Many of us have tried something new since lockdown started in late March. Social media has been flooded with images of sourdough starters, oil paintings and fitness videos. Unsurprisingly, many people have decided that this is the perfect time for a new friend in the house. Recent reports have shown that there has been a huge increase in people buying new puppies… While no one would dispute that the world needs some puppy love right now, many charities are worrying that the puppy farming industry has grown much larger during 2020, as a result of this increased demand.

Puppy Farming

In short, a puppy farm, or puppy mill, is where an unlicensed breeder forces dogs to have multiple litters. This with the aim of selling the puppies for a lot of profit. Puppy farms are often dirty, crowded, full of disease and definitely not suitable for newborn pups or their mothers. Dogs bought from these breeders are frequently malnourished, unvaccinated, unwormed and poorly socialised. Even once brought into a new home, puppies from puppy farms have a higher incidence of behavioural issues and disease. They need more vet visits (thus cost more!) and generally have a poorer lifespan.

Puppy farming is often connected to puppy smuggling, where dogs are illegally smuggled into the country to be bred from. Puppy smuggling runs the risk of bringing dangerous diseases into the UK. As well as all the other downsides associated with puppy farming. In short, puppy farming and puppy smuggling are terrible practices.

The UK government is aware of the problem of puppy farming, and in April brought in ‘Lucy’s Law’. Lucy’s Law requires all puppies to be bought from a licenced breeder or adopted from a rescue centre. Breeders must abide by a number of restrictions, facing fines or even prison if they ignore them. This law is a huge step in the right direction in the fight against puppy farmers; however, the recent studies have shown that puppy farming has in fact grown during lockdown.

Lockdown Farming

During lockdown, the price of puppies has grown, especially in the UK’s five most popular (and most frequently smuggled) breeds. This price increase is directly because of the increased demand from new puppy owners during lockdown. As more people want puppies, illegal breeders have filled the gap in the market and started pumping out more and more of them. Puppies are wonderful creatures, and many of the new owners surveyed wanted one for genuine reasons. Two-thirds claimed their new puppy was their ‘lifeline’ during lockdown, while 41% said they wanted a companion during lockdown. However, a quarter did no research before purchasing a puppy, and as many as a quarter suspect their puppies came from puppy farms. Many owners bought their puppy without seeing the environment it lived in, and over 25% paid money before even meeting their new puppy.

These statistics are a huge problem, as, despite it being illegal, puppy farming continues up and down the country. Owners who want a puppy quickly and cheaply, and don’t do their research, are more likely to purchase one from an illegal breeder. Doing this encourages the puppy farmers to breed again in the hopes of making more money. The police and organisations like the RSPCA fight every day to close down puppy farms, but without our help, it is an impossible task.

As an aside, the number of cats rehomed by organisations such as Cat’s Protection has also surged during lockdown. Happily, they do not think that illegal cat breeding has grown much during this period. Though they worry we may start to see a surge if trends continue. If you’re more of a cat person, the following advice will be relevant for you too.

How to Avoid Puppy Farms

If you are looking to purchase a new puppy, we have some advice you can follow to minimise the risk of being caught out by unscrupulous puppy farmers.

Before you choose a puppy, do plenty of research. As well as the normal research into what breed of dog you want, research a reputable seller. Find them on a proper website (not somewhere like Gumtree), such as a breeder’s website or recommended by local organisations. Look for past positive reviews and their location. Puppy breeders often move up and down the country, so if they are selling puppies in both Aberdeen and Cornwall, be suspicious! Check their contact details as well, to make sure it is genuine. Proper breeders will be more than happy to have a chat over the phone, while puppy farmers may be more reluctant. Finally, look at what dogs they have on offer; it is more common for puppy farmers to be breeding from several different dogs of different breeds, while registered breeders tend to stick to just one. Be wary of a seller with everything from a Chihuahua to a Bernese mountain dog on offer.

Once you have selected a puppy, check its age. Puppies should not be sold under 8 weeks of age. It can be impossible to know if the age listed is genuine, of course, but avoid any that are under 8 weeks. A good breeder will also list the local vet they use, with full microchip, vaccination, flea and worming records. You may even wish to ring up the vet they listed to check (with their permission). Above all else, never ever purchase a dog without seeing it first. Insist on visiting the puppy – if the seller is reluctant, stay clear.

When you meet your puppy (before paying!), have a look around at where you are; visiting a family home may seem genuine, but some puppy farmers rent out temporary accommodation to use as a front for prospective buyers. Does the house seem lived in as their genuine home? Is there anywhere the breeder is reluctant to let you go? Never meet a puppy somewhere public, such as a car park – you should always meet where the puppy lives.

Ask the breeder if you can see the mother of the puppies – genuine breeders should have mum nearby, as the puppies will still be feeding from her. There are plenty of excuses, such as ‘she is at the vets’ that you must not fall for. Look at how she interacts with the puppies, as some illegal breeders go as far as having a ‘fake mum’ to fool you; real mums will interact and allow the puppies to suckle. Are the puppies themselves bright and alert, healthy, making noise and suckling frequently? These are all good signs. Insist on seeing the healthcare records again, to be sure.

Remember that a genuine seller will aim to please so you purchase and give them a good review – ask if you can have a few days to think it over. Good breeders should be happy to wait, but illegal breeders may be pushy and ask for money straight away. Always wait to be sure the puppies are legal before parting with your cash.

If you do have any doubts as to the validity of the breeder you are purchasing from, contact the police or the RSPCA – they can do checks to determine if the breeder is licensed, and investigate further if not. We would also like to remind you that there are hundreds of dogs up and down the country in shelters and rescues who would love a forever home – please consider rescuing a dog before buying a new puppy.

Closing Thoughts

Puppies are wonderful, and are exactly what some of us need to get through this strange year. But that doesn’t mean you should be hasty and purchase without thought – follow our advice above so you can help avoid falling into the nasty trap of puppy farmers. If everyone takes more care with where they purchase their new best friend from, we can go a long way to reducing the number of horrible puppy farmers in the UK.