Buyer Beware – Red Flags of Unscrupulous Puppy Producers

11.09.2020

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In this pandemic world, puppy buying has seemingly skyrocketed! Many families are finding themselves less busy or staying at home more, which has led them to get a puppy. I love puppies and I am always happy when my friends or family members get a new fuzzy family member. However, I do want my friends and family to get healthy puppies and support responsible breeders or responsible rescues.

I know this is a very hot topic and this post might rub people the wrong way. My intention is not to offend or shame puppy buyers. I know I will touch a nerve, but that’s not my intention. Honestly, if you have purchased a puppy from a puppy mill or backyard breeder, you have not done anything wrong if you did not know. When we know better, we do better. Your goal should be to become better informed and not make the same mistake twice. My purpose in writing this is to help educate people, so they are more aware and less likely to be duped by unscrupulous puppy producers.

I know there is a huge push against buying purebred dogs. The “adopt don’t shop” movement is strong, but there are reasons why a family might be more inclined to bring a purebred dog with known family history into their home, rather than play the lottery on a dog with unknown background or family history. This is a personal matter which should be respected. Shaming people about their decision will lead to people not asking questions in fear of repercussions about their decision to add a purebred dog to their family. There are plenty of people involved “in the fancy” who are wonderful resources to find responsibly bred puppies of just about every breed.

If you are going to buy a purebred dog, I feel it is VERY important to only support breeders who are doing it the right way. Breeders that will take back the puppies they produce no questions asked, no matter the age of the dog. Breeders that are transparent and stand behind their breeding. These are NOT the breeders that are filling up shelters and rescues. These are the breeders that are involved in breed rescue with their breed’s parent club. These are the breeders who help make the lives of ALL dogs better by contributing money to health studies or having their dogs involved in those studies.

Defining Terms

Since everybody has their own ideas of what constitutes certain types of breeders or puppy producers, I want to express my definitions, so we’re all on the same page.

  • Responsible Breeder – a person who produces purebred puppies that is involved with the breed’s parent club of the country they live. This person does pedigree research prior to breeding. Shows their breeding stock in conformation and performance. Only breeds to other breeding stock that is involved in conformation and performance. Do ALL recommended health testing recommended by the breed’s parent club. These breeders can tell you EXACTLY why they chose to breed their bitch to a certain dog. They register and microchip all of the puppies they produce. They place puppies with families based on the temperament of the puppy to the activity level or needs of the prospective home. Typically breed once a year depending on the number of breeding bitches in their program. The health and well-being of the puppies, dam, and breed as a whole is a priority.
  • Backyard Breeder – a person who produces puppies without doing any type of pedigree research or health testing and does not prove their breeding stock to be worthy of breeding through showing in conformation and/or performance. There is little, to no, planning for a litter of puppies. These are the people who generally have an intact purebred dog and knows someone else with an intact purebred dog and breed them or have an accidental breeding. There is no priority for the betterment of the breed or health of the puppies.
  • Puppy Mill – commercial or private kennel that produces puppies for profit. This type of puppy producer will always have puppies available. There is no pedigree research or health testing of the breeding stock. Typically allows people to pick their puppy based on color, coat type, sex, etc. regardless of the temperament of the dog or family’s lifestyle. Most will offer financing options. Some puppy mills have very fancy, well-kept kennels. Not all puppy mills have small, filthy, cages stacked on top of each other.

“But I don’t want a Show Dog!”

I often hear this when I have helped people find a breeder. There are plenty of blogs that go into great detail about this, so I will not spend too much time here. You may not want a show dog, but you want a puppy from show/performance parents. The quick and dirty reason is because there are genetic components of temperament and show/performance dogs are generally fully health tested prior to being bred. Dogs with undesirable temperaments for their breed generally do not do well in dog shows or dog sports. If you buy a dog from a responsible breeder you are more likely to get a stable temperament and genetically healthy puppy. You are more likely to spend less money throughout the life of the puppy on medical expenses and dog training.

Myth

Puppies from Responsible Breeders, whose parents have been shown in conformation, participate in dog sports, and are fully health tested as recommended by the breed’s parent club are more expensive than non-show, non-health tested parents. I don’t want to spend a lot of money on a puppy that is just going to be a family pet.

Reality

There is a well-known Portuguese Water Dog Puppy Mill in Pennsylvania that boasts about not wasting time and money by forcing their dogs to show in the conformation ring. Since her original breeding stock are from Champion lines, in her opinion, that means the dogs she breeds could certainly earn their Championships. She does not list any type of health testing results for any of the dogs listed on her website. I was able to find 2 of her dogs in the CHIC database. Neither of these dogs were fully health tested. The last test dates were in 2015 on both dogs. For simplicity, we will agree that she does not health test her breeding stock to the extent that is recommended by the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America.

This Puppy Mill charges $3,400. My Portuguese Water Dogs, which come from champion, titled, and fully health tested parents (grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.) cost $2,500. I am getting a better quality puppy for $900 less than a Puppy Mill. I specifically researched Portuguese Water Dogs for this example because I am most familiar with the health testing requirements from the PWDCA.

“You should always see the dam and sire when visiting the litter.”

This is commonly a recommendation by various animal welfare organizations when describing red flags for unscrupulous puppy producers. I actually consider this to be a red flag. There are reasons why someone would own both the sire and the dam, but in reality this is typically the exception. If the dam and sire both reside with one another the breeder should be able to give very specific reasons for what they are trying to improve in the breed with this paring. Things like “they’re both sweet dogs” or “they’re very attractive dogs” are not good enough reasons. Something like: “the damn has a very masculine head, while the sire’s head is a little slight. My vision was to create better balance in the heads of the puppies. They both have lovely dog-dog temperaments, which is not always the case with this particular breed” are good specific reasons for a breeding between housemates.

Myth

Seeing the condition of both the sire and the dam tells me that parents are well taken care of and healthy, which means the owners are good dog owners. If I don’t see the sire, I don’t know if he is well cared for or healthy.

Reality

Because of genetic diversity, temperaments, conformation, and a million other reasons responsible breeders decide on a pairing, it is highly unlikely a compatible sire and dam live near each other, let alone in the same household. It can happen occasionally, but it is far more likely the sire lives in a different state, across the country, in a different country, or could have passed away. It can be difficult to match a dam’s cycle with a sire’s schedule, therefore, artificial insemination is fairly common in the responsible breeding world.

While you may not visit with the sire during a visit with the litter, a responsible breeder will be able to disseminate information about the dog to potential puppy buyers. They will have copies of the sire’s health records, titles earned, and more. I would consider it to be a red flag if health information was not offered up immediately.

“Well, the puppy comes with papers!”

Most people believe there is some merit to a dog “coming with papers.” Papers are in reference to the puppy’s ability to be registered with a Kennel Club (in the US the American Kennel Club is the most common, but United Kennel Club is also a reputable club). This phrase means nothing more than the puppy is able to be registered. If you’re not going to show the puppy or compete in dog sports, being registered means nothing.

Myth

Because I can register my puppy with _________ (insert Kennel Club name here), that means the parents are healthy, meet the breed standards, and the breeder is held to the Kennel Club’s ethical breeding standards!

Reality

Even if the puppy is able to be registered, that does not mean that the puppy’s parents are of quality to have been bred. The piece of paper simply certifies that your puppy is, indeed the breed of puppy you are wanting in regards to the historic documentation of the puppy’s “lines.” However, this is NOT always the case!!! In large scale, commercial breeding facilities that breed similar breeds, there are occasionally “oops” litters where it can be difficult to tell if the puppy is purebred until the puppy reaches adulthood.

Kennel Clubs in the United States do not have ethical breeding standards that must be followed for a puppy to be registered with them. Kennel Clubs, like the AKC and UKC, were developed to track the lines of established breeds. Breed Parent Clubs DO have ethical breeding standards that breeders must adhere to in order to be considered for Breed Parent Club support in regards to marketing, such has puppy lists and breeder referral programs. Breeders that follow their Parent Club’s ethical standards can take advantage of discounted health screens offered by the Club at Club events and earn awards from the club to encourage proper puppy placement.

The ethical breeding standards set forth by Parent Clubs is the biggest reason why it is important to buy a puppy from a breeder that is active in their Breed’s Parent Club. Being active in the Breed’s Parent Club is more than just being a club member. Almost anybody can pay their dues and become a member, but being active in committees, serving on the board of directors, organizing club events, contributing to breed publications, etc. are all ways someone could be involved in the parent club. If a breeder is not visibly active in the Parent Club, check for their activities in Regional Breed clubs. While I am not a breeder, I am more active in my Regional Club than I am in the Parent Club.

“I put my non-refundable deposit down last year. That means I get pick of the litter!”

This is a loaded statement that I hear all too often and typically makes me cringe. First off, I find it to be a despicable behavior to take people’s money well before there is any guarantee of a product. This should be a MAJOR red flag!!! Requiring non-refundable deposits before a litter has been produced is a manipulative tactic used only by unscrupulous puppy producers.

Second, what is everybody’s obsession with the “pick of the litter?” Is it really that big of a deal to get “first pick.” This is not picking teams on the playground. This is bringing a new family member into your home. Can you see past some kind of unusual physical feature (such as: coat type, coat color, markings, size compared to litter mates, eye color, etc.) to make a good decision on the temperament that is right for your family? Most potential puppy buyers cannot do this.

Myth

The earlier I give the breeder money, the earlier I get to pick my puppy out of the litter! Because I get to pick from the whole litter, that means someone else won’t take the puppy I really want.

Reality

Deposits should NEVER be required until there are puppies on the ground and the breeder has determined which families will be getting puppies out of that litter. Since the breeders have spent 8-9 weeks with their puppies they have an idea of each puppy’s temperaments. The breeder should be asking questions about your lifestyle, commitment to training, and future goals with the puppy. It should not matter that the puppy came over and napped in your lap. That’s not “a sign.” For all you know, that puppy could be the wildest puppy in the litter and you want a calm, relaxed dog. The “pick of the litter” should be different for everybody. It is the breeder’s responsibility to ensure the correct puppy goes to the correct home.

“This Breeder only breeds _______ (fill in the blank with specific color, coat type, size, or physical characteristic, etc.).”

Or

“I have to pay extra, but I can get _______ (fill in the blank with specific color, coat type, size, or physical characteristic, etc.).”

This is another tactic unscrupulous puppy producers use for marketing its called “marketing placebo effect.” People will pay more when they believe a product is somehow different, special, or rare, which in turn causes potential puppy buyers to pay more. One specific example of this would be “English Crème” Golden Retrievers and Labs, or Silver Labs. I have even seen “Red Fox” Labs or Golden Retrievers being marketed. The Labrador Retriever Breed Standard only accepts three colors: Black, Chocolate, and Yellow. The Golden Retriever Breed Standard, also only accepts three colors: Dark Golden, Golden, and Light Golden.

Another example would be a puppy producer marketing the size of the dogs, such as: mini, teacup, giant, monster, etc. There are a number of breeds that have size variations (poodles, schnauzers, xoloitzcuintli, and Portuguese podengos) which have accepted adjectives from the breed’s parent club, but I can assure you “teacup” and “monster” are never used. Cooper Nosed Beagles, Red/Blue Nose Pit Bulls (or other bully breed), “mouse” or merle colored French Bulldogs, and more.

Myth

I don’t think there is any myth here. I truly believe people have unknowingly fallen for the marketing placebo effect. Unscrupulous puppy producers do a great job at marketing their product as something rare. They are also good at making potential puppy buyers feel good.

Reality

If a puppy producer is breeding for only a specific physical characteristics, they are eliminating genetic diversity from their gene pool. This elimination of genetics can start to cause horrific genetic malformations, conditions, and diseases. Some issues might include things like degenerative myopathy which will not show up until the puppy is 6-8 years old, neurological conditions such as epilepsy, hip dysplasia, bowed legs, mis-shaped heads, eye conditions, and skin/coat problems.

There are very important and specific reasons why certain colors or coat types are banned in certain breeds (White Doberman Pinchers, for example). Any breed with merle coloring also have genetic components that must be taken into consideration before breeding. Puppies produced from two merle parents are called “Double Merle.” The recessive genes that cause this coat color pattern can also cause blindness and deafness. Responsible breeders know these issues and respect them, which is why they will breed towards bettering the breed. A responsible breeder’s goal is to produce healthy puppies with the proper structure (or conformation) and temperament for that breed.

To create some of these “rare” puppies, unscrupulous puppy producers will “out cross” in order to make a “rare” gene show up more frequently. It is believed that Silver Labs are a mix between a Chocolate Lab and a Weimaraner. Have you ever noticed that a Silver Lab has awfully large ears and more elongated faces than typical labs? Silver labs often have skin and coat issues as well. It is believed that Chihuahuas were “out crossed” into French Bulldogs to create merle Frenchies. Merle French Bulldogs are well known for having severe eye problems. The French Bulldog Club of New South Wales, Australia has a great post on this topic. Essentially, some of these dogs are actually mixed breeds being sold as purebreds.

Wrapping It Up

This is just a small overview of a handful of red flags. Unscrupulous puppy producers often change their tactics as the public becomes wiser to their schemes. They use purposeful language in their websites, e-mail responses, and when talking to potential puppy buyers to make you feel good. They use keywords, such as “health tested” or “health checked” but provide no information to back up those heath tests. Most often “health tested” or “health checked” simply means the dogs have been seen by a general practice veterinarian. This does not equal genetic testing and other health certifications that responsible breeders perform. Some will have health tested the sire, but not the dam (or vice versa). They will also cherry pick doing some health testing, but not all of it, so in case a puppy buyer does their homework it will appear the puppy producer has done the necessary health tests.

If you are looking to buy a puppy from a breeder ask for the parents registration numbers and look up health tests yourself. Ask the breeder questions about why he or she decided on the breeding. Ask what activities their dogs are involved in. If for any reason a breeder or puppy producer acts dodgy, cannot give you answers, or gets offended by the questions you are asking walk away and find someone better.

I am not saying that puppies that come from less than desirable situations are not worthy of love. They are. What I am hoping to do is put some of these terrible breeding methods and practices out of business. The general public, unknowingly, drives the demand for unscrupulous puppy producers to exist. People seem to think that they should be able to get a puppy the minute they decide they want a puppy. It should take months, or possibly a year, to research, contact, and develop a relationship with a potential breeder prior to getting a puppy.

What are some other red flags you’ve come across?

 

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