What is a puppy farm?
A puppy farm is where multiple dogs are continually bred and the puppies sold. They are kept in poor conditions as the 'breeders' don't care for their health and happiness. They are very different to reputable breeders. Usually reputable breeders will only breed one or two different breeds at any one time and should put the health of their puppies and their mothers above a quick profit. Puppy farms tend to have far more breeds than this available, and dogs from puppy farms can be unwell, leading to potential heartache for the unwitting owners who take them on.
Some puppy farms will also have dogs brought in from other countries overseas. It's illegal to transport young puppies, so there's a high chance that this has been done illegally. This means there's no guarantee that the puppies have had any vaccinations or treatment against diseases we don't have in the UK. The pups will have also been put under a lot of stress during travel, meaning they're more likely to pick up health problems.
Puppy farms are bad for dogs and owners. There are plenty of reasons you should never knowingly buy from a puppy farm:
- Wellbeing. Like all animal lovers, we think that it's most important that all pets should be happy and healthy. Puppy farmers won't care for their dog's wellbeing. A lot of dogs used for puppy farming (both the mums and the puppies) are kept in very poor conditions. They'll often be confined to a small space, left in their own poo and wee with little fresh water. They'll not have seen a vet or had important preventative healthcare like vaccines or treatment for fleas and worms.
- Over breeding. As puppy farms are solely for profit, they will continue breeding from a female dog until she can’t physically have puppies anymore. These poor dogs are made to breed every time they come into season, giving them no time to rest. Legally, you can only ever have six litters from a dog and the Kennel Club will only register the first four litters from one dog. Sadly, the likelihood is that puppy farm dogs are made to breed much more than this and the mothers will be tired and exhausted from the strain on their bodies.
- Inbreeding. Inbreeding causes serious health problems in dogs. If two dogs are too closely related, the puppies are more likely to develop serious health problems. Puppy farmers don’t care about this and will breed any two dogs together even if they are closely related.
- Socialisation. Puppies from puppy farms will not have been properly socialised to become good, confident pets. They’ll have never experienced a normal home environment and all the smells, sights and sounds that come with that. They won’t have a met different types of people. Because of this, they’re more likely to develop behaviour issues, including phobias. Often puppy farmed pups are taken away from their mum far too early, meaning they miss out on learning how to properly interact with other dogs.
- Ethics. The people who run puppy farms do not value the lives of the dogs they are breeding from or the puppies. A lot of the mothers will be abandoned once they stop being useful for breeding. Some puppies will die due to poor health and the conditions they are kept in. Sickly puppies are often sold on as healthy ones.
How to recognise a puppy farm
When you are buying a puppy, you might not recognise that you're buying from a puppy farm. Many of these types of sellers are experienced and go to extremes to cover up what they really are.
A puppy farm isn't always obvious, so look out for some important signs at each stage of purchasing your puppy.
- How many ads has the seller posted? If you find an advert online, see how many other ads the seller has. A puppy farm will likely be advertising several litters of different breeds at any one time.
- How many breeds are offered? If you see an ad in the paper, does it just talk about one breed? A puppy farm ad may refer to a few different breeds.
- Does it have a passport? A lot of puppy farms will import puppies from countries where there are little to no breeding laws. If your puppy comes with a passport, it could have been imported. Only puppies over the age of 12 weeks should be able to get a passport, so sellers claiming that very young pups have passports is a red flag.
- Search the number. Always Google the telephone number on the ad. Dealers may use the same contact number on more than one advert, so try searching for the number to bring up any other adverts the number is used on.
- Check the wording. The adverts will often sound vague or generic. Descriptions might be copied word-for-word and pasted onto more than one advert - try searching the description to check where else it is used.
- Vaccinations. A puppy should be at least six weeks old before being vaccinated, though normally pups will be eight weeks old before their course starts. If they are saying a puppy has been vaccinated and it isn’t old enough yet, it’s probably a puppy farm ad. Breeders should be able to provide written confirmation from their vets that both the mum, and the puppies have been vaccinated at the appropriate time.
- Will they let you see the whole litter in the place they were born? Often, a puppy farm will try to meet you in a public location like a car park or motorway service station. They’ll usually try to pretend that this is for your convenience, but if pressed you might find out you’re not able to see the puppy at their home. If you can’t see the puppy at home then you should not buy the dog.
- Do they try to offer other breeds? If you’re unsure about that particular puppy, a puppy farmer may try to offer you a different breed.
- Do they ask you questions? A breeder that cares about the welfare of their dogs will ask you just as many questions as you ask them! Puppy farms don’t care where their dogs go so are unlikely to ask you about your situation or try to find out if you’re an appropriate owner.
- Do they know about the breed? A reputable breeder will often love the breed and know all there is to know; they should be able to answer any question you might have. A puppy farmer will only know the basics as they often deal with multiple breeds.
- How does mum react to them? If the dog they say is the puppy’s mum is scared or wary of the seller, that’s a big problem. She might also be very wary of you too.
- Are they keen to deal in cash? Puppy farms tend to only allow cash payments and you’ll often find this can’t be refunded. They may have a strict no returns policy. While many reputable breeders won’t be set up for other payment methods, they should agree to sign a puppy contract laying out responsibilities, including that all the information that they’ve provided is accurate. They should also be willing to support you if for any reason you can’t keep the dog.
- Does the breeder’s ID match up? If they invite you to the dog’s ‘home’, ask to check their ID and see if it matches the address. Puppy farms will often use what appears to be a normal home as a cover to sell the dogs from.
- Are there a lot of outbuildings or sheds? If you are already concerned and are invited to the sellers ‘home’, a lot of outbuildings or sheds could indicate a puppy farm (but this isn’t always the case!)
- Are there areas of the house shut off? If a house is being used for puppy farming, you may find that there are closed off rooms and areas. Listen out for barking, whining or other signs there might be other dogs around.
- Does it look like the dogs have been living here? They may use a different location to sell the dogs. See if the dogs seem familiar and comfortable with their environment. Look out for food bowls, crates, bedding and toys – all good signs that the dog actually lives in this home.
- Can you see the puppy’s mum? Puppy farms will separate the puppies from their mums far too early. They may make excuses as to why you can’t see the mum, but don’t accept this. Always see mum and puppies together.
- Is ‘mum’ really mum? Another tactic is to use a healthy looking dog in the place of the puppy’s real mum. A dog who has recently had puppies will show clear signs (visible teats) and have bonded with her puppies. If she seems wary of the puppies she may not be their mum.
- Is it the same puppy as the ad? If you saw an ad with a photo, make sure that the puppies you see are definitely the ones in the photo.
- Do the puppies look healthy? They should have moist (but not runny) noses, clear bright eyes, a healthy coat and no mess round their bum. Any puppy that has a lot of discharge from its nose, eyes or ears, or seems very lethargic, probably isn’t very healthy and needs a check-up from the vet before you agree to take it on.
- Can you see the whole litter? Some puppy farms may only let you see the puppies one at a time. You should be able to see the whole litter with mum, even if the rest of the litter are reserved.
You can find out what to look out for when you’re choosing a puppy and download the puppy contract.
What should I do if I think it’s a puppy farm?
- Walk away. It can be hard leaving a puppy, especially if you think you’re leaving them in a puppy farm. But buying a puppy from a farm won’t help the puppy, it will just make a profit for the breeders and mean they continue to breed many more puppies as a result.
- Report the ad. If you found the ad online, report the advert to the website it is on.
- Report licensing breaches. If you think they don’t have a licence but should, or don’t live up to the terms of their licence, report them to your local authority.
- Report welfare issues. If you are worried that the dogs’ welfare needs aren’t being met, report them to the RSPCA.
- Call the police if you see cruelty to animals. If you directly witness any cruelty, ring the police.