How can prospective dog owners avoid supporting the puppy mill industry?


Last September, 500 dogs were rescued from Quebec in what was the biggest puppy mill seizure in Canadian history. Several of those puppies have ended up in my Toronto-based dog training classes; my students have done a wonderful job rehabbing these dogs. It has been particularly amazing to watch Tinsel the Sheltie coming out of his shell by dedicated owners who are using clicker training. When he first came to class he could barely walk–he’d lived inside a box for his whole life. Now he has discovered that his own behavior makes really good things happen in his life. Helping the owners of rescue dogs to make a difference in their pets’ lives makes me so proud to be a positive dog trainer.

How can we help put a stop to the puppy mill atrocity? The underlying issue is that the mass production facilities will continue to exist as long as there is demand for these puppies. The current Canadian legislation has too many loopholes to be able to prevent this kind of animal abuse. Therefore educating the public is the crucial step and many organizations such as PupQuest are doing an excellent job advising where to and where NOT to buy a puppy from. Without spreading the word, many people with totally good intentions end up buying puppies from bad sources. So what are the things to watch out for?

Run to the hills when you see a pet stores that sell animals. Do not support them by buying the products they sell. Thankfully, in September 2011 Toronto city council banned the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores. Unfortunately Toronto is only the second city in Canada to do so, so it is still easy to buy a pet store puppy in most of the country (and in most of the US as well). You can rest assured that you can get a sick dog with behavior problems from these sources. Even if you are lucky enough to get a happy and healthy dog, you’re still supporting an industry that allows breeding dogs to live horrendous conditions.

There is plenty of undercover footage on Youtube like the one above.  Many are surprised to learn that an overwhelming number of puppy mill operators in North America are part of the Amish community. Here is another shocking movie:

About as fun as watching footage from Nazi concentration camps.

OK, so pet stores are no good. How about buying a puppy on-line? I Googled “buy a puppy Toronto” and the first site coming up is Kijiji. I browsed some ads, here is some typical wording in the ads:

A sketchy one: “Adorable, cute puppies, currently we are taking deposits, last little angel.”

A better one: “Vet-checked, dewormed, Mum and Dad here at home, socialized with people/dogs/cats/children, written health guarantee, registered, raised among the family.”

I know several people who have adopted lovely, well-socialized, mixed-breed puppies from online sources. But just as easily things can go wrong and you can end up supporting puppy mills. Therefore, it is extremely important to know how to select your source for the puppy. This is what a reputable breeder will offer, be it intentional purebred or mixed breed puppies or ‘accidental love’ puppies:

  • They’ll have puppies that are grown inside a human household, not in a doghouse or a backyard. Puppies go through an important socialization window from the age of two to sixteen weeks. It is imperative that the puppies grow as a part of a human household if that is where they are to live after the age of eight weeks when they travel to their new homes. Instead of just believing this, you should always go to the breeder’s house before making a decision preferably several times before you take your puppy home.
  • They will make sure that the mother of the litter lives a happy life in the breeder’s household. You should always see the mother. Get as much information as possible of the father as well. You have to be 100% comfortable and trust the people  you are getting your puppy from.
  • They should always offer a health certificate from a veterinarian stating that the puppy has had a thorough health check and is dewormed.
  • They will instruct you about raising your puppy. It is their task to tell you how important the socialization period is for your puppy in prevention of any future behavior problems. They should know that the risk of NOT socializing your puppy and ending up getting a dog with aggression issues is much greater than listening to your vet saying that you should not take your puppy out to meet other dogs before getting all the shots. The number of dogs euthanized because of behavior problems is MUCH higher than the number of dogs getting a fatal infection as a puppy.
  • They will not sell a puppy just for anyone. They care about the home that their puppies go to, there is no point in selling a Doberman as a family pet, for example. They must be willing to help you in getting your puppy settled and trained the right way.

The list above is by no means comprehensive, those are the most important things to look for. It can be tempting to grab up that cute puppy in the window, but please: Think twice. An unwise puppy purchase decision can affect a lot more than the life of the one being you’re taking in.


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