9 signs to help you spot a puppy farm when buying a new dog

Emma-Louise Pritchard
·6-min read
Photo credit: DanBrandenburg - Getty Images
Photo credit: DanBrandenburg - Getty Images

From Country Living

Sadly, despite being illegal, puppy farms and criminal puppy breeding still exists in the UK, fuelled by an increasing demand for puppies amongst households. Learning how to spot a puppy farm and an irresponsible breeder is of the utmost importance before getting a new dog.

What is a puppy farm?

Puppy farms are set up by puppy dealers who prioritise the breeding and selling of animals over their health and welfare. Conditions on puppy farms are often cruel and inhumane, with puppies kept in cramped boxes and pens with little to comfort them. It is also common for puppies to be separated from their mothers early.

Pet dealers aim to mass breed animals on their puppy farms and sell them on, either online or to pet shops.

The RSPCA say: "Dealers are using the internet to their advantage when it comes to advertising and selling farmed puppies. 87% of puppy trade calls we get are about animals bought over the internet."

Are puppy farms illegal?

In the UK, as of spring 2020, yes. Before this, it was legal to breed puppies in such conditions.

Named 'Lucy's Law' – after a badly-treated Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, named Lucy, died back in 2016 on a puppy farm – the legislation banned the sale of animals from third parties.

Michael Gove, who was Environment Secretary at the time, explained that the new law would give animals "the best possible start in life."

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood told the Manchester News: "We hope this ban, alongside the tougher licensing regulations that were introduced in October, will help to stamp out the underground trade that exploits these wonderful animals simply to make a quick buck."

How to spot a puppy farm

"It can be easy to be deceived by unscrupulous sellers if you don’t know what to look for, or what questions to ask when buying a puppy, so always do your research before welcoming a dog into your life," the team at Dogs Trust told Country Living. They recommend rehoming a dog instead of buying a new one and coming up against the risk. "If something seems fishy or too good to be true, chances are it is.”

To avoid contact with a suspicious dealer, always follow the below procedure when buying a puppy:

  1. Insist on visiting the puppy and seeing it with its mother before you take the discussion any further. This is to ensure that it has not been separated from its mother are you can see the conditions they are living in. A puppy should not be weaned from its mother before three weeks of age at the very earliest.

  2. If you are met with any resistance by the breeder when arranging a visit, this could be a red flag. A responsible breeder should be more than happy for you to visit more than once to make sure you and the puppy are a good match.

  3. Ask the breeder lots of questions about the puppy, its mother and siblings and be reassured when they ask you questions about your lifestyle in return. This shows the breeder is just as interested in the puppy's welfare as you are.

  4. Ask to see their Local Authority licence.

  5. Ask for genuine paperwork to prove vaccinations, microchipping, worming and any other health checks.

  6. Do not agree for the puppy to be brought to you or to meet anywhere other than the breeder's facility to make the transaction.

  7. Do not let a breeder rush you. If you have any doubts at all, walk away and contact the RSPCA.

  8. Do your own research on the breed of dog first so you can be aware of any red flags with its health or any excuses the breeder might give.

  9. Use the Puppy Contract. A responsible breeder should be happy to oblige.

How to spot a puppy farm in an online dog advert

With lots of illegal puppy dealers selling their animals via the internet, it is important to know the red flags to look out for in puppy adverts. The following points are taken from the RSPCA's official advice:

  1. Google the contact number on the advert to see if it is associated with any other questionable adverts or news stories.

  2. Google the description of the puppy, as well as the image (right click and press 'Search Google for image') to make sure it is not a duplicate of another advert.

  3. Look out for words including 'miniature' and 'teacup' – these are definite warnign signs. Also be wary of claims of 'free insurance'.

  4. If the advert claims that the puppy has been vaccinated, look at how old the dog is. Puppy's cannot be vaccinated until they are four to six-weeks-old.

  5. Claims about 'passports' and other language about being abroad can be red flags that the puppy has been illegally imported.

  6. If the advert claims that the dog is Kennel Club registered, always ask to see documentation and cross check it with the Kennel Club.

If you think you have come across an illegal puppy farm advert, report it to the RSPCA here.

Questions to ask yourself before getting a dog

The best way to avoid contact with a puppy farm is to adopt or rehome a dog from an animal shelter as opposed to buying one. Buying puppies, even from legitimate breeders, can fuel the demand for illegal dealers.

“We believe there is a dog for everyone," say the team at Dogs Trust. "We’d always ask anyone thinking of bringing a dog into their life to consider rehoming a rescue dog from a reputable organisation like us."

If is also really important that, before considering buying or adopting a dog, you make sure you can properly take care of it. In August 2020, the Kennel Club found that one in four Brits impulse bought a pet to help them through the pandemic, but now many admit they don't have the time, money or means to look after them anymore.

So, before getting a dog, ask yourself the following questions and do your research:

  • Is my decision to get a dog an impulse or carefully thought-through and considered?

  • Do I have the financial means to take care of a dog long-term and am I fully aware of how much a dog costs?

  • Do I have a home suitable for a dog?

  • Does my lifestyle suit caring for a dog?

  • Which dog breed is best for my lifestyle and have I done enough research on what different breeds require? Here are our advice pages.

  • Can I adopt a dog instead of buying one?

  • How will the dog be cared for when I am not there (at work/on holiday/ill)?

  • Have I properly researched pet insurance?

  • Do I have it in me to be a good dog owner? Here's our checklist.

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