11 Signs a Puppy Is From a Puppy Mill

Mychelle Blake
Puppies peeking from behind a fence

Looking for a purebred puppy can be a wonderful adventure, but potential owners are often unaware of the plight of puppy mill dogs. Without asking the right questions, you may end up bringing home a dog from a mill with potential medical and behavioral problems. Keep a list of questions handy to avoid red flags and don't be afraid to question the sellers extensively.

Poor Housing Conditions

Puppies ideally should be whelped and raised in a home environment. If the breeder uses a kennel, it should be clean and free of any strong odors of urine and feces. If breeder will not let you into the kennel area, this is a sign for concern. On the other hand, if they do allow you to see the kennel, and conditions are dirty, this is also a sign to walk away.

Puppy Parents Are Unavailable

Golden Retriever with litter of puppies

A reputable breeder would not hesitate to allow you to meet the puppy's parents. It's possible one parent may not live on site if they have mated their dog to one owned by another breeder, but at the very least the dam should be available as she will be caring for the puppies. The appearance and personality of the parents are a good indicator of what the puppy will be like. If they do allow you to meet the dam and/or sire, and the dog appears skittish, fearful or aggressive, this is a real cause for concern.

Multiple Litters

A good breeder invests time in getting to know their dogs and providing them with ample attention. This means they will only have one litter at a time. Of course, it is possible they may have two breeding pairs. If they live in the home and the litters are well cared for, this may be a safe situation. If the breeder you are interested in has any of the following, you are probably dealing with a mill:

  • More than one litter at a time
  • Litters of more than one breed at a time
  • A constant supply of puppies

Designer Breeds

While this is not necessarily a telltale sign of a puppy mill, if the breeder sells more than one breed and many of them are designer/cross-breeds or teacup and mini versions of breeds, you could be dealing with a mill. These types of dogs are high sellers and popular since they can live in most types of homes, including apartments and condos. Mills tend to produce many of these breeds due to their potential for profit.

Still Want a Designer Dog?

Keep in mind, visiting a breeder who raises these breeds does not necessarily mean you are dealing with a mill; there are many breeders like this who care for their dogs. Ultimately, you should look at the condition of the puppies and the other questions to determine if this is a mill or not.

Lack of Medical Care

There are several questions and observations about the puppy's health that are critical.

  1. Does the puppy have its proper vaccinations? Mill dogs are often not vaccinated.
  2. Are there veterinary records for the puppy that indicate it has had regular check-ups? Mill dogs usually receive little to no professional care to avoid expenses.
  3. Have the breeders done health testing for the adults to make sure they are free of genetic conditions? Do they have proof?
  4. Does the puppy appear healthy? If you notice problems such as a dull-looking coat, skin conditions or even open wounds or sores, sniffling and runny eyes, limping, or coughing, this is a puppy that is not receiving necessary veterinary care.

Behavioral Problems

Young puppies should be generally friendly and eager to meet new people. If you see any behaviors that appear abnormal, this is a cause for concern. Mill dogs often suffer from a lack of adequate socialization. As a result, they can be extremely fearful, shy or aggressive. You may also observe older puppies exhibiting "stereotypies." Certified dog behavior consultant Barbara Davis of BADDogs Inc. Family Dog Training & Behavior says, "Stereotypies are compulsive behaviors driven by elevated stress; these may include self-grooming, licking of objects, spinning, tail-chasing, pacing and many others."

"Dirty" Puppies

Another common mill dog issue is "dirty puppy syndrome." Davis explains, "If the puppies aren't given a separate space to toilet, and their mom isn't able to keep them clean, they may not develop an aversion to their own poop. This means they can be exceptionally difficult to house train." If you observe puppies at the breeder sitting in their own feces and urine, or eliminating right in their living/sleeping area, this may be a mill dog situation.

Paperwork Not Required

A responsible breeder will not let you buy a puppy without signing a contract. These contracts will often include language about returning the dog to them if you cannot keep it, spaying or neutering at a certain age, or "co-owning" the dog for breeding rights. If the breeder simply wants to take your money with no questions asked, this is not a reputable breeder.

No Questions Asked

Good breeders will quiz you on your lifestyle, habits and knowledge of their breed to make sure their dogs are a good match. They will also ask these questions to match you up with the puppy in their litter whose temperament is the best fit. They want the best for their dogs and for you. If the breeder doesn't ask you any questions and seems unconcerned about the dog's future, this is most likely a puppy mill.

Puppy Too Young

Mother dog with her puppy

Puppies should not be separated from their litters until they are at least eight weeks of age. If they are separated earlier, they can suffer developmental and behavioral problems. States Davis, "These youngsters also may suffer emotional harm because of being separated from their mom and litter too soon, or too abruptly, or any number of random events that can occur in the process of being transferred from the puppy mill, to the pet store and onward."

Eight Weeks Old

If the puppy is younger than eight weeks and the breeder is eager to sell them right away, you should walk away. Good breeders will allow you to meet the puppies before they are eight weeks, but they will require you to put down a deposit and will release the puppy to you when it's the proper age to go home with you.

Internet Sales

There are reputable breeders who advertise their puppies over the Internet. However, they will require application forms, contracts and other information before they will approve a sale of their puppy to you. If you find listings for puppies online that are transactions with no requirements, you should be aware that you are most likely dealing with a mill.

Pet Store Puppies

In addition to online sales, many pet stores get their puppies for sale from puppy mills. You can ask the store owners and staff where the dogs come from. Do your research online to see if the store has any complaints or bad reviews regarding their puppies.

Do Your Homework

Remember that getting a dog is a lifetime commitment that can last 10 to 15 years (or more) depending on the breed. If you have your heart set on a purebred puppy, buying one from a responsible breeder means you will most likely be taking home a happy and healthy dog. At the same time, you won't be supporting a puppy mill industry that is well known for a lack of concern for the dogs' well-being.

11 Signs a Puppy Is From a Puppy Mill