Puppy Mills and Pet Stores

Some people buy dogs at pet stores in the mall. The stores usually state that their dogs come from reputable breeders not puppy mills.

Consider that AKC breeders commit to careful breeding, genetic supervision, showing breeder dogs to assure quality, and always screening buyers, denying breeding papers to puppies not suitable for improving the breed, guaranteeing puppies to the extent of asking that any unwanted dog of any age be returned rather than sent to a rescue.

Registered AKC dogs can have two kinds of papers (unless things have changed since I wrote this). One kind is for top-quality dogs – that means they come closest to meeting the breed standard and is something only people who show and raise dogs can tell by looking at a puppy.

They may not be show quality when full grown but it is more likely than not that they will be breeding quality. Before breeding all purebred dogs should ideally have been shown and won ribbons to show they have been judged as being close to the breed standard.

That doesn’t make them better PETS – the free puppy from a neighbor or an animal rescue is just as likely to be a great family pet – just identify the breed because even non-breeder quality dogs will likely have the general temperament of the breed. Being non-AKC or CKC show quality can be due to something as simple as having the wrong color coat, or being too tall, too short, or too long or short compared to their height (some breed standards call for a dog to be “square”).

None of those things matter in the least for a pet.

wet nose book ad The other kind of puppy paper only guarantees that the puppy is purebred but either isn’t top show quality and shouldn’t be bred, or that the buyer wasn’t willing to pay top price, perhaps for an older puppy. This is called a limited registration and if you breed that dog you won’t be able to register the puppies with the AKC.

I’ve often bought pure-bred dogs without any papers at all from reputable breeders. If I wasn’t going to breed them papers were meaningless. In fact my two beautiful Great Danes came from a good kennel but I never saw any papers other than a bill of sale. I had no doubt they were pure-bred, some breeds you can tell at a glance and I’d say either could have been show dogs.

Reputable breeders must also socialize puppies as much as possible, give them attention and exercise, along with everything needed to produce an excellent pet or breeder. They do NOT keep them in cages for most of 24 hours, although they may be confined at night or for training purposes.

Puppies raised in cages will not socialize properly.

So, given those constraints on reputable breeders, how can animals in pet stores be from reputable breeders?

There are also other registries besides the AKC (CKC in Canada) but those are the “real” registries that require breeders to follow rules and the dog’s ancestors to be known and recorded.

These other registries are sometimes begun merely to legitimize a breed or to help people charge more for puppies. In fact, many of these alternative registries will register any dog or puppy merely for the asking (along with paying a fee).

Consider whether it makes sense to pay thousands of dollars for puppies where you can’t meet the breeders, see and interact with the “mother” dog at a minimum and preferably with the sire (father) also, choose from several puppies, and see where they were born and raised.

There are also age limits on buying a puppy – these may vary by state but, for example, in PA it is illegal to sell or even give away, or otherwise separate from the mother, any puppy under eight weeks of age unless the puppy has been orphaned.

There were, at the time of this writing, 18 states that set age limits on puppy transfers and of them only one sets that age at less than eight weeks of age. Large breeds should be left with their mothers and siblings for 10 weeks or longer.

Check your state laws, there are also specific health guarantees usually known as suitable for sale, which must be reported within a specific time period.

In PA it even appears that it is illegal for a pet store to sell dogs.

“It shall be unlawful for any person to buy, sell, offer to sell, transfer, barter, trade, raffle, auction or rent a dog at any public place in this Commonwealth other than a kennel licensed pursuant to this act, or a dog show, performance event or field trial sponsored by a recognized breed or kennel association or transfer by a rescue network kennel within its own network or to another rescue network kennel. If a purchase, sale, transfer, barter, trade, raffle, auction or rental of a dog occurs at or on the premises of a kennel, the transaction shall be unlawful unless one of the parties to the transaction is an employee, volunteer or other person acting as an authorized representative of the kennel.”

Pet stores are in public places. Private homes are not.

Puppy Mills Are Bad

In a pet store you don’t know who the breeder is, whether the parents have show points or are even registered (actually you can be 99.9% certain that neither is even AKC registered.) You don’t know if the crate they are in now is better or worse than the one they were born in. You also don’t know how often the bitch gets bred (every 6 months until they die is the usual for puppy mills).

Before paying as much for a pet store puppy as you would for a show quality puppy from an AKC breeder, shouldn’t you ask yourself whether it is more sensible to pick the puppy where you can get to know everything about it rather than just the price?

There are also casual breeders or hobby breeders who just love their dog and want to make a bit of money breeding him or her. This is usually a very bad idea both because it costs a lot to properly breed a great puppy and because the parents are seldom of breeding quality.

With millions of dogs being destroyed every year does it make sense to breed inferior ones?

But some casual breeders can turn out good dogs. You can easily tell a casual breeder from a puppy mill operation by the fact that you will meet the owners, get to see at least one of the parent dogs, and see how they are being raised. (We used to run Highland Kennels breeding Bouvier des Flandres – our dogs all had AKC papers and breeders had show points. We were registered with the state, advertised in Dog World – not tear sheets in supermarkets, and worked with the State dog warden to track down puppy mills. Our dogs were all house dogs and were only in crates while housebreaking or transport.)

(ou may be wondering why I keep emphasizing that you meet at least the mother. This is because it is common practice among breeders of the rarer purebred puppies to own the mother or bitch but to use a show quality male to breed her. This makes it easy to have a variety of genetic fathers without having to own and feed a male. Some breeders do not even have male dogs of breeding age.)

Still, unless you find a home breeder showing lots of happy, healthy dogs and dog show ribbons, they are not registered dogs from champion bloodlines, you should never pay nearly as much as you would from a professional breeder since you are not getting any way nearly as carefully produced dog. The puppy may be great, or it may not.

This goes even more for pet store puppies which almost certainly come from puppy mills and which cost the store at most a few hundred dollars, often less. Yet people pay thousands of dollars for some puppy store dogs and young couples who may only be together for a few months often foolishly even go into debt to make the purchase.

The idea of paying top show dog prices for these puppies is absurd and the buyers get what they deserve. Unfortunately, the puppies get what they don’t deserve.

Puppies from reputable breeders are expensive because of the extra work the breeder does including multiple vet visits, shots, socializing, etc. Between pre-natal care, vet visits as soon as possible after pups are born, multiple vaccinations every two weeks, worming, chipping, AKC registration, and more, it costs a minimum of $2-$300 to raise a single healthy puppy. It can cost more.

Perhaps much more. Consider that a breeder may pay a thousand dollars or more for the use of a high quality stud, a price which must be spread among however many puppies are produced and live to marketable age.

We have sometimes had as few as two puppies born from a breeding so even though we never lost a puppy, that cost is built into each one.

Then there is the cost of showing the parents to prove they are quality breeding dogs, the cost of advertising, and the usual return guarantee (many breeders will guarantee to take back any of their dogs at any time, even years later – although they don’t make refunds.)

The only way to put a stop to irresponsible breeding is to stop buying these puppy mill puppies.

NOTE: while it is usually easy to recognize a puppy mill, I know of one which got tricky so you should go one step further and check the kind of state kennel license they hold. This is usually easy online, just Google the question including terms such as the state, kennel, and license.

This particular puppy mill operator would have a good looking pair with several puppies in their home to show potential buyers, posing as casual breeders. However, I knew that the puppies actually came from his father’s farm which operated a puppy mill. A little checking showed he held a kennel license for the maximum number of puppies each year, 250. He also used to have business cards saying he could provide any of 130 breeds of puppy. Not so subtle clues as to his ethics which you could turn up by talking with any of the local reputable breeders.

You need not be concerned that a breeder would intentionally bad talk a supposed competitor which could happen if there really were competition. In fact most reputable breeders have long waiting lists of waiting buyers.


I have nothing religious or personal against the Amish, I know several, including my contractor. I’ve never had any complaints about any of them and wouldn’t hesitate to trust one in my home even if I weren’t there.

However, their attitude toward animals is not the same as mine and therefore they are often owners of puppy mills.

This is just a general heads up – I would and do buy produce or even baked goods from Amish, but I would NEVER buy a puppy from an Amish farm.


Although I wrote about AKC standards for breeds the standards published may have little relationship to the actual dogs and bitches which win ribbons and championships.

Breeds go in and out of fashion and so does judging. I know of several breeds where the winners at any AKC sanctioned show from the next town over to the Westminster Kennel Club held each Winter are obviously outside the published breed “standard.”

What is especially disturbing about this is the fact that many standards include a temperament description yet the dogs are never even tested to see if they meet the published standard. That is far more important than whether they are an inch too short and I consider it a serious failing of the AKC.

Still, Labs tend to be friendly, Newfoundlands tend to be great swimmers, pit bulls are more likely to cause severe injuries if they attack, and so forth.

But in some countries dogs of certain breeds such as Dobermans and Rottweilers can’t even be legally bred unless they hold both conformation championships AND certificates showing they have passed obedience or herding, or protection, or agility testing.

That’s why a German Shepherd in Bavaria is likely to be a very different kind of animal than one in Brooklyn or Newark.

Closing Out

We are almost certainly on our last puppies now. Our wonderful Great Danes died within a month of each other of osteosarcoma (bone cancer) at only five years of age. They were both fully trained service dogs.

Unfortunately, big breeds and especially purebreds of any kind are likely to have genetic problems which is one reason why for our final dogs we decided on “designer” dogs that we and many veternarians thought were far more likely to be healthy and long-lived due to something known in animal husbandry as hybrid vigor.

This was common sense but recent large scientific studies have shown that it simply isn’t true.

You might ask why we didn’t just get a dog from the pound and that is a fair question since we do recommend that for many people.

However, these were destined to be service dogs with strong protective/guard instincts and therefore we needed to choose puppies which would grow to a size and temperament which was relatively predictable.

That’s one reason we decided to move away from pure-bred dogs to one of the new designer breeds.

Our two bitches are St. Weilers, a mix which is becoming very popular in England and have a devoted following in the States.

St. Weilers get their name from the two parent breeds, St. Bernards and Rottweilers. The former are well known as calm and friendly dogs. Rottweilers have a reputation as aggressive which isn’t deserved. For example, while Mastiffs, Dobermans, and many other breeds derive from dogs bred as guard dogs. What many don’t know is that Rottweilers were known as butcher’s dogs in Germany. That didn’t mean they were butchers but actually that they were herding dogs which butchers used to bring cattle from the farm to their business.

While strongly territorial, Rottweilers and especially the cross-breed St. Weilers are generally cautious around strangers and not at all aggressive away from home. Our pair love the barn cat and are by far and away THE most affectionate dogs I’ve ever owned, absolutely demanding that we play and especially pat them for a minimum of 10 minutes two or three times each day. They do this by pushing their noses under hands, bringing us balls or even chew toys, even, if ignored too long, laying their heads in our laps.

We should outlive them – it is a terrible thing to buy a dog when you know you will have to leave it either due to illness, age, or even just because you will have to go to college. (Fortunately, my Newfoundland went to school with me, even chemistry lab at Harvard and I didn’t get her until I was living on a boat on my own. Also, although I had a girlfriend living on the boat, the dog was definitely MY dog. She had her own)

An update several years after this book was written.

First, we lost one of our St. Weilers several years ago but her littermate/sister is still with us although obviously quite old while remaining in excellent health.

If we lose her soon we don’t want to be without any dog so have joined an Irish Wolfhound rescue group and are open to re-homing Irish Woilfhounds over about 6 years of age – these wonderful giants have the shortest lifespans of almost any breed and seldom live past age 7.

There are now several new dog laws in Pennsylvania which greatly protects dogs from even what many owners never considered abuse.

If you plan to own a dog in PA I strongly suggest you familiarize yourself with Libra’s Law and even newer protections going into effect in 2024.

“Under Libre’s Law, a dog cannot remain outside for more than 30 minutes if the temperature rises above 90 degrees or drops below 32 degrees. However, this applies ONLY to tethered dogs. There is no law in Pennsylvania stating an animal cannot live outside if they are safely contained untethered outside.”

That last part exempted exceptionally rugged farm dogs which are part of sheep flocks and even guard Alpacas at nearby Rainbow Alpacas.

Other states are following Pennsylvania’s laws.

“Everywhere I Turn There’s A Wet Nose: the love for and science of dogs”