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The Humane Society of the United States - Humane Index


    It's easy these days to say that John Doe operates a "puppy mill" or that pet store puppies come from puppy mills, but the label is tossed around so frequently that it becomes very unclear for the general public as to what a "puppy mill" really is and where those puppies in pet stores really come from. Learn how to tell the difference before YOU purchase a puppy.

    More and more, pet owners find themselves purchasing a puppy from a breeder, only to find out that the dog has behavior problems, ongoing medical conditions or worse, sudden death. Well bred puppies and dogs are not SICK or become sick when you take them home. With proper care and regular veterinarian vet visits, you, the breeder and your veterinarian should work together to provide a good and healthy foundation for your new companion.

    RVAS reminds pet owners that shelters and rescues have purebred dogs and puppies for adoption, that can have the same "temperament" and bloodline quality that you might be looking for from a breeder. However, if you are insistent upon getting your puppy from a breeder, then make sure you do your research on the breed and the breeder. Below are some facts and tips about the types of breeders out there, as well as, tips to help you determine if the breeder you are considering purchasing from is a reputable one.

    Facts to Consider before Purchasing from a Breeder:

    Every pet owner sets out to purchase from a reputable breeder, but few really know how to select one. The "look' and "feel" of a breeder doesn't always mean you are getting the purebred or quality puppy you set out to purchase. Breeders come in all types and many can "deceive" the buyer by having a "showing and selling " area versus the "breeding" area. Some breeders go to the length of having a couple of "clean" kennels to give the buyer the illusion that they breed responsibly, when in fact, their garage is the true breeding area. Other breeders are simply inexperienced dog lovers who, pose themselves as experts. Breeding is a science and a good and reputable breeder "knows" just about everything there is to know about the breed they are selling.

    • Many purebred puppies are usually purchased as young as 6 weeks old and relinquished at 2-3 years old to a shelter, making them more difficult to find a home for.
    • Three out of every ten dogs purchased from a breeder, are relinquished to an already overcrowded shelter or rescue for various reasons.
    • Black dogs are rarely kept by the breeder when there is a variety of colors to sell. These pups wind up abandoned, killed or in shelters. Black dogs are the number one color euthanized in traditional type shelters.
    • Many pet owners feel that the "look" and "cleaniness" of the breeder determines the quality of the dog. Not so! Often times there are kennels in garages, basements, etc, that you will never see. Ask to see the entire homestead and license to make sure the breeder you are buying from is properly licensed in their state and practicing properly.

    Types of Breeders:

    Below are definitions that are standard throughout the animal welfare industry defining the different types of Dog Breeders.

    Important Note: Because shelters and rescues carry the burden of "returned" animals purchased from breeders, it is rare to see breeders and shelters/rescues support each other in the industry. RVAS supports any breeder who breeds properly, as well as, microchips AND "rescues" their own dogs. We have met breeders who also support Spay and Neutering of the dogs they sell to eliminate "poor" breeding by inexperienced dog owners.

    • Hobby breeder: A breed fancier who has a breed or two (or even three); follows a breeding plan to preserve and protect each breed; produces a limited number of litters each year; breeds only when a litter will enhance the breed and the breeding program; raises the puppies with plenty of environmental stimulation and human contact; has a contract that protects breeder, puppy, and buyer; raises dog in the house or runs a small, clean kennel; screens breeding stock to eliminate hereditary defects; works with a breed club or kennel club to promote and protect the breed; and cares that each and every puppy is placed in the best home possible. RVAS supports only those Hobby Breeders who microchip and "rescue" their own breed and follow the guidelines listed below for "reputable breeder."

    • Commercial breeder: One who usually has several breeds of dogs with profit as the primary motive for existence. Commercial breeders that are inspected by USDA, state agencies, or the American Kennel Club should have adequate conditions. Commercial breeders that sell directly to the public fall through the regulatory cracks unless they do business in a state that licenses commercial kennels. Dogs in these kennels may be healthy or not and their conditions may be acceptable or not. The dogs are probably not screened for genetic diseases, and the breeding stock may or may not be selected for resemblance to the breed standard or for good temperament. RVAS does not support.

    • Broker: One who buys puppies from commercial kennels and sells to retail outlets or other kennels. Brokers ship puppies on airlines or by truckload throughout the country. Brokers must be licensed by USDA and must abide by the shipping regulations in the Animal Welfare Act. RVAS does not support.

    • Buncher: One who collects dogs of unknown origin for sale to laboratories or other bunchers or brokers. Bunchers are considered lower on the evolutionary scale than puppy mill operators, for there is much suspicion that they buy stolen pets, collect pets advertised as "Free to a good home," and adopt unwanted pets from animal shelters for sale to research laboratories. USDA licenses and inspects bunchers to make sure that they abide by the AWA. RVAS does not support.

    • Amateur (Backyard) breeder: A dog owner whose pet either gets bred by accident or who breeds on purpose for a variety of reasons. This breeder may be ignorant of the breed standard, genetics, behavior, and good health practices. An amateur breeder can very easily become a hobby breeder or a commercial breeder, depending on his level of interest or need for income. RVAS does not support.

    • A puppy mill: A breeder who produces puppies with no breeding program, little attention to puppy placement, and poor health and socialization practices. Conditions in puppy mills are generally substandard and may be deplorable, and puppies and adult dogs may be malnourished, sickly, and of poor temperament. RVAS opposes.

    • Reputable Breeder: Reputable breeders take full responsibilty for their dogs.
      • Screens their dogs for genetic problems. They should be able to tell you about the genetic problems in the breed and show proof that the parents of the litter are free of those problems.
      • Does not breed dogs "to make money" or so "children can experience the miracle of birth." A reputable breeder breeds to advance their breeding program and for their love and devotion to the breed(s).
      • Will tell you the good points as well as the bad points of the breed. They want to make sure you are fully aware of what to expect before you buy the puppy regarding the puppy and dog's energy, exercise regiment, food, health, etc. Cute little puppies are only "cute" for 6 months, then they grow into big dogs. Will you be happy when that cute little ball of fuzz turns into an 80 pound, shedding fur factory?
      • Usually only breeds a litter if they intend on keeping a pup out of the litter. They are breeding to further improve the breed of the dog or their breeding program, not just to produce puppies for pet buyers.
      • Should be able to explain the reasoning behind breeding a particular dog to a particular bitch. They should be attempting to reach perfection as defined by the breed's standard. In the attempt to reach this goal with the resulting puppies, they should be able to explain the good points of each dog and what things they are trying to improve. If when asked about the breed standard, the breeder looks at you with a blank look on their face-RUN! If they don't know what a standard is, they shouldn't be breeding dogs.
      • Should be able to provide you with a pedigree of the puppies, not just a copy of the parents registration papers. A pedigree usually has at least three generations of the puppies' ancestors listed.
      • Does not breed a volume of puppies. Reputable breeder will only have 2-3 adult bitches for breeding and is not going to breed all 3 in a single year. Bitches are only, in very rare cases, bred on consecutive heat cycles.
      • Usually participates in some sort of dog related events such as dog shows, obedience, agility, schutzhund, sled dog racing, herding, field trials, lure coursing, earth dog trials, that shows off the beauty and technique of their breed. They do something with their dogs to show the buyer why this particular breed is a good purchase.
      • Usually belongs to some sort of dog club (i.e., all-breed club, obedience club, breed club, etc.).
      • Is willing to give you references from previous puppy buyers, as well as, their veterinarian. Those new to breeding should be able to give you references from other breeders of their breed or dog club members. They aren't offended if you ask them for references. Talking to references will help you to judge the character of the breeder.
      • Should ask you for references and may ask to visit your home. The breeder wants to be sure that the housing or yard is suitable for the dog. A large dog wouldn't necessarily do well in a small apartment. Some breeds need to have a fenced yard with secure fencing for their own protection. The breeder is looking for the ideal situation for the puppy. They want the owner to be happy and not return the puppy because it was ill suited for the environment of life-style of the buyer. RVAS does not encourage "outside only" dogs, as dogs are pack animals and enjoy being with their "human" pack.
      • Believes in service after the sale. If a puppy buyer has grooming questions, feeding questions, or training questions, the breeder will be there for you for the lifetime of the dog.
      • Will usually insist puppies sold as pets be spayed/neutered or placed on an AKC limited registration. The limited registration makes the dog exempt from having any of its offspring registered by the AKC.
      • Will usually take back any dog of their breeding at any age. Reputable breeders do not want to find out a dog they bred has been left in a pound, taken to a shelter/rescue or dumped by the roadside. They assume a lifetime responsibility for the canine lives they have put on this earth.
      • Would never sell puppies through a retail outlet, animal broker, or laboratory.

      RVAS supports

    Dedication to producing quality dogs is serious avocation. Has so much invested in dogs that he struggles to break even, not make a profit. Will sell pups only to approved buyers. Motive for breeding: "fun", "good for kids", "to make money". Does not screen buyers and seldom refuses to sell, even if buyer is unsuitable.
    Can explain how planned breedings are used to emphasize or minimize specific qualities through linebreeding, outcrossing, or more rarely, inbreeding. Breeds the family pet to any convenient pet of the same breed just to have purebred pups. Has no understanding or concern with genetics, pedigree bloodlines, or breed improvement.
    Does not breed dogs younger than age 2. Has breeding stock x-rayed to check for hip dysplasia, echo/doppler run for SAS, holtered within the last year for boxer cardiomyopathy (also known as ARVC) and thyroid screened. Can produce certification to prove claims. Though the pets (sire/dam of pups) may be well loved, they were not tested for hip dysplasia or for other genetic problems such as cardiomyopathy and hypothyroidism.
    Written contractural commitment to replace a dog with genetic faults or to help owner deal with problem. Offers no health guarantee beyond proof of shots, if that. Unqualified to give help if problems develop.
    Loves the breed and can talk at length about its background, uses, and ideal type. Seller has little knowledge of breed history, the national breed club or of the AKC breed standard. May claim this does not matter for "just pets".
    Has an investment in dog equipment and the puppies environment is sanitary and loving. Pups raised in makeshift accommodations, sometimes unsanitary, indicating lack of long-term investment in breeding and lack of true care for the puppies well-being.
    Belongs to national, regional, and/or local dog clubs, indicating a love for the sport of purebred dogs. Shows their dogs as an objective test of how his stock measures up. Even when selling "just pets", may produce AKC papers or "championship pedigrees" as proof of quality. Yet seller does not increase his own knowledge through participation in national, regional, or local breed clubs. Is not involved in showing their dogs to "prove" quality.
    Shows litter and dam in a sanitary environment. Helps buyer evaluate and choose a pup. Explains criteria for "show prospects" versus "pet picks". May be unwilling to show a buyer the entire litter or to introduce the dam of the litter. Cannot or will not compare/critique pups or pup’s ancestors.
    Prices will be at the high end of local range. Price will not reflect all that is invested in the pups. A reputable breeder never profits from the sale of puppies. Does not advertise in the newspaper. Has an established waiting list for the pups. Prices are at the low end of local range, since must move pups quickly. Advertises in the local newspaper classifieds.
    After purchase, will help you with grooming or training problems. Will take back a pup you cannot keep rather than see it disposed of inappropriately. Sells pets with spay/neuter agreement and on AKC limited registration. No concern for the future of individual pups or the breed as a whole. Does not use AKC’s limited registration option or ask for spay/neuter contract to guard against the breeding of sub-standard pups. If you cannot keep pup, tells you to take it to a dog pound or to sell it.


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PO Box 312, Des Moines, Iowa 50302 • PO Box 38, Boone, Iowa 50036
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