“Pet store puppies for sale” is a phrase that irks some and entices others. Pet store puppies are largely regarded as damaged goods due to the stigma created by poor breeding practices. But what most people don’t realize is that pet store breeders must fall in line with strict regulations and requirements.
There are several governing bodies to answer to as a pet store breeder. Failure to follow their laws usually result in harsh consequences for the breeders and pet stores alike. Let’s take a closer look at who pet store breeders really are—and how to spot a bad breeder.
There Are Several Types of Breeders Out There
There are quite a few different types of breeders in the United States as well as the rest of the world. The requirements to become a breeder depend on certain factors such as location, the number of breeder dogs owned, the number of litters born, and how the breeder plans to supply their puppies to the public. These factors also dictate whether or not a license to breed is required.
Truthfully, a breeder’s license—or lack thereof—isn’t necessarily an indicator of the quality of health or care of a puppy. Licensing requirements have more to do with the laws of individual towns, cities, counties, states, provinces, and of course, the federal government via the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The USDA is a branch of government responsible for the development and execution of policies regarding farming, agriculture, forestry, natural resources, food, and so on. They’re in charge of the regulations and processes by which our food, materials, and resources make their way from A to Z while also carrying out inspections to ensure the quality of said food, materials, and resources.
Under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the USDA regulates licensed home and kennel breeders to ensure the safety and humane treatment of their dogs and puppies. In the United States, most pet store puppies come from USDA breeders. That means the pet store breeder is inspected and licensed by the USDA as well as their own State Agriculture Department.
USDA breeders must adhere to strict regulations by several governing bodies, and they hold a Class A license, a Class B license, or both. A Class A license means they may have more than four breeding female dogs and can legally sell their litters as pets. A Class B license allows for the distribution—purchase and/or resale—of puppies as a broker.
There are several states that have laws prohibiting pet stores from selling puppies that come from an unlicensed breeder. However, that doesn’t stop unethical breeders from existing and doing business. Let’s take a closer look at the different breeder types for a better understanding—
The Hobby Breeder
The term “hobby breeder” refers to breeders that only breed occasional litters to preserve show or working lines. When a hobby breeder plans for a litter, the top considerations are the health, temperament, welfare, and quality of that breed. Depending on their local, state, and federal regulations, hobby breeders may or may not need a license.
The majority of hobby breeders belong to national, state, or local breeder organizations. Their goal is to “improve the breed,” exhibiting their specific breeds in shows or raising them as service or working dogs. Each puppy sold by a hobby breeder must come with the appropriate documentation such as the breed’s pedigree, health history, immunization records, and so on.
The criteria governing hobby breeders includes selling no more than two litters of puppies per year. The total number of breeder dogs they own are typically limited to two (one of each separate breed). However, depending on whether the dogs are housed privately or by a licensed hobby breeder kennel, they may have more.
The Backyard Breeder
“Backyard breeder” is the name for “breeders” that have little to no breeding knowledge or experience. Their only goal is to make a profit as they’ll typically breed their own family dogs for money. Of course, they may also keep other dogs for the specific purpose of breeding in their home or in a kennel.
Depending on their local regulations, they may or may not need a license. You can also count on the fact that most backyard breeders don’t breed responsibly. That means they’re not screening for genetic defects or providing a pedigree, health history, or proper veterinary care. It’s also more than likely they’re overbreeding their dogs, thereby jeopardizing the animal’s welfare.
That’s not to say that all backyard breeders are irresponsible or unethical. However, they do tend to crowd the classifieds section, advertising the sale of purebreds and designer breeds. Luckily, the red flags of poor breeders are easy to spot:
- They’ll sell puppies before they’re six weeks old
- They may deny potential buyers access to their kennels or where their dogs and puppies are kept
- They won’t properly screen buyers to ensure that they’re a good fit for the specific breed
- They have no commitment to the puppies being bred and sold. (Responsible breeders commit to their litters and will take the sold puppies back at any time, for whatever reason)
- They most likely won’t offer the proper documents or have any spay/neuter or immunization records from the vet
It’s necessary to restate that backyard breeders care more about profit than animal welfare. That means their breeder dogs and litters most likely aren’t receiving proper veterinary care. Their puppies may seem healthy at first, but may eventually show health issues, signs of disease, or even parasites.
The Commercial Breeder
“Commercial breeder” is the term referring to USDA licensed breeders. USDA breeders are permitted to have four or more breedings dogs that they may sell directly, through brokers, or through a pet store. These breeders also sometimes show/exhibit their dogs and may house them in a home or an onsite kennel.
As of 2015, there were about 1,581 licensed USDA breeders in the United States. That includes both Class A and Class B license holders, both of whom must adhere to strict regulations and requirements. Those regulations and requirements include (but are not limited to):
- Complying with unannounced inspections
- Providing exercise and enrichment programs (also referred to as a turn-out yard, which is a fenced-in yard providing ample room for the dogs and puppies to run around, play, and train.)
- Keeping detailed records for each dog (i.e., pedigrees, health history, etc.)
- Keeping up with regular veterinary care, including exams, vaccinations, dental care, and basic grooming
During unannounced inspections the USDA checks for everything from cleanliness to lawn care. That means that USDA breeders can receive a violation citation for anything small such as cobwebs, rust on fences, or even letting the grass growing too tall.
Most commercial breeders have years of experience, knowledge, and dedication, maintaining state-of-the-art kennels in both design and technology. Each kennel is equipped with automatic feeders and water spigots to ensure 24/7 access to nourishment. Each dog and litter has access to their own safe and secure outdoor area for sun, exercise, and bathroom breaks.
Animal welfare is of the utmost importance, which is why when touring commercial breeder’s kennels, buyers can see the attention to detail and care that goes into each facility.
The “Puppy Mill”
The term “puppy mill” has become somewhat of a misnomer in the pet store world as well as an all-encompassing phrase to describe pet store breeders as a whole. When we say “puppy mill,” we’re largely referring to the backyard breeders that provide sub-standard care for their breeder dogs and litters.
“Puppy mills” usually operate illegally, either refusing to obtain a license to breed or having been denied a license. Unfortunately, this sometimes includes commercial breeders who also operate outside of the law. It is the responsibility of the private buyer or pet store retailer to ask for the proper documentation as well as view the kennels or homes themselves.
There are other terms used to loosely describe different types of breeders including “ethical breeders” and “responsible breeders.” Breeders are typically labeled by their standards of care and animal welfare, such as health testing, breeding frequency, facilities, etc. ANY breeder or pet store can be accused of being a “puppy mill” by animal rights groups that want to put an end to dog breeding as well as those that are ignorant of how the USDA operates under the Animal Welfare Act.
Other Things You Should Know About USDA Breeders
Providing the optimal environment for breeder dogs and their litters take great effort—not to mention great expenses. Once again, most commercial USDA breeders maintain state-of-the-art facilities for their dogs. They invest in things such as play yard equipment, toys, skylights, drains, artificial turf, quality dog food, and grooming rooms equipped with the latest technology and bathing stations.
They must also meet specific temperature requirements to ensure that the dogs are comfortable at all times. The USDA regulates both high and low temperatures of all indoor spaces, not allowing temperatures to drop below 45 degrees or exceed 85 degrees.
Many licensed breeders utilize what is called “radiant heat” which is a costly heating system installed in the floor. Radiant heating systems are considered superior to conventional HVAC systems, yet due to the cost, they’re rarely found in the average person’s home. This system provides even heat throughout the entire kennel to ensure comfort for the dogs and puppies.
There are also very specific requirements for the size of each dog’s space and turn-out yard. All dogs must be housed in compatible groups with adequate shelter from rain and wind. Their feeding bowls and apparatuses must be kept clean, and each puppy must be inspected and assessed daily to ensure there are no health issues. You can read through the entire canine care checklist here to see for yourself.
USDA breeders are continuously learning and creating better ways to care for their dogs and litters. As mentioned, most breeders are quite dedicated to their craft and the well being of their animals. They provide them with the best care and they attend educational seminars organized by national, state, and local breeder organizations to better their kennels, breeding practices, and the health of their dogs.
Not All Breeders Are the Same
Unfortunately, there are some bad breeders out there tarnishing the name for the rest. This may even include some USDA breeders.
However, it’s important to remember that the majority of USDA breeders and pet stores genuinely care for the welfare of the puppies they’re breeding and selling. It’s also important to remember that it’s both the buyer and retailer’s responsibility to make sure that the breeder they’re buying from adheres to the strict regulations given by the USDA as well as local and state regulations.