• Liza Marie Moon

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

Updated: May 8

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.

Click here to visit GoodDog.com

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 h