Care must be taken when buying a puppy. Look for a reputable breeder with the welfare of the dogs their primary concern, and avoid backyard breeders and puppy farms which are driven only by profit. These puppy farms will often be selling through online listings, local newspapers and adverts in shop windows.
Lucy's Law (see below) might have made it harder for puppy farms to operate but buyers should still be aware of the signs as the popularity of certain breeds makes it tempting for unscrupulous people to breed for profit.
Why avoid puppy farms?
Dogs from puppy farms are bred in horrific conditions, often just dark, dirty sheds or caravans. They are not treated like a member of the family and there is no interest in breeding for their health, meaning dogs can often end up with a lot of unforseen health conditions. They are often taken from their mothers much too early which can cause developmental and social problems later in life. The bitches used don't have any love or affection and spend most of their life being forced to give birth to litter after litter, to the detriment of her own health. The lucky breeding bitches will get dumped once they are no longer of use, the unlucky will have their lives cut short.
Puppy farm warning signs
The seller has a large amount of dogs for sale
If you notice a seller keeps advertising new litters of dogs, often of different breeds, it's a clear indication of a large-scale breeding programme.
Dogs are immediately available
Good breeders have often sold their litters in advance so it’s very unlikely you will find the breed you want available immediately. This would be a sign that there is a high turnover of dogs and that they are sourcing their puppies from a farm, possibly even bringing them in from abroad.
Unwillingness to meet at the puppy’s home
Many puppy dealers will suggest meeting at a halfway point in a public space but you should always travel to see the puppy in its home. Even so, backyard breeders are finding a ways around this, such as renting AirBnB properties to sell puppies from.
Other dogs are not present when you meet the puppy
You should meet the puppy with its mother and littermates in a home environment.
Lack of knowledge
Many puppy farms breed multiple breeds and are not knowledgeable about the dogs they are selling. Hopefully you’ve already done your research on the breed you are buying so don’t be afraid to ask questions specific to that breed.
The seller does not take an interest in your circumstances
A responsible breeder will want to know that their dogs are going to a good home and will be vetting you as much as you are vetting them.
The mother dog is not bonded with her owner
If you notice that the puppy’s mother does not respond to her name and is not affectionate with her owner it may be that she is not a looked after family pet and she might have been brought into the house to give the illusion of being a loved family pet.
The puppy is much too young
Puppies should never be separated from their mothers before eight weeks old to allow proper socialisation. Some unscrupulous breeders will try and tell you that because the puppy is weaned it is ready to be rehomed – don’t be fooled.
Don’t get tricked by paperwork
Many puppy farms will have ‘papers’ but this does not guarantee the health of the puppies.
A focus on money
Whether it’s stressing the importance of a large cash deposit, insisting on cash payment or their only requirement being that you can pay for the dog, a focus on money is a huge red flag.
Finding a reputable breeder
Kennel Club Assured Breeders
The Kennel Club has a list of accredited breeders under the Assured Breeder Scheme. This is in place to ensure puppies have the best chance of leading a healthy, happy life and that parent dogs are treated well.
Even when buying from an accredited breeder always look out for warning signs and know how to spot a good breeder.
A reputable breeder will…
- Ask questions about you and your home
- Allow you to see the puppy’s mother and littermates
- Be knowledgeable about their specific breed
- Always be willing to take a dog back if things don’t work out
- Offer training tips and diet recommendations
- Be open to discussing any genetic issues that dog may have
- Probably have a waiting list
Consider a rescue pup
Some rescues will have rescue puppies available, for example in cases where dogs have been seized or a pregnant bitch has been surrendered, so it's always worth checking your local animal shelters to find out if they have some available. They might even have slightly older puppies available and looking for a second chance as people might have surrendered their dog due to the rising cost of living, work or house relocation, or simply not being able to meet the needs of the dog.
What is Lucy's law?
Lucy's Law, introduced in England in 2020 and shortly after in Scotland and Wales, means that cats and dogs under six months old are only to be sold by breeders. Third-party sellers, such as pet shops and commercial dealers, will not be able to legally sell young animals unless they have bred them themselves.
Lucy’s Law is designed to target the large commercial breeders who often have warehouses, outbuildings and caravans filled with dogs in dirty conditions and being bred on a large scale. It also aims to reduce the risk of young animals being separated from their mothers too early.
Why 'Lucy's Law'?
The law is named after Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel who suffered multiple health conditions including a curved spine, bald patches, epilepsy and fused hips. She spent most of her life kept in a cage and used to breed litters of puppies at a Welsh puppy farm. In 2013, at five years old, Lucy was rescued and went on to live a new life with rescuer Lisa Garner, who took to social media to spread the word about the conditions breeding dogs are kept in, gaining support from celebrities, vets, animal charities and the public alike and gaining tens of thousands of followers. Lucy was able to spend the last three years of her life in a happy, loving home, but there were others like Lucy still living in terrible conditions. In tribute to her memory the Lucy’s Law campaign was launched so that other dogs and cats could avoid the same horrific life.
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