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How to identify backyard breeders, secret puppy mills, and online scams

Updated: Apr 16

I see posts almost daily on social media about individuals being scammed out of money in an attempt to adopt a puppy sight unseen.

It is so common, y'all.

But if I'm being brutally honest, it is really easy to identify backyard breeders, secret puppy mills, and online puppy scams.

You just have to be willing to put in a little time and research.

Keep reading to learn more about how to identify these sneaky individuals and businesses.

Revised 6/26/2020

After receiving some great constructive feedback from fellow breeders, I have not only revised this blog post, but have decided to split the information into several separate posts. The new posts are a work in progress. I always appreciate respectful criticism from other professionals. It is truly my only intention to educate people about our industry and to elevate other breeders who are passionately working towards a higher standard. The original blog post can be viewed by following a link provided at the end of this post.

Can I give due credit to the experienced bloggers out there?!? Y'all are incredible. This is so hard! It is intimidating, humbling, and terrifying to publish your opinions on the internet.

It is our mission at Rebecca Creek Retrievers to provide the utmost in education and support to families that are seeking a new furry family member. This includes pointing families towards our own breeding program, as well as helping them identify other ethical programs that suit their needs. Please feel free to reach out to us at anytime with questions about any breeding program you are researching.

Liza Marie Moon

Please note that the content in this blog post is a blending of facts with my personal opinions, with the majority of content being my personal opinions.

Always do your own research on any topic that is important to you.

This blog post contains affiliate links.

standard small poodle parti tuxedo chocolate brown boy dog guardian home
One of our Guardians with his puppy.

Dogs are not children, I get it.

But, let's put this into perspective. If you were in the beginning stages of adopting a child, would you be looking for the cheapest and fastest option available? Or would you start by educating yourself on the process and then begin doing research on your available options? Would you be concerned about supporting an agency that abuses and exploits children, versus an ethical, sustainable organization? Would you be willing to interview multiple agencies, and wait for the perfect opportunity from a reputable agency?

Too many people want a puppy RIGHT NOW.

This feeling of desperation causes people to make decisions quickly and blindly. Things that were once important to them are overlooked in an attempt to satisfy an "instant gratification" attitude.

Breeders that keep wait lists are probably producing puppies that are worth waiting for.

Not all the time. But, typically? Yes. Breeders that keep wait lists are probably producing puppies that are worth waiting for. Are there exceptions to this rule? Absolutely. But a great place for you to start your search is to look for breeders that are planning litters, and get on a list.

Some "new breeders" will argue that it is impossible to have a wait list with no past breeding experience.

This is false. A new breeder should not have a litter until they have sourced potential homes for their future litter. Puppies should not be produced without reasonable demand. New breeders should have mentors helping them with this process.

Some new breeders start out as "Backyard Breeders" without knowing it.

Their hearts are in the right place, and they want to do everything they can to build a great breeding program from the bottom up, but they don't know where to start. I've been there!

If I am describing you, please check out these resources that I wish I knew about when I started breeding. I would have done so many things differently, and I wanted to do things better, but I didn't know how to find help. Look for a mentor to purchase breeding dogs from, and that is willing to help you along your journey.

I am going to highlight a new organization called Good Dog. This is an excellent place to source ethical breeders.

Good Dog screens every single Breeder and Rescue that wishes to join their community and create a profile. They are creating health testing standards, application platforms, secure messaging centers, and even secure payment options.

Good Dog also has a great learning center full of informative articles and blog posts to help you make an educated decision on your next purchase or adoption.

Vocabulary List: Here are some terms you will see/hear in this blog post, and during your puppy search process

Vocabulary Word: "Ethical"

The following definition is my personal definition of what I believe an "ethical breeder" is. There is no "industry standard" definition currently available for this term.

The word "ethical," in this blog post, is used to describe breeders that care about the lifelong health and safety of each and every puppy they produce (other terms commonly used are "responsible" and "reputable."). This means that these breeders are investing time and money into research & development, health testing, quality breeding dogs, facilities, and placing strict procedures into effect to facilitate successful matchmaking and adoptions. While it is usually one of many ultimate goals to profit in some capacity, an ethical/responsible breeder puts the health and wellbeing of their dogs and puppies before turning a profit.

Please Note: It is not the breed, purebred or mixed, that determines the quality and legitimacy of a breeding program. It is the structure of the program, the goals and motives of the breeder, and the quality of care, investment, research and devotion that is applied to that program that determines legitimacy.

Other words that are commonly used to describe "ethical" breeders: Responsible, Legitimate, Reputable

Vocabulary Word: "Puppy Mill"

A "Puppy Mill" is defined as a mass production facility in which dogs are kept in inhumane conditions for the sole purpose of producing puppies. These dogs are oftentimes kept in small, filthy cages. They are bred repeatedly until they die. They do not receive training, socialization, grooming, or medical care. They are given just enough resources and human interaction to survive. Puppies are raised in these same filthy, abusive environments, without socialization or medical care. When puppies are deemed old enough (oftentimes very prematurely) they are bathed and shipped to pet stores or listed online by Puppy Brokers.

amish puppy mill designer dogs purebred registered dogs abusive neglect small cages feces
These dogs are born in these cages, and will spend their entire lives in these cages.

Puppies from mills can be designer crosses or they can be registered purebreds! In fact, it has been proven over and over again that most Puppy Mills are producing registered, purebred dogs. So please don't be fooled by flashy marketing terminology such as

  • "Purebred"

  • "Full Registration," "Registered"

  • "Champion Parents," "Show Potential," etc.

Note on Puppy Mills: Beware of Amish breeders.

This is not a blanket statement intended to condemn all Amish communities and people. However, the Amish people as a whole view animals as living tools and not as living creatures that deserve proper care and respect. Many Puppy Mill operations are Amish owned--this is a known fact, not an opinion. It is unfortunate, but true. As a general rule of thumb, avoid any breeder that is Amish. Many will meet you in a barn or building to meet puppies. Keep in mind this is not where puppies were raised. It is a secondary location to keep the mill operation hidden.

Please read more, later in this blog post, about why you should not purchase from Puppy Mills in attempt to "rescue" the animal.

Puppies from Puppy Mills are almost always sold by pet stores or brokers for triple or quadruple their original purchase price, so it is impossible to give a "price range" for puppies raised in mills. Think "wholesale." Since Puppy Mills have practically zero overhead (they are understaffed, do not invest in health testing or medical bills, practice heavy inbreeding to avoid purchasing new dogs, etc.), this business is very lucrative for them.

Vocabulary Word: "Backyard Breeder"

A "Backyard Breeder" (BB) is defined as a breeder who breeds dogs with no consideration to health, structure, temperament or sustainability. "Backyard Breeders" earned this nickname because they are the families that literally raise a litter of pups in their backyard without any planning, investment, or scrutiny. Many backyard breeders are well meaning, but innocently ignorant and irresponsible, dog owners. They "want their kids to experience the joy of puppies." Or they "love their dog and want to have puppies so they can keep one."

Most backyard breeders simply see the opportunity to "get rich quick" by having a few litters of pups.

backyard breeder puppies for sale on the road parking lot
A classic tactic of Backyard Breeders--selling puppies on the roadside.

Backyard breeders do not have the patience or desire to build an ethical, sustainable breeding program. Even if they are well-meaning, innocently ignorant dog owners that "happened" to have a litter of puppies--keep in mind that there was no planning involved, no health testing, and no desire to preserve their breed or bloodline. No long term goals.

Like Puppy Mills, Backyard Breeders are difficult to identify by puppy purchase price alone. A Backyard Breeder doesn't typically deal with a "middle man," so they are going to charge as much as they think they can sucker someone into paying.

Look for a breeder that has an established bloodline(s) and some consistency over the years in what they are producing.

A smart, ethical breeder with certainly cater to some of the current trends in the market (breed, color, size, etc.), but they will do so slowly and with great scrutiny. However, a Backyard Breeder will jump around almost yearly in the breed, type, or color of dog they are producing.

Don't buy into the Backyard Breeder ideology that "ethical breeders shouldn't profit from breeding dogs."

This is an old school way of thinking and comes from times when the quality of a dog was determined by working achievements and show titles. These titles were expensive to earn, and the pet market was not what it is today. So most "old time" breeders did not ever receive a "paycheck" for their hard work and dedication. They were satisfied with knowing that they played a part in developing and preserving a breed. Or, for the working animal breeders, they relied on their dogs to earn a living (farms, hunting, etc.).

Today's pet industry is almost exclusively just that--pets. This industry is bigger than ever, and still growing. Most people do not want a show or working dog. And most modern "working dogs" are "working" so that we can preserve tradition, rather than the actual need for a dog's assistance in human survival.

Families want a healthy pet that is going to be fun and easy to train, and live a long and healthy life. Breeders that decide to take on this endeavor need to be turning a profit eventually in order to properly invest in their program and keep it sustainable. A profit can certainly be invested right back into a program so there is no money going into your pocket for personal use, however, it is still a profit.

You cannot preserve and contribute to a breed without remaining somewhat profitable. Profit is defined here as any amount of money that is earned after the sale of puppies, whether that money is drawn as a paycheck or invested directly back into a program.

Vocabulary Word: "Puppy Broker"

A "Puppy Broker" is an individual or organization that purchases puppies from Puppy Mills (or on rare occasions, BB's), and sells them under a different entity. Again, think "wholesale."

Pet stores are Puppy Brokers.

Pet stores are purchasing puppies at "wholesale" prices from Puppy Mills and re-selling them using a commercial storefront.

pet store puppy king charles cavalier spaniel
These puppies will live in cages until sold. Their history is unknown to you, the buyer.

Do not purchase puppies from Pet Stores. I want to scream this from the mountain tops! Under no circumstance does a puppy in a pet store come from an ethical, responsible breeder!

An ethical breeder would never subject her puppy to the danger, stress, and abuse of the Pet Store adoption system.

And, pet stores are not the only Puppy Brokers out there.

Larger Puppy Brokers are very good at marketing "their" puppies and programs. They use skillful techniques and marketing tactics to make buyers feel like they are making informed, educated decisions when choosing to purchase puppies from them. They also use these tactics to make families feel like they are purchasing puppies from a family owned, local business rather than an online Pet Store in disguise.

An ethical breeder would never allow a Puppy Broker to sell her puppies in an online store, without the ability to interview buyers and be directly involved in the adoption process.

Some rescue organizations are Puppy Brokers in disguise.

This is a seriously touchy subject, y'all.

Please consider only adopting from rescue organizations that utilize foster homes.

Consider avoiding rescue organizations that have online shopping carts, and/or a regular "supply" of purebred and designer breed puppies.

These organizations are purchasing these puppies "wholesale" from Puppy Mills, and adopting them out as "rescues."

I am certain that these puppies were removed from a terrible environment. Some would still define this as "rescue." However, these "rescue operations" are keeping Puppy Mills in business.

Breed-specific rescues need to be heavily scrutinized.

Many people seek out these breed-specific rescues in an attempt to adopt a purebred or designer dog that they couldn't otherwise afford from a reputable breeder.

I am not against rescue. But I am absolutely opposed to breed specific rescues that take advantage of trending markets.

It is backwards to seek a specific breed or type of dog from a rescue first.

If you are looking for a specific breed or type of dog, you don't start with a rescue. You start with an ethical breeder. If that breeder does not have what you want, ask for referrals. I refer to other breeders, as well as rescues, on a regular basis if I know they have a puppy or dog that suits a customer's needs.

Many individuals are also Puppy Brokers in disguise!

Beware of the "Craigslist Ad" or Facebook Post for a puppy that "isn't working out" or that "isn't getting along with my kids/other dogs."

Most ethical breeders contractually/legally require that puppies or dogs from their programs be rehomed through them exclusively, or returned to them immediately. This is called a "First Right of Refusal" clause. So it is fairly likely that the individual "rehoming" the puppy or dog did not purchase the puppy or dog from a reputable breeder.

Individual Puppy Brokers in disguise will purchase puppies from Puppy Mills or Backyard Breeders and attempt to "flip" them for profit.

Their post might look something like this:

There are many things about this ad that disturb me. But you get the overall idea. The puppy is only 8 weeks old and they are already rehoming him? There are several scenarios here that could be accurate, but none of them are positive.

  • Maybe they truly adopted the puppy with good intentions. However, they have not adopted from a breeder that requires rehoming through them exclusively. And they have either adopted from a breeder that let the puppy leave prior to 8 weeks of age, or they have only had the puppy for a day or two.

  • It is possible the creators of this ad are actually the breeders of the puppy, and they are selling him under the guise of "rehoming." This is done so that Backyard Breeders can essentially "exempt" themselves from explaining how the puppy was raised, what the parents are like, and why their purchase price is set where it is.

  • It is also possible the creators of this ad purchased this puppy from another breeder (Puppy Mill or Backyard Breeder) with the sole intention of "flipping" the puppy for profit under the guise of "rehoming."

I have seen some ethical breeders fall victim to Puppy Brokers in disguise, too. Their beloved puppy that they sold to a seemingly wonderful family is now being "flipped" for profit on the internet. Even the most rigorous of Puppy Applications and interviews can fall short when it comes to dealing with a professional scam artist.

Vocabulary Word: "Health Testing"

This is a marketing phrase that is being used very loosely in the industry. The phrase "health tested" or "fully health tested" is being flippantly used to describe a dog that has had a simple DNA panel run.

Health testing can be vaguely defined as any form of diagnostic testing that provides insight into the overall health of a dog.

These DNA panels are readily available to any dog owner. They are wonderful tools for dog owners and breeders alike. In fact, these tests are empowering many dog owners that have purchased puppies from Puppy Mills or Backyard Breeders. These owners are using these tests to discover that their puppy is not the breed or mixed breed that they intended to purchase, and are revealing genetic health problems that were not disclosed to owners. But those are topics for entirely different blog posts.

Here are some popular canine DNA tests that screen for breed, health, and other traits.

"Health Tested" is a phrase that can literally mean anything. The definition of "health tested" is left to each individual breeder.

Some breeders describe their dogs as "health tested" because they have been looked over by a vet.

Other breeders describe their dogs as "health tested" because they have run a $175 DNA panel on their dog.

Ethical breeders understand that health testing is an expensive, thorough, and ongoing process that involves testing for common, breed specific conditions that can be tested for. Or at least, testing for the measurable risk factors associated with a genetic condition.

These common DNA panels do not test for all known genetic conditions. Some of these conditions that DNA panels do not test for include, but are not limited to, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, cardiac disease, patellar luxation, and more.

Currently, the largest "governing body" for health testing recommendations by breed is the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals). Please refer to the OFA CHIC guidelines to learn what tests are recommended for dogs prior to breeding.

For mixed breeds (doodles, etc.), research the recommended testing for their purebred counterparts and combine. For example, if you are wondering what testing is recommended for a Goldendoodle, research the recommended testing for both Standard Poodles, and Golden Retrievers. Mini Goldendoodle? Research the recommended testing for Miniature Poodles, Toy Poodles, and Golden Retrievers.

Please keep in mind that even ethical breeders may not test their dogs to OFA CHIC standards. Talk to your breeder about what testing they do, and why. An ethical breeder will understand the unique testing needs of their dogs, in their program. And some ethical breeders are still working towards "higher levels" of health testing because they are looking for vets to perform these tests, or because they are simply new and still learning.

Consider purchasing from a breeder that health tests her dogs to a higher level than just a DNA screening. And scrutinize breeders that feel they can charge more money for puppies from "health tested" parents. Ask about the health testing that has been done that justifies an inflated purchase price.

Vocabulary Word: "Cleared by Parentage"

This is a health testing related phrase. Describing a puppy or dog as "cleared by parentage" implies that this dog or puppy has parents that are both clear of inheritable diseases.

This phrase raises several questions.

  • What inheritable diseases are they cleared for?

  • What testing has been done, and where are the results?

The term "cleared by parentage" only applies to inheritable diseases that can be tested for by running a DNA panel.

Conditions that cannot be cleared by parentage include, but are not limited to:

  • Hip dysplasia

  • Elbow dysplasia

  • Patellar luxation

  • Heart disease

These conditions only have measurable risk factors. We are not able to determine definitively whether or not a breeding pair will develop puppies with these conditions, because many of these conditions are not subject to genetics only. For example, hip dysplasia can be caused by injury or by lifelong obesity, as well as bad genetics.

"Cleared by Parentage" is a term that, in my opinion, is used to dodge health testing altogether. Consider avoiding breeders that do not test all breeding dogs. Even dogs with seemingly health parents can develop genetic conditions from past generations that can be passed on to future generations.

Vocabulary Word: "Health Guarantee" (Health Warranty)

Nothing in life is guaranteed.

I'm not going to go into great detail here, as the term "Health Guarantee" or "Health Warranty" is pretty self explanatory. Backyard Breeders that offer these guarantees are not really offering to guarantee much of anything, or have no intentions of ever honoring these guarantees, as they are aware that most will never hold up in court. Always ask to read a breeder's guarantee before giving them any kind of deposit or payment.

Ethical breeders offer warranties based on what they feel comfortable covering. It is very difficult to determine what can and should be warrantied for a living creature. These warranties are going to be vastly different from program to program. When it comes to "guarantees," you are simply going to need to talk to you breeder and make sure you feel comfortable with the warranties they offer and the terms that are involved.

Vocabulary Word: "Socialization"

This term is also thrown around loosely by Backyard Breeders. Proper socialization is defined as a systematic approach to training puppies from birth to be comfortable with and accepting of everyday household family life, using a progressive and well thought-out methodology or program.

An ethical breeder will be able to provide you with regular videos of them actually performing these socialization techniques with their current litters.

puppy culture sensory cube toys tower goldendoodles doodles
This breeder built a sensory cube for her puppies.

Most Backyard Breeders think that throwing in a few toys and raising puppies inside their home is equivalent to "socializing." It is not. The process of proper socialization is a daily, time consuming, systematic approach to preparing puppies for daily life in a functioning household.

An ethical breeder will be able to not only tell you all about their socialization techniques and processes, but they will be able to show them to you using recent photos, videos and live video chats.

Vocabulary Word: "Deposit"

A deposit is defined as a sum of money that is paid to a breeder in order to reserve a puppy. Most deposits are non-refundable. This is standard for the industry. This is because your breeder is turning away other paying customers in order to reserve your puppy. Most ethical breeders will not even breed until they have a full deposit list, meaning a list full of serious buyers.

The most common Puppy Scam today is individuals disguising themselves as breeders on the internet, and collecting non-refundable deposits for puppies that do not exist.

This is the "M.O." of scammers. They talk people into sending them deposits for puppies that don't exist using fake websites and stolen photos. Do your homework before sending anyone money.

Here is a great example of this scam at work (this ad was posted by a victim):

Now you are familiar with some of the most widely used terms and phrases in the industry when it comes to finding a new puppy.

Let's move on to how you can decipher whether or not you are dealing with a Puppy Mill, Backyard Breeder, Puppy Broker, For-Profit or False Rescue, or Ethical Breeder.

Begin your search and avoid online scams with these guidelines...

As you evaluate breeders, use these guidelines in the order that they are listed. If a breeder fails any of these requirements, please consider finding a different breeder to support.

There are some items on this list that are extremely important, and pretty easy to identify. I will use the word "run" to describe how you should react to these items should a breeder not measure up. When I say "run," I mean run. I don't mean ask more questions. I don' t mean move on to the next item on the list. I mean, run now. Don't waste any more time!

I am going to provide screenshots throughout this section from actual websites and ads.

(I'm sure at some point in time, after this blog post is published, these sites/ads will magically disappear. Therefore, I have utilized screenshots rather than links.)

1. Do they have a Facebook Page, Group, or Website?

Breeders that are seeking to preserve their breed and bloodline will have put considerable time into marketing their puppies properly and professionally. Look for breeders with either Facebook Pages or Websites that are updated frequently.

Keep in mind that the "sale of animals" is prohibited on Facebook. Most breeders are aware of this, so review Facebook breeder pages with a grain of salt.

Most ethical, established breeders, will have developed professional websites in place of the Facebook pages.

2. Are there major grammatical errors and "typos" present on Home Pages, and throughout the rest of the pages and content of the page or website?

Y'all, I see so many poorly laid out pages and websites, riddled with typos and grammatical errors. Even on the Home page! Poor grammar, formatting, and typos are your first red flag. Please be aware, and beware.

3. Where are they getting their content?

Copy and paste some of their content into a Google search bar. Content is any form of written material. Is it original? If it is not, is credit given to the original author?

This website has stolen content on their home page. All it takes is highlighting a paragraph, and pasting it into a Google search bar. As it turns out, this content was stolen from another website.

4. Do they have photos of puppies?

Photos do not need to be professional studio pictures, but they need to have been well thought out.

Photos of dirty puppies in dirty environments are unprofessional.

Photos are also easily and commonly stolen. Scroll through all of a breeder's photos. Do you see any common trends such as common adult dogs, common environments/backgrounds, etc.? If photos are all taken in different settings/homes, different environments, etc., do some more research.

Perform Reverse Image Searches on Google. Learn how to do this at the end of this blog post.

This website has a stolen photo on it's home page, easily identified by doing a Reverse Image Search on Google.

Scammers will also send stolen pictures via text message and email. Please check to be sure that these photos have not been stolen from another breeder.

If you discover that a "breeder" is using even a single stolen photo, run now.

5. Do they have photos and descriptions of parent dogs?

You need to see photos of parent dogs. You need to see health testing results for parent dogs. If a website does not readily provide photos of and information on parent dogs and health testing results on parent dogs, Run.

This website mentions that they have the parents. Where are they pictured? Why aren't they talked about elsewhere on the website? Health testing certainly is not discussed anywhere.

6. Do they have Health Testing results readily available?

There is a current, common scam that is gaining in popularity involving BB's claiming that they cannot share their dog's health testing results for fear of fraud.

Run now, and don't look back. This is one of the biggest scams by Backyard Breeders right now--breeders claiming that their dogs are health tested, but that they cannot show you the results. Some will claim that they will give you health testing results for the parents when you come to pick up your puppy (probably after you have already paid for it). Run, now.

In rare cases, you may actually be dealing with an ethical breeder that is simply uneducated on what is involved in "health testing papers fraud." Even if you think this is the case, please find a different breeder that is willing to be transparent with you on the testing that they have done, and the results of that testing.

Become your own detective.

If you have doubts about health testing results that a breeder has shared with you, call the lab or organization that performed the testing! It is that easy!

These professional entities are not going to share the breeder's personal information with you, but they will absolutely tell you whether or not the health testing papers you have been shown are valid.

Here is a recent Facebook post in a breeder group regarding "health testing fraud."

It is really that easy. Call the lab and ask for validation. Here is an example of a lab report that a breeder might share with you. Click here to view the actual PDF, or view the image below.

I have circled the information that you will need when you call the associated lab to verify this report. Call the lab and ask them to verify that the laboratory number matches the breeder name and dog information that you have listed on your copy. If the laboratory informs you that the lab # you have provided does not match their records, you have been provided with stolen paperwork.

Here is another example of a health testing report that a breeder may show you. This one is from the OFA. The OFA number is highlighted because this is the number you can use to validate an OFA report.

Enter the OFA number into the search bar on the OFA website.

Cross check the dog info that you were provided information for, with the actual dog on record with the OFA.

7. Do they have a "Shopping Cart," or a "Pay Now" button on their website?

An ethical breeder wants to interview potential buyers before any money is transferred. If you come across a breeder that allows you to place a puppy in an online shopping cart, run. These breeders care about money, not about finding great homes for their puppies. An ethical breeder would never accept money prior to having a completed application as well as having done an email or phone interview.

8. Are they running a sale, offering discounts to everyone, or offering coupons/coupon codes?

Ethical breeders understand that "running sales" brings in a different type of buyer. A buyer looking for a bargain is interested in instant gratification, not quality.

Coupon codes and discounts are not necessary when sourcing responsible families exclusively.

Ask yourself, "Why does this breeder need to offer discounts and coupons in order to sell puppies?" No, the answer is not that they simply want to "help people" and make their puppies accessible to everyone. If this were the case they would be donating puppies to reputable non-profit organizations (and many ethical breeders do this!).

8. Are all available puppies the same age, and from the same litter(s)?

If a "breeder" has multiple puppies for sale that are all different ages and breeds (again, probably in a "Shopping Cart" or online store format), run away. They are either lying or they are brokering puppies from Puppy Mills. Learn more about Puppy Brokers in our Vocabulary List earlier in this article.

The puppies on this website appear to be from several different breed pairs (parent dogs). Just a little bit of investigation will confirm this. If you click on each puppy's listing, you will quickly find that they are all different ages. This tells us one of several things: This is a pretty large operation and most likely a Puppy Broker. Or in this breeder's case (since we have found several stolen photos on the website), these puppies could be completely factitious and this person is simply trying to lure people into sending them deposits.

9. Are you dealing with a "real person?"

This question leads to our next question about video chats. Any breeder you are thinking of working with needs to be willing to chat over the phone. If they are unwilling to communicate over a phone call or video chat, run away.

Most ethical breeders require phone calls to be schedule due to the large volume of calls they receive daily.

10. Do they allow live video chats?

Many ethical breeders do not allow home visits anymore. I personally do not.

The safety of my puppies is more important to me than giving people the ability to "window shop" inside my home, while they expose my dogs and puppies to whatever bacteria, viruses, and diseases they are tracking in on their shoes and clothing.

The safety and privacy of my family is more important to me than giving strangers access to the inside of my home.

So please do not base "not being able to visit puppies" on whether or not a breeder is ethical.

Ask for new, timestamped photos, and ask for a live video chat. If a breeder is not willing to facilitate a live video chat where you can "meet" the puppies, run. I don't care if they don't have the technology available to do this (because they probably do, and if they don't, they should). Run away. Find another breeder than can give you a "virtual meet-and-greet."

Side Note: A "virtual meet-and-greet" doe not mean a tour of the breeder's home and/or facilities. For ethical breeders that operate outside of their home, this is still a huge invasion of privacy.

During a Live Video Chat you should simply expect to see the puppies you are inquiring about, as well as the dam (mama dog). In my opinion, a breeder is not morally obligated to show you anything else.

11. Do they have references?

I'm not talking about testimonials or reviews. These can be easily faked. I'm talking about real, live references. Real human beings that you can talk to over the phone--that can tell you about the breeder you are thinking of working with. Ask for a vet reference, groomer reference, and two customer or Guardian Home references.

A note on Veterinarian references: HIPPA laws do not apply to animals. If you request a veterinarian or groomer reference, the breeder will probably have to call and notify the clinic that you will be calling for a reference, due to clinic policies (NOT state laws). With written or verbal permission, a groomer or veterinarian can provide a simple, "Yes, this person is a customer of mine."

The reviews on this website are copied and pasted onto this webpage. They could have been written by anyone, meaning they could be 100% factitious. There is no way to submit a review of your own on this website with a guarantee that it will be posted.

12. Are they able to justify their asking price?

This is huge for me. I get the question all the time--"Why do your puppies cost $XXXX?"

I am more than happy to go into detail about what is involved in raising my puppies, and how they are priced accordingly.

Some ethical breeders feel that they do not need to justify their pricing to potential buyers--or, they simply don't want to.

This is ok, and understandable.

However, I do not feel this way. I am proud to explain to families why they should pay more for one of my puppies. I am excited to tell them how much time and money I invest in to my program to create wonderful family pets. Again, this is just me. Please be careful about quickly judging another ethical breeder that is not so excited to lay out a price analysis for you.

brindle sable tri colored poodle puppy
One of our sweet brindle poodles during an individual play session (socialization).

Please do not ask your breeder for a detailed expense report. I am simply asking you to look into what is going into the purchase price of your puppy. This is an area where you need to go with a gut feeling. Examine the current market--ultimately, the market will drive prices up or down. Decide what you are willing to pay, and find a breeder that you can afford to deal with.

Keep in mind that if you are paying more, you should be able to see proof of elevated levels of quality in a program. Health testing, socialization, etc.

Some ethical breeders are going to be very offended by the question, "Why do your puppies cost $XXXX?

Ethical breeders with sustainable programs are tired of being dogged on (pun intended) for turning a profit.

It is difficult to give you guidelines for this area in terms of identifying a Backyard Breeder based solely on questions regarding price. If you have gone through this checklist and, so far, your breeder "checks out," then you are probably more than comfortable with paying what they are asking. Again, you need to go with a gut feeling here.

Be tactful and respectful if you approach this subject with any breeder, and be prepared for a little bit of backlash. Some of the best of the best in ethical breeders are absolutely not going to discuss price with you. Just one more reminder: you need to go with a gut feeling.

13. What are their pick-up policies, or shipping and delivery processes?

This is another touchy subject with many breeders. Personally, we do not allow visitors to our home. However, we do puppy-picks and pick-ups on our property, in a designated area away from the home.

Beware of breeders that insist on shipping your puppy.

This area gets tricky because I would certainly sympathize with an ethical breeder that does not want strangers entering their home, even to pick up their new puppies. You need to go with your gut feeling in this area.

puppy flight nanny parti party poodle puppy
One of our poodle pups getting ready to board a plane with us.

A common scam right now is for a "seller" to first lure a buyer into sending them a non-refundable deposit to reserve a puppy (remember this puppy doesn't actually exist). Then when it comes time to deliver the puppy, the "seller" asks for a shipping fee to deliver the puppy to your doorstep. Can you guess what happens? Any variety of a tragic chain of events will suffice. The puppy was lost, has gotten sick, has passed away, etc. There is no puppy, and the buyer has lost a ton of money to a scammer.

14. What kind of Lifetime Support do they offer?

An ethical breeder truly wishes for you to have lifelong success with your new puppy. Breeders with larger operations simply cannot provide the individualized support that breeders with smaller programs can. However, they will provide valuable resources for you so that you receive the lifelong support you need. These will include medical and health resources and training resources. For example: If we can't answer your questions ourselves, we direct our families' training questions to Baxter and Bella.

ANY breeder, large or small, should be willing to answer your basic questions about your puppy.

If you ask a question that requires a more in depth answer, your breeder, at minimum, needs to be able to direct you to an appropriate resource. I truly want my families to ask me their questions before they ask Facebook or Google. And if I don't have an answer, I will say so and provide an appropriate resource. Ask your breeder what kind of lifelong support they are going to offer you so that you have expectations up front. Ask your breeder's references if they uphold this standard of support.

Here are some more key points I want to touch on for those that want more in depth information on some of the corrupt individuals and businesses that we are all up against

The dangers of "rescuing" puppies from mills and backyard breeders

If you give any amount of money to a Puppy Mill or Backyard Breeder, you are keeping them in business.

You are purchasing that puppy or dog. While you may be rescuing that animal from a disgusting, abusive situation, you are keeping that operation in business.

If you come across an abusive situation, do not purchase the puppy or dog for any amount of money. Report the individual to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Break the cycle. Stop purchasing these animals because you feel sorry for them.

The only way to choke out Puppy Mills and Backyard Breeders and to put them out of business permanently is to:

  • Stop purchasing puppies from Puppy Mills and BB's. This seems easy, right? But it gets tricky when people purchase puppies from these entities in an attempt to "rescue" them from a terrible situation. If you pay money to rescue a dog from a Mill or BB, you are purchasing that puppy and keeping them in business.

  • Stop purchasing from Pet Stores. All animals in pet stores come from Puppy Mills or Backyard Breeders.

  • Stop purchasing puppies from Puppy Brokers. These puppies have been purchased from Puppy Mills or Backyard Breeders for resale.

  • Report these individuals and businesses to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

A true rescue situation will involve authorities raiding a Puppy Mill or Backyard Breeding operation and confiscating all animals.

These animals will then be placed into city run shelters to be either euthanized or adopted out.

"I purchased my dog from a BB and he is the healthiest, best dog I have ever owned!"

You are the problem. You are keeping Puppy Mills and BB's in business. You are the exception, not the rule. Break the cycle.

What I mean when I use the phrase "sustainable program"

This is a term that I have coined, as the word "sustainable" is not typically a term you will hear to describe a breeding program. So, what do I mean when I talk about a "sustainable breeding program?"

I define a sustainable program as a breeding program that is thinking beyond the next few years. Any individual can take two dogs and breed them a few times. But what are their long term plans? Do those two dogs and those two or three resulting litters support those long term plans?

It is not the breed, purebred or mixed, that determines the quality and legitimacy of a breeding program.

It is the structure of the program, the goals and motives of the breeder, and the quality of care, investment, research and devotion that is applied to that program that determines legitimacy.

Here are some things that a sustainable program is doing and/or thinking about:

  • Investing in breeding dogs from programs with several generations of health tested breeding dogs.

  • Working towards health testing all breeding dogs to CHIC standards. This takes time, and some breeders choose to perform select tests prior to breeding an initial litter, and to complete further testing later. Some breeders do not view the OFA's CHIC standards as appropriate health testing standards for their program, so as mentioned earlier in this blog post, discuss this with each individual breeder.

  • Breeding to a pre-determined "type" or "standard." These standards can be defined individually by the breeder, or by a breed club or registry. If these standards are being defined individually by the breeder, ask them to provide an outline of these standards and see how their dogs match up to those standards. If the standards are being defined by another entity such as a breed club (GANA, etc.) or registry (AKC, UKC) see how their dogs match up.

  • Breeding to meet long-term goals and making choices that support these goals. Ask your breeder what their long term goals are for their program, and what they are doing to reach those goals.

  • Turning a profit. Whether the profit is small or large, turning some kind of profit is necessary for a sustainable breeding program. A breeder that plans to build a program to meet an ultimate goal needs funding. I dare you to find a breeder that is funding their ultimate breeding goals solely on money from another full-time job. Breeders that breed on a small scale, but that have long terms goals, still need to turn a small profit. This profit is then invested directly back into the program to keep it going and growing. Even though the breeder isn't drawing a paycheck for her time, she is still drawing enough of a profit to sustain her program. Some ethical breeders make a great living with their programs. And keep in mind, a "great living" means very different things to different people. Don't be too quick to judge. This doesn't happen over night, and it is the exception, not the rule. And yes, a breeder can be ethical, responsible, and make a great living. It is the exception, not the rule, remember?

How to perform a Reverse Image Search on Google

This process will tell you whether or not your breeder is using stolen photos.

For a desktop computer or laptop:

For an android mobile device:

For an iphone or Apple mobile device:

I truly hope you have found this blog post to be information and eye opening. Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself and for supporting ethical breeders!

In the spirit of transparency, click here to see the original blog post that was published on 6/24/2020.

This original post was written in a "passionate rage" after receiving daily phone calls and emails from families that have been scammed out of deposits for puppies that do not exist. I admit openly that my original post had sections that were not written tactfully and compassionately.

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