By Eloise Hands
Last Updated August 6, 2021

When it comes to expanding your family with a new canine member, you want to ensure you’re getting them from a responsible dog breeder. A responsible breeder will put the time and effort into ensuring the health of the puppy, and that they will be going to a good home. Responsible breeders will also know the breed-specific traits, be capable of giving good advice, and provide proper care for your new fur baby until they can come home. Backyard breeders often do not provide the level of care, nor can they be trusted to give accurate advice. Knowing what to look for can help you to avoid the unfortunate possibility of purchasing from a puppy mill.

What is a Backyard Breeder?

A backyard breeder is someone that practices reckless breeding by carelessly overbreeding dogs to produce large amounts of dogs in order to turn a profit. Bad breeding often results in behavior problems, health complications, or even death. Backyard breeders are usually unlicensed to save money, as large kennels generally require a license to be used. Many corners are often cut in backyard breeding.

The most severe cases result in puppy mills which are often cramps and overpopulated with the puppies and their parents often being mistreated and locked away until they are sold. It is not uncommon in these situations for the mother to die as a result of being overworked, overbred, underfed, uncared for, or by general birth-related complications.

Man with puppies

Potential Health Problems From Bad Breeding

There is a wide variety of risks that come hand in hand with purchasing dogs from bad breeders. A purebred puppy should always be bred extremely carefully so as not to carry down specific breed-related health concerns and genetic defects. Certain birth defects can be unavoidable with particular breeds, but you should always know what constitutes ill health that should be of concern.

A trustworthy dog breeder should be able to provide a health guarantee due to the puppies’ parents and be more than happy to disclose any health issues the puppy may have. Below are the types of complications you could expect to see as a result of irresponsible breeding.

  • Skeletal deformities and joint problems such as a misshapen muzzle or jawline, curved spine, hip dysplasia, osteochondrosis dissecans, Hypertrophic osteodystrophy, Multiple cartilaginous exostoses, extra toes, fused toes. Even purebred dogs can have these types of problems, that is why it is important to recognize an irresponsible breeder from a responsible one.
  • Behavioral complications: When incorrectly bred a dog can be more prone to problems with aggression and antisocial behavior.
  • Sensory problems such as blindness or deafness.
  • respiratory or cardiovascular weaknesses such as heart defects and difficulty with breathing be it due to a problem with the lungs or due to a deformed muzzle preventing easy breathing.
  • Neurological problems, which can cause predispositions to seizures and epileptic fits.
  • Shortened life expectancy as a result of the potential health concerns caused by improper breeding.
  • Digestive sensitivities: Many irresponsibly bred dogs have sensitivities to a great many more things than their properly bred counterparts. This includes lactose, wheat, grain, certain proteins, fruits, and veg.
  • Skin problems: Not only can they have digestive sensitivity, but they are more likely to develop skin problems and struggle with seasonal allergies.

Signs of a Backyard Breeder

It’s best to be able to recognize the warning signs of backyard breeding so that you can know whether or not you’re getting your puppy from a responsible breeder. Fortunately, there are quite a few signs you can look for easily enough.

1. Prices

Quite often a backyard breeder, or owners of puppy mills, will sell the puppies for a lot less than the breed is worth. This is an immediate red flag. If a puppy looks like a great deal, that’s because it will cost you more in the long run. A cheap puppy means they are likely unlicensed, un-checked, and hastily bred. Many dog owners that purchase dogs from puppy mills find the dog is more expensive to insure and often requires a lot more veterinary care over the course of its life.

2. Lack of Communication

Responsible breeders will keep in touch with you constantly to update you on your puppy’s progress before you bring it home. A bad breeder will likely avoid contact unless absolutely necessary – maybe not even then.

3. Restricting Visits

A bad breeder wouldn’t want to risk you seeing something that could incriminate them or give them away are reputable breeders. Therefore they will likely only let you visit on their terms, or extremely infrequently. This is often so that they can make sure any evidence of improper breeding is out of sight. So restricted visits are usually not a good sign.

4. Lack of Breed Knowledge

They may not know much about their animals outside of their basic needs. They especially won’t be very well informed on the specifics of the breed you’re looking to purchase. As a result, they’re incapable of talking much about the breed in question and cannot be trusted to provide good advice about their care.

5. Puppy’s Age

Responsible breeding entails knowing when puppies are ready to be parted from their mother as well as understanding their overall needs. Dogs don’t do well being parted from their mothers early and have been known to die of fading puppy syndrome as a result of early separation. If the breeder is wanting to separate the puppies any earlier than 8-12 weeks of age, then they are not looking out for their wellbeing. There’s a possibility they are trying to clear out unwanted litters or make space for a litter they are expecting.

6. The Breed

Is the dog what the breeder says it is? It is best to familiarise yourself with the breed standard before approaching a breeder. A bad breeder may mix similar dog breeds and then attempt to sell them as purebred, or a crossbreed when they are actually a mixture of three or more. The more you know about the breed you are wanting, the easier you can spot if something is not right about the puppies the dog breeder is selling.

7. Where They’re Selling

Avoid purchasing a dog from anyone that has the puppies listed on sales websites such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or eBay. Breeders should be advertising the sale of their puppies on legitimate breeder websites such as the American Kennel Club Marketplace, or through the local shelter. Though be sure to check that the shelter vets their sellers before allowing advertisement.

8. Too Many Dogs

If a person is operating like a puppy mill you will notice they have multiple litters at once. These are the types of people who promise they can get you any color or breed that you want. A good breeder should not have access to such a wide range of dogs at one time. Good breeders will only have one, maybe two litters at one time that are carefully cared for. Too many and they can become overrun, resulting in an inability to care properly for all of the puppies at once. The only exception would be a pet store, which is staffed with enough people to properly care for the puppies they are selling.

9. No Registration or Club Membership

If the breeder is unable to present you with registration papers then this confirms the dog is an unregistered puppy. And whilst registration is not the be-all and end-all, it can ensure that they are in the best shape they can be. Pet stores are required to be licensed or registered under the Animal Welfare Act, so check that the breeder is able to prove their ability to breed dogs Blasé before continuing.

How To Avoid an Irresponsible Breeder

Now that you know what makes backyard breeders what they are, you can pre-plan how to go about getting a new puppy. Therefore allowing you to know the dog breeders to avoid. You should also take this approach if you are looking to adopt a dog by paying an adoption fee. Some bad breeders will attempt to sell puppies at a massively reduced price under the guise of adoption.

Learn to Spot The Signs

Now that we have listed everything that you should expect to see with a backyard breeder, this should make spotting the signs a little bit easier. The most obvious of which being whether or not the breeder is staying in contact with you. If they breed dogs for a living, they should know to stay in contact with the dog’s future owner in order to secure their trust. If the breeder is skirting around your messages or refusing to answer it may be worth looking elsewhere.

Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. As a new dog owner, the breeder should expect you to fire plenty of questions their way. Any breeder worth their salt should pay attention and answer them to the best of their ability. Here are a few examples of things you could ask:

  • How long have they been in business?
  • Request references from previous buyers.
  • Ask for vet records, proof of any health tests done, and information on their screening processes.
  • Check if the puppies are up to date with their vaccines and whether they are wormed.
  • Ask whether they would be willing to take the dog back should your circumstances change to ensure a good family adopts them (though note that a refund would be out of the question).

You should also be prepared to be asked questions in return. If the breeder doesn’t ask you anything about yourself, your living situation, or how to intend to care for the dog, then this shows they are not interested beyond the dog leaving their property. A blasé disregard for the dog’s wellbeing can be a red flag.

Don’t Take a Puppy Home at The First Meeting

The breeder should not be willing for you to walk out with a puppy after a single meeting. Not even shelters allow this type of adoption when it comes to their animals. Each new owner should be vetted to ensure the dog is going to a good forever home. Not only can this show disregard for their dogs, but it can also be an indicator that all is not what it seems.

Breeding dogs can be an expensive endeavor, especially if one of the dogs is born with complications. Therefore some bad breeders will attempt to palm the dog off on the first person that shows interest, in order to avoid the expense. They will then claim ignorance should you communicate any problems with them, or in some cases will cut all contact.

Don’t Buy From a Third Party

Don’t purchase a puppy from someone who says they “know a great breeder”, or even someone who claims one of their family members is a good breeder. This is an immediate red flag. If they know a breeder then they should be pointing people to that breeder directly, not selling on their behalf. A reputable rescue group would not sell through a third party, they would only accept prospective pet parents directly. It’s the same story with breed club breeders.

Breeder man and Four siberian husky dog lying on snow at sunny winter day

Backyard Breeder vs Reputable Breeder

Disreputable breeders are just about everywhere, the same can be said of puppy mills. Unfortunately, no matter how many of these breeders are shut down, they will continue to crop up. Backyard breeders in particular manage to fly under the radar under the guise of being an unsuspecting dog owner just looking to give their litter to a good home. They will also operate swiftly to rid themselves of their puppies in time for the next litter. More and more dogs are being affected as a result of irresponsible breeding. The less care that is taken when breeding dogs, the more likely they are to develop long-term health issues or even die during infancy. Adult dogs used for breeding can be killed by overbreeding – especially the mothers.

The difference between bad breeders and reputable breeders is extensive. Bad breeders show complete disregard for the wellbeing of their animals and are out to get a quick buck at the expense of the dog and its new owner. Reputable dog breeders put a lot of time, energy, and money into ensuring their dogs are at peak health. They care for the dogs as if they are family and are extremely careful to ensure every puppy goes to a good forever home. Though reputable breeders are often quite a bit more expensive, it is worth the investment if you are looking to buy from a breeder, as your dog will have a much healthier life.

If you ever think you have come across a bad breeder or potential front for a puppy mill, be sure to contact the local animal rescue authorities and alert them to the situation. This will trigger an investigation, which should hopefully lead to the closure of the mill and confiscation of the animals to be cared for and given away to good homes.

Eloise is the owner of a Malamute/Akita cross, a first-time mum, and an animal enthusiast from England. She comes from a family which has never gone a day without a pet (or 3!), and over the years has learned all the best tips and tricks to raising a difficult pet. A knowledge that she has put to good use, to help others navigate the limitless world of pet care.

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