Are You Smarter Than a Puppy Miller?

Photo Credit: Flicker, CC License, crazymandy, puppiesCalifornia recently banned the sale of puppy mill dogs from pet stores, and I hope this legislation becomes contagious throughout the United States. Unfortunately, in addition to selling their “merchandise” to pet stores, puppy millers have a huge online presence where their business is thriving.

The problem is, folks who are newish (and even some who are not so newish) to purchasing puppies fall prey to the allure of puppy mill websites. They see dozens of images of adorable fuzzy faces, healthy and happy appearing dogs lounging on couches in beautiful homes, and puppies playing in yards filled with lush green grass. One need not be super-gullible to buy into all this pretense.

Case in point- my friends who are both medical professionals (they’re not stupid people) are ready to adopt a puppy. They searched kennels online and found one they liked. Emails were exchanged with the breeder and my friends were ready to take the next step. Thankfully, they called me first to get my opinion. I hopped online, spent about a minute on the website and found a dozen or so red flags that shouted, “Puppy Mill!!” I shared this information with my friends, gave them a tutorial on where and how to adopt, and patted myself on the back for putting the kabosh on a puppy mill purchase.

Let the games begin!

Ready to take a little quiz? Read each quote below and determine if you think it came from a responsible breeder’s website or one behind which a puppy miller is lurking. I will provide you with my opinions next week.

Post your responses and your name will be entered into a drawing for a copy of Speaking for Spot or Your Dog’s Best Health (the choice will be yours). Also, let me know if you share this quiz with a friend or two or three or five, and your name will also be entered into the book drawing. The more people who learn to sniff out puppy mills, the better.

  1. Puppy mill or responsible breeder?

“Our insurance agent has warned against having visitors because our policy could be cancelled should someone get injured during a visit.”

  1. Puppy mill or responsible breeder?

“Our ultimate goal as Mini Goldendoodle breeders is to provide healthy, happy, well socialized family pets. Our farm has lots of room to run and a creek to play in! With our kids, our nieces and nephews and extended families, the puppies get lots of love, playtime and socialization. This allows them to be more well adjusted little puppies when they go their new homes.”

  1. Puppy mill or responsible breeder?

“I am not being secretive, nor do I have anything to hide by requesting visits to be scheduled. If I’m not going out then I am generally grooming, cleaning, etc. and either me, my house, or my dogs are not in a state in which I care to entertain strangers, usually it’s me covered with dirt and/or dog hair from grooming.”

  1. Puppy mill or responsible breeder?

“We warranty your puppy for ten years. No cash refunds, no vet bill refunds, only credit towards new puppy will be awarded.”

  1. Puppy mill or responsible breeder?

“Nobody handles a puppy unless it is ‘their’ puppy that they already have a deposit on. The deposit is $350 and non-refundable.”

  1. Puppy mill or responsible breeder?

“I do allow you to come and visit if you have a deposit on a puppy. I do not allow my breeding dogs to be touched/handled. You will be able to see how our dogs are housed, exercised and to view the heated and air conditioned whelping houses from my viewing room.”

  1. Puppy mill or responsible breeder?

“We offer the convenience of shipping your puppy to you via plane or we can drive and meet you halfway. This way, you don’t have to spend time driving all the way to us.”

  1. Puppy mill or responsible breeder?

“We offer financing with 0% interest for six months.”

  1. Puppy mill or responsible breeder?

“If there is a specific puppy you want, but you do not want to put a hold down and you start to drive- that is your choice! If the puppy is purchased online ANYTIME PRIOR TO YOUR ARRIVAL, (yes, even 5 minutes), there is NOTHING WE CAN DO! This is the nature of things. It’s the same with cars, boats, clothes, phones, etc…. whoever puts the money down first gets the puppy.”

  1. Puppy mill or responsible breeder?

Under frequently asked questions and answers, the question is, “My new dog is shying away from hands in his face and yelling/loud noises. Has he/she been abused?”

The response is, “No, your dog is just nervous and is shying away because he has probably never been yelled at or hit and it is terrifying to him. Most abused dogs get used to it and hardly react, opposite of what most people think!”

Sending you much gratitude during this season of Thanksgiving,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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50 Comments on “Are You Smarter Than a Puppy Miller?

  1. @Pretty Pittie – You said, “What’s clear is that we both care about making the future a better place for companion animals in general even if we don’t agree on how to get there.” You are so right, and it’s awesome to have a polite conversation and know that we both care! Thank you! 🙂 Best wishes to you and yours also!

  2. Almost all of them feel like puppy mill to me, but viewing the website is usually an important part for me to decide. I don’t see anything wrong with number 3. I hate for people to appear unannounced. Though that statement would really make me examine everything else very closely. Also number 4 seems reasonable. I would expect puppy millers to offer a few weeks at most. Rescues don’t offer cash back usually either. But they will take the dog back. Again I really use the whole website. I saw one with photos of all the pups with grandkids, and statements about how everyone is part of the family and they all live in the house with them. They were golden labs…over 20 of them. Red Flag.

  3. All are puppy mill breeders. The one I see most often is #2. They try to sell you a rosy picture while their dogs are sitting in squalor. One puppy miller even shared pictures of their grandkids with some of the puppies. They were raided by the local authorities after their facility was found to be a horrible place for Dogs.
    I’ve seen everything in online ads. It is amazing how many of these grifters succeed in fooling people.

  4. @ Liz: I believe you are correct. we will have to agree to disagree and there is not a darn thing wrong with that! However, I wanted to thank you for a polite and civil discussion. That’s a rare thing now days and I enjoyed it. What’s clear is that we both care about making the future a better place for companion animals in general even if we don’t agree on how to get there.

    Cheers and best wishes to you and yours (both furry and otherwise)!

  5. @Pretty Pittie, We’ll have to disagree. I have done multiple rescues with various complications from the wrong type of hair to autoimmune disease. I want the security of a hypoallergenic dog, bloodlines tested for genetic defects, and bred for health and temperament. And my analogy is spot on. Stop the miller and casual backyard breeders, and you’ve stopped the problem dead in its tracks within a single generation. One generation. Responsible, educated, professional breeders are not the ones creating this mess. I’ve rescued more than my share of dogs, cats, and sundry animals… I will not buy from a puppy mill or a backyard breeder, but I will purchase from a responsible, professional breeder who truly strives for health, temperament, and the preservation of a healthy breed standard.

  6. @ Liz: That would depend upon your definition of “responsible”. (I won’t even discuss how very far off the mark your analogy is).

    Under your definition the breeder may be responsible with regard to placement of the litter they bred but they are still behaving in a grossly irresponsible manner with relation to the larger picture. Shelter dogs are still dying while the breeders in your scenario continue to produce yet more dogs.

    Continuing to pour more water into an already overflowing pitcher is not responsible behavior even if you are pouring the water very slowly. Adding to the problem is not responsible behavior no matter how one attempts to justify it.

  7. Responsible, careful breeders are not the problem here; puppy millers and backyard breeders are. To ban responsible breeders because of the actions of the others is like giving you your lazy classmate’s grades in school; they didn’t do well, so you get flunked also, despite how hard you might have worked and how high your grades actually were.

  8. @ Bev Jordan – you are so very right! In today’s climate of crazy over-population there is no such thing as a responsible breeder. If their breed or bloodline is so special the world can’t live without then freeze some eggs, sperm or embryos and wait to implant them in a surrogate dog until we’re not killing millions of healthy companion animals every year!

  9. # 2 almost fooled me. But on second look, just ‘having’ these items, like a creek and children, doesn’t mean the puppies are exposed to them.
    I volunteer for a rescue and we have had a spate of puppies turned over to us. Each and every one was purchased and they all had health problems that required surgery. Breeders would not take the puppies back, or help in any way.
    It gets me crazy!!!

  10. Every single one of these are from puppy mill “breeders”!!
    Other telling signs: “Our dogs are CKC registered” – meaning Continental Kennel Club, a rather bogus “registry”, among others. Backyard “breeders” around here, although not always puppy mill breeders, will state: “Both parents on premises.” They seem to think they just need a male & a female in order to produce a litter. Or those “breeders” who don’t educate themselves about their breed & breed 2 Merles (Aussies, Border Collies, Shelties – actually any breed where the Merle color occurs) together, or who breed “rare” white Boxers – and end up with blind and/or deaf puppies, yet sell them anyway. “Puppy Mill” behavior doesn’t just happen in large-scale situations.

  11. Yup, every one of these are millers. You forgot that a miller will often say their pups are “acclimated to all weather” so can be flown to new owners… meaning that the pups are kept in a barn and not handled in a house. A miller will also claim that the pups have “papers” and are registered but the papers are from little known organizations and not AKC.

  12. We would love number 2 to be from a responsible breeder but it is probably not reality.

    One of the signs of a miller is that they will often have varied breeds which do not appear to be connected. For example, a miller might offer yorkies, gsd, danes, chi’s, doxies and King Charles versus a responsible breeder might offer several sizes of poodles.

  13. All are puppy mill responses. So timely. I also felt good about directing friends away from a puppy mill purchase last week. I’ve shared your post with three people — my friends who won’t get a puppy mill dog; a dog trainer; and the responsible breeder who sold me my dogs. Thanks for your work.

  14. As far as I am concerned, as an animal rescuer for over 30 years, anyone that breeds dogs for sale is either a puppy mill owner or a “back yard” breeder and both should be put out of business. For each puppy sold, another is euthanized.

  15. Thank you for this article, it is really needed. I have been one of those that fell for an online puppy mill and it was #2 (different breed) that was what made me think I was getting the real thing. I look forward to hearing your input in the next article.

  16. Every one of those responses seems suspect to me. They all convey the impression of greed, secrecy, and paranoia that I would expect from a puppy mill. Even their assurances of proper care seem phony and insincere. I wouldn’t buy a dog from any of them. It’s heartbreaking that refusing to buy from these people leaves so many innocent puppies in their uncaring hands – the short term collateral damage of putting puppy mills out of business!

  17. My Dad purchased a beagle from a breeder when I was 10 years old. I remember the day we went to pick the puppy. She came out from under a bed to bounce around & play with us. There were a few puppies & the place was neat, clean & quiet. I’ve searched my memory but cannot recall anything out of the ordinary in the experience but again I was only 10. I’ve never acquired a dog from a breeder or pet store since instead going to shelters. My current dog is a rescue someone turned into an animal hospital.

    Every statement is from a puppy mill. A few could fool most people. Flags are terms such as ‘Golden-doodle’ a flavor of the moment in designer dogs, on-premises visitation to see the operations & the dogs isn’t mentioned, is restricted or discouraged.

    In my opinion it’s better to go to rescue groups & shelters to give an animal a second chance. I also have 3 cats that were rescued from the streets when their families either tossed them out or moved away leaving them behind.

  18. I think that all of them are puppy mill responses. How sad.

  19. Unfortunately, all are puppy mills. Can’t see a responsible breeder with any of these.

  20. Hi Jo Ann. I’m wondering, if puppy stores begin selling these “fake rescues” do you think they will still charge super high prices for them? If they do, I’m hoping this will knock potential customers on the noggin enough that they will smell a rat. If these “fake rescues” are sold at normal rescue or shelter prices, then I would think this would end up not being lucrative enough. What do you think?

  21. Hi Liz. Thanks for your participation in the puppy mill quiz. Given your history with dogs, you would qualify to live in some European countries where dog are rarely if ever neutered because their owners are so responsible!

  22. All are puppy mill breeders.
    How sad is it that these puppy mills still exist?

  23. I agree that #2 would seem reasonable if it weren’t for “Mini Goldendoodles” which smacks of the latest fad designer dog mix. They all seem like puppy-mill responses. As far as why do folks buy puppies; some of us are limited to certain breeds due to needing the most hypoallergenic dogs possible. That means a dog breed that might be uncommon as a rescue. We compensate by buying only from professional breeders who do a lot of genetic testing and responsible breeding, not puppy mills, and always spaying/neutering our dogs. (Well, our last two boys had vasectomies, rather than full castration. Worked great!) In 35 years of dog ownership, we’ve not allowed a single one of our dogs to procreate.

  24. All from puppy mills. Although local backyard breeders(using the term loosely) often use same language.

  25. All from puppy mills. Although local backyard breeders(using the term loosely) ogre n use same language.

  26. All of those questions are indicative of puppy millers/commercial breeders.

    Reputable breeders not only welcome visits from prospective buyers, they insist on them. They may schedule several visits if it’s feasible for the buyers so they can interact with the puppies and parents (although the sire may not be on site). Many reputable breeders do not even take deposits, as they feel that if a home is meant to happen, it will happen with or without a deposit.

    Also, another thought on the new law in California…it is very misleading to say that puppy mill dogs cannot any longer be sold in pet stores. What will happen is that wholesale brokers will purchase lots of puppies at auctions and then turn themselves into “Rescues”, thereby avoiding the charge they are puppy mills. They will then sell these puppies in those very same pet stores, just like they did before. This is a very poorly written bill, written by people who do not understand what they are legislating.

  27. All puppy mills, though I dare say #3 could be from either–you can’t tell if it’s a puppy mill just by reading a website (well, some you can, but a lot know the “right” answers to put on their website to sound like they’re not running a mill). Surprise home visit by the general public can knock anyone for a loop. Even foster homes ask people to have appointments (and typically an initial screening for the appropriateness of the home). It seems reasonable to me.

  28. All the questions (1-10) are from a puppy millers website.

  29. All are from disgusting people running puppy mills. I can’t imagine how they sleep at night, or more so, how they live with themselves.

  30. Nancy, you just forgot to add (my own personal favorite) #11: “Champions in the pedigree.”
    (Of course there is never any mention of how many generations back those two dogs actually appear)

  31. As the other respondents have said, all are puppy mills.
    Thanks for the test, I plan to share it on Face Book!

  32. The only one there that COULD come from a responsible breeder is #7. Some do ship their puppies to the right homes, especially less common breeds. But everything else? DEFINITELY puppy mills.

  33. Those ads all read “Puppy Mills R Us”. I still don’t get people who buy puppies 🙁

  34. All are from puppy mills. You could almost make the mini goldendoodle into almost reasonable, but the expensive mutts they’re making ruins it

  35. uhm, I would have to say all 10 responses suggest puppy mill to me.

  36. Reputable breeders welcome people who are interested in their litters to visit and see, handle and enjoy the dam in their home. By the time the puppies are 4 weeks old, they usually already have a home to go to. You
    would NOT expect to visit to see multiple puppies available and certainly not multiple breeds or mixed breeds. Naturally, an appointment time range would need to be worked out. One may also be invited to visit them at an obedience, agility, conformation or other canine sport location if that would be closer to one’s home.
    To me, it seems #7 could come from either mill or responsible breeder, it would depend on other statements. This might be arranged so you could get your puppy during an agility event near your home but it wouldn’t be posted on the website.

  37. Easiest test I’ve ever taken! 100% puppy mills, and might I add that many “Backyard Breeders” advertise the sale of their puppies just like the “millers” do. The only difference being, that Backyard Breeders aren’t breeding on the large scale that puppy mills do. But like millers, they don’t do any genetic health testing, and are only interested in how much money their puppies will bring in. No real health guarantees are given, and they will sell to anyone who has the cash, or a PayPal account, no questions asked. They are also most likely to be breeding mutts, and giving them “designer names” to further pad their bottom line, but you will also find them in most every breed of dog out there.

  38. Yep, 100% are from puppy mill breeders. Sickening.

  39. Every single one of these are things that you would see on puppy mill breeder websites! Thanks for educating about online breeders.

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