain conditions that you wouldn’t expect in a legally bred dog.

Let’s go through some ways to identify and avoid puppy farms in your search for a new puppy.

Cute puppies in a trailer

How often is the seller advertising puppies?

If you find a puppy online that you like, one easy thing you can do to identify a puppy farmer to check how often the seller is advertising puppies. The way to do this is to take their contact information search for it on puppy selling website and search engines like Google. The reasoning for this is that many puppy farms are continually copying and pasting puppy descriptions to reach as many potential buyers as possible. If you find that the individual is putting up multiple listings every day, there’s a very good chance that they are part of a puppy farm operation

White puppy and adult dog touching noses

Compare the picture advertised with the real life puppy

When you visit any puppy, it’s a good idea to bring the advertised picture along with you and compare this with the puppy you’re introduced to.

Does the picture match the dog that you are looking at, or is there a noticeable difference? Some people who are unaware of what a puppy farm is don’t realize that these people put up generic pictures of a certain dog breed to lure in buyers. In this picture, the puppy will look like they’re in perfect condition and exactly what you’d expect from that particular breed.

If the picture and the puppy don’t match up, then ask the breeder for a reason. Whilst it can be a sign of a puppy farm, it could have also been an administration error or a little laziness of the breeder's part.

Cute dog in a cage

The condition of the kennel

Inspecting the condition of the kennel is one of the most straightforward ways to identify a puppy farm. Any respectable puppy owner or breeder that cares about their puppies will do their best to keep a clean kennel. If you notice that they are living in a dirty kennel, or that the living conditions are worse than you imagined, or the kennel/cage is small, this is a sign that the puppy might come from a puppy farm.

When visiting a puppy, you should ask the breeder if it is possible to take a tour of their facility. If you meet with someone that is interested in selling you a puppy, but they are not interested in showing you their facility - this is a potential red flag.

Two cute puppies poking their head through a fence

Location

If a dog breeder only wants to meet you in a public place, such as a service station, it’s natural for this to arouse your suspicions. Why can’t you meet them at their kennel? Are they trying to hide something? Are they trying to make the process go quicker to prevent the buyer asking too many questions or seeing the potentially poor state the animal has been bred in?

You may think that meeting a breeder in a well-kept family home is a good sign, but that’s not necessarily the case. Unfortunately, some puppy farms are aware of the obvious signs buyers look out for and therefore use stage homes and families to introduce people to their puppies. In this scenario, it’s key to pay attention to the puppy’s behaviour; do they look comfortable in this environment, as if they’ve grown up there, or do they look shy, scared, or even inquisitive as if it is an unusual place full of unusual people?

There is a good chance that the individual has a puppy farm if they want to meet you at a different location. A legitimate breeder has nothing wrong with individuals taking a stroll through their facility since they don’t have anything to hide. If they lack this kind of transparency, there’s a good chance that they are operating a puppy farm of some sort, so you should avoid them.

Two cute puppies

Socialization

One key thing to look for when you’re viewing a puppy is how they socialize, both with humans and the other dogs in the kennel. Do they seem to socialize in a healthy manner at all or are they skittish, fearful, or aggressive?

Sadly, puppy farms are more interested in making money than they are in making the puppy happy and ensuring they are set up to live a long, healthy life. This usually means they don’t put any effort into ensuring the puppy is properly socialized.

Clearly, people who work in puppy farms are unlikely to give their dogs the love and care that a professional, legal breeder would. Unfortunately, the chances are that they treat them poorly and may even be abusive towards them. You should be able to tell almost immediately if this is the case with a puppy you’re viewing. If they’re visibly scared of you and the breeder, then you’re likely to be dealing with a puppy farm.

With all that said, it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between a poorly treated dog and a naturally shy dog. Like humans, all puppies have different personalities and some of them are shy. One way to tell the difference is to compare them to other puppies in the litter/kennel. If they’re the only one acting shy or aggressive, then it may well just be their personality.

Beagle behind a fence

Look/ask for references

The unfortunate truth is that many people can be deceiving and cunning. How do you know whether someone is legitimate or not by just taking their word for it?

The best way to get an unbiased view of a breeder is to ask for some client references or, even better, find references online. If they refuse to offer any references, this is obviously a bad sign - especially if they claim that they have been breeding dogs for some time. People involved in puppy farming will be less likely to provide references because they’re obviously unlikely to be positive.

What’s one of the best references that you can get to put your fears about a puppy farm at ease? A veterinarian reference! If the individual offers one or several vet references - this is a good sign that you are dealing with a legitimate breeder and not one with a puppy farm.

Two cute golden retriever puppies

Is there a contract?

Sometimes, one very simple issue will highlight that you’re dealing with a puppy farm. One of those is whether there will be a legally binding contract signed by both parties. Not having a contract will almost certainly identify a puppy farm, whereas having a contract doesn’t necessarily mean the breeder is legitimate.

The contract may contain details about letting the breeder know about any potential health issues, and some breeders may even insist that you bring the puppy back if you can no longer keep it.

If it is a transaction that only involves cash and a handshake, you have likely just dealt with a puppy farm.

A man holding two cute puppies

Is the breeder asking questions?

Does the seller seem like they are concerned about pairing a puppy with a healthy home? Legitimate breeders will ask you many questions to ensure that you can give the puppy what they need to live a long, healthy, and happy life. After all, in many cases legitimate breeders are in the business because they have a love for a particular breed and therefore want to protect it.

The sort of questions you can expect to be asked will largely be around your lifestyle and they will vary depending on the breed. For example, if you're looking at a large breed with lots of energy, you will likely be asked questions to ensure you can provide the exercise they need or that you have a large garden. 

If someone is involved in a puppy farm, there’s a good chance that they will ask fewer questions and appear less concerned about the welfare of the puppy in general. While this might not be proof that you are dealing with a puppy farm, it certainly is a potential sign.

3 skinny, unhealthy looking puppies

Health details

Some of those involved in puppy farming might be more cautious than others, and they may have been able to answer your questions and show genuine concern for the dog. They also may have been willing to show you around their home/kennel which you have found to be suitable for breeding puppies.

Before you potentially fall for a well laid trap, make sure you are provided with full, up to date health records. If a puppy was raised on a puppy farm, then they may have never seen a vet. It might be best to decline a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide vet certificates of any kind. While this doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they are involved in puppy farming, it does mean that it’s possible.

A genuine dog breeder will WANT the new puppy owner to know about any potential health issues and that’s another reason why asking for references can go a long way towards avoiding puppies from puppy farming. If you ask to see the whole litter, and they comply AND give you relevant health details and legitimate certificates - you can have some peace of mind regarding puppy farming, because there’s a chance that you are dealing with a legitimate dog breeder at that point.

Make sure you do your research on the breed you’re looking for as some will require specific health checks for particular conditions whilst others won’t.

2 cute puppies in a cage

Waiting lists

There are those involved in puppy farming that will try to use not having a waitlist as a marketing tactic. However, puppy farms are interested in one thing: selling puppies as quickly as possible, so this is a clear red flag.

There are dog breeders that have a reputation and have actual waitlists for customers. If you truly want to buy a puppy, and the dog breeder seems hesitant - it might mean that they are concerned about whether you’d be able to provide a good home for the puppy. A waitlist does not mean that someone isn’t involved in puppy farming, but it’s a much better sign than an individual who can’t wait to get rid of a puppy at a service station.

Cute, dirty, and fluffy puppy

Report suspected puppy farms

If you suspect that you’ve been dealing with a puppy farm, it is very important that you report it. This will help to not only prevent other potential pet owners being tricked but, more importantly, it will help stop the cruelty and abuse faced by puppies in the suspected puppy farm.

There are multiple ways you can report a puppy farm in the UK. Here are a few options:

  • Call the RSPCA helpline on 0300 1234999, or report online via their website
  • Call the police on 101, NOT 999.
  • Contact your local council.
  • Contact the Animal Crime Manager at Naturewatch Foundation. Find out more here.
  • Contact the website on which the suspected puppy farm is advertising.

Cute puppy behind a fence

Conclusion

You may not have been aware of pet insurance or what is a puppy farm before deciding that it’s time for a puppy, and that’s okay. It’s important to do your research before even considering a puppy and you may have to rely on your gut and “intuition” when it comes time deciding on a breeder.

There are some obvious signs of legitimacy to look for, and they include certificates and contracts that provide more information about how the puppy should be cared for and will clear up any potential legal issues with the puppy. However, there are puppy farming professionals that go as far as forging documents - so keep this in mind.

Remember, if a breeder is asking questions about you as a puppy owner, it’s a step in the right direction. It shows that they truly care about where the puppy ends up.

There are some more signs about how to tell whether you are dealing with a puppy farm. For example, inbreeding is pretty much a straightforward sign that you are dealing with a puppy farm of some kind. If you suspect inbreeding to be taking place, you should make an excuse to leave as soon as possible. If they insist on cash, this is also a sign that a puppy farm may be involved.

So, in conclusion, be alert, prepared, and ready to walk away if necessary and continue your search elsewhere.