How to Avoid Puppy Mills

I get concerned

I get   concerned when folks call me and ask me why they are seeing Havanese puppies for   under a thousand dollars in local papers or even online advertising sites.   There are several places where puppies can be purchased; pet stores, backyard breeders, puppy mills or reputable breeders.   As a responsible buyer, you must make yourself aware of these different places.   For that reason I am including some information for my visitors and potential puppy adoptive homes.   I will include information on Puppy Mills,  Backyard Breeders,  Hobby Breeders and what is commonly called Reputable Breeders.

Puppy Mills

A “Puppy Mill” is defined by the ASPCA as “a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation that places profit over the well-being of its dogs—who are often severely neglected—and acts without regard to responsible breeding practices.”  [1]

Puppy mill puppies are sold primarily in Pet stores but some also sell directly to the public through newspaper ads, and at swap meets and flea markets.  They will also be found advertising online in order to gain a better profit. Pet stores are the primary support of a puppy mill.    They often describe themselves as responsible and know all the “right words”  to make folks think it’s a good place to raise a puppy.   The big red flag is when you ask if you can go and see the parents and the puppies in their place of business and you will run into all sorts of excuses.    I will grant you that some breeders including myself will not allow visits until puppies are 6 weeks old or sometimes a little older.  This is done to avoid any germs/disease being tracked into the puppy’s environment until their immunity is established.  However at some point, any reputable breeder will allow you to come and visit the home and see both the puppies and parents.

Puppy Mill puppies are always isolated from human interaction either in a trailer, kennel, shed, garage, pens, closets or basements.  They are in dirty and unhealthy environments, usually standing and lying in their own feces to the point it is matted in their fur.    They are often exposed   and unprotected from the elements.

Breeding stock is rarely healthy.  Often they are even blind or crippled but continue to be bred.  They generally have skin, ear, eye, penis and vaginal infections, rotten and broken teeth, overgrown nails, worms and other diseases.


They are hugely overcrowded often having several dogs sharing a small crate with other crates stacked on top in columns to pack more dogs into the space.   These dogs rarely see a vet for fear they will suspect a puppy mill and report them.  Food and water are often scarce or get mixed in with the feces and urine. Their crates usually have grated bottoms so their waste will fall thru and be cleaned periodically underneath.   These grates are very uncomfortable for the paws of a dog and can cause sores and irritations in the feet that subsequently get infected.  These poor dogs are kept dirty, usually covered in fleas, matted, and untrimmed.   If they are lucky enough to get rescued, they will never be housetrained since they have lived in their waste.  They often will march back and forth in one spot because that was their world until they were rescued.   Some very generous people with HUGE hearts will often take in these poor rescued   creatures and give them loving homes to live out their lives.  It is a very hard job and I applaud them!


Puppies raised in these mills have never experienced love, open spaces, toys, treats or even basic grooming until they are pulled out of their pit to be bathed and trimmed for a picture or delivery to a pet store. As the adults, they are caged or penned in filthy spaces.  Again, they often are on wire floors where their feet and tiny legs are often injured or stuck in the holes.  They are very difficult to housetrain since they are used to walking around over their waste.


According to the ASPCA, puppies from puppy mills are prone to congenital and hereditary conditions such as:

  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, etc.)
  • Endocrine disorders (diabetes, hyperthyroidism)
  • Blood disorders (anemia, Von Willebrand disease)
  • Deafness
  • Eye problems (cataracts, glaucoma, progressive retinal atrophy, etc.)
  • Respiratory disorders

On top of that, puppies often arrive in pet stores and their new homes with diseases or infirmities. These can include:

  • Giardia
  • Parvovirus
  • Distemper
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Kennel cough
  • Pneumonia
  • Mange
  • Fleas
  • Ticks
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Heartworm
  • Chronic diarrhea [2]

Even though they are found in every state, ”Today, Missouri is considered the leading puppy mill state in the country. Over time, puppy mills have spread geographically. The highest concentration is in the Midwest, but there are also high concentrations in other areas, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and upstate New York. Commercial dog breeding is very prevalent among Amish and Mennonite farmers, with pockets of Amish dog breeders found throughout the country, including in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and parts of Wisconsin.”[3]


Backyard Breeder

Backyard breeders are another source of cheaper puppies.   This is not the same, as what is knows as a “hobby breeder”.   A Backyard breeder is a person who breeds   dogs   for the sole purpose of making some extra money.   They generally will not have a high quality breeding stock, but may invest in a better pedigreed dog to gain a little more money from the litter.


While on occasion you will find one with good bloodlines, they care little about the details of breeding responsibly.  They   breed whatever they have handy as often as possible for extra cash with no concern to whether it is a good genetic match and have no concerns for any health problems with the parents.   Breeding stock is usually neglected, matted, dirty, flea-ridden and unvaccinated.   They often sell puppies as young as 4 weeks with no vaccinations for as little as $50 dollars, though some will sell more desirable breeds for several hundred. [4] They often breed mixed breeds or what’s commonly called designer breeds.   They sell in local newspapers, Internet, flea markets and corners or parking lots.


They are called “backyard” breeders because they keep the dogs and the puppies in the yard, garage, shed, basement, closet or pen.   They are often kept in crates all day long  or left outside in a fenced area or kennel.   If they have several dogs, they may invest in a pen with caged bases just like puppy mills so the dog waste goes thru the grates and they don’t have to clean up after them.   Often they don’t even use grates, they just walk around din piles of accumulated waste.   As with puppy mill babies, they will often be very difficult to housetrain since they are used to walking in their waste.  Due to the conditions they are raised in,  they are prone to the same list of health problems as the puppy mill puppies.

Backyard breeder dogs are rarely socialized or included in any family activity.  Sometimes if the family has children, the puppies may receive some attention since they are naturally irresistible.  However, they are rarely removed from their pens or crates to go out and play in the grass and they infrequently interact for long periods of time or on any regular basis.


Hobby Breeder

A “Hobby Breeder”  is generally someone who has one dog and decided to have a litter for family or friends but does not plan on breeding again and is very careful who they give or sell the pups to.  They usually will be more responsible with socializing the puppies, but often lack the training and information to make proper choices in who to breed the dog to and how to avoid passing on any bad traits or diseases.  Most of the time,  they do not spend the money or time to have the dogs health tested since they only plan on having one or two litters.  


Reputable Breeder

A “Reputable Breeder”  is a term used to describe a breeder who is being responsible with their dogs in every way.  Though many of the above breeders may advertise themselves as “reputable”, You can ask some questions to be sure if they truly are a Reputable breeder.

A reputable breeder will be someone with high quality parent dogs that have good healthy bloodlines- generally AKC registered dogs.  They will do health testing of the breeding stock for known weaknesses in the breed.  They usually show their dogs in AKC events like Conformation or Agility but not always.   They are concerned with breeding standards and properly matching of a pair for the best possible litter.

They will not have an overabundance of dogs so that they can properly care for each individual’s dogs needs.  The dogs are generally involved in daily life of the family and kept in the house interacting with the family.  Larger breeds may spend part of the day outside to get the exercise their breed requires however they are still treated as part of the family.   They have regular vet visits and immunizations and are fed high quality food, treats and vitamins.  They will have their own clean beds or may sleep in a crate at night, but are not kept in crates thru the day.  NOTE:  A crate is actually not cruel to a dog as long as it is not used all the time and is kept clean and supplied with a bed since they like to dig around and get comfortable.    Dogs like to have a “den” and it’s a natural instinct to want to cuddle up in a small space at night. This is a great solution for owners that don’t want the dogs running around playing while they are trying to sleep at night.   They will often run into it to chew a bone or take a nap in their crate with the door open because it is a place of comfort for them.

A reputable breeder will birth and keep puppies in the house where they can watch them and interact with them daily for proper socialization.   Puppies are kept clean, trimmed, groomed, fed a high quality food and wormed regularly.    Preferably, they will take time to train puppies to pads for the convenience of new adoptive owners and hopefully even introduce them to the outdoors when they are old enough so they begin to learn how to go outside in the grass.   This definitely makes it easier for the new families to potty train their new babies.

A Reputable breeder may pay thousands of dollars for a good dog to parent the puppies.  They often keep some for the show ring and offer the rest of the litter to pet owners.  The time and expense necessary to acquire good bloodlines and provide good care, quality food and vet care  means a reputable breeder will  be charging somewhere in the vicinity of $1800 to $3500  for a good pet quality Havanese puppy.  Breeding rights are generally reserved for Show homes and will cost an additional $400 to $500 depending on the breeder.   While this may be much higher than the puppy mill or backyard breeder is pricing,  remember that one sickly puppy can cost you thousands of dollars very quickly!

A reputable breeder will be concerned with a good match for their puppies and prospective parents and will often have many questions for you and sometimes even an application.  They will always have a very specific Contract stating in no uncertain terms that the puppy is to be spayed/neutered.  This is to protect their puppies from winding up in a puppy mill or backyard breeder trying to improve their bloodlines.   Their contract will have specific information about proper required care for the puppies.  This is because of their concern for the future happiness and health of their puppies.


I hope this information helps prospective adoptive families to make a more informed decision in finding  a responsible breeder.

Carol King

KingsKids Havanese

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